Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Eight: The Mind-Body Problem

This is a continuation of earlier posts.

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to place critiques, mainly (although not entirely) of the current school system. At first, I merely printed off the articles, but then I started to provide a summary of the article along with the article. I placed the summaries along with the articles in a binder (and, eventually, binders), and I placed the binder in the staff lounge.

As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”).

As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions. In fact, I could have placed this (and other posts in this series) under the title that I have used for another series of posts, “The Radical Left Needs to Call into Question Existing Social Institutions at Every Opportunity.” For further understanding of the stressful context in which I provided the summaries, see the post  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eight.

The context of summaries related to the brain was that the principal of Ashern Central School, where I worked, started talking about “brain research’ and how teachers needed to implement such research in their daily teaching practice. He even placed an article on brain research in our school mailboxes. As a consequence, I researched the issue and provided critical summaries that critiqued his reductionist view of human intelligence as “brain work.”

The relevance of the issue has to do with division of labour between intellectual labour and manual labour. Typically in schools, there is an emphasis on “academic learning”–which means purely intellectual pursuits at the expense of the use of the body as an essential aspect of the learning process. To ignore such issues is to ignore a cleavage in our society that needs to be repaired through the creation of a socialist society that eliminates such a division of labour.

I must emphasize that such work is necessary despite the possible negative repercussions by management. If we are afraid to question management and employers in our own workplace, how can we expect others to challenger their particular employer? How can we expect to unite to challenge the class of employers generally if we fail to challenge our own particular employer?

It is much easier to criticize other employers than one’s own–just as it is easier to criticize other nations than one’s own.

Such criticism is also necessary since the class power of employers is supported in various ways, including ideological means. To fail to challenge the power of the class of employers in diverse domains makes it all the more difficult to challenge them at the economic and political level. This is a typical weakness of social-democratic or reformist approaches to challenging the class power of employers. They idealize one or more domains (such as the public sector or education or law) without engaging in inquiry into the real nature of these domains (see, for example, Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Two).

Good morning, everyone,

I sent the attached article last night to the ESJ Ning. If anybody has any suggestions for improvement (in terms of content or in terms of attempting to communicate with the ESJ chairs), I would appreciate it.

I prefaced it with the following:

The author (Eric Bredo) of the following article, “Evolution, Psychology and the Reflex Arc Concept,” argues that John Dewey’s 1896 article, which criticized the reflex arc concept of psychology, formed an initial ground for Dewey’s critique of modern school systems. Dewey incorporated Darwin ’s theory of evolution in his psychological theory and in his educational theory.

The reflex arc of psychology incorporated the difference and link between sensory nerves and motor nerves, on the one hand, and the spinal cord and the brain on the other. Psychologists interpreted the link in purely mechanical terms (one following the other in time). They interpreted the response of human beings as merely a mechanical following on a predetermined stimulus. Ideas mechanically emerged and were then mechanically transformed into responses as the spinal cord and the brain created images, which then led, mechanically, to responses through the motor nerves. The spinal cord and the brain served as mechanical mediators between the senses and the motor response.

Dewey criticized this theoretical psychological model because living beings do not act in exactly the same manner as inanimate nature; although living beings are always physical-chemical beings, they have additional properties that modify the behavioural attributes of the physical-chemical world. Dewey used the illustration of a child who reaches for a bright candle. The child is not stimulated by the bright candle to reach the bright candle, nor is the stimulated with another, independent stimulus when she is burnt. Rather, the child is actively involved in determining the nature of the stimulus through the act, in the first instance, of looking (through the use of head muscles and eye muscles). The child’s use of motor muscles and nerves leads to a sensation of seeing the bright candle so that motor action mediates the sensation (or the supposed stimulus). The stimulus is not therefore “given” passively but actively is achieved through the child’s own act. The achieved stimulus, through the act of looking then guides another, interrelated act of reaching for the candle (if it is within reach and, if not, in the act of walking towards the candle). The act of looking guides (limits) the act of reaching, and the act of reaching guides (limits) the act of looking. Each act is functional with respect to the other act within the total act.

The so-called stimulus of the bright light from the candle itself depends on the context of the child seeking to find out what the nature of the bright candle is by reaching for it. To reach for it, she must first orient herself and her body parts so as to get a clearer view of the source of the brightness (clarification is required through the act of looking). She then further clarifies the nature of the object through the act of reaching, which is mediated through the persistent act of looking. Without such a mediation, the act of reaching may well lead to overshooting or undershooting her grasp and thereby lead to a failure to act according to her intended goal of reaching for the bright candle.

The stimulus of the bright candle is thus a product (and not something “given” or antecedent to the act of looking). The stimulus is constituted in part through the act of looking; the child is just as much implicated in the construction of the stimulus as is the existence of the bright candle in the child’s environment.

The assumption that the response of reaching for the bright candle is independent of the act of looking is typical of a mechanical view of the situation. The act of reaching, however, is not just a physical act but an act impregnated with intent: it is reaching for the bright candle. It is a purposive act. To be successful, the act of looking must mediate the act of reaching. The act of looking, though initial in time in relation to the total act of touching the bright candle and hence in that sense the stimulus, must function to control the act of reaching so that the response is not a response to the stimulus but a response into the stimulus. The act of reaching mediates in turn, the act of looking; the act of looking is limited by the act of reaching (the child just cannot look anywhere). Just as life is a process which is mediated by implicit goals that limit actions (the goal of the reproduction of life, for example), so too is an act, with limiting actions that mutually define the total act. Each sub-act must be linked to and mediate the other sub-acts, and the total act (the ultimate goal) must mediate each sub-act from the beginning.

Once the goal of reaching the candle has resulted in a burn and the withdrawal of the hand by the child, the act of looking may then mean the sensation of burning under certain circumstances. The act of looking is modified in meaning because of the earlier experience of looking and reaching for the bright candle—if the child learns to connect her acts to the consequences (doing and undergoing). One aspect of learning is, then, to connect up one’s acts with the consequences of those acts.

The act of looking is mediated by spatio-temporal movements (such as the act of reaching); we learn to observe not just with our eyes but with our previous experiences that incorporate other acts (such as spatio-temporal movements through locomotion). The act of looking is adapted to (modified by) the act of moving. Similarly, when we move, we learn to mediate our locomotive acts (adapt, control or limit them) through our sense acts.

If a similar situation presents itself, but the nature of the object is unclear, then inquiry is needed to determine the nature of the object before acting intelligently. The nature of the stimulus needs to be reconstructed so that an appropriate response can be forthcoming. It is here that the emergence of consciousness is relevant; consciousness emerges when there is an ambiguous situation, giving the child the time necessary to inhibit action and reflect on and explore the situation.

The nature of the object needs to be clarified, not absolutely, but in relation to the earlier experience of the child. The child does not know what to do because of the ambiguity of the object. Once the object is clarified, then the child can act in a unified manner again intelligently. To act without clarifying the nature of the object would be unintelligent.

Inquiry (and exploration), then, forms an essential condition for all learning. Furthermore, inquiry involves an evolving relationship between the child and her environment. Both the child and the environment undergo reconstruction or evolution, with the child learning, in part, through her own actions (self-determination).

Since both the child and her environment undergo induced change through the initiation of the child’s own actions, by changing her environment she may (if she connects her actions to the consequences of her actions) change her own capacities (habits or structures that have a function in the environment). Learning then can be considered self-change through action on the environment in such a way that new connections, both “subjective” (structural habits internal to the individual) and “objective” (structural conditions in the environment). The terms “subjective” and “objective” are in quotation marks because, in reality, the life process always involves the living being and its environment.

Schools typically waver between treating the child (the living being) as primary and the environment as secondary, or the environment as primary (as in outcome-based education) and the child as secondary. The life process, however, is a continuous process that can only be separated into subjective and objective aspects for specific purposes as, for example, when the relationship breaks down.

In real learning, it is the situation and not one side or the other of the life process that is changed since the situation requires inquiry and change (which involves both aspects of the life process—although not necessarily in equal measure, depending on the situation). The rhythm of life requires varying focal points as the situation develops: the drama of life.

Human life, however, generally involves others as part of the environment so that the immediate environment for most individuals is social (and even when it is not, it is mediately, through language—a social product—as well as the production for the conditions of life, such as food, clothing and shelter).

More concretely, in educational terms, learning must involve the participation of the student in her education, but the environmental conditions must involve the setting of situations that involve the need for inquiry. Inquiry also requires the use of the body, and the use of the body can be intelligent or unintelligent. Learning is not some academic exercise (although the modern school system treats it that way). Intelligence is really an adverb—to act intelligently, which in turn reflects back on the individual as a characteristic of the individual—the intelligent person (an adjective). Thought and intelligence are not abstract characteristics of individuals but active ways of acting in the world. It may be necessary to step back and reflect (distancing oneself from the environment)—but only in order to act more intelligently in the world.

The contempt for bodily activity characteristic of the modern school system is in essence contempt for real intelligence. The typical split of “mind” and “body” that has typified philosophical disputes since Plato, with the bias towards the abstract, the academic and the spiritual and against the concrete, the practical and the instrumental, is really against real inquiry and elitist—and against real education.

Bodily habits, provided that they enable students to expand and deepen their connections to their environment instead of restricting it, express the developmental process of education. Habits form the stable means by which consciousness, with its focus on foreground, becomes part of the habitual bodily actions that stabilize our recurrent relations to the environment and thus form the basis for generalization (not just “concepts” characteristic of elitist views of education). The development of the consistent habit to engage in inquiry is the ultimate goal of education—education as growth.

Fred

The Radical Left Needs to Call into Question Existing Social Institutions at Every Opportunity, Part Six

The following issue deserves a separate post. As I have tried to stress throughout these posts, unions in Canada (and undoubtedly elsewhere) are inadequate organizations for representing the interests of the working class The issue illustrates how union reps limit the development of a critical approach to a society dominated by a class of employers.

I do not remember the exist order of the issue, nor do I remember exactly to whom I addressed my concerns–the executive, the members of the Substitute Teachers’ Committee or to those substitute teachers who had provided the Substitute Teachers’ Committee with their email address during the general meeting of substitute teachers.

There is a possibility that I would be willing to organize a workshop on employment and labour law, but I would like to see if there is much interest in the area. It would not enhance anyone’s particular skills to obtain employment, but it is my view that we need to educate each other about the limitations of what the WTA can do—both for substitute teachers and for teachers in general.

If you would be interested in attending a workshop on employment and labour law, please inform me of this so I can guage whether I should spend the time in selecting material and organizing the workshop.

Fred Harris, chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee of the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association

In preparation for providing a workshop on labour/employment law, I drafted the following (the parentheses were for me in anticipation of organizing the workshop according to themes or categories):

Employment Law and Labour Law Together

  1. What do you think are the major differences between an employee and a contractor (a person with her or his own business)? General idea of an employee

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is the difference between employment and labour law? Differentiation of employee in general and employee under labour law and collective bargaining.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think are some of the differences between a collective agreement and employment agreement? Differentiation of employee in general and employee under labour law and collective bargaining.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Employment Law

  1. What are some of the advantages of being governed by employment law? Disadvantages? Employee: non-unionized

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Transition: Employee and Society

  1. Why are more and more workers becoming employees? General concept of employee

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Labour Law

  1. Between whom is the collective agreement an agreement? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is a grievance? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Who “owns” a grievance? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Who generally grieves? Why? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is interest arbitration? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is grievance arbitration? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is a labour board? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is the difference between a board of arbitration and a labour board? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. Does a union or association have a duty towards its members? If so, what is it? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What are some of the advantages of being governed by labour law? Disadvantages?Labour law: Employee

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What are some of the powers of the labour board? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What was the situation of collective bargaining before the Second World War? Labour law and collective bargaining

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What did employees do during the Second World War that initiated the legal acceptance of collective bargaining? History of collective bargaining, labour law:

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. Where employees governed by collective bargaining have the right to strike, can they do so during the period in which a collective agreement exists? Limitations on collective bargaining regime here: labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. After the Second World War, what did many employers do in relation to collective bargaining? What was the response of many employees? History of collective bargaining: Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is the certification process? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is a bargaining unit? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. Can employers refuse to bargain with a certified union or association? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What can a group of employees do if the employer consciously interferes in the process of communication between a union and workers when certification has not yet been voted on? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. When bargaining, does the duty to bargain in good faith mean that both the employer and the Association have to come to an agreement? If not, what does the duty to bargain in good faith mean? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What are some of the remedies that the Labour Board provides for in case it finds the employer has breached the Labour Code? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Transition: Labour Law and Society

  1. What does the answer to question 7 tell you about the nature of the society in which we live? Relation of labour law to society

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. To what extent do you consider the following description of the nature of private enterprise to be an accurate description? What do you agree and disagree about the description? Employment law and labour law in relation to society

Stage 1: Purchase: M1-C1 (=W+MP). where M1= the money invested; – = an exchange; C1 = the commodities purchased for investment purposes (which consist of MP—means of production—and W—workers);

Stage 2: Production…P… where the three dots represent an interruption in the circulation or exchange process;

Stage 3: Sale: C2-M2, where C2 = the commodity output, with C2 greater in value than C1; and M2 = the return of the money invested, with M2=C2, but greater in quantity than M1.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

General: Employee: Meaning

19. What does being an employee mean to you? General: Employee

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What does an employment contract mean to you? General: Employee

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you consider the employment contract to involve in relation to your concept of freedom? General: Employee, but Relation to Society

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think of the view, held by many judges under common law (the legal ground for employment), that the employment contract is an act between equal parties? General: Employee, but Relation to Legal Profession

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think of Paul Weiler’s argument, in his book Reconcilable Differences, that collective bargaining evens the playing field, making the contracting parties relatively equal in power?Labour law and Society

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think happened to relations between employees as a result of the change from reliance on each other to force an employer to recognize them to reliance on the Labour Board? Social effects of labour law and collective bargaining

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Introduction

  1. How do employment law and labour law fit into the general legal framework in Canada? General relation between employment law, labour law and legal framework: Introduction???

