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!

https://www.youcaring.com/orlandoerodriguezjrlanetechsoccerscholarship-903256

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review

BOOK REVIEW:   WHO RULES THE WORLD BY NOAM CHOMSKY
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

THE RUSSIAN STATE SETS UP RUSSIAN HISTORIAN
By Stephen Wilson


MOSCOW --  
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
families.

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

MOST RUSSIANS DON"T WANT TO EMIGRATE
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
Russia.

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
everywhere."

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
poems.

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!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sarah Chambers Fight Continues

The Fight to Save Our Top Activist Sarah Chambers Continues!
By Jim Vail


Many aldermen support star teacher activist Sarah Chambers.

The fight to save Saucedo special education teacher Sarah Chambers job continues as almost 20 aldermen have signed letters of support to have her reinstated.


Chambers, considered the Chicago Teachers Union top activist, was suspended and has a hearing to determine termination. The Chicago Public Schools have not determined exactly what she is accused of. Chambers says it is because she has been actively fighting against the board's special education cuts and other anti-public education policies.

Here is the letter of support from our Ald. Harry Osterman of the 48th Ward:

Ald. Harry Osterman wrote a letter in support of Sarah Chambers

"Dear Members of the Chicago Board of Education:

"Please allow this letter to serve as a formal request to have Sarah Chambers, an accomplished special education teacher and ardent advocate for expanding the rights and resources aimed at assisting students with special needs all throughout the Chicago Public School district, fully reinstated as a teacher in good standing.

"In addition to her extraordinary work in the classroom, Sarah is also a sponsor of the Gay-Straight Allianace (GSA) at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, an important group aimed at fostering dialogue between student and faculty members at a time when the rights of LGBTQ students are under assault.

"Taken together, Sarah is an award winning teacher, one who has been praised for her efforts by six different administrations.

"There is much uncertainty surrounding the actual reasons why Sarah Chambers was suspended in the first place, particularly in light of the fact that special education funding is suffering from devastating cuts on the local, state and federal level, it hardly makes sense to lose our most talented instructors in this field in light of these circumstances.

"With so many hurdles facing our schools in the City of Chicago, I would hope that the Board of Education considers the unintended consequences of punished employees who dedicate their lives to advancing the cause of public education.

"I thank you in advance for your attention to the matter and please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have any questions reiterated in the request."

Sincerely,

Harry Osterman
Alderman, 48th Ward


Monday, June 19, 2017

Day of Protest

PROTEST AGAINST GOVERNMENT 
DAY OF CONFUSION
By Stephen Wilson

 
"What day was it ? " and "Where do we meet ?" were the questions which sprung to
mind when I woke up this on the 12th June. A further question which should have been
asked at a deeper level is not so much 'Who is to blame ?" and "What is to be done?"
but "What are the exact aims of this protest ?" I was not alone in this confusion . A
rally against corruption had been called on the 12th of June because it coincided
against on the celebration of 'The Day of Russia'. "They can't arrest people on this
day because there is no contradiction between gathering in the city to celebrate on
this day and a protest against corruption. "it was presumed. Besides, when Navalny,
announced the place of the demonstration had been abruptly changed from the officially
approved Prospect Sakhalova to Tverskaya square and that : "Your rights are
protected under the Russian constitution and the European Convention on Human
Rights ," it did not sound convincing. An estimated 866 people were arrested in
Moscow alone.

Practically half of Russians are unaware that on the 12th June they are supposed
to celebrate 'The Day of Russia' according to a recent Levada poll. If you ask Russians
what is Navalny's political stance even more ignorance arises. Most people don't know.
Even most protesters can't offer me a straight answer other than; "he is against corruption''.
The most important point is that he is not a fascist but a relatively moderate Russian
nationalist who believes that the main cause of Russia's economic ills is due to the loss
of money via corruption. The money which could be saved on corruption could be
used to regenerate the economy assuring wider prosperity. He is center right in his politics.
 
