Saturday, February 22, 2020

Tough Exam

            By Stephen Wilson

            Russian school teachers face stringent conditions while undertaking final year
            school exams to 'test' their current knowledge of Russian.
            It must have been a bad omen. While entering the gymnasium to substitute for
            a Russian English teacher forced to take a final year school exam, I found my
            way blocked by an ambulance. I was informed that it had been called to take
            away a teacher who was suffering from high blood pressure. After half an hour,
            when I was later politely ushered in by the security man who recognized me,
            I entered the staff room then the classroom. I intended to discuss with them the
            role of poetry and poems by two farmers, Robert Frost and Robert Burns. As
            soon as I entered the classroom , the pupils stood up. And two enthusiastic pupils
            even recited two poems by heart written by Burns : 'My Love is like a Red, Red
            Rose', and 'Honest Poverty'. I was pleasantly shocked to learn that in some places
            school pupils actually respect teachers !
            However, respect for school teachers was hardly being shown to the luckless school
            teachers having to take an exam 50 km away in the Russian town of Zelenograd.
            Several Russian school teachers had to sit a final year exam , in Russian , originally
            designed for school pupils. The publicized aim was to test the knowledge of school
            teachers to establish whether they are qualified to teach. No, this doesn't imply
            the ability to teach Russian but English and mathematics ! But most teachers believe
            the real reason is to put teachers in their place rather than genuinely test their
            knowledge. Other teachers suspect that it is just another pretext for officials to make
            money. The teachers themselves have been asked to pay expenses of up to 3000
            rubles to take the exam. Teachers also have to give up the classes they are teaching
            which represents another cut in their income. As one teacher told me : "This is highly
            inconvenient in terms of my precious time and money. I have better things to do than
            this. " But it is also a highly stressful ordeal. An often overworked teacher  in  
            poor physical and mental shape, is being asked to sit a school exam ! Can anyone
            have thought up anything more humiliating ? This is despite the fact that the ex-
            minister of Education condemned the use of those exams as" badly designed and
            unprofessional". She stated that : "Those tests by Rosobrnadzor  appear incorrect
            from beginning to end".
            A  teacher told me that for many teachers, who have been teaching their
            subject for minimum of 20 years , it was very nerve-racking.  "One math teacher
            was so stressed out her blood pressure rose and she felt ill. She asked a
            supervisor in the exam room whether she could not go out to take some medicine
            for this. But the supervisor  refused because it was against the rules. The rules were
            so strict that supervisors followed the teachers into the toilets! I felt so nervous that
            I think I was making stupid mistakes I would not normally make. I was also worried
            that I might by accident click the wrong part of the computer or the answers in the
            wrong places." By the way, it is worth pointing out that a school teacher or pupil who
            is brilliant in their knowledge of the subject can have all their answers declared invalid
            by clicking the wrong button.
            In fact, doing well or badly in those  exams often fails to measure the
            knowledge of a candidate. Those exams will never take into account that a student
            might be frozen by fear or become more anxious about their ailing health than doing
            well in an exam. To prevent a teacher from taking urgently required medication during
            an exam defies any logic or common sense. What if the teacher happened to die on
            the spot ? Does this ever cross the mind of any of those officials or supervisors? It is
            great pity that officials don't show the same respect to  some school
            teachers that pupils offer them. You'd expect this to be the reverse. The world is in
            deed, upside down !

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

CTU Ethics

Does the CTU Have an Ethics Problem?
By Jim Vail

Brandon Johnson

The big problem in City Hall these days is ethics. 

Alderman Ed Burke was indicted for shaking down a Burger King operator in his ward. Incredibly, he has two jobs - one as an alderman and one as a tax attorney who represents clients doing business with the city. 

How in the hell is this legal? And it's been going on for quite some time.

Now the new mayor, just like the previous one, is going to clean up the town and introduce ethics reform. So politicians like Ed Burke can't hold two jobs that pose a conflict of interest. 

But isn't this exactly how politics works?  Quid pro quo, as they say. Get me elected and I get you the goods.

The Gov. J.B. Pritzker is calling for a ban on elected officials being paid to lobby other elected officials. 