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Think-Pair-Share

  1. What does “company time” mean to you? Employee in general

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. When a boss (say, a principal) passes by you, do you find yourself acting differently than with fellow substitute teachers? If so, why do you think that that is the case? Employee in general

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

The last reference to “Think-Pair-Share” is a pedagogical technique, where the individual is given perhaps a minute to think about the issue alone, then shares her/his thoughts with someone else and, finally, answers are shared among the group.

Think-Pair-Share or Some Other Format

  1. What does being an employee mean to you?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What does an employment contract mean to you?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you consider the employment contract to involve in relation to your concept of freedom?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think of the view, held by many judges under common law (the legal ground for employment), that the employment contract is an act between equal parties?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What does “company time” mean to you?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. When a boss (say, a principal) passes by you, do you find yourself acting differently than with fellow substitute teachers? If so, why do you think that that is the case?

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________­­­­­­­­­­­­____________.

  1. To what extent do you consider the following description of the nature of private enterprise to be an accurate description? What do you agree and disagree about the description? Employment law and labour law in relation to society

Stage 1: Purchase: M1-C1 (=W+MP). where M1= the money invested; – = an exchange; C1 = the commodities purchased for investment purposes (which consist of MP—means of production—and W—workers);

Stage 2: Production…P… where the three dots represent an interruption in the circulation or exchange process;

Stage 3: Sale: C2-M2, where C2 = the commodity output, with C2 greater in value than C1; and M2 = the return of the money invested, with M2=C2, but greater in quantity than M1.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

I also created slides for the anticipated presentation–but there is no point if repeating what I wrote above in a different format (if indeed slides can be reproduced in this medium).

The following reply illustrates the typical limitations of union reps. I wrote it to substitute teachers (at least to those whose email I possessed) as well as to the members of the Substitute Committee of the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association (WTA):

Coming now to the point on providing a workshop on employment law and labour law, I was going to give the workshop myself, but I will not be doing so. I do feel that I need to explain why I will not.

I have been told, firstly, that I do not have the necessary skills required to provide a workshop on those topics. What do I know, for example, about labour law? I did, however, write two articles in the WTA newsletter via philosophical analysis. I am a philosopher. That is my expertise—a pragmatic philosopher, specifically. I do not need to know how to negotiate a collective agreement—and I do not know how to do so any more than I know how to operate on someone. I do need to know something about labour law and collective bargaining if I am to determine its meaning, but I need not be an expert on it—anymore than I need to be an expert on in order to determine the meaning of life–in order to determine the meaning of collective bargaining—and by extension labour law. If someone disagrees with my analysis of the meaning of labour law or anything else, the democratic thing to do would be to write a refutation of it in the newsletter. To tell me that I have insufficient background in labour law is like saying that I have insufficient background in determining the nature of life bI have taken a course on labour law, as well as attending a couple of conferences funded by the executive. Would these educational opportunities suffice to provide a workshop? Probably not. However, I have been pursuing a doctorate in the philosophy of education for a number of years—in particular pragmatic philosophy. That philosophy inquires into the meaning of relations. The workshop that I had made preliminary plans would include querying the nature of employment law and labour law via an inquiry into what being an employee means to those at the workshop.

I do believe that I am well qualified to provide such a workshop. There is a difference between expounding on how labour law and employment law work and what they mean. The two, of course, are related since the meaning of something cannot be determined without knowing something about the topic. However, I do not have to know as much about anatomy and physiology as a doctor does in order to talk about the meaning of life—a topic in my dissertation.

Since I was denied the opportunity to present labour laws to substitute teachers, I provided notice of a person approved to provide such a presentation, Henry Shyka, staff member of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society and assigned to represent the WTA:

Workshop on Labour Law: Topics required

Good morning everyone,

To give a workshop on labour law, it is necessary to have some input on what topics you would like covered.  There is no guarantee that specific topics would be covered, but topics of common concern to substitute teachers would be.

Henry Shyka, MTS [Manitoba Teachers’ Society] representative, would be giving the workshop.

Please send me topics that you might find of interest.

Fred Harris, Chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee

 

 

The Radical Left Needs to Call into Question Existing Social Institutions at Every Opportunity, Part Five

Introduction

Before I obtained a so-called permanent teaching position (I will explain in a much later post why I use the word “so-called”), I worked for a number of years as a substitute teacher (with short periods of term teaching positions). I became an executive member of the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association (WTA) (in the province of Manitoba, Canada), representing substitute teachers.

I used this situation as an opportunity to criticize the limitations of the educational experience.

Of course, representatives should not limit themselves to such criticism but rather perform their representative function in order to enhance the democratic nature of the union or association to which they belong. To that end, I referred to issues and clauses in the collective agreement that were relevant to substitute teachers as well as to the Substitute Teachers’ Committee.

Limitations of Collective Bargaining

A Philosophical (Critical) Commentary on the Labour Law Review, November 14-15, 2007

On November 14 and 15 I attended the 13th Annual Review of Labour Law. The structure of the presentation made the Review more lively than otherwise: a rotating set of two different lawyers presented each section, one representing the employees’ side and the other representing the employers’ side. The Review specifically related to law connected to workplaces governed by collective agreements as opposed to general employment law.

The Review was divided into six sections: accommodation of employees, especially with regard to disabilities according to human rights legislation; discipline in relation to the disabled employee; arbitrators’ responses to harassment at the workplace; updates to Manitoba Labour Board decisions; updates to arbitration board decisions; and trends in Manitoba labour relations.

The bottom line of issues centering on accommodations of those with disabilities is that the employer must reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities on a continuous basis up to the point of undue hardship for the employer.

Discipline of employees with disabilities covered mainly those with addictions of one form or another. The issue here is to what extent the conduct leading to discipline is attributable to the addiction and to what extent it is attributable to the employee’s own control.

The third section on harassment in the workplace described the broadening of the definition of harassment from harassment based on stereotypical categories specified in the legislation to harassment based on persona characteristics, or in more colloquial terms, harassment characteristic of bullying.

The fourth section provided an overview of relatively recent Manitoba Labour Board decisions. An interesting case was between United Steelworkers of America and Buhler Manufacturing. The Labour Board found that the employer was obliged to provide to the union contact information (telephone numbers and home addresses) of all members in the bargaining unit, and the list was to be updated every six months.

An interesting case in the fifth section was between the Province and the Manitoba Government Employees’ Union. The Province put certain employees on an attendance management program. The arbitrator found that the medical information requested by the employer was far in excess of what was reasonable under the circumstances. Another interesting element of this case was the inclusion in the collective agreement of the clause that the employee may or shall be requested to provide a medical certificate or statutory declaration of having been sick.

The final section considered some possible trends in labour relations, such as the duty to accommodate disabled employees, increasing privacy rights of the individual versus the right of the employer for relevant information to run the business (drug testing and surveillance of employees).

One comment made by a union lawyer while discussing the issue of accommodation of disabled employees in the first section should leave teachers with food for thought. He indicated that it is a little known fact that the employer has the right to grieve. In all arbitration cases presented during the two days, however, there was no case in which the employer grieved. The main reason why employers rarely grieve was not addressed. The main reason why employers rarely grieve is that they do not need to do so; they possess the economic power to implement their goals independently of the grievance process. What the collective agreement does, via labour law, is to limit the economic power of employers to do what they want with the employees. The collective agreement is a defensive mechanism, not an offensive mechanism.

Some may make the counterargument that collective bargaining has permitted the extension of certain rights, such as maternity leave. On this view, collective bargaining, consequently, can become an offensive weapon by gradually extending employees’ rights in various directions. Such a conclusion would be valid if employers were passive and the world were static. However, as teachers in this Division have experienced, employers make many unilateral decisions, such as CAP, the online report card system and the requirement that substitute teachers provide reasons for refusing jobs. Employers use their economic power to achieve their goals, and they rarely need to grieve to achieve them.

If this is the case, and the employer-employees relation, as I argued in the last article, involves subordination to the will of the employer, then the economic power not only of the Division as employer but all employers needs to be discussed thoroughly and on an ongoing basis.

For instance, does the economic power of employers result in employees fearing to express their opinions because they fear retaliation by the employer? If so, what does that tell us about the kind of society in which we live? Do we want our children to grow up in the same fearful relations, if they exist? What are the implications of living in fear for the formation of character? Since education, ultimately, is the formation of human character, how does the employer-employees relation work itself out in the formation of human character? In other words, does the employer-employee relation work for or against the educational process?

These questions, even indirectly, were not addressed at the Labour Law Review. Both union lawyers and employer lawyers, from opposite sides to be sure, shared the same premise: the employer-employees relation is legitimate. The differences between the two sides had to do with whether the collective agreement had been breached by the employer. The shared premise of the legitimacy of the employer-employees relation prevented them from questioning their own logic. Should we not be discussing this premise as teachers and as employees?

Fred Harris, executive member

Engaging in Concrete Administrative Issues in a Union

In the WTA newsletter, I also provided concrete information relevant to substitute teachers for members of the Substitute Teachers Committee (and, perhaps, for the WTA newsletter–I do not remember whether I submitted the information to the WTA):

Good afternoon, everyone.

At the executive meeting, I asked for clarification concerning whether substitute teachers, if injured, had any insurance. The answer is: no. Teachers, according to law, are excluded from receiving Workers’ Compensation, and this is a non-negotiable item (only employers pay into Workers’ Compensation). However, private insurance of some type would be possible, but none now exists. So, if you get injured on the job as a substitute teacher—you can always sue the Division. Other than that, you are responsible for your own disability or injury.

Fred Harris, chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee

Furthermore, I provided information in the WTA newsletter about the new substitute-calling system (SmartFinder):

Substitute Teacher Access to Listed Jobs

SmartFinder Express has now been programmed to permit substitute teachers to access jobs available, either online or by telephone. In either case, key in your employee number and pin number. Next, for the computer system, click on Available Jobs, and then specify the range of dates and click on Submit. For the telephone system, press number 2.

Fred Harris, chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee

I also wrote about some relevant information (and problems) for substitute teachers with the SmartFinder system:

Elements of the Current SmartFinder Express System for Substitute Teachers

The current SmartFinder Express system has several features (or lack of features) about which substitute teachers should be aware:

  1. Should a substitute teacher refuse four consecutive phone calls, she or he will not be called again for that day.
  2. Should a substitute teacher not answer four consecutive phone calls, she or he will not be called again for that day.
  3. Should a substitute teacher hang up three consecutive times, she or he will not be called again for that day.
  4. In some instances, the SmartFinder system has called substitute teachers for the same day when they have already been booked for that day. Since the system still requires substitute teachers to provide reasons, they may be penalized for refusing jobs that they should not have received in the first place.
  5. When a substitute teacher tries to find available jobs to accept, there are rarely any such jobs. However, in some other divisions (such as St. James-Assiniboia), substitute teachers can go online and accept posted jobs for substitute teachers.

Informing Substitute Teachers of Clauses in the Collective Agreement Especially Relevant for Them

Furthermore, I wrote the following to the members of the Substitute Committee (and perhaps drafted one for the WTA newsletter–I do not remember):

Good afternoon, everyone.

As indicated in the minutes, I am sending everyone a copy of the clause about professional development in the collective agreement:

16.03 (f) Professional Development

A substitute teacher who has worked for the Division for at least fifty (50) teaching days in the previous school year shall be entitled to request in writing to the Director of Human Resources, or designate, to attend one professional development day in the next school year. Attendance, if approved, shall be considered as time worked under Article 16.03, Substitute Teachers.

A substitute teacher not meeting the above eligibility requirements may request to attend scheduled professional development days. Such attendance, if approved, shall be on a without pay basis.

Approval in either instance shall be at the sole discretion of the Division.

Fred

Advocating as Representative of a Subsection of the Union Membership to the Negotiating Committee 

In addition to these initiatives, I wanted to present recommending to the negotiating committee possible clauses of relevance to the substitute teachers in relation to a salary cap for substitute teachers (which did not apply to permanent teachers) :

Justification for Recommending that the Negotiating Committee Consider the Proposal for Removing the Clause in the Collective Agreement

Firstly, to justify the maintenance of the clause in the collective agreement, 16.03 (c) (iii) “No substitute shall receive a salary rate higher than the maximum salary rate provided under the Basic Salary Schedule for a Class IV teacher,” it has been pointed out that the substitute teachers in Winnipeg School Division No. 1 are the highest paid substitute teachers in Winnipeg. However, if the teachers in the WTA were also the highest paid teachers in Winnipeg, would it be justifiable to limit their salaries to the maximum level of class IV until they have worked 20 days or more? Of course, if there were such a cap, it would not matter to permanent contract teachers since they would automatically reach the 20 days. That is not the case for substitute teachers. On principle, though, is the fact that substitute teachers are the highest paid sufficient grounds for justifying the maintenance of such a clause?