When I got out of the metro station Mayakovsky the atmosphere was claustrophobic.
You had to squeeze past a never ending line of riot police and and reconstruction sites.
All the pavements from this metro to the city center were under massive construction.
As we walked on single -file past another line of people leaving in the opposite direction
we noticed hundreds of riot police were running in formation and halting along our path.
They were mainly fresh young faces who had a kind of bemused look on their face betraying
they were raw. Many wore green helmets and bullet proof vests and resembled soldiers
so much one protester asked 'Have they brought in the army?'' We were almost surrounded
by the police. I tried to take a short cut to the square but noticed every alley or road was
either a dead end or blocked by police. While doing this I encountered Monica Spibak
whom I had interviewed during the protest against Demolition. 'I warned her :"You are
likely to get arrested . It is like walking into a trap." She answered : "If I get arrested I'll
tell you all about it." You could see many buses along the way ready for the detained.
I thought they intended to arrest everyone on the demonstration.

What followed assumed a dreamlike surreal situation which was unreal. The riot
police began to arrest people shortly after 2.p.m. But who could they arrest? Most
of the protesters were not carrying placards and some people carrying flags were
celebrating 'The Day of Russia ' . The police chose the option 'Arrest and later find out'.
One man who was being escorted to a police bus by a policeman complained ; "I just
wanted to get a cup of coffee ! " It must have been an expensive cost of coffee. He
could have been fined 10,000 rubles ! The funniest incident was when a Putin supporter
came up and was being filmed by a T.V. crew. He started to complain : " Those riot
police are not doing their job. They should be arresting protesters yet they are either
letting them go by or even letting them go..... When Putin is reelected next year we
will all be better off." Just after he said those lines two Russia riot policemen grabbed him
and took him away to the police station. This example serves to indicate that the arresting
was not so much indiscriminate but inconsistently sporadic.

Reenactment groups who were dawning Viking costumes to perform on this day claimed
"Our day was ruined by this demonstration."

Not all the opposition agrees with the decision by Navalny to change the location of the
demonstration. They thought it needlessly provocative . Critics stated that very little
thought was given on how to secure the release of those arrested. Many of the families
of those arrested also face the predicament of having to pay hefty fines from 10 to
20,000 rubles or days in detention.

A maths teacher , Dmitri Bogatov who was arrested in a previous protest has had his
detention extended until the 30th June. He faces serious charges of inciting disorder
through the internet under part 3 , article 212 of the law of the Russian Federation ' and
more ludicrously of encouraging terrorism. The protest movement should take more
steps to defend his case and rethink its tactics. The aim of most opposition movements
is to avoid arrest and not to make themselves sitting ducks for the riot police.

If the government had any sense it would not arrest anyone on this demonstration.It would
let sleeping dogs lie and there would be very few, if any unpleasant scuffles or disorder.
However, every time mass arrests are made , more and more people ,feeling indignant,
join the protests. Not all the police in Russia used heavy handed tactics against the
protests . In Omsk where 3000 gathered to protest, no one was arrested. And
in Magadan where about 100 gathered, nobody faced detention at all !

In one village in the Arkhangelskaya region , seven protesters were left alone by the police
No arrests were made. In fact, the police shook hands with the protesters to show there was no ill-feeling.

Monday, June 12, 2017

HOD Meeting

CTU HOD Meeting Ends with a Thud
By Jim Vail
CTU VP Jesse Sharkey emotional outburst at the HOD meeting last week
revealed certain budgetary problems.

The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates meeting last Wednesday was supposed to be focused on the budget.

Instead, the union leadership decided to begin the last meeting of the school year late so they could honor Jackie Vaughn - the hall is named after her - and pay tribute to Rep. Monique Davis -a 100 percent voting record in favor of the teachers union. 

CTU President Karen Lewis said Rep. Davis even voted against SB7 - interesting because Lewis at one point told legislators to vote in favor of SB7 which eliminated seniority rights and other bargaining items. She said they saved the right to strike, though legislators mandated teachers needed 70% to vote in favor. A push back from the membership, and resolution by the executive board against SB7 forced some changes, and confused legislators.

So the meeting on the budget started late. Many members left by the time a vote was supposed to take place. Delegate Frank McDonald asked if they have a quorum, which means are there a majority of CTU delegate in the hall to vote. 

At this point, CTU VP Jesse Sharkey erupted and shouted how could somebody call a quorum and then the union is left without a budget. It was pure sabotage to do this, he thundered. McDonald did not respond, and then Lewis asked if anyone would like to call a quorum, after Sharkey made it clear the delegates should not call a quorum. Nobody said anything.

During the debate on the budget, a few delegates had questions about the Chicago Teachers Foundation - whose budget was used to purchase the current CTU building. This was after the CTU sold the Fukes Tower for about $40 million.

