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Book review. Diving In: Bill Ayers and the Art of Teaching into the Contradiction.

October 20, 2014


Diving In: Bill Ayers and the Art of Teaching into the Contradiction.

Edited by Isabel Nuñez, Crystal T. Laura and Rick Ayers

Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

There is a tradition in academia that I was truthfully unaware of. The tradition uses the German word, festschrift.  A festschrift is a book of essays published in honor of a retiring professor. The essays may be about the person or influenced by the ideas of the person.

Diving In: Bill Ayers and the Art of Teaching into the Contradiction is a festschrift that has both.

Bill is retired from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

He retired a while ago, it seems to me. But Diving In: Bill Ayers and the Art of Teaching into the Contradiction just arrived in the mail.

Disclosure: Bill and I have been friends for over 40 years. When I went back to the university in the 90s, he was already a professor at UIC and I was fortunate to be a graduate student in several of the classes he taught there.

I was honored that Bill’s brother Rick Ayers asked me to contribute to his festschrift. 

I normally don’t get asked to contribute to journals or collections of essays by academics. I don’t take it personally. I understand how the system works. K-5 Art teachers just don’t get asked to write for academic journals and published collections of essays.

My friend Bill has never been one to go along with the way the system works.

The two times that I have been asked to contribute to a journal where all the other contributors had a PhD after their names involved Bill.

He is also an ardent fan of this blog.

I am flattered.

My contribution is a series of stories involving Tony at the Red Line Tap. If you are a long-time reader of my blog you know Tony. And must surely know that Tony would be as surprised as I am to find himself in a festschrift.

There is also an essay, an imagined conversation between a student and teacher, by my former graduate advisor and friend, Bill Schubert.

There are more contributions by Bernardine Dohrn, Michelle Fine, Rashid Khalidi, Craig Kridel, David Stovall, the late Bill Watkins, Alice Kim. And others.

It’s a very good read if I do say so myself.

Although I don’t think Tony would approve.

Electing school boards.

October 20, 2014

stink tank

As I have to keep reminding folks, Chicago is the only school district in the state of Illinois that does not elect its school board.

We get to vote for the people who sit on the board that runs the water district, but not on the board that runs our City’s schools.

The Mayor has sole power to appoint them. Most Chicago parents couldn’t name any of the members of the board. We don’t have to know who they are because they do whatever the Mayor tells them to do.

Attempts to change all that have been blocked by the Mayor’s water carriers on the City Council. In order to change to an elected school board the members of the Democratic Party-controlled General Assembly must vote to change it.

We have been discussing this for a long time. Back in the summer of 2012 I took part in a discussion of the issue on Ken Davis’ show.

There should be no retreat from the fight to get this basic right of fair representation and democracy.

Some day, we will get Democracy in Chicago. I am convinced.

In the mean while, we need to look at two examples of what electing a school board requires: Waukegan and Hinsdale.

If you read this blog then you know that lousy school boards have caused trouble for the parents, students and teachers of both these Illinois towns.

In Waukegan teachers are on strike for competitive salaries. They are supported in their bargaining position by most of Waukegan’s community and political leaders.

But the board, elected by a typically low turnout of voters, continues to refuse to bargain in good faith.

And so the strike continues into a third week.

In Hinsdale a strike may be averted. After months of the board taking divisive bargaining positions, they finally will vote tonight on a tentative agreement already ratified by the teachers. It is expected to be ratified by the full board.

But that is the problem. In another low turnout election, a group of Tea Party extremists were elected to the Hinsdale board. You would expect that a majority of the board will now follow through and vote for the agreement.

But don’t count your chickens. These Tea Party extremists don’t always feel the need to play by the rules.

The right-wingers at the Illinois Policiy Institute think that the problem is that collective bargaining isn’t done a public arena. Profit-driven as they are, I wouldn’t be surprised if they would like to sell tickets to the bargaining sessions as if were a sporting event. The IPI calls that transparency.

Bargaining in public is the route to making sure no agreements get reached.

And that is what IPI and other anti-union groups want. It is not transparency they want. The IPI would prefer that there be no collective bargaining at all. And no teacher union. The same is true for the Tea Party members of the Hinsdale board.

This is the lesson I would like to share.

