Saturday, January 24, 2015

40th Anniversary of Substance and Memories of George Schmidt, Test Resister

TESTOCRACY? Yesterday we read from Diane Ravitch that one of the many Harvard mavens worshipped by some people is using the term "testocracy." We invented that term, but good ideas should not be copyrighted. Let's remind people, though, who should be remembered for having built the Resistance 20 and 15 years ago. The recent joiners to our ranks are, of course, welcome. Except when they write a self-serving history that puts their arrival at the onset of The Resistance. More about that when we review some new books or three.... George Schmidt
George Schmidt lost his career as a teacher in Chicago when Substance published the CASE tests and exposed just how error-laden, useless and indeed, harmful they were. So a well deserved kudo to George as Substance celebrates its 40th anniversary. We were getting copies of Substance here in NYC in the late 70s and also George's exposure of the ties between Al Shanker, the UFT/AFT and the CIA (The American Federation of Teachers and the CIA).

Then we lost touch with George  - until I attended an ed-tech convention in Chicago around 2000 and wandered into a session on how to battle testing and saw Substance on the seats and George on the panel. One of the spurs to me retiring in July 2002 was to expand was a Delegate Assembly only Ed Notes into a tabloid like Substance.

George and his son came out to my house that summer and I invited a bunch of people to meet with him. That group eventually became the basis of ICE (Independent Community of Educators). And of course ICE morphed into GEM in 2009 - inspired by some of the work going on in Chicago that we knew about through George and Substance and of course ICE and GEM and others formed MORE in 2012, inspired by the work of CORE in Chicago which took over the union in 2010. And Change the Stakes was also an offshoot of GEM.

It was through George that I met Susan Ohanian and other test resisters and Ed Notes was the first -- and only publication to take a stand against high stakes testing 15 years ago. I was presenting resolutions against high stakes testing in the late 90s - and based on the work George and Susan were doing, pretty much predicting exactly what has come to pass.

So George has not only impacted Chicago, but his work has had a major influence on the work here in NYC.

George and Substance aren't often cited by some of the revisionists writing the history of CORE which discount the impact of the outreach of a 35 year old network that George had created and maintained.

I am about to head into the city for the MORE workshops on chapter leader elections and chapter building -- the essence of building a fighting union -- and I'll have more on this later from one of  my correspondents who helped lead a fightback in her school against unfavorable observations.

Here are excerpts of George's Bulletin he sent out today.
Brothers and Sisters:

The year 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of Substance. Our print editions began publishing in mid-1975, following the organizing that led to the formation of S.U.B.S. (Substitutes United for Better Schools) after some of us returned from the Vietnam War (me as an anti war organizer; Larry from the Marines) and elsewhere to discover that for seven years the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union (under Bob Healey and the UPC) had sold out substitute teachers in several contracts. Substitute pay had been frozen at $40 per day from 1968 through 1975. Our original organizing resulted in demonstrations, petitions to the union leadership -- and the beginning of the publication of a newsletter, Substance. By June 1976, Substance had evolved into a tabloid newspaper, and soon we were coming out monthly (and selling both papers and subscriptions). By early1976, S.U.B.S. had more than 300 dues paying members, most of whom were Chicago substitute teachers (although we let militant regular teachers join, too). It was the beginning of a very interesting ride that continues to this day. Some of us are still around. Some (Joe Corker, Dorothy Pearson, Dan Van Zile and others) have died. And a few left teaching because of the ongoing insults and indignities that we had to endure as substitute teachers in Chicago. As 2015 unfolds, we will from time to time be reprinting and sharing historical memories from the pages of Substance and from our archives. Please let us know your memories as well, because history cannot be told accurately by any one person or handful of people.

The first historical documents we are sharing this morning are attached. On January 28, 2015, the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune decided, both together and of course coincidentally, to publish editorials denouncing Substance and me for publishing some of the Pilot CASE tests that had been given earlier that month to all Chicago high school students. By that day, we had been sued for a million dollars and I had been taken out of my classroom at Bowen High School pending a kangaroo court trial before suspending me without pay. When Substance published the CASE tests, I originally believed that the press had the right to publish government documents of an important public nature. The court, with the support of the Sun-Times and Tribune, held that "copyright trumps First Amendment," a dubious ruling that is still being upheld. The complexities of the events that followed are matters of fact and history, which I will be sharing as the year goes on. Let's just say for now that the willingness of Chicago's media leaders, as you can read from the attached, to go along with power was as corrupt than in 1999 as it has been many times since. But when recently the American media did their "Je Suis Charlie" stuff after the murders in Paris, I had to go back and remember just how much hypocrisy has gone into creating the brainwashings that still today have many people trapped inside the ruling class's thinking. Let me know what you think of the two attached documents.

Solidarity forever,

George N. Schmidt, Editor

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