Secondly, it has been said that there are few substitute teachers who would experience the effects of such a clause. There is no data to substantiate such a conclusion. The survey did not contain a question pertaining to level of qualifications (it should have done so). Without such data, the number and percentage of substitute teachers who would fall under such a clause is indeterminate. However, about one third of substitute teachers have substituted for at least 10 years. I know of at least three others who have substituted as long as I have who have their Masters’ degree.

Thirdly, even on the assumption that there are few substitute teachers who fall under the clause, should the same principle then apply to salary scale according to qualification and experience in any given year? For example, if there were no teachers with nine years experience and class 7 qualifications in a particular year, should we then agree to capping those with so many years experience and so much education since there are few or no members in the set in any particular year? We should also remember that even if in any given year there might be few members in such a set, situations evolve, and there might be more members in the set in some years than in others.

Fourthly, the issue is not just one of a few substitute teachers. The collective agreement embodies the recognition of the principle that differentiation of the qualities of teachers results in differential treatment. For example, differential experience and differential educational qualifications results in differential pay scales despite all teachers being members of the WTA. Since those substitute teachers who have worked for a number of years probably, though not necessarily, worked for the Division for a number of years, this clause contradicts the Associations’ principle of differential pay according to years of experience and level of qualifications. To be consistent with the Associations’ principles, should not the Negotiating Committee try to remove the clause from the collective agreement?

I provided a table of possible differences if the cap on the salary of substitute teachers was eliminated:

The maximum salary rate for class IV is $67, 522 according to the salary grid. The calculations are based on the yearly rate divided by 200 working days to give the rate per day. The ground base for any change in pay is $67, 522/200, or 337.61 a day. The two variables are the length of service (level of experience) and the level of qualifications:

Class 5, level 8, Yearly rate=69,948; daily rate=$338.30

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1691.50 2.45
6 2025.66 2029.80 4.24
7 2363.27 2368.10 4.83
8 2700.88 2706.40 5.52
9 3038.49 3044.70 6.21
10 3376.10 3383.00 6.90
11 3713.71 3721.30 7.59
12 4051.32 4059.60 8.28
13 4388.93 4379.90 9.03
14 4726.54 4736.20 9.66
15 5064.15 5074.50 10.35
16 5401.76 5412.80 11.04
17 5739.37 5751.10 11.73
18 6076.98 6089.40 12.42
19 6414.59 6427.70 13.11

Class 5, level 9, Yearly rate=$71,358, daily rate=$356.79

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1783.95 95.90
6 2025.66 2140.74 115.08
7 2363.27 2497.53 134.26
8 2700.88 2854.32 153.44
9 3038.49 3211.11 172.62
10 3376.10 3567.90 191.80
11 3713.71 3924.69 210.98
12 4051.32 4281.48 230.16
13 4388.93 4638.27 249.34
14 4726.54 4995.06 268.52
15 5064.15 5351.85 287.70
16 5401.76 5708.64 306.88
17 5739.37 6065.43 326.06
18 6076.98 6422.22 345.24
19 6414.59 6779.01 364.42

Class 6, level 7, Yearly rate=$69,713, daily rate=$345.87

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1729.35 41.30
6 2025.66 2075.22 49.56
7 2363.27 2421.09 57.82
8 2700.88 2766.96 66.08
9 3038.49 3112.83 74.34
10 3376.10 3458.70 82.60
11 3713.71 3804.57 90.86
12 4051.32 4150.44 99.12
13 4388.93 4496.31 107.38
14 4726.54 4842.18 115.64
15 5064.15 5188.05 123.90
16 5401.76 5533.92 132.16
17 5739.37 5879.79 140.42
18 6076.98 6225.66 148.68
19 6414.59 6571.53 156.94

Class 6, level 8, Yearly rate=$72,152, daily rate=$360.76

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1803.80 115.75
6 2025.66 2164.56 138.90
7 2363.27 2525.32 162.05
8 2700.88 2886.08 185.20
9 3038.49 3246.84 208.35
10 3376.10 3607.60 231.50
11 3713.71 3968.36 254.65
12 4051.32 4329.12 277.80
13 4388.93 4689.88 300.95
14 4726.54 5050.64 324.10
15 5064.15 5411.40 347.25
16 5401.76 5772.16 370.40
17 5739.37 6132.92 393.55
18 6076.98 6493.68 416.70
19 6414.59 6854.44 439.85

Class 6, level 9, Yearly rate=$75,691, daily rate=$378.46

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1892.30 204.25
6 2025.66 2270.76 245.10
7 2363.27 2649.22 285.95
8 2700.88 3027.68 326.80
9 3038.49 3406.14 367.65
10 3376.10 3784.60 408.50
11 3713.71 4163.06 449.35
12 4051.32 4541.52 490.20
13 4388.93 4919.98 531.05
14 4726.54 5298.44 571.90
15 5064.15 5676.90 612.75
16 5401.76 6055.36 653.60
17 5739.37 6433.82 694.52
18 6076.98 6812.28 735.30
19 6414.59 7199.74 785.15

Class 7, level 6, Yearly rate=$69,948; daily rate=$349.74

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1748.70 60.65
6 2025.66 2098.44 72.78
7 2363.27 2448.18 84.91
8 2700.88 2797.92 97.04
9 3038.49 3147.66 109.17
10 3376.10 3497.40 121.30
11 3713.71 3847.14 133.43
12 4051.32 4196.88 145.56
13 4388.93 4546.62 157.69
14 4726.54 4896.36 169.82
15 5064.15 5246.10 181.95
16 5401.76 5595.84 194.08
17 5739.37 5945.58 206.21
18 6076.98 6295.32 218.34
19 6414.59 6645.06 230.47

Class 7, level 7, Yearly rate=$73,072, daily rate=$365.36

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1826.80 138.75
6 2025.66 2192.16 166.50
7 2363.27 2557.52 194.25
8 2700.88 2922.88 222.00
9 3038.49 3288.24 249.75
10 3376.10 3653.60 277.50
11 3713.71 4018.96 305.25
12 4051.32 4384.32 333.00
13 4388.93 4749.68 360.75
14 4726.54 5115.04 388.50
15 5064.15 5480.40 416.25
16 5401.76 5845.76 444.00
17 5739.37 6211.12 471.75
18 6076.98 6576.48 499.50
19 6414.59 6941.84 527.50

Class 7, level 8, Yearly rate=$76,204, daily rate=$381.02

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1905.10 217.05
6 2025.66 2286.12 260.46
7 2363.27 2667.14 303.87
8 2700.88 3048.16 347.28
9 3038.49 3429.18 390.69
10 3376.10 3810.20 434.10
11 3713.71 4191.22 477.51
12 4051.32 4572.24 520.92
13 4388.93 4953.26 564.33
14 4726.54 5334.28 607.74
15 5064.15 5715.30 651.15
16 5401.76 6096.32 694.56
17 5739.37 6477.34 737.97
18 6076.98 6858.36 781.38
19 6414.59 7239.38 824.79

Class 7, level 9, Yearly rate=$79,760, daily rate=$398.80

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1994.00 305.95
6 2025.66 2392.80 367.14
7 2363.27 2791.60 428.33
8 2700.88 3190.40 489.52
9 3038.49 3589.20 550.71
10 3376.10 3988.00 611.90
11 3713.71 4386.80 673.09
12 4051.32 4785.60 734.28
13 4388.93 5184.40 795.47
14 4726.54 5583.20 856.66
15 5064.15 5982.00 917.85
16 5401.76 6380.80 979.04
17 5739.37 6779.60 1040.23
18 6076.98 7178.40 1101.42
19 6414.59 7577.20 1162.61

Radicals need to be active on many fronts, including the nitty-gritty of providing concrete information to the members on relevant laws and clauses in the collective agreement and being an advocate for members in various ways.

Of course, it depends on their own specific situation as well. I, for example, no longer work for a specific employer. Consequently, my critical activism needs to take a different form.

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Seven: Critique of the School Curriculum

This is a continuation of earlier posts.

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to place critiques, mainly (although not entirely) of the current school system. At first, I merely printed off the articles, but then I started to provide a summary of the article along with the article. I placed the summaries along with the articles in a binder (and, eventually, binders), and I placed the binder in the staff lounge.

As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”).

As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions.

The context of summaries related to the brain was that the principal of Ashern Central School, where I worked, started talking about “brain research’ and how teachers needed to implement such research in their daily teaching practice. He even placed an article on brain research in our school mailboxes. As a consequence, I researched the issue and provided critical summaries that critiqued his reductionist view of human intelligence as “brain work.”

Good morning, everyone,

I sent the attached article to the ESJ Ning yesterday. I prefaced it with the following:

After attending the ESJ workshop, it is evident that many consider the school system is equivalent to education and that education is equivalent to schooling. John Dewey, throughout his long life, criticized such a view since most schools become formal organizations isolated from life and organized in such a way as to prevent children from becoming educated.

The author of the following article, “John Dewey’s The Child and the Curriculum,” (D.C. Phillips) provides a summary of Dewey’s 1902 work The Child and Curriculum. Dewey opposed throughout his long career many dualisms, such as mind/body, thought/action, the individual and the social—and the child and the curriculum.

Typically, schooling has focused on the curriculum at the expense of children (subject matter organized logically in the form of the disciplines and attendant skills of reading, writing and arithmetic) but has, at times, focused on children at the expense of the curriculum.

Dewey argued that children’s experience is merely the beginning of education and the curriculum is the end of the education. The child experiences the world in a certain way and the logical curriculum in the form of the disciplines is the culmination of that experience when it is organized to maximize control of that experience. Formal education is to be designed in such a way that childhood experiences become increasingly differentiated until they assume the form of the disciplines. Formal education must provide a mediating process by which childhood experience can be both differentiated into the disciplines and integrated, with each logical form (the disciplines) reinforcing the other logical forms so that the child can engage in the world in as artistic manner as possible (since art integrates the diverse into a coherent whole, with each aspect modified by the other distinct aspect but at the same time supported by the other aspects).

The curriculum developed in the twentieth century and still prevailing in the twenty-first century in most schools has not solved the problem pointed out by Dewey. Given this curriculum, the child’s interests and the objective nature of the content of the disciplines often clash. It has, alternately, emphasized the child (whole language, to a certain extent) and the content of the curriculum. Nowadays, of course, the content of the curriculum is emphasized at the expense of the child. Dualism prevails in schools.

Rather than seeing the curriculum as defined by the disciplines as the end point that requires a mediating structure that transforms childhood interests into more logical forms (forms designed to increase our control over our lives), and the end point thus serving as a basis for interpreting and guiding childhood behaviour, the modern curriculum defines childhood experience as merely a simplified form of the logical form of the disciplines. Such a view has no theoretical basis.

One aspect that was not mentioned in the article was the eventual departmental structure of the Dewey School (the University Laboratory School), with teachers being specialists so that they could interpret adequately the potentialities of childhood behaviour. Initially, a generalist teacher was hired, but it was found impossible for a generalist to provide the precision necessary for learning to occur.
Integration of the specialized departments and teaching occurred, in terms of the curriculum, through the mediating structure of the use of social occupations linked to the basic needs stemming from the human life process: food, clothing and shelter. These needs and the activities required to satisfy them have been subject to evolution as social life has become more complicated. The disciplines emerged from the pursuit of such basic needs (chemistry in the case of cooking and wool dyeing) and mechanics (and physics) in the case of the shelter. Pedagogically, integration occurred through weekly meetings of teachers. Experientially, the children did not experience “studies,” but rather the studies were functions of the life process—means to the end of that process and not ends in themselves. Socially, the school was a community.

Childhood experience requires many transformations before it can be organized into a logical form. Furthermore, for most people, learning is a means towards the end of life and not an end in itself; human beings are not academics (how many reading this dedicate themselves to inquiry for inquiry’s sake?). Although children and adolescents should learn to appreciate the pursuit of knowledge as an end in itself (making inquiry into inquiry an end in itself so that the consequences of inquiry must conform to the conditions for further inquiry), most will not engage in the active pursuit of inquiry for inquiry’s sake in their own vocation; being an academic or scientist is not the calling of most people. To assume otherwise is both unrealistic and authoritarian.

The analogy of the relationship between a journey and a map illustrates Dewey’s concerns. A journey forms the presupposition for the creation of a map; it constitutes the psychological aspect of map making. The actual temporal process of the journey may lead to unexpected and unwanted experiences.

But a map, once it is created, enriches the journey by providing a summary and a form which can guide future activities and make the journey more efficient; it constitutes the sociological aspect of map making. The map is intermediary between the original experience and the enriched experience.

The making of the map must, at some point, become the end in order for an enriched experience is to emerge. However, a map is still intermediary between the original journey and the enriched journey. It is not an end in itself except temporarily; when viewed from the totality of experience, it is intermediary. Learning is, likewise, intermediary and not an end in itself when the totality of experience is considered.

