Saturday, October 21, 2017

HOD October

Should Charter Teachers Join CTU?
By Jim Vail

The biggest issue facing the Chicago Teachers Union is the decision to make constitutional changes.

The union wants to make constitution changes so that the charter school teachers are a part of the CTU union.

The idea itself sounds convincing - let's unite with our brothers and sisters in the charter schools and fight CPS for a better contract for all of us, and of course better schools.

Better charter schools?

Charter schools have grown like mushrooms throughout the city to destroy public education and of course, the Chicago Teachers Union.

So do we join up with charter school teachers as one union who fight for public schools and charter schools?

The union says the fact that charter schools have to deal with teachers in a union will deter them from growing. 

The CTU has fought, within the confines of the democratic machine, against charter schools and proudly pointed out that there were no new charter schools opened this school year.

However, will a union really stop the growth of charter schools?

That is the position of the American Federation of Teachers and President Randi Weingarten. It was parroted by form union boss Marilyn Stewart who said charter schools are our friends - we just need them to join us.

The idealists argue let's make the charter teachers a part of our union and make these charter schools into public schools again and make them a part of our contract.

Will that happen? It's not even a part of the plan CTU announced because they know it won't happen.

Charters are there like sweatshops to merely pay less to teachers.


I said at the CTU House of Delegates meeting that the charter teachers are already a member of a union - Chiacts. Why do they need to join us?

Is it about the money? Will they get more resources to unionize and fight for better conditions? Is it unfair that charters get more corporate money?

CTU officials pointed out that selective schools also unfairly cream off the top to destroy neighborhood public schools.

I think this is a situation where the CTU is waving the white the flag on the fight against charter schools - the union won't significantly suffer when they close public schools and switch to charter schools if the staff gets unionized and they pay dues to the union.

But it is reality. We are all (99 percent) headed to minimum wage jobs with no union representation. The Supreme Court rules billionaires can throw as much money they want into elections to control our politics. They will soon rule that unions cannot automatically deduct dues from workers paychecks, which will further destroy the unions that have already been decimated. 

It's like, yeah we represent taxi drivers, but let's focus representing the future, Uber and rideshare companies, who are taking over.

The union wants to make it seem like they will do both - fight against charters, and join up to them by representing their teachers. It's similar to organizing protests against racist attacks against black schools while funding and endorsing House Speaker Mike Madigan who closes those schools.

Can we have it both ways?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Teacher Judgement

By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- "Congratulations on 'The Day of the Teacher Day'. It is our day today " announced a cheerful and lively teacher to me when I entered a Greek and Latin Gymnasium which is situated within the vicinity of Prospect Mir when I entered the staff room . Judging by the frantic activity of teachers rushing in and out of the staff room with textbooks and carrying heaps of homework, I wondered if any teacher had time to celebrate this day. It seemed an irritating distraction which hindered rather than helped our work. In fact, if you leaf through the articles in the Russian media you might be forgiven for believing it is 'a Day of Judgment ' as people freely evaluate or assess the performance of teachers.
An indication that some pupils had noticed was when a teacher brought in a huge banquet of flowers. 

On this day, articles in the Russian media mushroom. Many of them amount to inappropriate comments to tactless judgments. For instance, why do government officials announce, in a
newspaper,that they intend to close down 100 institutions of Further Education' which the government deem 'ineffective'? One of the best universities in Saint Petersburg has been practically closed down on the spurious grounds that it does not provide physical education facilities ! Yet this university specializes in the humanities and not sport! So you have a government that literary threatens to make some teachers redundant on: 'The Day of the Teacher '!

One thing is certain. It is not all bad news. Despite the occasional teacher bashing, the profile and prestige of teachers has radically changed over the past decade. Gone are the days of the 1990's where schools in Moscow were short of teachers and the pay was absolutely abysmal.

