Monday, June 29, 2015

KGB Monument Return?

By Stephen Wilson

            If the Russian Communist party manages to acquire the stipulated signatures of 146,000 of Moscow's citizens,       then the City Duma will give the go ahead for a local referendum where voters can voice their opinion on three questions; do you approve of the monument of Felix Dzerzhinsky being returned to the centre of Lubyanskaya square? Do you support the reforms in education? Do you approve of the reforms in medical care?

            Unfortunately the deeply bitter controversy concerning the return of 'Iron Felix', the founder of the KGB , has so overshadowed the other more urgent issues that most Muscovites don't even know those other two questions are on the agenda.

            The implications of voting against reforms have  not been spelled out and no details of concrete plans have emerged of how those reforms, could be reversed...Even if voters vote against the reforms, it is highly unlikely they will be reversed. It is difficult to imagine the reopening of around
20 hospitals  and restoring the jobs of countless doctors and
teachers who have lost their jobs. Nevertheless, a vote
against reforms would certain boost the morale of trade-union activists who are struggling to defend their interests. An indictation of how far bent officials are going ahead to stifle opposition was starkly demonstrated by a  doctor being
physically assaulted in his own office ! The dentist, Ivan Stepanov, had simply sent an official complaint to the mayor about how bad conditions had deteriorated in his clinic.

            Teachers I have spoken to over the past months continue to tell me that if they express any opinion against change, or dare attend a demonstration, they will promptly be
fired! Medical staff face similar threats. However, now
some are actually being beaten up not by mysterious thugs on the streets but out in the open, in their own offices! Officials are so confident that the law will always support their interests that they no longer make an effort even to conceal their crimes!

            IRON FELIX

            What are the chances of Iron Felix being returned to
Lubyansakya square?  It is diffficult to say because polls
indicate it could be a close vote with around 50% voting
against, while 50% for. One survey found 49.4% were for restoration, while 42.4% were categorically against.

            The toppling of the monument in 1991 by opposition
demonstrators was seen as a symbol of 'the end of
communism'. The restoration might be interpreted,
misleadingly as the return of the Soviet Union. In reality, the old Soviet system can't be revived because it was marred by too many defects and chronic faults which people would far from relish. People tend to remember the 'good times' and blot out the worst times.

             Nostalgia can invent phantom memories. The historical and social context for  a revived Soviet union is entirely absent.

             IRON FELIX

             Who was Iron Felix? Ask most Muscovites and they can't tell you much about him. He has almost become an
obscure figure. The founder of the KGB was not a Russian
but a Pole, from an aristocratic family background. He was
an unlikely revolutionary. Before he endorsed Marxism he
as a relatively normal person who loved to sing, write poetry and was highly educated. Dzerzhinsky was kicked out of grammar school, exiled to Siberia and later badly beaten up and tortured in prison. He wrists bore the permanent scars of iron prison shackles. Dzerzhinsky could be very pedantic insisting on an exact number of pencils on his table. He also suffered recurrent illnesses.

             The philosopher, Berdeyav, who was held and interrogated by him gave a generous interpretations of his character saying he was not a very bad person but only a fanatic who sincerely believed in what he was doing. When Lenin offered him the post of head of the Cheka he at first refused.

             Joseph Pilsudski, who led Poland to independence, recalled that 'Dzerzhinsky distinguished himself as a student with delicacy  and modesty. He was rather tall, thin, and demure, making the impression of an ascetic with the face of an icon.

             Tormented or not, this is an issue history will clarify; in any case this person did not know how to lie'. How he came to become one of the main architects of the 'red terror' who condoned mass executions of not only opposition leaders but anyone who happened to be in the wrong place and wrong time without a passport or simply because of their
'bourgeois background' is an open question!