The child and the curriculum are thus not opposed. The curriculum must be organized to enable the child to organize her/his own experience into an increasingly organized, controlled and meaningful manner.

The author also points out a weakness in Dewey’s theory: some dualisms cannot be resolved but rather one side must win out against the other side. Dewey recognized this situation in the case of the natural sciences but in the case of the social sciences he often failed to recognize the irreconcilable nature of social conflicts between classes, for instance, where one class controls, oppresses and exploits another class. The Deweyan curriculum must, therefore, be modified to incorporate the dualism of social relations.

How can equity and social justice be achieved when the dualism characteristic of the modern curriculum prevails (with the content of the curriculum being opposed to children’s own experiences)? Can living beings be treated as central when the environment constitutes necessarily part of the life process? Can the environment be considered central when an environment is an environment only in relation to living beings? Can equity and social justice be achieved when the life process is simply set aside or considered from only one side of the relation?

How can equity and social justice be achieved when human beings lack so much control over their own environments in school and at work? Is not real education to increase control over the environment? How are teachers real teachers if what they do leads to a lack of control by students over their own environments? Given the modern economic structure, how can students gain control over their own environments?

When teachers begin to face these issues (rather than avoiding them through silence), then perhaps inquiry can begin and education can be released from its shackles. Until that time, students will be shackled to the chains of the modern curriculum—despite the pedagogical efforts of teachers and the illusions that such pedagogical efforts engender by being restricted to that level.

Fred

How to Aim for Socialism Without Aiming for It, or The Nature of the Social-Democratic or Social-Reformist Left

The above title is a take on a scene in the movie Enter the Dragon, where Bruce Lee says: “My style is the art of fighting without fighting.” See the end of this post for a description. 

This is a more colloquial or informal way of expressing my point about the need to include the goal or the aim in present actions if we are going to go beyond a society characterized by a class of employers (capitalism) and live a socialist life (see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three). It does so by briefly looking at what I mean and then looking at a concrete example of this by a self-declared socialist feminist, Sue Ferguson (or what she calls a social-reproduction feminist).

To start with a conclusion: aiming for a socialist society is just that–incorporating the goal, consciously, of overcoming the class power of employers, including the economic, political and social relations and structures connected to that power and the creation of a society free of class relations and relations of oppression.

Social democrats and reformers (including self-proclaimed Marxists who practically do the same thing), on the other hand, believe (even if they are not conscious of this belief) that it is possible to achieve a socialist society without aiming for it.

The movie Rocky III illustrates what I mean. Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone), who had lost his title of world heavyweight champion to James “Clubber” Lang (played by Mr. T), was being trained by former heavy-weight boxing champion Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers, who won the first match against Balboa in the first movie and lost in the second movie). (There are undoubtedly racist overtones in the movie–see  Siobhan Carter’s  master’s thesis  Projecting a White Savior, the Body, and Policy).

At one point in his training, Rocky said that he would train later. Apollo answers: “There is no tomorrow.” The basis idea is that if you want to accomplish anything in life, you had better not procrastinate–putting off tomorrow what needs to be done today. Social democrats (and the radical left here in Toronto) act like Rocky Balboa did before Apollo Creed criticized him–they believe that socialism can arise in some distant future without explicitly incorporating the aim in the present, just as Balboa believed that he could regain the heavyweight title without incorporating that goal into his present actions. In other words, he believed that he could engage in procrastination.

The social-democratic or reformist left do the same thing. They shift the fight for socialism to some distant future and content themselves with fighting for reforms that fail to challenge the class structure. Their socialism is always pushed into the future as an ought that never meets the present conditions and circumstances; future and present (and past conditions) are severed. 

They may indeed achieve social reforms–as they have in the past, but the claim that they are aiming for socialism is untrue–as was Rocky Balboa’s efforts at training to regain the heavyweight championship of the world until Apollo Creed criticized him.

The social-democratic left (and, practically, much of the radical left here in Toronto and undoubtedly elsewhere) consider that it is impossible to aim for socialism by incorporating it into our daily lives. They believe in magic; an aim can be realized without the aim organizing our activities in the present. 

John Dewey, one of the greatest philosophers of education, saw the distinction clearly in relation to schools. Most of those reading this post merely have to reflect on their own experiences in schools and how schools have often severed their interest in the present and forced an external future upon them. As Dewey noted, in chapter five of one of his two major works in the philosophy of education, Democracy and Education (2004), pages 58-59):

Chapter 5

Preparation, Unfolding, and Formal Discipline

Education as Preparation

We have laid it down that the educative process is a continuous process of growth, having as its aim at every stage an added capacity of growth. This conception contrasts sharply with other ideas which have influenced practice. By making the contrast explicit, the meaning of the conception will be brought more clearly to light. The first contrast is with the idea that education is a process of preparation or getting ready. What is to be prepared for is, of course, the responsibilities and privileges of adult life. Children are not regarded as social members in full and regular standing. They are looked upon as candidates; they are placed on the waiting list. The conception is only carried a little farther when the life of adults is considered as not having meaning on its own account, but as a preparatory probation for “another life”. The idea is but another form of the notion of the negative and privative character of growth already criticized; hence we shall not repeat the criticisms, but pass on to the evil consequences which flow from putting education on this basis.

In the first place, it involves loss of impetus. Motive power is not utilized. Children proverbially live in the present; that is not only a fact not to be evaded, but it is an excellence. The future just as future lacks urgency and body. To get ready for something, one knows not what nor why, is to throw away the leverage that exists, and to seek for motive power in a vague chance. Under such circumstances, there is, in the second place, a premium put on shilly-shallying and procrastination. The future prepared for is a long way off; plenty of time will intervene before it becomes a present. Why be in a hurry about getting ready for it?

We have already seen this severance of the future struggle for socialism and the present struggle for socialism by Herman Rosenfeld, a self-styled Marxist who refers vaguely to socialism a hundred years from now (see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three and, more generally, Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations). The focus on reforms above all else and the denigration of the need for incorporating an explicit aim in the present of abolishing the class of employers and the associated economic, political and social relations will at best lead to capitalism with a human face–and not its abolition. 

There are two typical tendencies that express this attitude of severing the present from the future and the future from the present. Treating reforms as if they were, in themselves, somehow leading to a socialist society is a typical trick among the left; they treat the future (socialist society) as already present rather than the present being in need of radical reconstruction. The second tendency denigrates the need for aiming explicitly or consciously at radical transformation of class, economic, political and social structure in the present (which in effect is a revolution–although I believe that politically it is a waste of time to call for revolution–as the sectarian radical left frequently do

The treatment of the present as if it were already the future via current experiences and reforms is reflected by Sue Ferguson, a self-proclaimed socialist, who claims the following  (Women and Work: An Interview with Sue Ferguson):

As I argue in Women and Work, social reproduction feminism provides a strategic focus and direction that avoids the contradictions of equality feminism. Because, in this view, oppression is built into the very ways we reproduce ourselves, overcoming oppression requires reorganizing the processes and institutions of life-making. This cannot happen in boardrooms or by electing more women into state office. It can happen only when people are encouraged to mobilize with others to resist the priorities of the current social reproduction regime, and learn together how to reorganize and take collective, responsible control of the resources of life-making. And in a small way, this is what education worker strikes do: they assert the need for and possibility of expanding and democratizing our life-making powers and resources, of deploying them in ways that prioritize meeting human needs [my emphasis]. 

Do “education worker strikes” really “assert the need for and possibility of expanding and democratizing our life-making powers and resources, of deploying them in ways that prioritize meeting human needs?” Perhaps they do–“in a small way”–but that is not the same as aiming for “expanding and democratizing our life-making powers and resources” at more than a local level. That teachers who go out on strike may well aim to improve their working lives and the lives of their students is not in question. The issue is whether the aim of such actions is of the same nature as aiming for a socialist society. I deny that such is the case in most cases since there is no explicit aim to overcome a society characterized by the class of employers; improvements in working lives and lives of children does not necessarily involve aiming for a socialist society.

By claiming “in a small way,” that education workers somehow, is the same as the “democratizing our life-making powers and resources” is a social-democratic trick. It equates reformist changes at the local level with radical changes in  social structures and relations.

This social-democratic trick is reiterated in her book (she goes by Susan in the book), Women and Work: Feminism, Labour, and Social Reproduction, pages 135-136:

That is, strikes do not have to be exercises in revolutionary commons to model alternative ways of organizing life-making. The potential to unleash creative energies and ideas about how to build a better world and engender social bonds to counter the alienation and isolation of capitalist subjectivity is inherent in the very act of organizing with others to improve control over the conditions of work and life. Perhaps the most vivid recent example of this come from the 2018 wave of education worker strikes to hit the United States. Eric Blanc’s interviews with more than a hundred people involved in the West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma strike movements lead him to conclude that strikers were “profoundly transformed” [my emphasis] by their participation. They connected in new ways with co-workers they had barely known and had little in common with culturally and ideologically; they strategized, waved placards, shared meals, chanted, sang, and camped out on the state legislative grounds together; they jointly endured moments of disappointment, debate and defeat, and even bigger moments of celebration. And they connected in new ways with the communities they worked in as passersby honked and waved in support, as strangers identifying them by their distinctive red T-shirts approached them in grocery stores to thank them for their job action, and as students and parents stood on their lines and rallied in support. In the words of Arizona teacher Noah Karvelis, interviewed by Blanc:

Since the strike, there’s a definite sense of solidarity that wasn’t there before. When you go into school and see all of your coworkers in red, it’s like they’re saying, “I’m with you, I got you.” It’s hard to even sum up that feeling. You used to go in to school, do your thing, and go home. Now if there’s a struggle, we go do something about it because we’re in it together. It’s not just that there are a lot more personal friendships—we saw that we had power.

Such solidarity did not magically appear. It had to be built. The strikers were divided by all the usual social cleavages. Not all teachers were in the union and most were white. They differed in political allegiance, religious affiliation, and income (in West Virginia bus drivers, cafeteria cooks, custodians, and other support staff walked out as well). Moreover, as social reproductive workers in the public sector, the walkout risked creating a wedge between themselves and the community they served. Rather than deny these divisions, organizers and strikers consciously addressed them—figuring out imaginative ways of addressing needs and drawing people in: bilingual signs and chants, GoFundMe sites to help lower-income strikers make ends meet, soliciting food donations, and delivering care packages for families who otherwise rely on school lunches. As Kate Doyle Griffiths observes, strikers temporarily and partially reorganized the relations of social reproductive labour “on the basis of workers control for the benefit of the wider working class” while also fostering solidarity with community members. And although strikers did not generally politicize around racial issues, Blanc notes, they were self-consciously inclusive and won the support of the majority black and brown student base and their families through their calls for increased school funding and (in Arizona) opposition to cuts to Medicaid and services for those with disabilities.37 These are not-so-small and incredibly important examples of how strikers organize new ways of life-making, ways that defy the alienating, individualizing experiences of everyday life under capitalism.

Of course, such struggles and organizing should be supported, and they do indeed form a possible bridge between the conscious aim of struggling in the present for a socialist society and the creation of such a future society. However, let us not idealize them. They are not necessarily expressions of a conscious aim to overcome the class power of employers. As I have shown elsewhere (see for example The West-Virginia Teachers’ Strike and a Socialist Movement  and   Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part One), such movements do not necessarily involve such an aim. By equating such struggles with the conscious aim to overcome such class power, social democrats in effect claim that we should not struggle to aim for such a goal in the present by, among other things, criticizing the limitations of the aims of such strikes and movements.

To not question whether there has indeed been “profound transformations” is to be blind to the force of habit in working-class and community behaviour. Not just decades but centuries of indoctrination, of exploitation, subordination and oppression are not going to magically be transformed through such efforts. To overcome such situations will take years if not decades of internal struggle in order for a conscious movement aiming to overcome the class power of employers to arise in the present and not vanish because of superficial adherence to “social justice” and similar general terms. The present leftist movement must aim for a socialist society in diverse domains and integrate such domains in as coherent a fashion as possible.

The other tendency of splitting the present from the future and the future from the present by denigrating the need for radical transformation of economic, political and social structures. frequently by casting the term “revolution” in a purely negative light. As I noted above, I do agree that using the term “revolution” is a waste of time politically; workers and community members will likely look upon such talk as akin to religion. Nonetheless, their attitude of avoiding the term “revolution” often leads to reformism by being unable to offer anything other than reform and more reform–as if many reforms will not be absorbed by the capitalist economic, political and social structure. The class power of employers and the capitalist state have many resources to engage in reformist politics if there is sufficient organization and power to threaten the power of the class of employers.

I have referred to Jeffrey Noonan’s opposition to “revolution”–but he has little to offer but more reforms within the present class structure (see The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Four: The Myth of Creating Socialist Spaces). Another example is the article written by Richard Sandbrook and posted on the Toronto-based Socialist Project website (Racism, Class Solidarity and Systemic Change). Here is what he claims:

Non-Reformist Reformism

But what strategy would horizontal unity serve? Any viable strategy would be gradualist. Compromises would need to be made to build a majority coalition in a (quasi)democratic process. But gradualism does not signify mere reformism or cosmetic changes. The widespread disaffection and the challenge posed by invigorated populist-nativists demand genuine structural changes. Policies to de-commodify labour, money, health care, knowledge, and education; to democratize the economy by promoting cooperative production; and to deepen political democracy must be pressed at the local, national and, eventually, global level. But there would not be a “big bang”, in which society is irrevocably transformed; instead, we would have non-reformist reformism.

