Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Teacher Too Young Dies

We Mourn Another Fallen Teacher Hero - Too Young to Leave Us!
By Jim Vail

Orlando Rodriguez Jr. - a teacher and soccer extraordinaire!

When you work long enough in the Chicago Public Schools, you form a family that lasts a lifetime.

We - the Hammond School family - lost another warrior and hero to so many kids - Orlando Rodriguez, teacher and soccer coach who passed away this past weekend, a victim to colon cancer at the tender age of 41.

I worked with Orlando at Hammond School for about six years from 2006 - 2012 roughly. He was our bilingual fifth grade teacher and coached a soccer club when I first started.

He then became our middle school social studies teacher and boys and girls soccer coach.

He lived and breathed soccer - his love that was spread to all the lucky students who worked under him.

He worked at many schools in the Chicago Public Schools and he was an American Federation of Teachers AFT delegate when CORE and Karen Lewis first won the president of the Chicago Teachers Union election in 2010.

He, I and Garth Liebhaber, another phenomenal art teacher who helped bring me to Hammond School, formed a strong bond that continued to his totally unexpected death. He died at 41 from complications due to colon cancer on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.

He had just lost his father a few months prior to his own death.

Cancer is killing so many. We had another wonderful, vibrant, energetic teacher named Celia Rivero, who lost her battle to cancer at only 30 years old. She taught with Orlando and us at Hammond School!

The Orlando E. Rodriguez Jr. Lane Tech Soccer Scholarship just set up in his honor will help his memory live on. Orlando and his brother played soccer at Lane Tech High School and they learned the sport from their father. Orlando played AYSO at Peterson Park and for the Wells Park Raiders in his youth. After graduating from UIC he fulfilled a dream by playing for the Fichte Rams club team in the Chicago Metropolitan League.

He recently taught and coached a winning soccer team at Northwest Middle School.

The Orlando E. Rodriguez Jr. Soccer Scholarship Fund will provide support and financial assistance to a deserving Lane Tech Soccer Player.

I highly recommend any and all teachers, lovers of soccer, students and those who read this to donate to this worthy scholarship. We lost a wonderful human being who breathed fire and passion to the children of Chicago.

He will be missed!


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review

By Stephen Wilson
[2017 Random House /Penguin , New York]

It felt like the book was disintegrating in my hand. Pages of the paperback
began to slip out . The poor binding was damaged so I discreetly placed
the book back on to the shelf lest I be taken as a vandal or hapless butter
fingers. I felt as if I had committed an act of sacrilege so promised myself
that I 'd buy the book later. The book I had been avid absorbed in was titled
' Who Rules the World, ' by Noam Chomsky. And I was spellbound by the
book. I could hardly put it down .The reason for this is that I discovered
obscure facts and revelations you almost never find in most media outlets
and textbooks. And Chomsky offers a trenchant critique of American domestic
and foreign policy. The account is remarkably lucid .Chomsky offers a clear,
concise and articulate critique of American capitalism which destroys any
last illusions or justification.

I first became aware of Chomsky when I was a psychology student at university.
There we had to learn about his Universal Theory of Grammar . Only later did
I discover he was an anarchist who was also known for his merciless attacks
on capitalism. Then , in 1990, when I interviewed the Scots writer James Kelman
I heard him raving on about him and how he was fond of Chomsky and had attempted
to open up a correspondence with him. One fact which Kelman revealed to me
was how Chomsky stated that there is no correlation between the intelligence of
highly educated people and critical thinking. Chomsky stated that a survey indicated
that most educated people supported the Vietnam war while the less educated were
more inclined to condemn it. This should not astonish us. The present Russian Duma
is full of people who have graduated from Moscow State University and practically all
of them but two , endorsed the Moscow mayor's demolition program. For example,
Vladimir Zhirinovsky is a linguist from Moscow State university but seldom questions
anything or is self-reflective.