The usual stereotype of a Russian teacher is of a late middle-aged or old teacher who is angry, authoritarian and constantly shouts rudely at pupils : " Keep your Eyes on the blackboard " as in the Russian satirical film 'Hitler Caput'. Recent research indicates this crude stereotype of Russian teachers is an oversimplification and misleading generalization. For instance, one out of four teachers is estimated to be under 35 and International surveys have found that Russian teachers are among the most qualified in Europe and continually seek to upgrade their qualifications. The shortage of teachers in rural schools is less than one percent and all the vacancies in Moscow schools are practically filled. This is a far cry from the 1990's when the job of a teacher was largely an unwanted position and schools had a high turnover of staff. Nevertheless, one wonders whether the recent statement of the Minister of Education where she claims that : "It is namely due to the high qualities of patient and strong teachers that millions of our children joyfully go to school." I can already hear grunts from some school kids.

How does the public perceive the financial status and prestige of teachers in Russia? A recent survey by the All Russian Center of Social Opinions asked respondents to assess perceived the status of teachers on a scale from one to five. The scale found they received a mark of 2.86.

By the way, this is how school students are marked at school! It is as if teachers are being equated with pupils.

Journalists stated the teachers score a very average mark. The survey does not measure the effectiveness of teachers in the classroom but irrelevant factors such as how people rank teachers according to pay and prestige. It is as if people are being asked to rank teachers on the basis of how much money they make rather than more important considerations. Only people highly materialistic could have thought about carrying out such a survey. A much more interesting finding of the survey is when the public were asked what qualities they like to see in teachers. As many as 30% stated they most of all value 'kindness and well-wishing' , 28% 'competence' and thirdly, 'love towards children and their work' and in fourth place, 'the level of education.' What is more important is whether the teacher loves and cares for their children rather than perceived power or prestige.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Teacher Bashing Returns!

New York Times Trash Job on ATR Teachers

by Marjorie Stamberg


NEW YORK -- So the “bad teacher” industry is alive and well, and once again it is targeting our colleagues in the Absent Teacher Reserve.

A totally biased article slamming educators in the ATR is splashed on the front page of the New York Times (October 14) under the headline “Caught Sleeping or Worse, Idled Teachers Head Back to Class.” The online version refers to “Troubled Teachers.”

The whole thrust is, as always, to blame teachers for any and all problems in the public school system. The fact that almost 10 percent of our students are homeless (more than 100,000 kids) is, of course, not mentioned.

The Times did a whole statistical study, it says. But for all the claims about “troubled,” “incompetent” or even “mentally unstable” teachers, further down in the article you read that nearly 40 percent of the ATRs are there because their schools were closed, and another 30 percent were excessed for budgetary reasons or because of low enrollment.

 Only 12 percent had “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” ratings, less than one in eight of those thrown into this limbo.

And why are teachers “U rated”? Times writer Kate Taylor blew off suggestions that such ratings often spring from arbitrary and even vengeful principals against whistle blowers, union activists, or others who don't get on board with the latest PD fad. 

The “experts” quoted in the article are a long list of ex-principals, supervisors and other leftovers from the Bloomberg-Klein era. In fact, some of the very best teachers in the system have been ATRed at various points.

And among the 12 percent, the “worst” case they could cite was an ATR teacher who took a day off to go to a family reunion in Chicago and called in sick. Horrors! 

Also, they found she didn't report that she had been arrested, although at the very end of the article we learn that these were bench warrants stemming from a family dispute and the charges were later dropped.

The article is aimed at the union, of course, for insisting the DOE give excessed teachers a chance to teach, instead of rotating them from school to school on a monthly basis as subs or leaving them sitting in the neo-rubber rooms (which supposedly don’t exist anymore).

The ATR crisis grew out of the orgy of closing public schools, part of the whole privatizing “education reform” craze, which brought us Success Academy maven Eva Moskowitz and Teach for America. 

In this era of Trump, it is worth remembering that many of the big pushers of this union-bashing effort were Democrats for Education Reform (a bunch of Wall Street moguls) and the Obama administration in Washington headed by his basketball buddy Ed Sec Arne Duncan.