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle - who the Chicago Teachers Union endorsed for mayor and donated $290,000 to her campaign- says she would rather operate behind closed doors to get things down, such as drafting ethics rules. She fired the chair of the county's ethics board who donated lots of money to her mayoral opponent.

The mainstream media is taking a closer look at the CTU's Brandon Johnson. Johnson was elected as a Cook County Commissioner, which is paid $80,000 per year. He also works for the Chicago Teacher's Union and is paid about $100,000. 

Another Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin is a paid CTU lobbyist.

(Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski also doubles as mayor of suburban village McCook.)

This is exactly what the mayor and her ethics team is going after, making sure no aldermen or commissioners can hold a second job that can conflict with their job as a legislator. 

Burke and others would say they would excuse themselves from votes, but their mere presence in the city government greases the wheels of their clients.

In this case, is Brandon Johnson's presence on the Cook County Board of Commissioners greasing the teachers union wheels. And if so, how?

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Scottish radical history

By Stephen Wilson
            The attempt by Scots to establish a provisional republic in 1820 warrants much more                          
            attention from teachers. The event is often viewed as either an aberration or accident
            rather than reflecting a deeply rooted radical tradition of the Scottish workers. 
            The casual visitor staying long enough in Scotland can't help coming across dubbed
            or scrawled years : '1916' or '1690' in Glasgow toilets or walls. The former recalls the failed 1916 Easter Rising where Irish rebels attempted an insurrection to
            drive out the British authorities and establish an independent Irish republic. The
            insurrection failed but its legacy strongly inspired the more successful war of
            independence which secured a republic in the south. The socialist agitator and
            prominent trade unionist James Connolly played a prominent role in this uprising.
            Most people know about this rebellion in Glasgow. But how many people know that
            a failed insurrection in 1820 took place? If vandals started to paint the year 1820
            on walls they might be doing history a favor. After all, ask most people in Scotland
            if they know about the 1820 Radical war and you'll get a bewildered, confused or
            indifferent response. The fact that an attempted revolution in Scotland received
            mass support in Glasgow has been passed over by history. Scotland is hardly an
            exception. How many Americans have heard of an armed uprising in Oklahoma
            on August 2nd and 3rd 1917 known as 'the Green Corn rebellion?'
            The uprising in 1820 in Scotland has been played down by some historians who
            prefer a less radical version of history. The interpretation of those events still
            arouses controversy. Some people regard it as 'a mere riot', 'a labor dispute by
            disaffected weavers' or even as a rouse organised by 'agent provocateurs.' In
            other words, the organizers of the rebellion were too hapless to organize an
            insurrection so police spies did it! Some historians have argued the rebellion
            was doomed to fail because it lacked sufficient mass support. But more recent
            evidence indicates that this rebellion received much more mass support than
            previously realized.
            What were the reasons for the insurrection? Very few people in Scotland had
            any democratic rights. Scotland was ruled by despotic and corrupt patronage
            system where one lawyer ,Henry Dundas had the last word. Only 0.2% of the
            Scottish population had the vote and workers had no right to join a union,
            embark on a strike or even organize political meetings. The war against
            Napoleon was used as a pretext to repress any radical who could be depicted
            as 'a traitor' in the service of France. Whereas previously in Scotland , the
            judiciary intervened in labor disputes to force employers to pay a just wage
            to workers now this option was closed. Now any form of combination by
            workers was outlawed and freedom of speech was largely suppressed. Many
            people who had radical beliefs lost their jobs or were blacklisted. The poet
            Robert Burns almost lost his job because of his suspected radical beliefs.
            Those repressive measures along with the specter of the French Revolution
            managed to contain unrest but only for a time. After the Napoleonic wars
            economic conditions worsened, wages declined and the price of bread
            increased drastically. One group of workers which was hit very hard were
            the weavers. Wages suffered as  the number of weavers rose from 25,000 in 1780
            to 78,000 in 1820. Real wages of the weavers in Glasgow fell drastically by
            one third. Shoemakers and colliers also suffered and attempts to peacefully
            protest and petition lawyers were suppressed. It was largely due to the
            intolerance of the authorities to any kind of peaceful protest than many Scots
            became convinced that they had no alternative but to take up arms. So for
            some years before 1820, radical workers had formed their own armed groups
            and were even drilling in some town squares. I was even surprised to learn
            that the Glasgow Herald had reported that in April 1820, as many as 400-
            500 rebels were drilling in my locality of Milngavie! And this was only in one
            small village. According to the historian T.M. Devine , 'The Underground
            societies had a central co-ordinating committee; arms {usually pikes} were
            available and military drilling was alleged to be under way in some districts.
            In addition, the associations had a network that stretched across the five
            counties of the west of Scotland, and substantial contacts had also been
            achieved with radical groups in the north of England.There can be little doubt
            that an armed revolt was being planned against an intransigent government
            which once again had met moderate demands for reform with repression and
            judicial retribution'. {The Scottish Nation, 1700 - 2007, T.M . Devine , Penguin
            Books , London, New York, 2006}   See also 'A brief History of Bearsden and
            Milngavie ', by Sheena V. Peters, 1994, Glasgow .
            On  April the 1st 1820 the rebels struck. They issued a proclamation titled 'Address
            to the Inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland , compiled by 'the Committee of
            Organisation for forming a Provisional Government.' It appealed for a union
            of classes to unite to help the rich as well as the poor man and urged all workers
            to go on strike. And the workers did not ignore the appeal. As many as 60,000
            workers in Glasgow went on strike. The Lord Provost of Glasgow, Monteith stated
            'Almost the whole population of the working classes have obeyed the orders
            contained in the treasonable proclamation by striking work. ' And this was only in
            Glasgow. The strikers were waiting for the leaders to issue further orders. But
            none came and the rebellion fizzled out. On April the 5th some rebels marched
            on their way to the Carron Iron works where they hoped to seize better arms.
            On their way they were confronted with government troops and a skirmish took
            place . This battle , where several men were killed , became known as 'The
            Battle of Bonnymuir. The rebels, being poorly armed with pikes were defeated
            and arrested. The main ring leaders such as James Wilson, Andrew Hardie and
            John Baird, were put on trial and hung , drawn and quartered. Other rebels were
            sent to Botany Bay. Mass repression,witch-hunts  and blacklisting took place.
            If mainstream history has largely down played those events, then folklore and
            folk singers have not forgotten. There are some ballads called 'The Battle of
            Bonnymuir' which are still sung in pubs throughout Scotland. One of the rebels,
            sentenced to exile, Allan Murchie wrote a ballad with the words:
            How long shall tyrants usurp freedom?
            How long shall we groan in their vile
            servile chains?
            There is no doubt that this uprising had mass support. Had it been better led it
            might just have succeeded. Unfortunately, this is largely Scotland's forgotten
            revolution where rebels carried a banner titled ;' Scotland free or a Desert .'But
            the year 1820 where the rebels who struck for freedom deserves homage. The
            year 1820 should be written on every Scottish wall!