The problem with the above view is that Mr. Sandbrook does not discuss how such reformism in the present can be prevented from leading–as it so often has in the past–to incorporation into the class structure and to the continued control of our lives by a class of employers. I seriously now question the real intent of those who claim that they aim for a socialist society and yet not only accept compromises that need to be accepted because of the present limited power but freeze such compromises into an ideology of the left (such as the terms “fair contract,” “fair or free collective bargaining,” “fair wages,” “decent work,” or the pairing of the term “Fairness” with the movement for the fight of a minimum wage of $15.

Mr. Sandbrook appears to see the need for avoiding both reformism characteristic of the social-democratic left and the sectarianism of the radical left:

If this is the only viable and morally justifiable path, the progressive movements would need to steer clear of two pitfalls that have ensnared earlier experiments: Third-Wayism and revolutionism. The first represents compromise to the point of co-optation, leading to renewed hegemony; the second, an unwillingness to compromise in order to preserve the ideal, leading to irrelevance.

Avoiding Two Pitfalls

The Third Way, as it developed in the early 1990s, reflected the attitude “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” …

The lesson is clear. Reformism that, in the longer term, reinforces the hegemony of neoliberalism and plutocracy is self-defeating. When times get hard, voters dessert “socialist” parties that lack an alternative vision.

The opposite pitfall is a purist approach that, positing a narrow choice between capitalism and socialism (or “barbarism or socialism”), refuses to compromise with the former. In the academy, this approach is often associated with a scholasticism that is strong on abstract theorization but weak in developing concepts with any popular appeal. The purists are also prone to an irritating smugness, as though moral superiority is more important than winning power.

Starkly casting the alternatives as binary is problematical for two reasons. It strikes many people as unrealistic. How, for example, do we totally transform society and economy to replace markets with participatory planning at all levels? And secondly, it essentializes capitalism. The latter comes in a myriad of forms. If its essence is private ownership and free labour, there are many degrees.

Capitalisms are not all the same. The Anglo-American model differs from the Scandinavian model, which differs from Chinese authoritarian state capitalism. The Keynesian accord introduced what many have called the golden age of capitalism, which neoliberalism ended. A gradualist program of decommodification, democratization, and equal freedom is a voyage that begins within capitalism; however, we may not even be aware of the precise point at which we traverse the boundary.

There are indeed variations in the kind of capitalism, and some forms are definitely preferable to other forms. This hardly addresses the issue of how any “gradualist” approach is going to maintain the aim of eliminating the general class power of employers over our lives in the present without being co-opted. (The Scandinavian model is, in any case, itself in retreat because of general changes in capitalist class structures and the idealization of such models in the past and present). Mr. Sandbrook does not address what workers and community members who live in any form of capitalism (as depicted in The Money Circuit of Capital, for example), are supposed to do to overcome the general nature of capital. Or is the general nature of capital somehow just or fair?

Decommodification, for example. of health services, does not mean that those who fight for such decommodication or those who implement it or those who use such decommodified services aim to achieve a socialist society. (See A Basic Income Versus the Expansion of Public Services? Part One: Critique of the Social-democratic Idea that the Expansion of Public Services is Socialist). Decommodification or the conversion from gaining access to commodities (including services) by means of purchase and sale to direct access or use without the mediation of purchase and sale may or may not express the aim of achieving a socialist society.

My experiences in Toronto and elsewhere is that we need to aim consciously and persistently in the present for radical changes in various domains (with the focus on the work relations dominated by a class of employers). We indeed will have to make compromises because we lack the necessary power to do otherwise–but that also should form part of our own consciousness–and not the acceptance of such compromises through such social-democratic phrases as “decent work” or “fair contracts.” To achieve such deep-seated consciousness and aim will require years if not decades of internal struggle within working-class communities and workplaces.

We need to use the aim for a future socialist society in the present to realize such a future society while all the time modifying specific goals within that general aim based on current conditions and circumstances.

As I indicated at the beginning, the title of this post is a take on a statement made by Bruce Lee in the movie Enter the Dragon. The following is a description of the scene by Brian Freer: 

There is a scene in the 1973 kung fu classic “Enter the Dragon” where a man (Peter Archer, who plays Parsons] walks around a boat bullying passengers. When the man accosts Bruce Lee by throwing air strikes near his face, Lee unflinchingly looks at him and replies, “don’t waste yourself.”

“What’s your style?” the bullying man asks.

“The art of fighting without fighting,” says Lee.

“Show me some of it.”

Lee tries to walk off, but the bullying man insists he show him what the “art of fighting without fighting” looks like. Since the boat was crowded, Lee suggests that they take a dingy to a nearby beach for more space. As the bully boards the dingy, Lee releases slack from the rope, watching the dingy with the bully inside drift away. Lee then releases the rope to the bully’s onetime victims who laugh heartily as the dingy takes on water from the crashing waves.

Although this isn’t the most exhilarating fight scene in “Enter the Dragon,” it is clearly the most complete victory in the film. Lee uses wit to overcome his opponent without ever raising his fists. He is without fear and clear of mind. The bullying man wanted to fight so badly that he was willing to ride a dingy to a remote island to do so.

Freer then philosophizes: 

There are many reasons to fight. It’s deep within our nature. And yes, sometimes we have no choice. Ideologues tell us the world is a scary place. They attempt to influence our interpretation of the world to reinforce our fears. And fear is the real bully in the boat. You see, Bruce Lee’s character mastered his fear. He liberated his mind from it. Fear is a tarp that covers our understanding. It stifles our self-control. You have to look it right in the eye, because when you must finally resort to violence, you’ve clearly run out of ideas.

I take something different from the scene. Firstly, Lee did not directly engage in a fight with the bully at the time, but enabled those who were bullied to hold the power to let go of the rope attached to the dinghy. 

Freer fails to ask, however, the following obvious question: What happened to Lee and the bully once they landed? Would not the bully try to fight Lee? The art of fighting without fighting might have been a short-term tactic, but the goal of avoiding a fight would might not have been achieved. The fight might have occurred on the island where they landed. The aim of avoiding a fight was put off to a not-so-distant future. The aim was perhaps to, avoid a fight under existing conditions of riding the boat

Freer simply ignores this aspect. Lee would undoubtedly have known that there would exist the possibility of a fight in the near-future. Or perhaps Lee would  hope that, having arrived on the island, the rules of the tournament would convince Parsons to not engage in a fight?  We could speculate forever, of course.

In the case of the social-democratic left, the art of aiming for socialism without aiming for it, ignore the need to aim explicitly for a socialist society–a society without classes. The social-democratic or social-reformist left do not aim to achieve a classless society but rather a humanized capitalist society. Their view, explicitly or explicitly, is that aiming for such a society is idealist or utopian at present (and will, practically, forever, be the case). 

The Radical Left Needs to Call into Question Existing Social Institutions at Every Opportunity, Part Four

Before I obtained a so-called permanent teaching position (I will explain in a much later post why I use the word “so-called”), I worked for a number of years as a substitute teacher (with short periods of term teaching positions). I became an executive member of the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association (WTA) (in the province of Manitoba, Canada), representing substitute teachers. I used this situation as an opportunity to criticize the limitations of the educational experience. Of course, representatives should not limit themselves to such criticism but rather perform their representative function in order to enhance the democratic nature of the union or association to which they belong. To that end, I referred to issues and clauses in the collective agreement that were relevant to substitute teachers as well as to the Substitute Teachers’ Committee. I and others on the Substitute Teachers’ Committee created a survey for substitute teachers and used the results of such a survey to criticize the policy of the WTA of permitting only permanent teachers the right to apply for permanent positions (substitute teachers paid association dues and consisted of usually 700-900 paying members of around 4000 members, but they did not have the right to apply for permanent positions).
Letter to the Editor: For September, 2007 Some philosophers of education may be criticized—justly—for being ivory tower theoreticians, useless in the real world. On the other hand, they frequently are criticized—unjustly—because they do not help teachers function more efficiently in the present school system. Such a criticism assumes that the present school system (and its premises) forms the standard by which to guide teachers in their actions. It is the task of philosophers of education, however, to question such standards or premises and to formulate alternate standards when necessary. One standard for determining whether activities in schools are educative is the unity and continuity of means (or process) and ends (or product)–a standard developed by the philosophers of education John Dewey and Alfred Whitehead. If the end or outcome is to be educative, it must be used by children themselves as an anticipatory means by which to guide their own actions in achieving that end or outcome. The children use the end or anticipated outcome as an imaginative means by which to select and organize the material and activities in such a way that the end or outcome as a finished product is reached. In this way, the means used and the ends achieved form a unity and are continuous with each other: the end functions within the means, and the final end or outcome is the unification of the means into a coherent and harmonious result. The unity of ends and means is an artistic criterion since art is characterized by the unity of means and ends. For instance, the curriculum in the Dewey school in Chicago between 1896 and 1904 provided for the common ends of all human life (food, clothing and shelter). These ends were pursued by the children, and the children learned how to read, write and engage in mathematics as means to the pursuit of these common ends. Reading was not learned independently of a concrete purpose; the process of learning how to read (as means) was tied to the end (product) of achieving common ends as living beings on this Earth. Education was conceived as the process of the art of living. If an act is educative only if there is a unity of means and ends or process and product in the above sense, then this definition of education can be used as a standard by which to judge current practices in schools. One question to be answered is whether the process of learning to read, write and do mathematics in the elementary schools as it is presently structured by the curriculum permits the teaching of the unity of means and ends. Another question is whether the process of learning the more specialized studies in secondary schools (such as the sciences) as it is presently structured by the curriculum permits the teaching of the unity of means and ends. Can the present curriculum structure permit the unity of means and ends? If not, what are the implications for the connection between school life and the process of education? Do not children deserve the best possible education–the unity of means and ends, or the learning of the art of living. Fred Harris, substitute teacher
Communication within a committee of a union is necessary for a number of reasons, including expediting organization. As chair of the Substitute Teachers’ Committee, I wrote the following to the members of that committee:
Hello everyone. I hope your summer was enjoyable. Soon we will have our first substitute committee for the year, on September 24 at 5:00 p.m. Since I am a new chair of the committee, I am learning the procedures as we go along—as you undoubtedly will be. Pizza and drinks will be available. Are there any persons with allergies or who are vegetarians? It is important to recognize that the substitute committee has no decision-making powers as such. The substitute committee can only make recommendations to the executive. The executive has certain decision-making powers, but so too does the Council, which meets once a month and is composed of representatives from each school. The executive may recommend something, but the Council may well vote against it. With the approval of the executive (and sometimes the Council, depending on the issue), the substitute committee can go ahead with recommendations made by the substitute committee. Without the approval of the executive, it cannot. I am attaching the same agenda for the first meeting in case it got lost. Some of the items may be eliminated, depending on the results of the executive meeting of the WTA on September 19. The meeting has been set for one hour, so we need to get to work right away. To expedite matters, I will comment on many of the agenda items to begin the process. Agenda item #2. Communication between WTA and substitutes: A constant problem. The WTA does not have a list of substitute teachers, and substitute teachers do not automatically have mailboxes in each school. How the WTA (and this committee) is to communicate with substitute teachers remains open to suggestions—from substitute committee members, if possible. Which leads to point 3 on the agenda. Agenda item #3. A list of substitute teachers in the Division, since it does not exist, may have to be compiled by this committee. How this is to be done and who is to do should be the topic for discussion. Agenda item #4. The survey is to be used during the general (once a year) meeting of substitute teachers to obtain information about substitute teachers in the Division, including their priorities. The survey is subject to the approval of the executive, so we will not know whether it has been approved until after September 19. Who will distribute and collect the survey, if it is approved, during the general meeting? Agenda item #5. The major purpose of the general meeting is to obtain as many representatives for substitute teachers as possible. These representatives can attend the Council meetings, vote and raise issues. For every 20 people who show up at the general meeting, we can elect one representative to Council (up to a maximum of, perhaps, six or seven, but this issues is unlikely to arise at this time). So, we need to try to have as many substitute teachers attending as possible. Another purpose is to obtain information about substitute teachers through the survey. Fielding their possible questions and thus providing them with information is also a purpose. Henry Shyka, the MTS business agent, or Dave Nadjuch, acting president of the WTA, will probably field questions. The general meeting will require the use of a list of substitute teachers and their telephone numbers (or email addresses). Who will contact them? I suggest that we distribute the list evenly, assigning approximately the same number of people to contact for each member of the committee. Any other suggestions? The announcement for the general meeting should also be provided in the phone-in system. I will contact the Help Desk when a date has been set. What date shall be set? The meeting will probably occur in October (earlier would have been viable if I had more experience in these matters). It would be best if all of us could be there, but that is frequently not possible. Furthermore, it will depend on the availability of Henry, Dave and the MTS auditorium. We will have to be flexible on the date. What time? The place will probably be the auditorium of the MTS building. But we need to book a time and place. How about 5:00? Would that give substitute teachers sufficient time to get there (especially if they have to take the bus)? How will we finalize registration for the meeting? Do we go through the WTA office or have one of the members of the substitute committee be responsible for that (confirmation through Glenda Shepherd)? When should food be provided? At the beginning of the meeting, in the middle? Re #5: d (ii): It has been suggested that it can create problems if we go through Glenda Shepherd in that we will not be up-to-date on who will be attending. If Glenda is not to be the contact person, how will we make arrangements for confirmation of attendance? Responsibility for clean up after the meeting: All substitute committee members who attend should be responsible for clean up after the meeting. (It was recommended by the executive that we leave the remaining food for the custodians of the building since they generally treat us better if we do so. I recommend that as well. Open for discussion, though.) Does that cover most bases for now? Fred, substitute chair
I also initiated a survey of substitute teachers to determine what was important for them (the formatting is somewhat different):