Follow the money – along with the school closures they gave principals dictatorial control over teacher selection and introduced a funding scheme giving each principal a set amount of dollars, instead of paying salary through the central office. This created a whole set of incentives.

 (A careful reader will note that both of the supposed “bad teachers” singled out in the Times hit piece are in the top salary grade.)

So it was “two for the price of one”: instead of hiring an experienced teacher who had accrued raises, the principal could hire two new teachers fresh out of ed school or Teach for America. 

And the system is hostile to new teachers as well as to veteran educators: many new teachers leave because they are stuck in the “delay of tenure” trap, as the DOE keeps them as probationary employees to be fired at will and under the thumb of the principal.

As for the veteran teachers pushed out in the ATR frenzy, I personally know a black Ph.D. science teacher who helped countless students to get a GED; a Vietnamese-American teacher who was visiting her homeland the summer they interviewed for jobs after the schools in D79 were closed and hundreds of teachers excessed when Cami Anderson “reorganized” the district.

Both those teachers are retired now – our loss, and that of the students. Anderson went on to become chief of the Newark School system where she could play with a $100 million grant from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.  

She used it to carry out mass firings of teachers, introduce school lotteries and expand the number of charters. She was eventually driven out over her arrogant disregard of parents’ protest and student sit-ins.

The UFT leadership clique “Unity Caucus” bears a big part of the responsibility for the whole ATR mess. Especially Randi Weingarten, who later admitted that they didn’t realize what the results would be. In the 2006-7 contract, the UFT bureaucracy agreed to abolish union seniority transfers. 

Under that system, if your school closed, or your principal was impossible, you could transfer to another school with an opening, based on seniority, license and an S rating showing you were qualified.

No more. In exchange we got the “open market.” It’s about as “open” as the affordable housing market in Manhattan. The “open market” is a vehicle for manipulation, favoritism, nepotism and possibly worse. 

Principals often go through the motions of “listing” jobs, and even sometimes “interviewing” candidates, when they have already decided who they are going to appoint.

One of the consequences of this system is that teachers got less experienced, whiter and much more distant from the communities they serve. It has become harder to get in if you are a graduate of CUNY, while TfA recruits Ivy Leaguers and college grads from outlying states with zero experience with urban schools. 

This was borne out by the comprehensive study initiated by a union activist on “the disappearance of black and Latino teachers.”

And now, some charter school teachers won’t have to go to ed school at all. They can just be thrown into the classroom in a charter teaching mill. If Eva likes them, they’re certified. And the effect on the students…? 

 But of course the purpose is to bust the union.

A piece of good news on that. Among the huge numbers of new teachers who flee the charter schools after a couple of years, we’re hearing that a number are getting jobs as union teachers in the DOE. They are more than welcome, but what we really need is for the union to step up its drive to unionize the charters, and not under sub-par Green Dot contracts.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Protest Rahm's House

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                               
Oct. 6, 2016
CONTACT:  Priya Shah, 312-493-2092
Parents take fight to save their school to mayor's own backyard
NTA parents, teachers want Emanuel to back down from plans to close their successful elementary school,
consider other plans for South Loop high school
CHICAGO—After the mayor’s office refused to meet with parents from National Teachers Academy (NTA), the NTA community will take its fight to save the school to the mayor’s own backyard with a protest and rally in front of Emanuel’s Ravenswood home on Monday.
The mayor wants to close the school, which serves predominantly low-income, African-American students, and convert it into a high school to serve the booming, pricey South Loop neighborhood. But parents, teachers and staff at NTA are fighting to keep the elementary school open and demanding a meeting with Emanuel to discuss other high school alternatives for the South Loop.
Parents will meet outside of the mayor’s Ravenswood home on Monday to deliver a letter to the mayor and make their voices heard. Although recently released emails show Emanuel devised the school closing plan to satisfy South Loop real estate interests, he has so far refused to meet with NTA parents.
What: NTA is Here to Stay Parent Rally and Press Conference

When:  Monday, Oct. 9, 4 p.m.