Storyteller & Poet

By Stephen Wilson
             Friends gathered on the 1st of February to remember the late storyteller and poet: Olga Aprelskoi 
             A gray sky hung over the city. 
             Somewhere here there definitely must be a way out of the attic,  
             The cat Bonka looked up at the sky and began to search.
             In the attic there are always so many stories and stars, the attic smells a kind of orange spicy honey heaven!
             The cat Bonka searched and searched and found the end.
             Because anywhere, even under the most gloomy gray sky there is a way out of the attic!
             And everything is there, that is great for the soul; sour cream for
             cats, cheese for rats, and flowers for butterflies ... and if suddenly
             a gray sky hangs over you, always remember: there is a magic
             ATTIC! And if there is an attic, that means, there is a way out.
             The story was just one written by the late storyteller Olga Aprelskoi who tragically died of cancer last year, on the 23rd of December.

             The story was  one of several stories, along with songs and memories, heard at a  creative event which was held after Olga's death. The story belongs to  a book published five years ago titled 'Tales of the Cat Bonka and about all, all, all'. The stories glow with a good natural optimism and exude a unique charm.

             Each story shines like a  sparkling awesome jewel. There is no doubt that Olga Aprelskoi was endowed with a rare talent. For writing fairy tales for children is not as easy as it appears and many attempts end full of cliches or some crude ideological or moral message.