Chicago needs democracy. We need to join the rest of the state and have an elected school board. We need to end one-man rule and mayoral control of our schools.

But democracy and transparency requires that we show up.

In Waukegan the teachers are already talking about going after the members of the current board in the next election. Expect a big turnout there.

I will bet you dollars to donuts that the Tea Party will not be sneaking their way on to the next Hinsdale board of education. They don’t represent the political views of folks in Hinsdale.

Transparency is not open-air bargaining as the IPI argues.

Transparency is when big numbers of people show up to vote for board members who run and who openly say what they believe in.

#Waukegan Strong Twitter storm. Monday from 7-9 PM. Everyone in the U.S. who reads this blog.

October 19, 2014


Tomorrow is day 11 of the Waukegan teacher strike.

Waukegan teachers, “It’s not about the money — it’s about respect.”

Letter from Waukegan union president Kathy Schwarz (via Fred Klonsky)

The Board of Education still has yet to attend one negotiations session and the contract expired on 6/30/14.

On Wednesday, the Union gave the District administrators negotiating the contract a break from negotiations to take the time to regroup, reflect, meet with the Board to come up with a serious proposal to present to the Union. Negotiations have been constantly stalled by the District breaking to ask the Board for permission to sign off on proposals.

The community continues to support the Union, and the Union’s team and rank-and-file members spent the weekend reaching out to churches and community organizations to tell its side of the story. They make a strong coalition that is becoming stronger through this struggle.

Today Waukegan teachers, parents and students march in solidarity to the District office.

Tomorrow night (Monday October 20th), let’s rally online with a social media storm.

From 7-9 PM, tweet your support with the hashtag #WaukeganStrong.

Let’s make this trend and show the world that we support teachers!

Sample Tweets/Facebook posts (feel free to copy/paste into your status or make up your own — just use #WaukeganStrong)

Waukegan stands by its teachers! #WaukeganStrike #WaukeganStrong
#Waukegan Board of Education – stop hiding behind your $275-an-hour Downtown Chicago lawyer! #WaukeganStrong
#Waukegan teachers are under attack! What do we do? Stand up, fight back! #WaukeganStrong #WaukeganStrike

Sunday reads.

October 19, 2014


An internal study by the CIA of their gun-running shows that it doesn’t work.

Texas voter ID law. Gun permits but not college ID. Yahooooo!

Women of color and the hidden trauma of police brutality.

The missing voices in EdTech.

Lewis Black explains summers off.

Columbia professors, she recalled, often said, “We’re wasting our time on you girls.” Asked by her interviewer if they said that to the women directly, she replied, “Oh, yes.”

Andrew Broy is the head of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. Broy, who runs an “education blog” on the electronic Huffington Post, was ecstatic with the election of Rahm Emanuel as Mayor of Chicago, and he quickly offered suggestions to the new Mayor for selections of a fresh educational leader in the city, one tailored to work with Sec. of Education Duncan’s Race to the Top ( ).

Together, Broy and Emanuel have worked past the current caps on charter schools in the city using a variety of loopholes in the law. In fact, the number of new charter openings in Chicago is staggering – only eclipsed by the number of public school closings.

Problem for Broy: A recent research study by the University of Minnesota finding Charter Schools really don’t perform any better than public schools – in fact, worse – and it is one with which Broy has, understandably, taken serious umbrage.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been rather silent on this recent and latest research, but in the past the Mayor has used a different tactic than Broy. Rahm doesn’t say “no”; he uses a more political and evasive response: “That’s old research” or “we should be measuring all schools’ performance, not just one kind.”

Broy prefers to attack directly the researchers or the study’s methodology.

“…that’s old research…”
The Chicago Tribune? Well, they admit siding with the Mayor and Broy whenever possible, although even the Editorial Board finds itself wondering on occasion where Broy is coming from. Example?