In his book, Chomsky writes on how most intellectuals will compromise and collude with
the existing powers in return for protected job security and promotion. An intellectual
brave enough to be outspoken risks being imprisoned , blacklisted or fired from his job.
To do good is to be punished. The recent case of the fired teacher Sarah Chambers
confirms Chomsky's analysis. She was fired for simply doing her job in the best way
she could. I mean it should be accepted as the normal and natural thing to not only be
a good teacher but strive to improve the conditions of teachers, students and the
community as a whole. Her case reminds me of how an English teacher in Moscow
was replaced by a new teacher brought in from England. The students were happy with
their former teacher and did not want a replacement. This angered the administrator who
phoned him up and scolded him with words ; "What have you done to them ? " The exasperated teacher retorted: " I was just trying to do my job ! "

In an interesting chapter on Israel, Chomsky writes on how most intellectuals chose to flatter
a tyrant King Ahab. They were all rewarded for their flattery. In contrast, the outspoken prophet Elijah was persecuted and hounded being described by the king as ' a traitor ' and 'self Jewish hater.' If Elijah was alive today he would also be regarded as 'anti - American '.
It was interesting to hear that Chomsky reveals that the scripts of the 1950's television series on Robin Hood were written by blacklisted Hollywood scriptwriters.In the chapter , Magna Carta, Chomsky describes how a forest brotherhood had to struggle tooth and nail from the landlords to preserve their right to use the forest.

Chomsky undermines any naive presumptions concerning the Oslo Peace process and the
Middle East . The notion that America can be an honest broker strikes him as absurd.On the
contrary, Chomsky points out that for the past forty years America has been the main force
blocking any peaceful settlement. He has no hesitation in describing the American government as 'a terrorist state'. He points to numerous examples of the double standards of American politicians . For example, a Malaysian airliner was shot down over Donbass resulting in the deaths of 298 passengers. Yet Americans have forgotten that their battleship the Vincennes shot down an Iranian 655 airliner. The captain who fired those missiles was not arrested or brought to justice but instead awarded with the Legion of Honor two years after the incident!

When the American president was asked to apologize for this outrage he replied : " I will
never apologize for this whatever the facts '. So why are they so concerned about 'the facts'
in Donbass?

The book is updated with a new chapter attempting to make sense of Trump's victory. Chomsky explains that Trump can rely on a huge reservoir of support from the conservative communities in America who are white, highly conservative and religious church goers. They strongly believe in family values . For instance, 40 % of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will return to the world in 2050 and that the World is only a few thousand years old. The new secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, believes scripture should take precedence over science.

But Chomsky also blames the Democrats for Trump's victory . They have long abandoned the working class . The Republicans , exploiting the resentment against the establishment,
manipulated workers who had either lost their jobs or seen their living standards devastated,
into voting against the Democrats, believing Trump would stick up for their interests. Part of the problem is that too much blame has been put on officials and not corporate business who have been driving down the living standards of Americans by paying a pittance to employees.

Civil servants are being made convenient scapegoats and are an alibi which allows business men to get off free.

Chomsky states that he has been warning of the danger of a charismatic ideologue prepared to manipulate the base prejudices of so many angry, resentful and bitter Americans. They will blame the wrong people instead of a rotten unjust system .Chomsky warns of a potential 'friendly fascism'. In this regard it was not clear to me whether he sees Trump and La Pen as 'fascist ' or simply potential fascists.

This book provides a deeply disturbing and disquieting picture of America . That is putting it
mildly. Some people will claim Chomsky is exaggerating, overstating his case and over the
top. Yet Chomsky's work is well researched and he can back up his claims with a lot of listed
sources. Chomsky ends his work with the positive words : 'Popular mobilization and activism, properly organised and conducted can make a large difference'.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Russian Historian on Trial

By Stephen Wilson

A prominent historian , Yuri Dmitriev, who discovered the location of execution sites
used in the late 1930's , is facing a trial in Petrozavodsk city court on charges of
'preparing child pornography' as well as the possession of an 'illegal firearm'. The
next legal session is due on the 1st August. If found guilty of the charges, Dmitriev
could face a severe prison sentence of 15 years . Very few people take those charges
seriously and regard them as just ludicrous ! The real reasons for the charges is a
political attempt to silence any honest historians who wish to remind Russians on just
how harrowing their history is and how repression can't be played down or even
condoned .Since the return of Putin to power in 2012 there has been a concerted effort
to rehabilitate Stalin . As many as 40 monuments to Stalin have been erected throughout
Russia and only one month ago a plaque commemorating Stalin's speech was placed
on the walls of The Academy of Moscow State Law .According to recent opinion polls,
almost half the population of Russia view Stalin positively. The Minister of Education is
also thought to be an apologist of Stalin.

