Shestakov: Introducing a Russian Dissident

I strongly suggest that the New York City Council and Department of Education of that city invite Andrei Shestakov to speak about his life experiences. He lives in Siberia and has worked there as a police officer working with juveniles and as a history teacher.

In this day of First Amendment battles in the United States, he decided to teach truths in Russia that we commonly see on the news. He was fined hundreds of dollars for that. And now seeing the handwriting on the wall and a possible prison sentence of fifteen years, he is determined to leave Russia.

Turkey appears to be a place he can go. The idea of inviting Shestakov, at the very least to speak to the American people, came easy to me. By 2018 I was asking Jewish groups to invite Jennifer Teege, the granddaughter of Amon Goth who was executed by hanging for his crimes in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, to speak to US. She actually did speak, at least once, with faculty and community around the University of Alabama Birmingham. That was great to know and see. She spoke about being Black and German to the audience. I wonder how many people have seen the You Tube since. Maybe Shestakov can be invited to America to speak here?

You noticed that I referenced the work experience in which 19 years were devoted to police work. I would appreciate knowing his vast experience of working with juveniles in Russia, assuming that he worked in Siberia and not in a large city like New York. What happened to the youth that he was involved with? We would have to take a look at those earliest of interventions along with finding ways to help youth who become much more at risk of committing felonies.

With that in mind, the District Attorneys of New York City are sending youth who have been charged with gun possession to G.E.D. classes. Is the effort sufficient? What else could be done to help those youth? These are questions for the City Council that is hearing about the hope for its schools to become the leading school system in the nation among large cities. I am asking the council members who are really interested in education as a path to helping the city out of its crime and violence to look harder at the comments made by the school chancellor. Read between the lines. I see some gains but I see failure too. And I have a history of being right even in writing about Hempstead’s schools.

Let me now take people back to 1999 to a place called Ebbets Field. No! Not the Home of the Dodgers! This was a G.E.D. program that I and my students turned upside down in order to help Brooklyn earn more diplomas and to spread the word across the city so other youth would also benefit. Student were not listening to the school administration as they went to take the test on their own and succeeded. I taught my students the regulations for taking the test. The administration taught them things that held them back. It was a kind of Brooklyn Jim Crow and there was jim crow all over the city. I was told back then that the regulations weren’t racist because all students had to face them, but the regulations held people back in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

There was one student, a female, who told me and I did not argue with her, that she and her mother had agreed to go along with the administration so that she could obtain 249 on the test and enter the college of her choice. I did understand that well and obtaining 249 on that test quickly more than anything else depended on how well her high school had prepared her. Two students that followed the guidelines of the administration and took the test had only achieved 229 (four points above passing on their tests). And those students had to wait a year to take the test.

I wonder just how Shestakov handled educational issues that were dissimilar to ours but equally vital to the success of youth in Siberia. How did the police and the administration turn youth around there? That is an important question.

If you thought I was done with that female student who was trying to learn enough to obtain 249 or more, you are wrong. I didn’t know what to say and I knew that parental participation was not only important, but also required for students who had not attained nineteen years of age. Regulations matter! But there was something missing that we did not know and which I found out only because of my work later on during retirement took me into the center of power. This is the piece that was missing. That student could have taken the test again if she had passed the test but scored below 249. And that means that with a diploma in hand to help her, perhaps, to find a job where a diploma was required, she would have had a second chance to obtain her dream. And since the program was not really producing for others, she might have chosen a path to another program to achieve her American Dream more quickly.

And what about Shestakov? He seems like a good fit for life in America. He wants the truth, opposes Putin, and takes the risks needed even in democracy. Our democracy is one that also has Putin supporters and fierce opponents of the truths of Critical Race Theory. Putin’s supporters are talking about wokeness. I can see Shestakov coming to America, but just think if the presidential election were taking place in November 2022 instead of in November 2024. Think of a Trump victory. Trump and his supporters are supportive of Putin and his quest to enlarge his nation by taking over the Ukraine and other countries. Putin’s destruction of the Ukraine (and Syria years ago) already seems to be of much less concern to Americans who are facing other problems. Would Shestakov be welcomed by Trump who has aligned himself with Putin repeatedly? It’s highly doubtful but I know that exceptions can be made. Would a million Shestakovs be tolerated by Trump? If you research Trump-Putin you will learn that he was soft on Putin dozens of times and look at what we ended up with and being soft on Putin could mean being hard on Shestakov.

And Chancellor Banks needs time to demonstrate just how good he is. How much time? That depends on lots of factors. These are horrible times for US even as things appear normal. I should add that Mayor Eric Adams has pointed out that crime is neither Blue nor Red since it is an American problem. Here he is using terminology that Joe Biden has put out. Where do you think Joe Biden got it from? Smiling! My lips are sealed. Do you think that I wrote that to the White House?

And about the Department of Education and how it assesses things. When Alfred E. Smith High School was designated to be closed, I drove there. I met with people who really didn’t care about the bigger picture for the city. Smith H.S. was not closed because of and only because of its automotive program.

And more than a decade later after helping District 27 in Queens for years, I noticed that the school I was most involved with was on the list to be closed. No suggestion that I made was ever implemented then. The parent leader assured me that the school would not be closed and the reason was it was improving. That was the reason the school was not closed. Was that good enough for the department? What kind of report was made to lead to that conclusion? And what has happened to all those students that were not improving as they went from one grade to another. I happen to know something that I am not going to state right here about the school and its student body. It would be a good idea for the members of the City Council involved with education to contact me about that. Why would I want to present information that is critical when nobody bothers to contact me? An exercise in futility?

I have spelled out deficiencies that are destructive of hope and opportunity in this article. Mistakes made with Putin and mistakes made by the Department of Education do matter. I called for Putin’s resignation in 2018 and failed. I see things and know things about the school system and my own failure to succeed will severely impact on the entire city of New York. If I succeed the children and their families will succeed. It was true in 2001 when I started on this path and it is still true.

And the very least the City Council can do right now is to inform the people of the city how many students have earned a high school equivalency in the last years, particularly since school was interrupted by COVID-19 in March 2020. This is the third school year that has been affected by the pandemic with the end of the year coming in just a few months. It is time to act and do the right thing.

Our nation seems to have a lot in common with Putin’s Russia. There was an attempt at taking over our nation in January 2020 and now Putin has not been stopped for almost two months in the Ukraine. At least our attempt was stopped.