Where: Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home, 4228 N. Hermitage

Why: Mayor Emanuel is pushing to close NTA and turn it into a high school to serve the booming South Loop. Parents are fighting to save their beloved, high-performing school and are demanding a meeting with the mayor to make their case. 

Visuals: Parents, teachers, students with signs and banners marching and chanting through the mayor’s tony north side neighborhood.
The NTA closing is the first of a series of school closings aimed at predominately African American schools. The mayor also wants to close four Englewood high schools and the announcement of other school closings is expected in December.
The NTA community has said a resounding “NO” to the closing, with 1,500 signatures on petitions opposing the plan, 471 letters sent to state legislators, and 43 parent testimonials before the CPS Board of Education.


About National Teachers Academy
National Teachers Academy (NTA), is a Level 1 elementary school with a "well-organized" school culture. NTA is one of only 16 elementary schools in CPS that serves a 80% African-American population at or above these distinctions of quality. NTA was established in 2002 as a community center and school for residents of the Ickes Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) development. Residents have continued to send their children to NTA after the Ickes were torn down during the CHA Transformation.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Russian School Rankings

By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- According to a new statement issued by the Ministry of Russian Education and
science , from 2020 a new 'table of ranks' within secondary state schools may
come into effect where teachers will be allowed to climb a wider career ladder.
The rank of the teacher will be based on their effectiveness and experience as
teachers in schools. It is hoped that such a reform will encourage not only retraining
teachers but allow them access to a fairer career ladder. As they move up the
career ladder they will obtain better pay as well as improved status.
In fact, the government has already launched voluntary pilot schemes in up
to 13 regions of Russia covering teachers of Russian and Physics.
But how do you assess what rank a teacher deserves? What criteria is the
government set on using? According to some sources teachers would be
ranked around those who are competent to solve problems in familiar
situations,solve them in some unfamiliar situations and the highest level where teachers
can cope with problems in any awkward situation. So you have the basic teachers at the
bottom of the wrung while further on you will have older teacher {methodists}
and a higher teacher called a nastvnick or mentor.

The proposed reform has brought many groans from Russian school teachers.
It is an excuse for teachers to undergo more tests and endless evaluation of their
experience. During the Soviet period, 'retraining courses' were viewed as
a punishment for teachers who had stepped out of line.
Some teachers are asking: "Why do we need a new table of ranks ? Who
will really benefit from this ?" At present you already have potential promotion
for ambitious teachers who can in theory, become a deputy headmaster or
headmaster. Teachers can also enter a competition : 'Teacher of the Year'.
The real danger in such a scheme is that it will intensify rivalry between
teachers and create a wider 'them and us ' atmosphere ' where a few
teachers obtain higher pay and benefits than others. However, moving up
a rank won't be determined by 'merit' alone, if at all, but involve filling in
a lot of paperwork to prove you deserve such a rank. Most school teachers
don't have time to be distracted by overwhelming red tape. They already
have too much additional paperwork as well as homework to mark.
The unfairness of the present situation is indicated by a government claim
that while some headmasters obtain 120,000 rubles a month a teacher can
earn 32,000 rubles if he or she does 36 academic hours .

All this red tape has not deterred some stubborn teachers. Tanya, a Russian
English teacher in a primary school in Moscow stated : "I think it is a great
chance. I want to reach the next level in teaching even if it means filling in all
those forms . I advise you to do the same ! " But her friend, a teacher from
Kishinev, Oksana Chebotareva, replied : " I don't have the time . I'm just
too busy. I'm teaching not only at school, but at an institute and at the university".
This is part of the problem. Teachers are just too exhausted as well as being
fed up with another reform which means one more stressful headache ! They
feel like potential guinea pigs being thrust into some ill thought out experiment.
The proponents of such schemes should remember lessons from history.
Peter the Great attempted to impose a 'Table of Ranks' in order to foster
a meritocracy in 1722. The idea was that a career could be open to the talents of the
lowest peasant. Instead this largely created a caste system based more on
bribery and corruption than merit. It did not end or eradicate injustice but provoked
the Russian revolution.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Children Need Stories!