Broy, who likes to offer his own research whenever possible, defended at one point the efficacy of Charter Schools by offering the numbers students seeking entrance into Chicago’s charter institutions. Kind of like an “If you build it and someone wants to come “ argument. For Broy, interest is tantamount to successful education. In an opinion piece by the Chicago Tribune entitled “The Thirst for Charter Schools,” the Dold-led Board states, “It’s no secret that this page strongly supports charter schools…Charter schools attract excellent young teachers and offer them wide latitude to reach students…” (

(Never mind that average salaries of charter schoolteachers are nearly 30% lower than national averages for teachers/grade level…or that wide latitude may mean not necessarily having qualifications in a specific subject area. )

But in April of 2013, even the Tribune questioned the number of students seeking admission into Chicago charter schools at 19,000. Broy, who often cites that and other generous numbers, ignores studied reports that these numbers “significantly overstate demand because it counts applications, not students. In other words, if a student applies to four or more different charter schools, each of these is counted as a student waiting for one school. While that may seem statistically invalid as a whole number of all students seeking admission, Broy “stands by his calculation(s). “We feel the 19,000 number is strongly supported and is likely a conservative estimate.” The higher the inflated number, the better proof we educate better? John Dillon


Because it was awesome.

October 18, 2014


The folks at Education Next have given the thumbs up to field trips.

Even though it won’t be on the test.

Education Next is a group of corporate education reformists. Like the Fordham’s Michael Petrilli and Fred Hess.

 Here is the study.

In case you were worried, the value of field trips is now research-based.

Our goal in pursuing research on the effects of culturally enriching field trips is to broaden the types of measures
 that education researchers, and in turn policymakers and practitioners, consider when judging the educational success or failure of schools. It requires significantly greater effort to collect new measures than to rely solely on state-provided math and reading tests, but we believe that this effort is worthwhile. By broadening the measures used to assess educational outcomes, we can also learn what role, if any, cultural institutions may play in producing those outcomes.

I used to do an annual field trip with my 4th grade students to the Chicago Loop.

I have no data to show that this was a meaningful experience other than the screeches of delight and the number of times “awesome” came out of the kids’ mouths.

Ninety kids rode the Metra train to the Transportation Center on the west side of the Loop. They broke into groups of ten with a parent, a teacher and a map. They were to find five examples of public art and five examples of Chicago architecture by known Chicago architects. They had an hour to get across the Loop to Millennium Park where we had lunch.

They had to climb a Du Buffet. They had to slide down the Chicago Picasso. They had to walk through a revolving door. They had to learn to walk on the right side of the sidewalk. They had to turn their backs to the Chase Bank Building and look at its sloping columns by leaning back and staring up. They had to walk into Macy’s and right in the middle of the perfume section look up at the Tiffany glass ceiling tiles.

After lunch in front of the Gehry stage at Millennium Park we crammed under The Bean and splashed in the fountain of spitting faces.

They would be dry by the time we finished the fast march across the Loop to catch the 2:30 train back home.

The next time in class there would be no test.

Instead my students drew and painted the most glorious images of Chicago.

I feel no relief knowing the research supports the value of the experience.

That is because I always knew.

Because it was awesome.


October 18, 2014


Keeping retirement weird. I’ve turned it off.

October 18, 2014


More African-Americans have been killed by the police in the St. Louis metro area in just the last couple of months than there are U.S. deaths from Ebola.

I’m probably the last American under the age of 80 that still watches the network national news.

The commercials are the demographic give away. They are all selling denture glue and viagra.

However, this week I have stopped.

It’s all Ebola.

I end up yelling at the TV and Anne keeps yelling up at me to see if I am alright.

Did you know that two-thirds of parents in upscale neighborhoods of Santa Monica and Beverly Hills sign release forms so that they don’t have to give their kids childhood vaccines? That’s higher than most third world countries.

A headline in the New York Times today: In Europe, Fear of Ebola Exceeds Actual Risks.

In Europe? Are you kidding me?

You know what is a bigger public health risk in the U.S. than Ebola?

Almost anything.

More African-Americans have been killed by the police in the St. Louis metro area in just the last couple of months than there are U.S. deaths from Ebola.

As far as I know there is no threat of Ebola contagion in Waukegan Illinois.

It is an hour drive north from Chicago.

If you have time next week and live in the Chicago area, get up there.

If you are a retired teacher, make some time.

IEA or IFT. It really doesn’t matter.

Our colleagues have been on strike for two weeks and there is no end in sight.

When I was on the strike lines yesterday the spirit of the teachers was good.

But I know how this goes. If his lasts until Halloween, it will get tough. It will get cold.

Supporters showing up makes all the difference in the world.

Plus, it’s a good reason to turn off the TV and get away from all the Ebola hysteria.


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