             After this poignant event I went home with the book and read it all through the night. Anna Kogteva, who organised this event told me:
             "You always want to read on and on. You can't stop reading it".

             Olga also had a rare talent for making and keeping friends. This event had drawn many people. At times some of the performers had to break off from singing or speaking to cry. They are still shaken by this recent event. One man stood up and made a moving speech where he stated "I loved Olga. She was a great friend. She was a magician!"

             Another person recalled that once Olga was seen in a courtyard full of snow by children and they thought she had actually stepped out of a fairy tale.

             She not only told fairy tales, but lived them! I only met her twice, but you could tell immediately there was something special about this woman. She had a generous soul and a lot of affection for the underdog. Anna Kogteva told me: "When she heard about how the artist Van Gogh suffered so much and was teased by children she felt very sorry for him."
             Perhaps it is no accident that Olga hailed from Voronezh. Voronezh is a town famous for writers of stories and fairy tales. For example, Andrei Platonov was born in this town. One woman who spoke at the event said "Voronezh is a town of tales. And now you can add Olga to this list of storytellers because she was born there. We should gather in April, on the day of Olga's birthday, and keep telling her stories." Olga hoped that all her friends would keep seeing each other to take care of each other. The main point was to love each other.
             Anna Filatova, who has also had a book of tales and poems published, and was a friend of Olga's told me "When ever I sing certain songs which Olga loved to hear I can feel her presence. i believe she is my angel".
             Olga, who was trained as a journalist, learnt to play the harp, adored telling and listening to fairy tales and took part in storytelling projects in Moscow. She seemed to travel all over Europe, but particularly felt attracted to Venice. We will greatly miss her. We won't forget her. We will certainly be retelling her stories. But I felt so much optimism as well as grief at this event that I felt that love is stronger than death.

             Love often renders death superficial and artificial. People can describe love much better than death. When people resort to describing death, it is as a skeleton, grim reaper or dark hooded skull. It often comes across as absurdly unreal.

             Death does not have the last word. And Olga's brilliant living legacy proves this!

Sunday, February 9, 2020

McDermott Fight

Fired Field Rep Joey McDermott Fights CTU for Reinstatement
By Jim Vail

Fired Field Rep Joey McDermott is fighting his dismissal.

The gloves are off. 

The former boxer and teachers union field representative is fighting to get his old job back.

Already 824 people have signed an online petition to reinstate Joey McDermott to his old position as a field rep for the Chicago Teachers Union. 

The petition to sign is at:  

The petition states that the CTU fired him for ¨discourteous¨ behavior with three alleged complaints, but the union never shared any written evidence to support the complaints, made no effort at restorative practices or provided training as part of a remediation process.

¨CTU´s insufficient due process steps (towards Joey) involved practices that CTU would never tolerate if done towards our own CTU members.¨

McDermott was terminated on Sept. 30, 2019.

The petition was started by David Kaplan, a teacher at Von Steuben High School.

The petition also noted that over 215 members wrote emails to the CTU to reinstate McDermott.

McDermott said in an email letter to his supporters that he was dismissed because he informed a union member that they should not show political partisanship while on union time, and that he should have been informed when VP Stacy Gates visited a school and held a meeting on the sidewalk, when he could have arranged to have the meeting inside the school. 

¨At the time of my dismissal, I was told, ´It´s not your place´ to comment on CTU staff´s behavior, and I was, ´discourteous and unprofessional,´¨ he said.

McDermott states that the CTU never provided him with any evidence about the complaints.

McDermott, who is represented by Teamsters Local 743, said he finally met with his CTU supervisor on Jan. 10, 14 weeks after he filed his grievance against wrongful dismissal. 

He said the CTU acknowledged that there was no discipline pre-meeting related to the email he sent about frustration with the union meeting on the sidewalk, which means he was never given his just cause/due process rights which are essential in a union contract. There was no written documentation related to the allegations against him so he could respond, and the union told him it would not provide conflict resolution training which he requested, he said.

¨They suggested I send a written request for any documents I want to see,¨ McDermott wrote.

The CTU must issue a written response in the next few weeks, and then meet with Joey in March or April before issuing a decision in April or May. If the officers rule against him, then his case will go to arbitration, possibly this summer. The arbitrator´s decision usually takes a few months.  