             Lyudmilla Alexeyena, an outspoken dissident descibed the proposed referendum as 'a farce' and stated if they do restore this monument, 'I will come there to splash it with red paint, the colour of blood that blood-thirsty person

             The referendum is set to take place in September which gives supporters about 2 months to collect the required
number of signatures. Despite the fact that many Russians are at their dachas or on holiday abroad, the Communist party seems confident they can gather such signatures. Whether the referendum will still include a vote on whether people can support or reject reforms in education and health is questionable! A vote against unpopular reforms would openly undermine any legitimacy officials claim to have.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Strike Looming?

Will the CTU Strike is the Question
By Jim Vail

The question everyone should be asking now that negotiations between the Chicago Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union over a new contract have ended is Strike.

"Is there a possibility of another strike," one reporter asked at the CTU press briefing following the news that negotiations have broken off once again due to charges of bad faith bargaining.

"Well, I mean nothing is off the table," Lewis responded.

Despite the fact that the union says it has been bargaining in good faith, the Board has threatened to terminate 3,000 educators, increase class size, eliminate pension pick up and enforce $200 million in cuts, according to a CTU press release.

However, Lewis told reporters at a press briefing June 25 that simple requests like autonomy for grading, as opposed to the top down directives from the Chicago Public Schools, are opposed by CPS.

Grading, testing, Reach cut scores, paper work - the Board refuses to compromise on any of these issues dear to teachers, Lewis said.

"That costs them not a penny," Lewis said. "We had autonomy over our grading three years ago."

Lewis said CPS agreed to continue the pension pickup.

CTU VP Jesse Sharkey said the Board does not want to compromise at all. 

"We were willing to zero percent increase if the board could guarantee certain things would be better in the schools," he said. 

So will CTU strike? Perhaps it's up to the members to decide is the fight worth it. That could begin in the fall if CTU asks the delegates to conduct strike votes in the schools to see if the ultimate bargaining chip is used.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

No Strike?

No Strike Year for New Contract
By Jim Vail

Word was already out that the Chicago Teachers Union was near a contract deal before the Chicago Tribune reported this week that a deal is around the corner.

"We are literally this close to hammering out an agreement for a year," CTU President Karen Lewis told the Tribune. "So that's good right?"

The Trib reported no details on the new contract.

CPS did not want to extend the current contract by one year by stating it would save about $100 million due to a 3 percent pay hike.

According to CTU contract bargaining committee members who spoke off the record, the district will offer a one-year contract no raise, but retain steps and lane changes that are effectively yearly raises based on years of experience and degrees.

No details were added about holding health care costs.

It appears a deal to avoid a strike would help the board sort out its stated financial problems.

The CTU leadership made no effort to support a strike at the last House of Delegates meeting in June. In fact, Lewis stated that avoiding a strike would be better.

However, the rhetoric was sharp when CTU complained that CPS was not bargaining in good faith, and the district offered essentially a 7 percent pay cut by asking members to contribute the 7 percent pension payment that CPS current makes. 

One delegate stated he did not agree with the union's policy towards negotiating in secrecy.  

However, it appears while delegates were in the dark, the bargaining team was not.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Exam Stress!

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - School days may well be the most traumatic days of your life. That is what it seems after hearing reports of how some students are tensely sitting the final unitary state exams in Moscow. At this moment in time, thousands of students are undergoing the ordeal of sitting exams, which they perceive as rigidly determining their very destiny. Passing them means a promising future of entering the best institutes and attaining the best jobs; failing them can lead to doing dull dead end jobs. From a limited school-student perspective, it almost seems as if life is reduced to performing in an exam with an all or nothing outcome. No wonder some of the more sensitive souls crack up not just during an exam but after them.

Only yesterday a teacher colleague, Oksana, informed me that, 'Students at my school are finding those exams very stressful ... I heard that one of my students fainted in the exam room and then a school student informed me one of my students experienced a heart attack in the classroom. They had to call an ambulance '.

I retorted with, 'Come on! Maybe the pupil just fainted?'

These reports may well be just hearsay, gossip or rumours. They do however capture the tense atmosphere of the exams.

Perhaps those just extreme examples reveal how some students take things too hard.