By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW  --  A recent UNICEF Study found that approximately 25% of children in developing countries don't hear the traditional bedtime story. In fact , many under five children don't get a preschool education at all! The survey, conducted in as many as
64 developing countries questioned parents whether they had spent time telling
stories, reading , singing , playing or drawing over a three-day period. What they
found was that since many parents were working such long hours for a pittance ;
they had practically little time to do justice to their child's education. The study
identifies long hours and poverty as major factors in retarding early child education.

Time and money constraints mean many parents are forced to concentrate on
feeding rather than playing with their children. Protecting children from hunger or
fatal disease remains the main priority. The constant threats of famine, war and
disease make storytelling sound like a luxury! Doctor Pia Britto, who is chief
of early childhood development at UNICEF claimed: "Time and money constraints
mean that parents are forced to focus on putting food on the table rather than playing
with their children , particularly in challenging circumstances where conflict, violence,
extreme poverty and disease are rife. " Those points are important to grasp. This is
because there prevails a short-sighted and myopic view which blames the parents
of poor people for depriving their children of education through either ignorance or
negligence. However, the report has found that the most decisive factors in determining
a child's growth can be many things beyond a parent's control such as poverty, war, famine
and the never ending long hours of parents just to get by!

The report describes storytelling as crucial for the cognitive, emotional and social
development of children . This finding would come as no great revelation to American
psychologist Susan Engel. In her work : The Stories Children Tell , 1999, W. H. Freedman
and Company , 1999, Engel wrote : 'The stories we tell ourselves , aloud, or silently,
play a vital role in shaping what we feel, think, and know about our lives.' The Russian
psychologist Alexander Luria largely echoed such sentiments.

However, it is not only in developing countries where children don't always hear bedtime stories!

Mairi Koroleva , a Russian linguist who ardently supports the project Storytelling Sessions,
told me: "I came across many of my own students who told me their parents had not
told them a single story once". Anna Kogteva, a teacher of English and also an organiser
of the project believes that storytelling is crucial to early childhood development. In her
sessions, she also combines drawing pictures with storytelling.

The report calls upon governments to offer more meaningful support to parents struggling
by providing better working conditions and time schedules for parents {i.e. More maternity
leave} They believe governments can do more and point to the example of Chile, where
the state project: 'Chile Grows with You ' managed to reach 80% of children with education
and health care. Britto argues that governments should not only ensure the survival of
children but significantly improve the quality of their lives in all facets of life. While fighting
famine, we should not overlook early education!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

HOD Sept.

HOD Meeting Highlights CTU Accomplishments
By Jim Vail

The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates last Wednesday was a love fest that focused on CTU accomplishments.

Could it be because they feel the heat of an opposition group forming?

A group called Members First which has a robust facebook book and is comprised of people concerned about the CTU neglecting its members when it comes to fighting vicious principals and enforcing the contract has formed.

According to sources, the CTU leadership caucus CORE talked about this new group and that competition is a good thing (I agree!). Another person said this group is the same as blue lives matter - a racist movement that downplays the Black Lives Matter group focusing on black rights in the face of continued oppressive racism and police brutality.

One question would be why would the CTU back Chuy Garcia for mayor when he advocated hiring more cops - hardly something black people in this city need.

Anyway, I asked the question why is this union giving House Speaker Mike Madigan so much money, so much support, so much endorsements and invited him at the last meeting - when he totally fucked us! He now made vouchers the law of Illinois land. Vouchers is like right to work - there will be less money for the public schools and unions each year as $75 million of state money each year goes to private and religious schools (exactly what Trump and DeVos want on the federal level).

The CTU's close relationship with the democrats is a tricky one. Now the democrats support vouchers - what next? 

So the CTU boasted at the delegates meeting how great it is that a funding bill was passed and nothing about the horrendous voucher component (that was sent out in half-hearted emails about calling your state rep to oppose it - an absurd proposition when they support Madigan).