Dmitriev was not just any historian . He remained an outspoken person who spoke his own own mind. He was his own man. Dmitriev is the chairman of the Karelia Memorial society and a specialist on Stalinist repression. He actually found the sites of mass execution centers where thousands of people were callously murdered in secret. Dmitriev discovered such a site at Sandarmokh as well as Solovki at Sekirnaya Gora. In the former, 9000 bodies were buried. Dmitriev decided that those victims should not only be named but reburied. He declared : " Old women need to know where their dead are buried and I'm going to do everything to make this happen".

For twenty years Dmitriev has been performing such work. It was all unpaid. He regards
such a mission as a sacred duty to the forgotten victims of repression as well as their

His good friend Anatoly Razumov stated : " A person should live a long life . Why are the
tormented deprived of not only life but even of a grave ? "

Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates or welcomes such sentiments. For this year
represents the anniversary of the Great October Revolution and many officials don't want
to disown or distance themselves from what they see as the achievements of this revolution.
It is inconvenient for the government to have Stalin's atrocities remembered. It is not just
embarrassing and annoying but an affront. The change in mood is reflected by the fact
that last year, both the local Karelian government and the Orthodox church refused to
officially commemorate the dead at Sandarmokh . And in October 2016, the organisation
Memorial was declared 'a foreign agent '. Shortly afterwards, Dmitriev was arrested in December

2016. Dmitriev is not alone in facing dubious allegations. A state channel made a crude
documentary smearing the organisation of Memorial as a house of pedophiles. Such
crude and contrived allegations are not new. During the Soviet era it was a standard practice to smear dissidents as pedophiles. The aim was to blacken their reputations . The problem is that many people naively believe such claims. For example, I came across a few people who were working in a charity organisations who accepted at face value the claim that one dissident, Alexsandr Ogorodnikov was a pedophile . When I asked them to offer concrete evidence to support such claims none was forthcoming . An Orthodox priest who would rather not be named informed me : " I would not give any credence to such claims. It was a standard practice of the Russian secret services to make such allegations'".

The whole case against Dmitriev was entirely demolished by a brilliant in depth article by an
investigative journalist called Shura Burtin . Burtin , through painstaking investigation, found
there was not a single shred of evidence which could support the charges against Dmitriev.
The case against Dmitriev rests on photos he took of his adopted daughter which show her
naked. They were stored in his apartment not for distribution but to prove to social workers
that he was not inflicting any harm or physical abuse of his adopted daughter. They were
intended to be a record to prove he was not physically abusing his own daughter in any way.
This is because he was genuinely afraid that local social workers might mistakenly believe
he was physically abusing his child. So the photos were intended to reassure officials no abuse of any kind was taking place. So there are innocent and well-intended reasons for the presence of photos. Burtin interviewed many people asking what kind of man Dmitriev was and what emerges is a person incapable of the allegations made against him.

As far as the illegal possession of firearms goes, even this claim is absurd. There is nothing
very exceptional or sinister about this. Many local people need firearms to protect themselves from bears .

The case against Dmitriev was drawn up by a team of 'experts' from the Center for Social cultural Expert Analysis. But none of those staff have proper qualifications . When Dmitriev 's lawyer asked whether he could consult his own team of experts , the court refused ! Journalists have not been allowed to be present at court. All the evidence against the accused appears to be 'loaded'. A member of Memorial stated : " The charges against him are void, everyone knows it. It has been brought about because of his work commemorating victims of Stalin's terror."
The case of Yuri Dmitriev has become a popular cause not just in Russia but abroad. When
people hear about Dmitriev's case it continues to badly mar Russia's reputation. People all
over the World wonder whether Russians condone Stalin's repression, or are either ignorant, idiotic or worse, very cruel. Even supporters of Putin should be embarrassed at the harm which this case is doing to Russia's reputation. The sooner Yuri Dmitriev is released the better!
This article acknowledges the aid of the brilliantly researched one of Shura Burtin. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Chambers & CTU

CTU Chambers Correction on Secondcityteachers
By Jim Vail

Back in the day newspapers were the sole purveyors of news. Today it's the internet.