I remember two years ago I used to teach students near the notorious high-rise story building House number 16/1 in Osennei street, in the Krilatskoy district of Moscow. It was reputed to be the building with the highest suicide rate in Moscow. The building seemed to be swallowing its tenants. This building distracts attention from other parts of the district where the suicide rate is also quite high.

Despite attempts to explain away those deaths as 'adolescent problems', drug-taking and the mystical shadow of a curse, it turned out that some of the cases were connected to the stress of poor exam results. One school which had a high rate of suicide among its pupils was explained by a 'strict marking system'. I will never forget
the words of one school student, 16-year-old Nadia, when she told me she could identify with those students . She stated, 'I understand them. I, too, would kill myself if I were in their shoes. If you fail those exams, there is no future. If you don't do well in those  exams how can you enter university, get a good job and move away from your parents? If you fail those exams you are trapped'. The words took me back.


What is making the exams a more tense ordeal is the constant surveillance of cheating which automatically presumes a pupil is a potential cheat, untrusted exam marking and  constantly changing criteria for marking exams such as having to write a composition in the Russian language and a new speaking test in the English exam. The school students speak not to a teacher but to a computer screen which records them. Final year results are being assessed not so much by teachers but computers. But
computers have already been making mistakes and some pupils who gave mainly correct answers in, say a Russian literature test are unsure how they can appeal or whether a teacher can double check this.


What can teachers do about student stress? They can do quite a lot if they intervene at the apt moment! I can make the following three suggestions -

1. The first thing you have to encourage students to question is how they perceive doing exams and life itself in a wider context.

This is because some of those students perceive life in a narrow, limited and extreme way. They think exam outcomes are 'an all or nothing affair'. In life, I am either 'a total loser or total winner'.

But this is surely a narrow and misleading view of life. It drastically limits your possibilities from the beginning. The fact is that nobody is a total loser or winner. We are all doomed to fail in something.

As one teacher told me, 'If you fail your exams it is not the end of the World'. There is also more to life than sitting exams. So the first thing to do is to change dangerously limited perceptions of life. Avoid seeing life in narrow 'totalities'. School is not just about acquiring facts about nature and passing exams, but about developing your moral and spiritual level. If you don't do this at school there is
always time to do it after. Who would you rather spend time with?

Would you prefer to be with a selfish, affluent, arrogant and highly educated successful pupil or a pupil who has failed all his exams but is a caring, helpful person prepared to help anyone in trouble?

Most people would warm to the latter. The main goal of any
education system should be to try and inspire them into becoming good spiritual beings. The teacher should not preach but rather tactfully suggest how some people perceive life from many other views which have never been explored before. So the student learns that there is more than just one choice or possibility.

For example, we might suggest to students not to take life too seriously, especially exams. Which is more critical to you; passing an exam or helping a lonely person dying of cancer in a hospice?

Learning to listen and aid other people is more important than passing exams.

2.We might suggest the following question for pupils and teachers to discuss; Which is more important; knowledge or love? Can anyone accurately define what love is? For example, should we read Fromm's 'The art of Loving' , Buddha or the Bible? All those questions do not require yet another subject in Russian schools but can be encompassed by the course in Russian literature. After all, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov were fearlessly confronting those deep issues.

When a pupil learns to perceive the World with different eyes a whole weight might just fall off his shoulders. He might just grasp that there are different ways of perceiving and reacting to the World around them. Even the bars of an iron cage can rust and allow you to walk out.

3. Try to enjoy the exam! Instead of looking on exams as stressful, try to see them as an exciting challenge just like a game. If you have studied well for exams then enjoy showing off your knowledge. This of course presumes the students likes his subject or feels confident in it. You might see solving maths problems as delightful puzzles.

Although the last suggestion might not work in all cases, it is worth looking at not only the most negative aspects of stress but the more positive. Sitting an exam is not just a test in knowledge but how you handle stress!  So we have to learn to fail well without angst and anger.

Friday, June 19, 2015

No More Russo!

District 299 No Longer - Did Anyone Notice?
By Jim Vail

Alexander Russo, founder of District299
Now and then I like to look around to see what is happening in different media concerning the local education beat.