Survey of the Substitute Teachers of the WTA

Information gathered from the following survey is entirely anonymous and will be used exclusively for the purpose of establishing a profile of substitute teachers as a whole in order to improve services to the substitute teachers of the WTA.
  1. For how many years have you been substituting (without a permanent contract):
0-3 years 4-6 years 7-9 years 10-12 years 13 years or longer
  1. Place in order of importance for you, with 1 being the least important to you and 10 being the most important:
1. Coverage of other teachers during preparation time 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                  Most 2. Cancellation of a position when arriving at the school 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most 3. U.I. (now called E.I.) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                  Most 4. Communication with the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most 5. Salary 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most
  1. (Continued) Place in order of importance for you, with 1 being the least important to you and 10 being the most important:
6. Benefits 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most 7. The lack of right to apply for posted positions 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                    Most 8. Being banned from schools (and other disciplinary measures) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most 9. Parking 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                    Most 10. Lack of lesson plans 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most 11. Extent to which there is a lack of information, clarity or support concerning disciplinary procedures within schools for disruptive student behaviour 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                    Most 12. Other (Please explain) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.
  1. Please indicate with an x the category which best describes your view of the economic importance of substitute teaching for you.
primarily rely on substitute teaching within Winnipeg School Division for income primarily rely on substitute teaching and term teaching within Winnipeg School Division for income primarily rely on term teaching within Winnipeg School Division for income primarily rely on substitute teaching in two or more divisions for income primarily rely on substitute teaching and term teaching in two or more divisions for income primarily rely on term teaching in two or more divisions for income other (please explain) _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.
  1. Are you a retired teacher?
Yes No

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Six: The Reduction of the Nature of Teenagers to Their Brains

This is a continuation of earlier posts.

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to place critiques, mainly (although not entirely) of the current school system. At first, I merely printed off the articles, but then I started to provide a summary of the article along with the article. I placed the summaries along with the articles in a binder (and, eventually, binders), and I placed the binder in the staff lounge.

As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”).

As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions.

The context of summaries related to the brain was that Neil MacNeil, the principal of Ashern Central School, where I worked, started talking about “brain research’ and how teachers needed to implement such research in their daily teaching practice. He even placed an article on brain research in our school mailboxes. As a consequence, I researched the issue and provided critical summaries that critiqued his reductionist view of human intelligence as “brain work.”

The relevance of the issue has to do with division of labour between intellectual labour and manual labour. Typically in schools, there is an emphasis on “academic learning”–which means purely intellectual pursuits at the expense of the use of the body as an essential aspect of the learning process. To ignore such issues is to ignore a cleavage in our society that needs to be repaired through the creation of a socialist society that eliminates such a division of labour.

I must emphasize that such work is necessary despite the possible negative repercussions by management. If we are afraid to question management and employers in our own workplace, how can we expect others to challenger their particular employer? How can we expect to unite to challenge the class of employers generally if we fail to challenge our own particular employer?

It is much easier to criticize other employers than one’s own–just as it is easier to criticize other nations than one’s own.

Such criticism is also necessary since the class power of employers is supported in various ways, including ideological means. To fail to challenge the power of the class of employers in diverse domains makes it all the more difficult to challenge them at the economic and political level. This is a typical weakness of social-democratic or reformist approaches to challenging the class power of employers. They idealize one or more domains (such as the public sector or education or law) without engaging in inquiry into the real nature of these domains (see, for example, Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Two).

Hello everyone,

Attached is another article sent to the ESJ Ning. I prefaced it with the following summary and commentary:

The author of the following article, “The Gift and the Trap: Working the `Teenage Brain’ into our Concept of Youth,” (Howard Sercombe) argues that Michael Males’ criticisms of most of the research on youth’s so-called risk-taking behaviour, as reductionist and unscientific is justified. Most of the research ignores social environmental conditions that influence behaviour; the conclusions derived from such “brain research” should therefore be treated with suspicion. Youth, like all human beings, should be seen as a conjunction of biology, social environment and agency (self-determination). Youth, like all human beings, is irreducible to “brain states.”

Sercombe calls for research that unites the biological approach, the sociological approach and the role of agency (human beings as persons who make decisions). However, he argues that we lack a model that incorporates all three. Hence we need to focus on both the biological approach and the sociological approach in succession, with the one balancing the other until a new synthesis may arise.
Sercombe concurs with Males’ earlier view that, when sociological factors are taken into account (such as comparable levels of poverty between teenagers and adults), then the level of risk-taking is comparable.

The author points out that the issue of whether youth have inherent characteristics or have characteristics that are accidental (dependent on social circumstances) has had a long history, dating back at least to Aristotle. Hence, the issue has divided theoreticians for a long time.

What is new is the use of recent “brain research” to claim that teenagers have tendencies towards risk-taking when compared to adults. Such a view claims to be scientific but in fact expresses a prejudice by adults against teenagers. In other words, it is stereotyping in the form of alleged scientific inquiry.

Sercombe, by contrast, claims that modern brain research actually tells a different story. Brain research shows that the neural structure of the brain is subject to modification due to experience. Therefore, neural anatomy and physiology are functions of both maturational processes and environmental processes. The emergence of certain behaviours is a function of genes and the environment. If environmental conditions are not present, then the neural connections may not be established despite appropriate genetic timing. Conversely, if genetic conditions are not present, then the neural connections may not be established despite appropriate environmental conditions. Nature (genetics) and nurture (environment) are two sides of the same coin; they both need to be present for certain neural structures to emerge.

There is (contrary to such authors as David Dobb, in his article “Beautiful Brains”) no one-to-one correspondence between genetics and human behaviour.

Recent brain imaging shows that different connections between neurons are established as experiences differ. Furthermore, human beings, as agents, persons or subjects of their own lives make decisions which, in turn, influence both the environment and the neural structure of their brains (and those of other people).

Sercombe then provides some facts from the U.K. that question the so-called nature of adolescents for risk-taking. He points out that the recent financial meltdown was hardly due to teenagers but rather to adults. Such a meltdown has had much more devastating consequences than the so-called risk-taking behaviour of youth.

Sercombe calls for humility among researchers who favour nature over nurture, or nurture over nature. We do not, at present, he claims, have a model that integrates both in any consistent manner.

He only takes issue with Males’ apparent rejection of the tendential distinctiveness of adolescence as a transition towards adulthood as revealed in brain imagery.

He does criticize Males for apparently rejecting modern brain research and what it tells us about teenagers. The structure of modern teenage brains share certain commonalities with the structure of the brains of adults (since both share a common environment in, for instance, experiencing similar school structures), but there are distinctive aspects to the structure of the brains of teenagers. There is a change in the ratio of grey brain matter to white brain matter from the onset of puberty until the early 20s. Myelination occurs, making the brain more efficient as certain neural structures are selected for use(a function of genetics, environment and agency and not just genetics, as the reductionists claims), whereas synaptic pruning results in the elimination of connections and hence structures that are not used. The teenage years do bear witness to an evident restructuring that makes the neural structures more nearly approximate the more rigid structures of adult brains. By the age of 14, more or less, teenage brains are similar in structure to the structure of adult brains, but they need to be edited and organized into more efficient structures.

The author considers differences between the structure of the brains of teenagers and the brains of adults to be significant only in terms of tendencies. If certain environmental conditions are present (including specific kinds of agents), then there may be certain tendencies to act in certain ways. The specific environmental conditions will have a say in whether adolescents will act differently from their adult counterparts to any great extent.

Sercombe, like Males, points out just how bias the research is against youth. Interpretations of the data from brain research invariably treat youth as deficient when compared to adults. Sercombe queries why research never emphasizes the positive aspects of teenagers as exemplified in the data. (Although he does not specify, it can be inferred that such a characteristic as greater flexibility in rule rejection and reconstruction may be something which adults would do well to cherish.) The discourse on youth (by, of course, mainly adults) presupposes that youth are defective in some manner so that such discourse infects research as well. Such a view leads to the slippery slope of treating youth as pathological and in need of strict control by adults.

Although the author’s approach is noteworthy in the much needed attempt to take into consideration the biological and the sociological (and psychological) aspects of the problem, he seems to be unaware that such a synthetic approach to all three was proposed by John Dewey a long time ago. Sercombe’s view that we need to balance research that excludes sociology and psychology from biology (or vice versa) by referring to research that emphasizes sociology and psychology will never result in a synthesis. What is needed is a synthetic approach that incorporates all three from the beginning, even if implicitly—as does Dewey’s theory.

Dewey begins with human beings who are dependent on each other and on the world of which they are a part—a social, biological and physical-chemical environment. Emphasis on the biological, the sociological or the psychological assumes a functional character: we emphasize one or the other for particular purposes. At a lived level, though, there is no distinction. Human experience is never purely physical-chemical, or purely biological, or purely social. It is all of them together in an inseparable unity. Emphasizing the biological may be required to ascertain certain aspects of our experience, but it never exhausts it.

Educators would do well to study more carefully Dewey’s philosophy in general and his philosophy of education in particular. They may then avoid the reductionism characteristic of biological approaches to human beings or, for that matter, the reductionism characteristic of sociological (and psychological) approaches to human beings and the education process. They may also avoid pandering to prejudices against youth based on pseudo-science (such as that presented in David Dobb’s article, “Beautiful Brain”).

Educators, however, are adults, and as adults they tend to consider their standards to be sacrosanct. They may well avoid engaging with Dewey’s theory since Dewey long ago argued that, although children (and adolescents) need in some ways to become like adults, adults need to become more like children (and adolescents):

“With respect to the development of powers devoted to coping with specific scientific and economic problems we may say the child [and adolescents] should be growing in manhood. With respect to sympathetic curiosity, unbiased responsiveness, and openness of mind, we may say that the adult should be growing in childlikeness. One statement is as true as the other.” (Democracy and Education, 1916, p. 55)

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Five: The Division Between the Intellectual and the Manual or Physical

This is a continuation of earlier posts.

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to place critiques, mainly (although not entirely) of the current school system. At first, I merely printed off the articles, but then I started to provide a summary of the article along with the article. I placed the summaries along with the articles in a binder (and, eventually, binders), and I placed the binder in the staff lounge.

As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”). The Ning was a social network for chairs of various Equity and Justice Committees of the Manitoba Teachers Society to communicate with each other.

As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions.

The context of summaries related to the brain was that Neil MacNeil, the principal of Ashern Central School, where I worked, started talking about “brain research’ and how teachers needed to implement such research in their daily teaching practice. He even placed an article on brain research in our school mailboxes. As a consequence, I researched the issue and provided critical summaries that critiqued his reductionist view of human intelligence as “brain work.”

Such critiques are relevant for socialists since the issue of the division of labour between intellectual and manual labour is something that needs to be abolished as socialism proceeds. The reduction of intelligence to “brain work” reflects the one-sided division of labour between intellectual labour and manual labour and needs to be opposed.

Hello everyone,

I sent the attached articles to the ESJ Ning and put them in a binder in the staff lounge. Indirectly, they are a critical response to an article that the principal of Ashern Central School recommended (he sent it to us as an attachment and put it in our mail box).

I prefaced the articles with the following:

The author of the following article, “The Ontogeny of Consciousness: John Dewey and Myrtyle McGraw’s Contribution to a Science of Mind,” (as well the additional article by the same author, “Myrtyle McGraw’s Neurobehavioral Theory of Development”) (Thomas C. Dalton) provides a counterargument to “brain-based research” that is reductionist, that is to say, that reduces explanations of human behaviour primarily in terms of biological changes in the brain due to maturation. The emergence of neural structures in the brain is just as much a function of experience as it is a function of biological maturation.

Before providing a summary of the article, a few words are in order to clarify why the article is important for educators. Evolutionary theory informs us that living bodies evolved before the emergence of the central nervous system and the brain. Should not educators take such evolution into account when performing research into the nature and functions of the brain? Is the control of the body irrelevant for learning—as those who focus on academic subjects imply? Or is the control of the body central to the learning process?

Since evolutionary theory involves an inseparable connection of the body of a living being with an environment —life is a process that involves simultaneously living beings (with a body) and an environment—then evolutionary theory must include relations between the living being’s body and the living being’s environment. Often, though, brain studies simply ignore the environment (and hence the body)—thereby distorting evolutionary theory while claiming to rely on it. Similarly, the denigration of the body in modern schools finds its reflection in disembodied brain studies—as if human beings were pure beings of the brain, disconnected from their environment.