Sharkey admitted had the union not used money from the foundation - not union dues - to plug a $700,000 budget deficit, then there would have been job cuts.

Another delegate asked about the union joining forces with the charters teachers union - ChiActs - and will this affect the money and time devoted to grievances and paying for lawyers for arbitration. Sharkey said field rep Joey McDermott and others devoted about $100,000 or so to help negotiate one of the charter school contracts.

Several delegates complained that the union should not cut its organizing department. According to sources, organizer Matt Luskin was moved out of the organizing department to the political department, so a vacancy was made available.

Executive board members, according to sources, argued to add another paid position to make room for another organizer. The board decided not to do this since the union has a big deficit.

At the end Sharkey yelled out that he quit. He did apologize afterwards for his outburst to delegates who said it was wrong what he did, by speaking out of turn and not addressing the delegates question about the quorum.

I believe the union leadership did not expect some good questions concerning a troubling budget.

The delegates voted in favor of the final budget.   

Saturday, June 10, 2017

School Almost Out!

THE END OF RUSSIAN SCHOOL TERM!
By Stephen Wilson


 Moscow -- "Ooorah It is the end of school ! We are free ! No more homework ! We can do what we want!"
 
shout many Russian school students . You notice their beaming cheerful radiant faces looming
 
up everywhere . At least that is how the younger school students may feel. In contrast to
 
school children in Britain who can only expect around 8 weeks Summer holidays , Russian
 
children obtain 3 months off ! At least that is what it seems . In practice , you can find
 
many children are sent off to educational Summer camps or English courses abroad. Not
 
all children are entitled to a break . Worn out children can be noticed dozing off in classrooms.
 
 
How to bring up a new generation of docile school children who faithfully obey the state
 
remains a challenging issue for the government. Many children have minds of their own
 
and even question the powers to be . When some school children took to the streets in
 
protests at state corruption the government became alarmed . The speaker of the Duma,
 
Valentina warned : "Responsibility for taking part in unsanctioned meetings
 
must lie with the parents" . There was talk about drawing up new legislation carrying
 
legal reprisals for bringing up such children ' improperly. ' In other words, not bringing them
 
up to support Putin. The notion that children have a right to an opinion of their own is an
 
alien concept to Russian politicians. Children should not be seen and not be heard. They
 
should also shut up. According to the Minister of Education : "Childhood should be
 
non-political '. Children should be immersed in books and not discussing politics.
 
All those kinds of speeches actually incite children to escalate their protests. Forbidden
 
fruit often tastes better than freely granted food .
 

This year, as many as 700,000 school students graduated from school. This represented
 
less than 40,000 from the previous year indicating Russia is still plagued with a persistent
 
demographic problem. In some ways school children are more acutely perceptive of
 
what is going on that adults who are set in their ways. They can detect a lie better. It
 
is difficult to lie to children. Like the child in the Hans Christen Anderson tale , they can
 
see the Emperor is not wearing clothes. But they are not always free of illusions. 


According  to a recent Russian social survey , most Russian school students believe that after they
 
graduate from a good university they will automatically attain a job with the high pay of
 
80,000 rubles a month. Access to university is often equated with meeting a golden fish
 
who can grant every wish ! They are also attempting to enter professions which are
 
flooded with too many applicants : like as advocates, economists , and in finance. Very few of
 
them seek to enter the less prestigious and less well paid jobs in forestry , farming and
 
engineering where there exist greater shortages and needs. Yet after graduating from
 
university, 40 % of graduates in law and 20 % of economists can't find work even after
 
a year. You can find them working in low paid fast food restaurants and in bookshops !
 
Yet Russian needs more experts in fishing, farming and forestry .
 

If you stay in Moscow for a long time what you can't help noticing is how many
 
ex-journalists there are. Asked why they don't do journalism they claim it is not creative.
 
Perhaps the market is just flooded with too many journalists !
 

Maybe the government needlessly worries about controlling children. Parents already
 
strictly control them or are at least attempting to. A recent survey by Levada found that
 
32% of adults punish their children physically while 24% did this severely . As many as
 
54% of adults claim to check their children's letters, look at their own things and even
 
check their pockets for unwanted things. As many as 47% of parents admit they have the
 
right to forbid them from meeting their friends, and choosing who they can befriend.
 

The only form of freedom children are allowed is to earn money. As many as 24%
 
of parents put the money into the family budget. It is evidently not easy to be a Russian
 
school child.