I always check in every week to read Substance News. George Schmidt does an excellent job covering the Chicago Board of Education and the privatization craziness coming out. His website is a wealth of local and national education information. 

For some reason I continue to check into Michael Klonsky once a week - but his blog is merely a blog, where he rehashes and comments on local or national education news. He is a social democrat who focuses on the city's political machinery.

The best reporting on education news comes from the two big dailies Sun Times and Tribune, and Catalyst-Chicago. 

But the education news blog District 299 that had been around for some time and would run some of my stories as well as Substance suddenly is no longer.

Alexander Russo, the founder who Substance would call out from time to time because of his focus on corporate media and the bias from the top, called it quits last month.

His blog was hosted by Catalyst and the Chicago Tribune. While he once generated intense discussions on crazy principals and union politics, his blog eventually faded with time (he was running it from Brooklyn), and the corporate media have no interest in a forum that does not make them money, or at least generate excitement.

I was never a big fan of District299. It did run some of my stories and I did use comments on interesting topics to help report my stories. I also enjoyed Substance editor Schmidt taking shots at Russo, who certainly deserved it at times. In fact, I told George back then in 2005 when District299 was first created and he would comment a lot on the site, to create his own online version of Substance News - it was still a tabloid format newspaper back then.

So Substance continues. Second City Teachers continues. And the two dailies continue to report. And the Chicago Teachers Union features its own blog and facebook page.

But District299 is no longer. The Internet continues to churn in today's world of ever changing online media.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Common Core

Meet the New Common Core


MADISON, Wis. — HATE the Common Core? You’re not alone. The national reading and math standards, set up by a bipartisan consortium of state governors, have turned into a political lightning rod for a coalition of angry parents and education activists. The math component has generated special peevishness. The comedian Louis C.K. was widely cheered in April when he tweeted: “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and Common Core!”
Governors around the country, including many former Common Core supporters, are considering strangling the Common Core in its crib. Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina have already adopted new bespoke state standards. Democracy in action!
There’s just one problem. What’s replacing the Common Core is, by and large, the same thing in a new package.
Standardized tests certainly aren’t going anywhere. States that have dumped exams aligned with the Common Core aren’t dumping high-stakes testing; they’re just switching to new tests, like the ACT’s Aspire. (Other ACT offerings include the Explore, the Engage and the Compass. Apparently standardized tests are titled by the same people who name midsize sedans.)
Frequent testing is locked in by federal funding requirements and, in many states, by accountability statutes long predating the Common Core. Just recently, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey announced that his administration was moving to abandon the Common Core curriculum but sticking with the corresponding state exam, all but conceding that the new standards would be essentially identical with the old.
And what about the material itself? Will new standards banish the homework problems that make Louis C.K.’s kids cry? I doubt it. The South Carolina Education Oversight Committee found that the new South Carolina math standards were 92 percent in alignment with the content of the Common Core. In other words, the math they’re asking students to learn is largely the same.
One controversial Common Core standard is “making 10,” a strategy for first graders learning addition. If you want to remember what 8+5 is, you recall that 8 needs two more to be 10; take those two away from the 5 and give them to the 8, leaving you with 10+3 = 13. One critic of this technique, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, complained about it on TV. But “making 10” is still there in the new Indiana standards. And though Texas itself never adopted the Common Core, it did join the rest of the country in teaching “making 10,” which you can find in Texas’s state math standard 111.3.b.(3).D.
Other activists denounce the Common Core’s emphasis on writing down criticisms of incorrect mathematical reasoning. Isn’t math about getting the right answer, by any means necessary? Not in Indiana, whose post-Common Core standard asks students to “listen to or read the arguments of others, decide whether they make sense, and ask useful questions to clarify or improve the arguments.” That’s the same as the Common Core, word for word.
If the Common Core is so unpopular, why have legislators largely opted to preserve it, even as they ditch the toxic Common Core brand? Why not just go back to the way we taught math before?