Since control of the body (and the life process) is denigrated in schools (academic subjects are the focus), there is little wonder that some early brain research remains hidden to many educators. Such research contradicts the school system’s emphasis on academic subjects and the assumption that disembodied “brain research” constitutes the ultimate in research.

Dewey’s theory of human development is based on Darwin ’s theory of evolution, but Dewey incorporates systematically Darwin ’s insights into his theory rather than reductionist and superficial views of Darwin ’s theory of natural selection (typical of much “brain-based” research) . So-called brain studies, for instance, that refer to Darwin’s theory of evolution often simply ignore the body and go directly to the brain, drawing false conclusions based on their own unanalyzed assumptions.
Turning now to the article mentioned above, the author provides a description of some of John Dewey’s research concerns and how his protégé, Myrtyl McGraw, developed a research program related to infant development, especially the relation between an infant’s and toddler’s bodily movements up to erect locomotion and the development of the infant’s brain in the context of a doubtful or problematic situation.

The more specific issue was the relationship between consciousness and habit in the context of a problematic situation.

The author outlines some aspects of Dewey’s theory before moving to an analysis of McGraw’s work.

Dewey, in his How We Think, argued that the primary problem for the infant and toddler was control of the body. Increasing control of the body was, for the emerging consciousness of the infant/toddler, the major problem that the infant/toddler needed to solve. Dewey was interested in the relationship between the emergence of consciousness, its function, and the transfer of conscious control from the cortical region of the brain to the subcortical region of the brain in the context of the infant’s/toddler’s need to control the body.

Dewey tried to avoid the dualism of reducing all consciousness to brain states, on the one hand, or in reducing all behaviour to conscious conditions on the other.

Conscious experience in a problematic situation, which demands inquiry, can expand the capacities of the individual through, for example, enabling the infant to gain conscious control over certain movements of the body (rather than have such movements under the control of subcortical control, initially, which tended to be gross movements at best and inefficient—if such movements were forthcoming at all) and, in turn, provide a basis for further use of the body in increasingly complicated processes.

Dewey relied on Herrick’s view that inhibition of movement necessary for reflection involved the functional capacity of the cerebrum to override the cerebellum’s automatic response mechanism. Such an overriding function enabled the time necessary to anticipate events that are in the process of unfolding or may occur in the future and consequently to act accordingly. Consciousness, for Herrick, arose as central and periphereal systems were in the process of being coordinated with each other; control over the body and consciousness were not separate events. Consciousness in a functional sense is thinking, and it arises in a problematic or doubtful situation. It was the interplay of resistance and the need for control that occasioned cognitive growth (if it indeed did occur at all).

Dalton points out that Dewey considered the isolation of cognitive experiences from non-cognitive experiences is pernicious since most of who we are involves non-cognitive experiences as the background against which cognitive experiences arise and have any meaning at all. Cognitive experiences arise in a doubtful or uncertain situation (a problematic situation), that includes the whole body as well as the environment. Cognitive development may occur in such circumstances because inquiry (and judgment) is required, forcing us to expand and deepen our conscious perspective in order to overcome the difficulty.

A problematic situation, which occasions the need for inquiry and forms the basis for all learning, introduces disequilibrium into the situation; to resolve the situation in other than a trial-and-error fashion, it is necessary to separate out possibly divergent modes of action and judge them on the basis of the purpose to be achieved—an occasion for the consciousness as a function to arise.

Dewey distinguished consciousness, however, from mind. Consciousness is focal , ephemeral and explicit whereas mind is diffuse (a background), more constant or structural and implicit. As a problematic situation proceeds, shifts in consciousness from the foreground to the background (making aspects of the background—but never the whole—background the foreground) may occur.

Myrtyle McGraw’s theories and experiments with twins furnished some corroborating evidence for Dewey’s theory that intellectual or cognitive development is a function of conscious control over the body that becomes transferred to neural structures linked to bodily habits.

Consciousness is a function and not a separate entity or thing. Consciousness is a function in the context of a problematic situation, where inquiry is required before acting. Consciousness arises due to the need for judgment in a problematic situation and is not merely an irrelevant phenomenon characteristic of behaviourist theories of learning.

McGraw, through her experiments, tested Dewey’s view that is was a problematic situation that occasioned the possibility for increased (cortical) control rather than just reflex actions controlled through subcortical levels; she also tested his view that conscious control became inscribed in the body and simultaneously transferred to subcortical control.

It was the introduction of a problematic element, which interfered with normal or habitual action of the body governed by subcortical processes, into an infant’s and toddler’s experiential situation that could lead to increased control over the environment through the need for cortical control over balance and the need for judgment. It was not a mere repetition (or iteration) of motor actions; practice was insufficient. Practice must occur in the context of a problematic situation. To address a problematic situation, a delay in motor reaction is necessary so that reflection and judgment become necessary.

In McGraw’s longitudinal study and experiments with a set of twins, she found that one of the twins, when exposed to various experiences that challenged his motor judgment under conditions of uncertainty, became more pensive and better able to size up a situation by making more explicit and taking into account more relevant aspects of the problematic situation before reacting.

At a more general level, McGraw saw control of the body leading to a problematic situation as involving, a shifting center of gravity due to the movement of the body in the face of locomotion and the consequent dynamic shifting centre of gravity. Such acts as sitting up required a coordinated effort of various parts of the body to overcome gravitational forces and to maintain a sitting position in the face of such gravitational forces. McGraw hypothesized that “body sense,” or somatic sense, took precedence over the other senses in terms of the emergence of consciousness.

Alternate movements of the upper and lower body required conscious coordination for prone locomotion to occur (such as crawling), but control was at first centered on the lower part of the body, and then on the upper part of the body (with the lower part of the body being relatively inhibited from movement before the coordination of the two could arise). Each step in the control process was displaced to secondary behaviour (less consciously controlled) as a new focus for attention arose because of new problems; conscious control was gradually relinquished to subcortical control as new problems arose. The behavioural repertoire was becoming structured through the development of neural structures and bodily habits, and this repertoire formed supports for more complex structures and bodily habits to arise (as Dewey argued with his theory of consciousness and habits). As a new, more complex problem arises, however, behaviour may at first seem to regress.

Consciousness of the world arises when the child learns to sit up (it is unclear in the article, though, why this is so). Differentiation of self and objects arises when the infant is capable of reaching and pointing intentionally. Self-consciousness arises after erect locomotion leads to an awareness of a causal relation between self-initiated movement and the manipulation or movement of objects (awareness of self, presumably, is a function of awareness of a relation between intention, awareness of movement of the body and awareness of movement of an object—and the difference between them).

The problem of locomotion, whether prone or erect, requires the infant and toddler to resolve the challenge posed by balance in the face of gravitational forces that shift as the child changes in size, weight and form. Such challenges or problems as the child attempts to achieve crawling or walking constitute the basis for learning at the early stages. Judgment is required when engaged in learning to move through space, and such judgment thus contributes to the expansion of human experience as the child interacts with her environments and incorporates her judgments into her behaviours, at first at a conscious, cortical level but later at a subcortical, habitual level.

Learning, which requires judgment, involves, on the one hand, a combination of structures inscribed in neural structures and bodily habits, with both supporting functions that integrate the child with her environment, and on the other, conscious functions that enable habits to be restructured as problematic or uncertain situations provide challenges.

Learning, contrary to maturationists (those who believe that learning takes place only after physiological development at a certain level is complete—those who believe that “nature” forms the basis of all learning), can occur through the mediation of judgment and the structuring of the environment in the face of a problematic situation.

Often, in educational circles, “brain research” is presented as something new. Dewey’s early interest in brain research in relation to learning in a problematic situation, and McGraw’s research, indicate that research into the relation between the development of the brain and education arose over a century ago. However, that research links brain research to the emergence of new bodily habits as a function of judgment in the face of problems associated, in the first instance, with control of the body.

The modern school system, however, treats the body as something that can be dispensed with when learning. Experimental science in general, and Myrtle McGraw’s experiments in particular, have demonstrated the hollowness of such a view. The modern school system still suffers from a myopic view of what constitutes learning, with its emphasis on academic subjects at the expense of vocational subjects. Such a view should not be surprising—when class prejudice is considered. This class prejudice leads to one-sided individuality and reinforces a class society riveted by oppression. A hierarchy of individuals is created.

Can any teacher, in the classroom, resolve such social problems? Does not equity and social justice demand recognition of the nature and extent of the problem? If we simply ignore or turn a blind eye to such problems, are we not contributing to the problem rather than sharing in resolving it?

Fred

The Radical Left Needs to Call into Question Existing Institutions at Every Opportunity, Part Three

Even before I served as the chair of the Substitute Committee for the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association (WTA), I tried to establish communication between the rank-and-file teachers and substitute teachers and myself. Such communication forms a necessary aspect of the work of the radical left.

A Philosophical (Critical) Commentary on the Collective Bargaining Seminar, August 22-24, 2007

I attended the collective bargaining seminar held by the Manitoba Teachers’ Society at Clear Lake. As I said to one of the MTS staff officers, it was an enlightening experience.

The seminar was very well organized. It was designed to combine a theoretical grounding in collective bargaining with hands-on practice through simulation of collective bargaining with a mock school board of two members.

The first day was spent meeting with pre-arranged teams of negotiating committees, with an MTS coach assigned to each team. The second day was split into two sessions, with the morning session involving the ins and outs of collective bargaining. There were separate sessions for members at the beginner level and for those with more advanced experience. In the afternoon, the negotiating teams met to develop their priorities for negotiating purposes. The entire Friday morning was a simulation of collective bargaining with two mock trustees opposed to each team. Other MTS staff circulated from time to time between the different negotiating sessions.

The use of the simulation mechanism provided an impressive air of realism to the whole learning process.

Another impressive aspect of the seminar was the emphasis on the importance of considering the impact of the acceptance of a clause in a particular collective agreement on teachers’ collective agreements as a whole.

In essence, that emphasis leads to a very important philosophical principle: considering any act as merely one phase in a larger, more inclusive act, undertaking or whole. The acceptance of a particular clause in one collective agreement begins just there, at the local level. Its consequences, however, may well extend far beyond the immediate collective agreement. These potential consequences then can be used to guide acceptance or rejection of the clause in a particular agreement. That is to say, the clause, when set in a larger whole (as a potential chain of consequences), may be modified or rejected because of its impact when considering that larger whole rather than seen in isolation. The means (a particular clause in a particular collective agreement) can then be made congruent with the end when the latter is conceived as an end that includes a larger whole. The implicit philosophical principle contained in the seminar was, then, the unity of the end in the means and the means in the end.

The realization of this principle is through communication, communication and more communication—from the local associations to the MTS and from the MTS to the local associations. In addition, the presence of MTS staff officers during collective bargaining is often (if not always) vital to ensure the realization of this principle.

That principle, however, could well be extended beyond the issue of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is only a beginning phase in a larger whole, whether that whole includes the administration of the contract, the legal system, the economic structure of society, and so forth. Just as an individual clause in a collective agreement may have a different meaning when viewed from a more global perspective, might collective bargaining itself have a different meaning when viewed from a more global perspective of wider social relations?

Could the principle implied in the collective-bargaining seminar—the unity of ends in the means and the means in the ends–be extended far beyond the issue of collective bargaining?

Fred Harris, substitute teacher

I wrote the following in the WTA newsletter (it is necessary to address more immediate concerns of workers and their organizations as well):

Substitute News

Fred Harris, a substitute teacher, was appointed the chair of the Substitute Committee for the 2007-2008 school year at the executive meeting held at Gimli on June 3-4.

At the general meeting of substitute teachers held in May 2007 (organized by Gerry Thornhill), Diane LaFournaise, another substitute teacher, was elected the representative of the substitute teachers for the WTA Council monthly meetings, to be held at 6:30 (snack at 6:00 p.m.) at 191 Harcourt on the following days:

September 24
October 16
November 14
December 13
January 15
February 12
March 12
April 17
May 12
June 9

Although only substitute reps can vote at WTA Council meetings, all substitute teachers can attend them. They can also attend the substitute committee meetings held at 5:00 p.m. in Room A on the same day as the Council meetings at 191 Harcourt. They can thereby begin to understand where they fit into the WTA and how they may, in the longer term, become a voice within their own organization.
A fall meeting for all substitutes may be held to field their concerns. More information may be forthcoming in the subsequent newsletter, the Sub-finder Express system, email or contact by phone.

Should a substitute teacher have concerns that specifically relate to problems associated with being an employee of the Division, please call Glenda Shepherd, Administrative Assistant of the WTA, at 831-7104.

Fred Harris, substitute teacher

A Critical Look at The Socialist Project’s Pamphlet on Green Jobs Oshawa

The Socialist Project, “based in Toronto [Ontario, Canada] … works to generate and promote Left activism education and organizing. Our membership includes activists, students, workers educators and others interested in Socialist politics in Canada,” recently published (February 2020) a pamphlet titled Take the Plant–Save the Planet: The Struggle for Community Control and Plant Conversion at GM Oshawa

The pamphlet has an introduction and the mission statement of Green Jobs Oshawa. It refers to the closing of most of the GM auto assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, in December 2019.