The house passed a Resolution to Adopt a Timeline for the Constitutional Referendum Process.

The CTU wants to open up and amend the constitution so that charter school teachers are now represented by the CTU.

I'm torn on this one - on the one hand I agree, we need to support our charter brothers and sisters. On the other hand, will this lessen the opposition to charter school growth in the future.

One of the strong points of our union has been the fight against charter schools. CTU VP Jesse Sharkey said there will for the first time be no new charter schools opening up this year.

School delegates are also encouraged to sign up all their members to the union again as it looks like the Supreme Court could rule soon to restrict the rights of public sector unions by eliminating the right to collect agency fees, people who don't sign the union card even though they are a part of the bargaining unit.

The union pointed out when Wisconsin union workers lost their rights in 2011 which stripped  them of both Agency Fee and collective bargaining rights, union membership fell 38% and workers suffered significant economic and other loses. Milwaukee teachers, for example, were forced to take an immediate $10,000 cut in pay and benefits.

CTU mentioned something about having leads to sublease 15,000 square feet of office space at the Merchandise Mart where they left and paid almost $40 million for a new building. While it appears the move could have been a sound financial transaction to own its property and rent out to others, many are concerned about transparency surrounding the CTU Foundation that has the money after selling the Fewkes Tower which bought the new CTU building on Carrol Street.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Russian Historian

By Stephen Wilson

Second City Teacher spoke again to the cultural historian Monica Spivak about
the tense current political situation in Russia, recent Russian events, the protest
against corruption and why she strongly opposes the local government's
huge scale demolition plans. In 2009, Monica 's book 'The Brain has been sent
to this Address' was published which was based on a study of files from the
Moscow Institute of the Brain (It is about how scientists made an intensive study
of the brains and characters of Lenin, Mayakovsky and Andrei Bely, to name but
a few).In this book you learn that Lenin was crazy about mushroom picking and
won the unwanted nickname : 'Mushroom man'.
Second City Teacher: "You seem to harbor strong feelings against the local
government's demolition scheme. Why are you opposed to their proposals ?"
Monica Spivak: "Why am I against this ? From the fact that I consider that it
is committing a very big crime from a legal point of view. It will lead to the destruction
of Moscow.The local government will not only begin to demolish Krushchevy
apartments but other kinds.The real reasons for this demolition are hidden from
the people. The local government want to acquire money, property and power.
Second City Teacher: "How effective do you think the demonstrations against
Demolition are ? "
Monica Spivak : "They were quite effective although not as effective as I wanted
them to be. As many as 100,000 people attended one demonstration. It is true
that afterwards it could not stop the demolition going ahead . In this respect the
results of the campaign were not entirely satisfactory. If they had cancelled the law
we would have attained our objective. Nevertheless, the local government was
forced to make small concessions.

Secondly, since local people began to get organised , met, wrote letters ,
and signed petitions, we saved our local community. So at that time we won a
victory in our area. But we did not wholly defend Moscow . The area around
Rechnoy station was destroyed and is empty. I understand that we did not stop
this but I wanted people to show those in power that we don't agree with
their actions. Later, I felt bitter about how the opposition in Russia don't take
up those local issues or unite around them. The opposition is badly split up
in Russia. It seems to me the opposition don't even take up those issues at all.
That there is a lot of division in the opposition is clear from the fact that on the
day of a major demonstration against corruption two rallies took place. Many
people had not even heard that Navalny had changed the location at the last
moment. So while my husband went to one rally, I went to another. If the two
protests {local and national protests against corruption } were combined the opposition
campaign would be more effective.
Second City Teacher   "Why do so many Russians support Putin ? Social opinion
polls suggest 80% or more support him !"
Monica Spivak   "I don't trust social opinion polls.We don't actually know what
those 80 % of people really think. Many people who are polled don't reveal
their real thoughts on many things. They might even be scared to express
their real opinions. It is interesting to compare Russia with Georgia . I asked
a Georgian how their people relate to people in power . He told me they
scolded their president . Now in a democracy this is a normal reality.Not to
like those in authority seems a normal thing. We see this in Georgia, Armenia
and Ukraine. But with us , it seems as if 80% of Russians support the president.
It is a big puzzle. I consider Russians are afflicted by an illness or virus . The
local people don't pay attention to injustice and just ignore it.