One reason: The Common Core is the way math was taught before. True, the new South Carolina standards are 92 percent aligned with the Common Core. But the Common Core was 97 percent aligned with the math standards South Carolina was using before! The term “number sentence,” which the comedian Stephen Colbert mocked, is 50 years old, and the kind of problem it describes appears in textbooks from the 1920s.
Likewise, describe “making 10s” to 20-somethings and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. And no matter what Governor Abbott says, we shouldn’t get rid of it. If I need to know what 197+64 is, I’m going to take 3 away from 64 to make 200 and add the 61 I have left to get 261, just as the newfangled method asks us to. I’m sure as roses not adding 4 to 7, carrying the 1, adding 10 to 6 and carrying the 1 again. Having different strategies for different situations is how people who are good at mental math actually function.
The Common Core doesn’t reinvent math education, but it does change its emphasis. The early-grade standards focus on speed, correctness and understanding in arithmetic, because students without that basis get kneecapped later by algebra and calculus. My son, an elementary-school student in a Common Core district, has done lots of timed arithmetic drills and learned standard algorithms (alongside other ones) for addition, multiplication and long division. That’s the core of the Common Core.
My kid has had teachers who liked and understood the math they taught. But not everyone’s so fortunate, and no governor or blue-ribbon commission can make it so by fiat. We’re certainly not offering new teachers the pay and working conditions that would attract the full range of math lovers to the profession.
For too many students, math class in the Common Core era means lots of new lessons and new tests, written in a hurry, presented with widely varying degrees of skill and opaquely graded. That’ll also be their math class in the post-Common Core era, unless other big changes are on the way.
Jordan Ellenberg, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, is the author of “How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.”
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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Stalin Again?

By Stephen Wilson

Joseph Stalin

(Moscow, Russia) - 'Do you know that the building we are studying in is said to be haunted by the ghost of Stalin?  People who work here claim to have seen his ghost here...' proudly smiled my charming student of English, Lena,
while we were in a monotonously wooden labyrinth of dimly lit corridored buildings where rooms were leashed out to small firms. The room we held our studies only added to the grim atmosphere. All around us were framed photos of crashed trains. I wondered what kind of oddball would collect such photos? The building was within the vicinity of the Kremlin and next to the GUM shopping mall!

The incident occurred years ago, but over the past few days I have noticed Stalin's presence has surfaced beyond just haunting dull and shadowy offices. For what we are witnessing is an attempted rehabilitation of Stalin where he has almost become a 'respectable' symbol of the the new Russian political landscape. What was largely unthinkable 20 years ago, has now become reality. Stalin is now lauded as a great poet in his youth, a strong leader who won the war
and accomplished the feat of transforming Russia into a great power.

Stalin has even been 'humanised' for having a sense of humour.

When I dropped into 'Dom Knigi', in Sokol, I found one bookshelf crammed with books on Stalin. You could read 'Young Stalin', 'Stalin Jokes', 'The sayings of Stalin', 'How Stalin won the war' and so on. One book titled by 'Stalin Laughs', The Humour of the leader of the people', by Khokhlov, Moscow 2015, is full of amusing anecdotes. For example, one day Stalin lost his favourite pipe. He looked everywhere but could not find it. Stalin suspected someone had stolen it and lamented that 'I would give anything to find it'. After three days Beria arrested ten thieves, and each of them confessed to stealing the pipe which all this time had simply fallen behind Stalin's sofa and lain in his room.

The presence of Stalin is not only conspicious in old offices and bookshops  but even school textbooks. A mid-2000 college textbook praises Stalin for progressively industrialising Russia. While visiting a block of apartment I could help myself to a free copy of reprinting of the 10th of May 1945 issue of Pravda, where a huge portrait of Stalin
looms up over the front page.

While travelling on the Moscow metro, I read a poster with a letter from Stalin stating, 'My friendly regards and gratitude from the Red Army in raising 706,000 rubles for the construction of an armoured train. The wishes of the metro workers will be carried out.' You can also read in the metro how one of Stalin's sons shot down two German planes.