So when there was a mistake made, it was a big deal. The newspaper would issue a correction, and hopefully the matter would be solved.

Not today - who knows what is true, and what is 'fake news' as our president says, with people getting their information from the internet, and god knows where the information comes from - sometimes a legitimate source, and many times not. Who ever heard of a correction?

But being raised and bred a journalist where we are supposed to check our facts and report the news, I take to heart when someone points out an inaccuracy in a story I write. 

In this case I wrote about how the CTU hasn't been the strongest fighter to save star activist Sarah Chambers' job. One point I made was the CTU website did not post the story about the union's lawsuit against Chicago Public Schools for her firing because she was a whistle blower.

On Twitter one person pointed out that the story was posted. And sure enough, when I checked, it was. It is now the third blog post.

So I must make a correction. I will say that I did not see this story posted after the press conference last week, verifying my theory that the CTU has been a lukewarm fighter against the CPS to have Chambers reinstated. I check last weekend and wrote my story last week on a Monday. 

Well, the story is there for all to see that the union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Chambers. That is good.

And I stand corrected when I pointed out in my story that this fact wasn't posted on the internet.

And I hope the CTU will continue to fight hard for Chambers job. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

CTU & Chambers

Is the CTU Minimizing the Fight to Save Sarah Chambers?
By Jim Vail

Star teacher activist Sarah Chambers was fired by CPS. 

Teachers this past week have to be pretty down after we found out that the Chicago Teachers Union top activist Sarah Chambers was fired from her position because she supposedly did not follow protocol when administrating the PARCC test and allegedly set up a bus to transport students to the Chicago Board of Education meeting.

Chambers is telling everyone this is not true - they want to silence the critics like her who galvanize the parents to fight against draconian special education cuts because the board claims it has no money, while the mayor just set up another scheme that will pay banks about $70,000 a day to borrow more money.

If you are a general fighting a war, this is your top soldier, the one who has run numerous valiant missions to defeat the enemy. And she just went down. 

But our general - the CTU - is acting as if this person barely exists.

First, when a rally was held to save Sarah Chambers job at Saucedo Elementary School in Little Village earlier this spring, not one CTU officer attended the event.

Lindblom delegate Ed Hershey holds a poster to support Sarah Chambers at a rally in the spring.

CTU VP Jesse Sharkey told me it was because they had other things to do that took precedence.

The word from insiders - I guess I'm not included in that group - was that they wanted the event to look organic in that it was the community who wanted Sarah back, not the CTU. Never mind that it was simply an attack on the union's most militant activist.

Sarah Chambers is the CTU - she has been what we would dream every teacher would be, or at least a lot more, a fighter for public education who does not fear the powers that be. Quite simply - she is the union! Her fire power is what makes the CTU work!

The CTU did hold a press conference for Sarah last Friday to announce that a federal lawsuit against Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handpicked Chicago Board of Education for retaliation against Chambers for her First Amendment-protected criticisms of its deficient services to special education teachers. "The Board also broke the Illinois Whistleblower Act when it fired Chambers for blowing the whistle on its violations of laws protecting special education students."

Chambers will have a hearing at the IL State Board of Education about her job.

The suit contends that the Board's actions are unlawful as a wrongful discharge because all employees in Illinois are protected from retaliations when they point out violations of the law.

"The Board's reasons for firing Ms. Chambers are pretexts to hide its true, retaliatory motive," said Chamber's attorney Josiah Groff. "We look forward to proving this in court."

But when I went to look up this story about Chambers on the CTU website, there was no mention of the press conference on the site. It simply vanished!

Her face is at the top of the masthead of the website - CTUnet.com - along with five other faces, entitled the CTU Six - which are other teachers, some delegates, who the CTU claim have been targeted to be fired for their activism. 