McDermott said his firing has impacted the CTU field reps who have to pick up extra schools and increase their workload.

¨It also means that CTU members concerns are not going to be addressed efficiently, at least not the same as if the grievance department were fully/adequately staffed, and not the same if I was performing the duties for the job I love.¨ 

McDermott speculated that he was fired for criticizing the union. He said he filed grievances for attorneys recruiting clients for private lawsuits at House of Delegate meetings, sending CTU staff to do political work for candidates not officially endorsed, assigning field reps to work with and support charter teachers without hiring additional field reps to ensure quality/timeliness of service to all members and reporting to CTU leadership when staff was doing political work, while being paid through CTU dues money.

McDermott, who is a member of the CTU leadership CORE party, had criticized the caucus when he ran for vice president against Stacy Davis Gates. 

He said he sent emails to CTU leadership to make sure he was not violating any rules of employment prior to any interviews or stories published.

¨I am convinced that my protected union activity and my outspoken activity as a CORE member led to my wrongful dismissal,¨ he wrote.

McDermott made a series of damaging statements about the union to the corporate media who represent business and anti-union interests. It is understandable that the leadership would be furious to have an employee on their dime criticize their leadership. 

In an extended interview with anti-union writer and hated former Chicago Reader editor Mark Konkol, McDermott criticized the union and its cozy relationship with the Democratic Party which he believes runs against the CORE principals of firing up the membership.

McDermott said he gave the interview as a candidate for CORE vice president, and not as a union employee. He sent an email to his bosses prior to the interview to make sure he was not doing anything wrong. McDermott was identified as a CTU member in the article. Jesse Sharkey never responded to his email, thus giving him the green light to give the interview that trashed their leadership.

President Jesse Sharkey and Vice President Stacy Gates refused to speak to Konkol - an outspoken anti-union attack dog who lumps unions together with billionaires as corrupt influences on the democratic party. They do, however, give interviews to the Chicago Tribune, another anti-union paper that advocates for privatizing the public schools.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Feb. HOD

CTU Delegates Do Not Endorse Bernie at HOD
By Jim Vail

Bernie Sanders did not get CTU endorsement.

The Chicago Teachers Union leadership suffered a minor set back when the resolution to endorse Bernie Sanders did not pass at the Feb. 5, 2020 House of Delegates meeting.

About 136 delegates voted no, and 121 delegates voted yes to endorsing Sanders for U.S. President.

The Political Action Committee did not recommend the endorsement. The unusual resolution was made by the Executive Board. The teachers union traditionally does not make federal endorsements. 

CTU VP Stacy Gates said they are focused on state legislators who pass legislation that affects the public schools.

The lively debate to endorse Bernie Sanders included those in favor: he supports Medicare for All so that everybody has access to health care and says no to corporate and wealthy interests (we do not need billionaires!) Those not in favor said: there are two candidates that the teachers like in the race (but Warren has backed away from Medicare for All) and Bernie did not support reparations to the former African slaves.

Stacy Gates made a follow-up motion that passed which states the CTU is neutral in the presidential race.   

The Los Angeles Teachers Union earlier endorsed Bernie Sanders.

In the beginning Q & A one delegate asked the union what can you do when you have a student who calls the teachers a ¨fucking bitch¨ every day and he is taken out and re-enters the class and nothing is done. The union said you should gather evidence, and the delegate replied that they have documented the harassment for three years but nothing has been done. President Sharkey said they could file a grievance for an unsafe environment and a behavior plan should be in place. He recommended having someone from the union come out.

Welcome to the reality of teaching in CPS!

The power of party politics was on display in the election of Paula Barajas over Terri Hehn for elementary functional vice president. Hehn made a superior speech in which she outlined her qualifications for the position. The Members First caucus - which is still very active - campaigned for Hehn, while the CTU Core party backed Barajas who won.

VP Gates stated the union´s priorities are racial, economic, social and educational justice. She twice mentioned racial first, and education last.

The SEIU union - who represents the teacher aids or PSRP´s and custodial staff in CPS schools in addition to many other workers -  stated that they will also focus on social justice.