Everyday I watch the news from the Internet and hear how a supporter of
Navalny has been beaten up or a brick thrown through his window.Those
illegal acts are not prosecuted . It is a bad symptom of how rotten things are.
Now the President might not have approved or condoned the murder of
opposition leader Boris Nemstov, but he does not seem to be against it."
Second City Teacher:    "Could Stalinist repression return ? "
Monica Spivok:   "Yes I think it could happen again. It would not be on such a
huge scale as in Stalin's time - the same number of executions and it will
assume a new form. We should be ready for this ! There are no limits or checks
on Presidential power. The judiciary are not independent and people are afraid.
I recall a few years ago when people were demonstrating and they were not
afraid. There was a lot of dialogue at those rallies.Now the situation is worse.
They are too scared to even wear white ribbons. {A symbol of the opposition to
Second City Teacher:    "How do you explain the recent rehabilitation of Ivan
the Terrible ? "
Monica Spivak:   "This is happening because the government uses the
past to support the present . Ten years ago it would be unthinkable .Now it is
a different situation.But remember, Peter the Great was also a tyrant and they
condemn him for being a westerner. Yet Ivan the Terrible was also very pro
western and took many ideas from the west. The Russians who support
Ivan the Terrible forget this.


Saturday, September 9, 2017


By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- I was astonished to hear the news! An Orthodox priest told me he had obtained a pile of letters written to the church he served addressed to myself .This person had last met me twenty years ago. When I looked at the letters a few things surprised me. They were long and the unique handwriting conveyed an exceptional beautiful style rarely encountered. In deed, few people send handwritten letters to each other those days .So I felt I was going back in time to a bygone era. For the beauty of handwriting is now derisively dismissed as 'snail mail'. Why take the trouble if you can send a letter instantly with e-mail? After I replied to those letters my mind got absorbed with the imminent beginning of the new academic year. In a sense, this event is a more profound date than New Year's Day. At least for teachers and school kids.

What caught my attention was the endless proposals to change the teaching process. Schools had to be modernized so many old customs or way of teaching had to go. Of course, teachers are never consulted about whether they approve of those changes or not. Some of those proposals seem banal. For instance , the Minister of Education made a speech calling for the ban of mobile phones from the classroom. Other politicians called for either the Day of Knowledge to be put forward to October. Another proposal is to radically change the geography of the classroom by doing away with traditional desks. However the most controversial proposal which has deeply divided educators is a radical proposal to abandon teaching Russian school children how to hand write. Instead proponents are arguing that all writing should be done via computer. So pupils don't need to worry about how neat or beautiful their handwriting is. Electronic writing is more effective, efficient and rapid. Children have to learn quickly to adapt to the new technology. Anyone arguing against those proposals can be ridiculed as reactionary or conservatives as if they are against 'progress'.

According to a child psychologist Olga Zuyiva, a personal computer has become an integral part of the life of a child. Parents inform her that unless their children learn advanced computer skills they won't be able to cope with life after school. They need to master computer literacy. It is more important than beautifully intricate handwriting.

Sergei Gorbun, a chairman of a Union, argues: "Being able to type with your hands helps you to quickly adapt to an ocean of knowledge . Every adult knows how difficult it is to get a child to sit behind a desk. But with a computer the child works with pleasure This according to experts, motivates as well as strengthens the use of the memory and paying attention."