CTU President Karen Lewis told the media this is not just about Sarah Chambers, but all the members who challenge the board and get fired as a result.

CTU President Karen Lewis

But when it comes to people - Sarah is at the top of the list. Her activism helped make Karen the CTU president, her activism reversed the disastrous CTU support of SB7 by forcing the executive board to reverse its blanket support of the anti-union legislation that Lewis worked out with the state legislature, her activism held off another school - Spry High School - from invading Saucedo's School and ruining its programs, her activism included numerous fights against school closures, special education cuts, privatization, disastrous contract deals, etc, etc.

Lewis did feel it important enough to attend a sentencing hearing for former disgraced CPS CEO and now felon Barbara Byrd Bennett.

Lewis did feel it important enough to say she supported Chuy Garcia to be mayor of the city even though the house of delegates had not yet voted on the endorsement.

But Lewis has not stepped up on her own volition to fight for her top soldier.

It's been a sad week for defenders of public education and even sadder to know union politics trumps what a union should truly stand and fight for.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Russians Don't Leave

By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- The overwhelming vast number of Russians don't want to leave Russia for
good. Or at least that is the conclusion of a recent poll undertaken by the
All Russian Center for Studying Russian Opinion which found that 89 % of
Russians would rather remain in their own country. While 10 % of those
polled would like to live abroad, 43 % of them are uncertain whether or
when this would be possible. This survey appears to represent the highest
percentage of those polled found in favor of remaining permanently in

The survey also indicated how the motives of those seeking to go abroad
has changed over the last few years. While a survey two years revealed that
more than half of those wanting to leave were motivated by the dream of
a higher standard of living, better pay and benefit, this has declined to 33% !
More respondents appear to be citing ecological reasons as a prime source
for wishing to leave [ 4% in 2016 , 12% in 2017] and Human rights { 0% in
2016 , 10 % in 2017} Most of those who want to emigrate tend to be young
and from cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The favorite destination
appears to be Germany.

What are we to make of those findings ? I personally welcome them but don't
find it too consoling because my personal experience does not always tally
with this survey. For whatever reason, I keep encountering people wanting to
get out. Moscow is even beginning to remind me of poor Moldova. It is
unpleasant to stay in a country when you keep meeting people who tell you
" I hate this country and want to get out " Or as an accountant in an American company
SAS , told me : " If every employee had a chance , they would live abroad." This
turned out to be an overstatement as some employees told me they did not have
such a dream. In Moldova I was constantly asked for advice on how to obtain
citizenship in Britain. Now when I told those people I was happy to stay in Moldova
or Moscow rather than Scotland, they thought I was mad . It was disconcerting.

When I asked how they imagined life in Britain I found a highly unrealistic view
of Britain which did not echo any of my experiences in Scotland. They spoke of
highly paid jobs, a fair legal system and great medical care system. Where did
they get those high expectations ? Did it spring out of their imagination or word
of mouth ? A Russian artist from Moscow once bumped into me on the streets
and asked me : "Don't you get sick and tired of living in this country ? I'm surprised
you are still here ." She has visited and worked in New York and dreams of
permanent American citizenship which appears elusive. And how did she find
America? She adored New York ! She told me she found the people friendly, nice
and helpful. This is why I 'd never make rash judgments on a person's dream. Who
am I to break a person's illusions ?

I came across person, a student called Olga who could not get used to living in America.
She told me : "I went to live in America with my husband, who was a scientist. Although
he loved it I could not stay and missed Russia. I longed for my family so we split up.
I returned to Russia. .... What I found strange about America is that whenever I went for
a walk some driver would pull up and offer me help. They thought my car had broken down
or I needed a lift. But I only wanted to go for a walk. Americans seem to like driving

The worst attitude you can come across is people who think that to leave your country
is to abandon it and betray it. This attitude not only exists in Russia but Scotland. It is
summed up by the self righteous attitude of a poem : 'I never abandoned my country'
suggesting those who did were deserters of an army. This is not the best of Akhmatova's