Only recently, an attempt was made to rename Volgograd, Stalingrad again. Putin had even agreed to allow the residents of the city to take  a vote on it. Yesterday I met a security man who was from Volgograd. I asked him, 'How many people want to city to be changed back to Stalingrad?' He told me, 'Most of the city. About 60% are for while 40% are against it! We did not manage to rename it because the economic crisis meant we didn't have the resources to hold a
referendum.' However, many of the locals are calling it Stalingrad already and one wonders whether a referendum is
necessarily at all!


According to a recent opinion poll, most Russians consider Stalin a great wartime leader. His popularity has been rising rather than diminishing. However, we should not overstate this trend. Although many Russians appreciate his role as a wartime leader, some will insist they don't condone his role in repressing people. For example, a 15-year-old student told me, 'I think that We could not have won the war without Stalin but I don't agree with how he repressed so many people.' Russians can express a highly ambiguous view of Stalin. That the rehabilitation of Stalin has not been given complete
backing is indicated by two incidents. Volvograd has not been renamed Stalingrad and an attempt by the grandson of Stalin, Yevgeny Dzhugashvii, to take journalists to Court in Russia for libel, was thrown out. Dzhugashvii then took his case to the European court of Human Rights only to have his plea utterly rejected. He had claimed that the original Russian court's decision violated article 8 of the Russian constitution and his right to respect for his private and family life'. If Yevgeny Dzugashvili has won his case against Novaya Gazeta's journalist, then any criticism of Stalin's historical role would be under threat. Academic freedom would have ceased to exist (the journalist had described
Stalin as a bloodthirsty cannibal for his role in massacring the Polish army during the war).


The attempted rehabilitation of Stalin hardly seems news. What strikes some observers is the unexpected and eccentric means of doing this.

For example, I switched on the television channel Zvesda, and watched a documentary called 'Young Stalin'. In this programme, a young Georgian was allowed to recite some of Stalin's poems which he had written while he was a young man. The programme claimed Stalin had great merit as a poet, was an outstanding student and attained the highest marks.

Later, I dropped into a local Orthodox church's bookshop where I acquired a dated copy of an obscure journal ''The Sixth Sense'.

I read an intriguing interview with a famous Georgian actor called 
David Giorgobiani titled, 'Was Stalin a tyrant or sent by God to punish Russia.?' The article concluded that Stalin was sent on a mission to do God's work in punishing Russia. A view of Stalin seen through the lens of religious folklore has emerged. The view goes that Stalin was never a genuine atheist, that he once stated, 'I was never a revolutionary' and  that he had officially revived the Orthodox church in 1943. Stalin even repented his sins! He returned to his old Orthodox beliefs. According to David Giorgobiani, 'There exist recollections, that he (Stalin), while in the Kremlin, often dropped alone into the Uspensky cathedral and would not let anyone else into the building. I ask you, what did Joseph Stalin do in the Uspensky Cathedral, where he was alone?

He did not do anything else but pray.Yes, he was sent by God to punish Russia for her sins.' We now find that Stalin has begun to play a newly defined role in Russian religious folklore as a repentant sinner, who returned to the Orthodoxy. There is even a story that when his grandmother visited him and asked what his new job was he explained, 'I'm the president of Russia. I'm a kind of Tsar.' His mother
was not impressed and retorted, 'It is a pity you never became a priest'.

Another story confirmed by the wartime British leader, Churchill, recalls how Churchill once asked Stalin, 'Will you ever forgive me for opposing your government?' Stalin laconically answered, 'God will forgive you'.

A less flattering folklore might have emerged which depicted Stalin as a demon. Many religious people once claimed the proof that Stalin was evil lay in aspects of his physical appearance which coincided with Russian popular belief in demons. They claimed that Stalin's limp, his six toes on one foot, his small poxed scarred face and anomalous physical appearance proved he was a demon! According to popular
beliefs, anyone born with six fingers or toes belongs to the supernatural world and is endowed with second -sight. Those deformities were seen as a sign of someone who would become a priest or shaman! This view of Stalin, which was held by some Orthodox during Stalin's time never quite caught on. However, the view that Stalin had become a repentant Marxist who revived the Orthodox church and thus saved Russia during the war has increasingly won favour. It is a great irony that one of the greatest persecutors of the Orthodox church is now being perceived as one of its staunch guardians!