The last election for president was between Members First who want to focus on teachers first, vs. Core who fight for social and racial justice.

The union endorsed state reps Thaddeus Jones in the 29th district and Andre Thapedi in the 32nd.

¨We don´t have many enemies anymore,¨ Gates said. ¨They just say yes and don´t want to fight us.¨

Power in the state legislature is especially important to pass an elected school board (the mayor has backed off this after she promised one during her campaign), ensure teacher pension protection and protect public schools and public school teachers that groups funded by billionaires have tried to attack over the years via privatization and laws to take away the union´s collective bargaining rights & seniority.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Teacher Exam

Russian school teachers are being forced to sit school exams
By Stephen Wilson
"It's humiliating as well as a waste of my valuable time. I have so many other problems to deal with. But the headmistress has informed all teachers at our school they must do the Russian Unitary State Exam  initially designed for final year school students. It lasts four hours and we have to travel outside of Moscow to sit this. This is not for free. We have to pay 3000 rubles for this.
Unless we sit this exam, the commission won't approve of our school or offer us subsidies." said an exasperated school teacher who we have wisely decided not to name given possible repercussions. For several months educational
officials from a commission have been carrying out countless inspections of not only teachers, but all the school records. The teachers at this private Lyceum which specializes in Latin and Greek and is located near the Olympic Stadium of Moscow can be forgiven for feeling 'a sense of persecution.' But they are far from being the only victims of increasing red tape. Over the past few years school teachers have been asked to sit poorly designed and incomprehensible exams in mathematics which were highly unprofessional.

              Even the former Minister of Education called for an end to such crude exams. Russian school teachers have long complained about how increased red tape is hampering their role as teachers. In theory, keeping school records on a  computer should cut red tape. But in practice it can actually increase the burden as some headmasters insist that the recorded marks of school students should be kept on a computer, paper and by the student himself. But what if a teacher has awarded three to a student but the computer records show a four and the teacher can't change this mark because the computer refuses? This has been the experience of some teachers who had to spend the time looking for an elusive student who has gone away on holiday. A teacher might spend hours looking for a student so that they can settle a problem concerning the consistency of marks.
              Despite a recent letter written by Klimova Konstantinova, last December sent with a request that the President take action to cut all this red tape, and other letters,
paperwork has intensified rather than decreased. For example, some school teachers have been asked to present a medical certificate as well as a certificate to prove they have no criminal record. To acquire the latter document can take an enormous amount of time and effort. To add insult to injury, the teachers are asked to pay themselves for those certificates. This should be an informality. It only takes a few seconds for a policeman to establish whether a teacher has a criminal record by running his or her name through a computer. It is clear that the real reasons for inventing more exams for teachers to sit and certificates for teachers to gain is to obtain more money. There is a distinct correlation between the rising bureaucracy and insidious corruption. But such unchecked corruption has led to teachers being chronically stressed, on the verge of a nervous breakdown or burnt out.
              Not surprisingly, you have a huge shortage of school teachers all over parts of Russia. In some villages half the teachers are of retirement age because schools can't persuade younger teachers to take up new posts. I heard that in one school in Voronezh a brilliant Russian teacher of German has to work over 38 hours to earn just 50,000 rubles!  If she goes into retirement, there will be no more German teachers at the school. In fact, the normal workload of a school teacher should not exceed 18 hours a week. However, in practice they are usually doing more than 30 just to earn half decent pay. Whereas the average teacher in school should teach up to 520 hours a year, in practice they work 720 or more hours a year! Part of the reason for the increased workload are increased school closures fueled by harsh austerity policies. In 2017 alone, as many as 3000 schools were closed down in Russia.
              It is time to stop the over testing of not only school students but the teachers themselves whom the government does not respect. The developmental psychologist, Klimova, called for the ending of testing in primary schools. She warned that 'Endless checks and marks kill the interest of young children who wish to discover something new and have to develop inner motivation ... It is especially dangerous in the formation of young school children when they are constantly given negative marks by teachers. It can lead to inferiority complexes, low self esteem, motivation to avoid further learning and to the syndrome of learnt helplessness'. In fact, both teachers and students feel demoralized by over checking and over testing. They badly need a break!