Whatever we can conclude about the findings of this survey , it at least explodes the crude
myth that most Russians are dying to leave Russia , or that they find dwelling in their country unbearable. Whether they have lowered their expectations about life abroad in terms of becoming disillusioned remains an open question. They might well be heeding the old Russian proverb : 'Life is better where you don't live'. It is one thing to enjoy a holiday in Greece, quite another to live there ! They don't always take this proverb to heart in Scotland. When I last visited Scotland , many Scots I met asked how they could come to Russia to live. "It must be better than Scotland " they told me . The last person to phone me up and asked if she could come to stay permanently in Russia was my sister. I wonder what the Russians would make of this?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pay differences

Huge pay differences at Russian universities
By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- When Maria Koroleva, a Russian academic once attempted to persuade graduates from Moscow State University to pursue a doctorate she was met with a bemused stare which seemed to say : "And how would I feed myself never mind pay high
fees?" Undertaking a post graduate course without adequate state support seems
like a futile feat even for the most-talented students. Even if the course is completed,
jobs as academics still remain largely low paid not to mention entailing a bigger workload
due to increasing red tape. As in the West, attaining an academic career appears to
be a distant dream, or rather nightmare, depending how you look at things ! This is because
the long sought for dream of working as an academic can turn into a stressful headache.
You are no longer an academic but administrator in a hostile environment fraught with
petty office politics.

When Putin gave a long public question and answer forum to journalists and the people
he received many complaints about under or low pay . He acknowledged that violations
in pay had taken place and that the teachers in question should send a letter of complaint
to wage inspectors and other officials. But the scale of the complaints encompassing either
delayed salaries or blatant underpayment indicates the state's promise to increase by
100- 200% the salaries of teachers and doctors from 2012 has a long way to go. This
is because of widespread corruption within schools and universities as well as the absence
of an effective mechanism to take effective legal action against the culprits.

Only yesterday I was informed of how head teachers and administrative staff asked one
school teacher to open an account which would allow them to make illicit transfers which
concealed the level of payments allowing some head teachers to unfairly receive more
income than other teachers who would obtain far less.

Corruption concerning unfair pay is not new. One of the demands of the Bolsheviks was that the salary of an elected official should not be higher than the average salary of a skilled worker. Lenin was startled to discover that someone had raised his salary without his permission and that when he protested about it no action was taken ! Later on the salary of an official was not allowed to exceed two or three times the wage of a worker. In current times, the salary of a university lecturer should not exceed five times the amount of a university teacher. Alas, it blatantly does ! A rector's salary amounts to twenty times the salary of a university teacher at a time when universities are short of staff. Even a shortage of staff can be a blessing for some head teachers who take over the hours of two or three redundant teachers, make the minimum effort and attain a huge windfall.

The huge discrepancy of pay between rectors and teachers partly explains why the latter are so low paid ! For instance , Vladimir Litvinenko the Rector of Saint Petersburg Gorni University obtains a lavish annual salary of 195.7 million rubles and Anton Torkunov, rector of Moscow State Institute of International Relations receives an annual salary of 31.9 million rubles.

Compare this with the salary of a teacher at Institutes of Further Education who receives 55,000 rubles a year { ROSSTATA 2016} In many cases in the provinces, the salary of a rector can be 40 times the pittance of a teacher.You could fund whole faculties with the income a rector receives!

In many cases those rectors are so smug they don't even conceal their salaries ! On the
contrary they boast about them and show off their wealth. When they hear that some
wealthy managers in the West modestly conceal their wealth , go to work by tram and wear
informal clothes they are shocked by this. They think that flaunting their wealth boosts their
image rather than provokes people. Most of those rectors view an institute as a lucrative
business where they can rent out offices of the universities and pocket the money.
Irina Kantorovich states, "The reason for impoverished teachers was the new system of
paid labor introduced in 2008." She states that this system allows the management of such
institutes to decide which teacher should be paid the most and who should take the lion's share of the pay and increments. She has gathered a petition of 50,000 signatures calling for a much more accountable and decent pay system where payment is based on fair play and not caprice.

She has a hard job ahead of her! The government , rather than taking the bull by the horns
simply tells frustrated teachers to send a complaint to either an official in the Department of
Education or a wage inspector! Meanwhile rectors continue to draw staggering salaries as if
there were no tomorrow!