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."


Harry Osterman
Alderman, 48th Ward

Monday, June 19, 2017

Day of Protest

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!

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.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Student Arrest

By Stephen Wilson
Moscow, Russia -- 'All the world's a stage' declares a character from the play of Shakespeare : 'As You Like it '. Well this is not entirely true. As this was the harsh brutal truth thrust into a boy by policemen who practically pounced on him dragging him
away without any explanation or polite inquiry . In fact , they were as tactful as
sledgehammers. What great offence had the boy committed ? He had been loudly reciting Hamlet in the Arbatskaya district of Moscow, an area notorious for attracting buskers of all sorts.

Noticing the shocked look on the boy, a woman who had been looking after him
intervened and attempted to stop the police. It never occurred to the police that
it might be more appropriate to ask the logical question : "Why are you reciting
Hamlet in the Arbatskaya ?" And this was in deed the main question which people
began to ask themselves . What is a ten year old boy doing reading poetry ? Was
he being used by parents to boost their income ? Was he a homeless boy attempting
to get by ? Or maybe he simply adored William Shakespeare !
The last explanation might not be so absurd. I have met many Russian school students
who love to quote Hamlet or have been asked to perform in school plays .
Russian affection for the poet is no secret. Boris Pasternak did great translations of his
works and a Russian Philosopher called Leon Shestov took the trouble to write a
book : 'Shakespeare and his critic Brandes. ' Shestov stated that the poet was his : "His
first master in philosophy". But that is not how the police saw Shakespeare ! Hearing
him being recited loudly evidently got on their nerves.

Although the boy was later released , the woman , Christina Skvronski has been charged
with obstructing the police from carrying out their legal duties.

When I told one of my school students of what had happened , Roman expressed disbelief:
"You are joking. How can anyone be arrested for reciting a poet? " Street musicians who
witnessed the incident see nothing wrong with the boy performing in public. In fact, the that allegations he was illegally begging do not stand up to scrutiny. Just because he
may have had an empty hat or box nearby is not suffice for him to face charges. You need
to openly ask for money to be accused of begging. The police can check or make an
investigation if they have reasonable grounds for suspicion .
The father of the boy ,who declines to be named, stated ;"The boy has problems with
his speech and can't pronounce several letters . So psychologists advised him to
recite poetry in public ". Whether the psychologists had reciting poetry in public in mind
is another matter.
This author could be arrested. I once recited a story by Chaucer in the Park of Sculpture.
However , it was done more discreetly in a garden . However , I am not ten years old. But it is strange to think that while most teachers are struggling to inspire their children with a
lively interest in Shakespeare one young boy was arrested for enthusiasm . He at least
deserves a medal!