Stalin has almost entered into the mythology of the Moscow metro, which is currently celebrating its 80th anniversary. The story goes that once he was chairing a meeting of architects and planners about how the metro should be lain out. The participants were discussing this plan and that Stalin stood there, puffing away on his pipe, listening intently. He also was drinking a mug of coffee. Stalin lost patience and slammed his mug on to the centre of the Moscow map.

When he removed his mug everyone could see a dark circle left by coffee stains. Stalin stated, 'That is how we will plan the Metro.

It will be based on a brown circle at the centre...'

Stalin is not the first historical personage whose role has been reinterpreted by Russian folklore. An American folklorist, Jack Haney, stated that Russian folk-tales depicted Ivan the Terrible as a kind tsar and friend of the peasant who defended them against the shamelessly oppressive boyars. Russian folk storytellers might tell entertainingly alluring stories. However, they make poor historians.

A historian's role is not to flatter, populise or entertain people. His role is to tell the bitter truth. However, historians can't  help agreeing with Stalin's mother that he should have become a harmless priest.

More is the pity!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Dirty Schools!

Elementary School Blasts Aramark's Dirtiness
By Jim Vail

At a local school council meeting at one elementary school in the city this week, parents, teachers and LSC members blasted Aramark for a dirty school.

The tumultuous meeting pretty much summed up the experiences in Chicago public schools across the city. Since this corporation won the bid to clean hundreds of schools, the schools are dirtier.

It's so bad that the president of the principal's association constantly takes to the TV news shows to blast Aramark for not cleaning the schools.

At the LSC meeting this week (the school is not named) the parents made a power point presentation that showed how most parts of the school are dirty, including the cafeteria where the children eat.

This was not a problem before Aramark won the contract to clean the school, the parent noted.

The primary teachers complained that the rugs and the floors are dirty and that is where the children spend a decent part of their days when they gather for lessons or hear a story being read.

Aramark representatives, including a community relations person, stated that they commissioned a third party to ascertain that the school increased in its cleanliness ratings.

One parent replied that Aramark itself should be present with the school instead of hiring an outside firm to determine if the school is any cleaner.

The school LSC also noted that the number of janitors cleaning the building was cut from four to two.

One of the janitors said it looks like she is doing a lousy job based on how dirty the school is, but the fact is she is working overtime, cuts her lunch periods short in order to attend to emergencies and other cleaning demands.

Aramark also stated that it is the Chicago Public Schools fault. However, it was Aramark that won the contract with the stipulation that it would clean the schools based on the bid price.

It appears that Aramark is doing the classic corporate crisis management response to the outcry from the schools about dirty schools.

At the LSC meeting, the company introduced one of their top chefs who made an Asian salad and pinto beans that was served in small cups. They said they are focused on a healthy school via their food service.

They have also been sending their managers, replacing and perhaps firing others, out to the schools to deal with the crisis in the schools.  

For example, I have met with various reps after I filed a grievance based on the uncleanliness of the school. They told me it is all about 'efficiency' and that they want to make sure they have the right workers who can clean in a certain time period.

This efficiency concept is very stressful, perhaps impossible, but is being replicated in corporate settings across the country. For example, Amazon warehouse employees are expected to retrieve orders in a certain time period that leaves no room for error or real life bumps.

So it is in our schools where our depleted maintenance staff are expected to clean rooms in a 7 minute (or something like that) time period.

Of course, if there was a spill, or an emergency - is that taken into consideration? 

The company officials' line is you will not get more janitors and hey, why don't you also make sure the classroom is clean so the janitors can finish their job.

Sure, how about our janitors reciprocate and test some kids so I can actually teach.

This is privatization.

This is going back in time to no worker rights or decent conditions.

And this will continue if we do not fight back!