However, not everyone welcomes this step. They don't subscribe to the view that computers are a magic wand which with a wave creates discipline making a child more developed and intelligent. Firstly, the child becomes more and more like an appendage to a machine. Rather than controlling the machine, the machine controls him.

in addition, very few people draw attention to the bad side effects of using such technology. The eye-sight of the child worsens, his or her spine begins to ache and they get headaches. Using a pencil and pen to write messages does allow you more time to pause, ponder think and rewrite a text." When a child writes, the link between his brain and fingers improves his mental capacity ", argues speech therapist Anastasia Medvedeva. In contrast , when people write automatically, they stop thinking. However, there is something very personal about handwriting which you can't get from an electronic letter. Handwriting remains a unique expression of our identity. Deprive children of the right to master handwriting and you are impeding one important aspect of free self expression.The Russian philosopher Nicholas Fyodorov grasped this point. He claimed that speed writing by typing or shorthand instead of handwriting can depersonalize and even degrade work. Quicker does not mean better. He declared, 'This rapidity deprives all work, not only mechanical but also intellectual work, of artistic attractiveness, turning it into a means of profit without any goal whatever, unless sense pleasure is to be considered a goal.'

Why go to extremes? What if handwriting can be seen as actually assisting computer literacy rather than hindering it? Sending a handwritten letter to a friend is much more moving and touching than a letter sent by e-mail. It indicates the amount of time and effort you go to write and post it off. Abandoning the teaching of handwriting would not be progress but represent regression to an age where technology dictates the rules.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

CTU Vouchers

Did the CTU Endorse Vouchers?
By Jim Vail

The CTU endorsed and feted Speaker of the House Mike Madigan just made vouchers in Illinois the law of the land!

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is outraged and wants you - the teachers, the parents, and anyone in the public who cares about public education to call your state senator to not support the new education funding bill that includes vouchers!

Except here's the problem - the CTU's very own Speaker of the House Mike Madigan was the primary guy along with the Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner who made vouchers now the law in Illinois.

The CTU loves Madigan - he came to the last House of Delegates meeting last school year along with a bunch of other Illinois Democrats to honor former Rep. Monique Davis, a decent union politician.

The CTU has given tens of thousands of dollars to Mike Madigan's coffers.

The CTU enthusiastically supports Madigan by endorsing him every chance they get.

Even CTU nemesis Mayor Rahm Emanuel smiles at that, noting that he is one politician the CTU knows will win. 

What is the difference between Emanuel, Rauner and Madigan. I don't really know, and would like our leadership - especially the political director, to explain what we get from this relationship. Why don't we support Emanuel and Rauner while we're at it since they work together.

It was Madigan who screwed the public schools years ago when he sponsored the charter school bills that gave over $200 million to UNO Charter Schools. Why do we have a state deficit?

Madigan is pitted against Rauner as the unions vs. right to work non-union republicans.  

But in the end, what do the unions get from this guy besides grandstanding?

Are we really this weak. Do unions really have to beg for crumbs and say thanks for not being beaten to death the other night - though we continue to get a hell of whopping!

It's depressing and deceptive. The CTU leadership needs to take credit for this one. They endorsed and feted Speaker Madigan, and Speaker Madigan helped made vouchers the law of the land of Lincoln.

We're on our way to right to work, more school closings, more privatization and the destruction of public education.

And it didn't take a Republican to do it.

Way to go Mike! Way to go CTU!!


CHICAGOThe Chicago Teachers Union issued the following statement tonight following the passage of an education funding bill laden with a voucher incentive out of the Illinois House:
"Tonight's vote for a voucher scheme for the state of Illinois is disappointing, and the worst assault on public education since mayoral control of schools was granted in 1995. We are now firmly in line with the President Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos privatization agenda.
"We have a new funding formula and more revenue for our schools. These are substantial achievements, despite Gov. Bruce Rauner's incompetence and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's impotent ability to provide direction from City Hall. Unfortunately, Illinois legislators have voted to 'reform' the worst school funding system in the country with a ticking time bomb of a voucher scheme, and the Illinois Democratic Party has crossed a line which no spin or talk of 'compromise' can ever erase.
"The Illinois Senate votes tomorrow. We urge them to reject vouchers and keep public funds for public schools, and not a tax break for the wealthy."