The rest consists of various articles written by seven authors. The first article, “Unifor Settlement with GM– Footprint or Toe Tag?,” is by Tony Leah, “a retired autoworker and founding member of Green Jobs Oshawa.” The second and third articles, titled respectively, “GM Oshawa: Lowered Expectations Unexplored Opportunities,” and “The GM Strike and the Historical Convergence of Possibilities,” are by Sam Gindin, “who served from 1974 to 2000 as research director of the Canadian Auto Workers (Unifor’s predecessor), now an adjunct professor at York University. The fourth article, titled “Bringing SNC-Lavalin to Mind During an Uninspiring Federal Election,” is by Leo Panitch, Professor Emeritus,  Canada Research Chair, York University. The fifth article, titled “Take It Over: The Struggle for Green Production in Oshawa,” is by  Linda McQuaig,  ” journalist, columnist, non-fiction author and social critic.” The sixth article, titled “Green Jobs Oshawa and a Just Transition,” is by Rebecca Keetch, who “was a GM worker and is an activist with Green Jobs Oshawa.” The seventh article, titled “Why GM’s Oshawa Assembly Line Shutdown is a Black Eye for Unifor’s Jerry Dias,” is by Jennifer Wells, “a former columnist and feature writer for the [Toronto] Star’s Business section.” An appendix, titled “Feasibility Study for the Green Conversion of the GM Oshawa Facility: Possibilities for Sustainable Community Wealth: Summary Overview,” is by
Russ Christianson, “started working with small businesses and co-operatives and now travels across Canada working as a consultant who’s a business start-up specialist.”

I am not going to review the entire pamphlet. I addressed some of Mr. Gindin’s views in a previous post (see The Contradictions of Social Democracy: Mr. Gindin’s Musings on the Closure of GM’s Oshawa Plant).

The Introduction provides the framework for the pamphlet (pages 4-5):

Toward an Alternative

A small group of rank and file Oshawa workers and retirees understood that far more was needed; both logic and history suggested that appealing to GM to rethink their cold calculations was naive. They joined with other community allies, including the Durham Labour Council and supporters from the Toronto-based Socialist Project, to establish ‘Green Jobs Oshawa’. Its mandate was to explore and organize around other possibilities for the Oshawa facility.

Before looking at the proposed solution, the extent of the problem needs to be specified. Mr. Gindin’s first article does this:

The Oshawa facility currently supports 5,700 – 6,000 jobs: GM directly employs 2,200 hourly workers and some 500 salaried workers, with other companies employing over 3,000 to supply components (some working right inside the Oshawa facility). The new proposal means cutting this total by upwards of 5,300 jobs.

The loss of jobs for many families undoubtedly will be devastating for many within the community. The alternative proposed is outlined below (page 5):

Green Jobs Oshawa called on the federal government – or the municipal government with substantial financial and technical support from the feds – to take over the land and equipment idled by GM. The Oshawa facility could then be converted to assembling fleets of electric vehicles. The sale of these vehicles was to depend not on market competition, but a social plan based on direct government purchases of the products the government had invested in. The fleet vehicles involved would range from electric post office vans (as recommended earlier by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers) to hydroelectric vans, newly designed school buses, ambulances and police cars. With that base, the plant could also produce electric cars for individual consumers and, depending on how much space remained available, add other environmentally related products.

The message was that jobs, the environment, and the industrial capacities for conversion and restructuring are inseparable. From that perspective, saving Oshawa was not an end point but a beginning and an example to build on.

The proposed takeover of the plant, however, is linked to reliance on governments, without really addressing how much organized power would be required to force governments realistically to provide support for such a proposal. On the one hand, without such organized power, it is mere wishful thinking. This is implicit in the silences of even so-called progressive forces over the proposal (from Mr. Panitch’s article, page 34):

This is of course par for the course. The $3-billion left unpaid by General Motors from the $12-billion public bailout provided to it a decade ago could have covered all the costs entailed in implementing the Oshawa worker-environmental alliance plan to save the GM plant by taking it into public ownership and converting it into producing battery electric powered vehicles for Canada Post and other public fleets. That not even Unifor, let alone the NDP or the Green Party, has championed this plan only goes to show how bereft of big ideas are the foremost institutions that pass for the left in Canada today.

To demand that the municipal or federal (or, for that matter, provincial) governments take over the plant when even the so-called left did not rally behind the idea expresses an over-reliance on governments that is often expressed in the document. For example, Ms. McQuaig argues the following (page 36):

Of course, Gindin’s idea for producing public utility vehicles would require co-operation from the federal and provincial governments, and it is hard to imagine such co-operation from our current political leaders.

If it is unrealistic to expect co-operation from “current political leaders,” then such co-operation would require force–organized power by worker and community members. No such force exists–as those who wrote the introduction implied (page 5):

Frustration and Persistence

Green Jobs Oshawa developed a website, distributed leaflets to workers, held educationals and public forums in Oshawa and Toronto, organized petitions, commissioned a widely respected professional feasibility study (see appendix) confirming its case, received sympathetic attention in the press and gave numerous media interviews. Yet the committee couldn’t generate the necessary level of support, starting with the workers themselves.

If the level of support for the proposal of Green Jobs Oshawa could not even generate major support from those most directly affected by the shutdown, why would anyone think that the governments, which support the class power of employers, would support their plan?

An alternative that undoubtedly was discussed by some at the factory and within Green Jobs Oshawa is not even mentioned: the workers taking over the factory and starting to produce without GM. That alternative may not have been realistic either under the circumstances, but at least it should have been discussed in the pamphlet. It is nowhere to be found.

Funding for retooling and the production of electric vehicles would require a substantial investment, and that is perhaps the reason why the mere take-over of the plant may not have been realistic. On the other hand, a takeover of the plant could have had a different purpose–to outline how unfair this particular situation was, how unfair the situation of GM not repaying

The $3-billion left unpaid by General Motors from the $12-billion public bailout provided to it a decade ago could have covered all the costs entailed in implementing the Oshawa worker-environmental alliance plan to save the GM plant by taking it into public ownership and converting it into producing battery electric powered vehicles for Canada Post and other public fleets. (Mr. Panitch, page 34),

and how unfair in general it is for employers to have the power to make decisions independently of those who are most directly affected by them. When people find a situation unfair, they are sometimes willing to go to extreme lengths to address the situation. As Barrington Moore remarks, in his Injustice   page 510, says:

Anger at the failure of authority to live up to its obligations, to keep its word and faith with the subjects, can be among the most potent of human emotions and topple thrones.

However, for such a tactic to have gained a foothold, it would have been necessary to have done the necessary preparatory work–negative work, if you like, by engaging workers in conversation and discussion over the fairness of various aspects of their lives, both in the workplace and outside the workplace. Indeed, Mr. Gindin, in a different context, recognizes the need for longer-term preparation: a tiered workplace, where some workers doing the same jobs received a lower wage and lower benefits despite belonging to the same union–Unifor (page 25):

The tiered structure GM was able to put in place in 2007 saved the corporation billions, and to boot, provided the company with a divided and weaker workforce. Only a union crusade, not a luke-warm demand among miscellaneous other demands, could have forced GM to give this up. It would, for example, have meant starting at least a year or two in advance to prepare the members for a war with the company, solidly win over the broad public in spite of a prolonged strike, and isolate General Motors. The absence of such preparations didn’t just make it harder to eventually win; it sent the message to the company that the union wasn’t all that serious in putting an end to tiered wages and would be satisfied with some face-saving tinkering. Which is what the workers in fact ended up with.

The issue of fairness is hardly a minor issue. Workers will unlikely engage in sustained efforts and sacrifices unless they find their situation and that of others to be unfair in some fashion or other. There is no evidence, though, that Mr. Gindin and other radicals engaged in such necessary negative work.

Returning to the issue of the government, the pamphlet, in addition to unrealistically relying on governments rather than on organizing the anger of those who have been treated unfairly in various ways in a society dominated by a class of employers, idealizes public ownership. For instance, Ms. McQuaig in particular idealizes public ownership (nationalization) (page 36):

In fact, as we’ve seen, Canadian public enterprise has an impressive history and has made its mark in fields that are at least as complicated as vehicle manufacturing. The creation of a public hydroelectric power system in Ontario – and later in other provinces – was a stunning achievement that served as a model for US president Franklin D. Roosevelt when he created highly successful public power systems, including the New York Power Authority, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Rural Electrification Administration, and the Bonneville Power Administration. There was also Connaught Labs, the publicly owned Canadian drug company, which made remarkable contributions to the development of breakthrough vaccines and treatments for a wide range of deadly diseases. And the publicly owned CNR exhibited innovative business skills in creating a viable national rail network out of five bankrupt railway lines and in establishing, during the pioneering days of radio, a cross-country string of radio stations, which became the basis of the nationwide CBC broadcasting network.

Public ownership which undoubtedly has the potential advantage of providing services based on need, not on the amount of money you personally have (such as medicare here in Canada). However, working in a public corporation should not be idealized; workers are still things to be used by employers, whether public or private (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Nationalization in the context of an economy dominated by a class of employers, by autonomous economic structures (money, finance, commerce and production) and an alienated political structure is hardly radical (see The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Seven: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government and Nationalization in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part Two).

This idealization of public ownership is intensified when it is coupled with the war efforts of governments (page 37):

And, as we’ve seen, some of Canada’s most impressive public enterprises were created during the Second World War, when twenty-eight Crown corporations contributed enormously to Canada’s war effort, manufacturing airplanes, weapons, and communications equipment. Crown corporation Victory Aircraft provided the foundation for the postwar Canadian subsidiary that developed the Avro Arrow, a state-of the-art military fighter plane (discontinued by the Diefenbaker government for political, not technological, reasons). And Crown corporation Research Enterprises, teaming up during the war with Ottawa’s National Research Council, produced highly innovative optical and communications equipment, including radar devices, binoculars, and radio sets – equipment with countless applications that could have been successfully developed for the postwar market if our political leaders hadn’t succumbed to the notion that government shouldn’t be involved in
producing such things.

In the first place, the creation of public ownership under war conditions is hardly comparable to the situation which the GM Oshawa workers faced; during the Second World War, workers were much more organized–and armed, and many other capitalist states were willing to use direct physical force to achieve their goals at the expense of other capitalist states.

In the second place, as already indicated, Ms. McQuaig does not even ask what kind of lives those who worked in such Crown corporations lived. Their working conditions may have been better than in the privatized sector (though that requires research and should not be assumed), but better working conditions do not change the fact that workers are still things to be used by such corporations any more than the existence of a collective agreement does. Thus, Ms. McQuaig does not even address this issue.

This idealization of public ownership or nationalization continues in Ms. Keech’s article, page 41:

In November 2018, GM announced the closure of the Oshawa Assembly Plant. Workers in the community faced the crushing reality that their livelihood was being stolen. At a time of record profits, in the billions of dollars, GM showed a complete disregard for thousands of workers and their communities.

Out of this devastation Green Jobs Oshawa was born. Green Jobs Oshawa is a coalition of workers, environmentalists, academics, and community members. We recognized, in the midst of a climate crisis requiring immediate action and a community facing massive job loss and disruption, the need for a bold idea: bring the plant under democratic control through government ownership and build battery electric vehicles or other products that meet community need instead of corporate greed.

Ms. Keetch would need to elaborate on how her claim that “the plant would be under democratic control through government ownership” is possible given that the government is formally democratic but in practice is often anti-democratic (externally, through the use of police and, internally, through a hierarchic and undemocratic structure of an employer-employees relation). She does not do so.

She further idealizes the current political structure by having workers rely on it to transform the capitalist economy, which necessarily expands beyond any limits (see The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One), to a society free of a conflict between the nature of capitalist relations and the natural world in which we live (page 42):

Not only do we need to move away from fossil fuels and wasteful consumption – from harm and devastation – but we must build healthy, resilient communities while creating a strong sustainable economy.

We must demand massive government investment in green energy, green technology, and electrification. The government must take action, such as the immediate electrification of government fleet vehicles and public transportation. This must include public ownership of key manufacturing and resource sectors.

The environmental movement and the labour movement must demand this transformation include just transitions for workers and communities.

Unlike the other articles, Jennifer Wells’ article takes aim at Jerry Dias’ leadership. Jerry Dias is the president of Unifor, which represented the workers in the 2016 round of bargaining. She criticizes Dias for caving in on, for example, defined benefit pensions for new hires, thereby effectively creating a two-tiered workforce–a concession that Dias considered necessary in order to save jobs. Such jobs, however, were obviously not safe since most have been lost.

Although Dias’ sacrifice of one set of workers in concession bargaining should be criticized, as Ms. Wells does, she never asks whether collective bargaining has its own limits when it comes to representing the interests of workers. Her criticism remains well within the limits of faith in the collective-bargaining process itself to produce a “fair contract.”

Mr. Christianson’s appendix provides a feasibility study for the green conversion of the plant. I will only note the following. Under the heading of “Democratic Public Ownership,” he has the following (page 53):

…we consider democratic, public ownership to include governments, auto workers and community members. The legal structure of the organization can take many forms, including a crown corporation. In any case, the organization will need to
use a board matrix to ensure representation from government, auto workers, community members, people with the experience and skills required for the business, and a diverse mix of people (gender and ethnicity).

How democratic such an organization can be should have been outlined by, for example, giving other examples, where modern government provides the funding. In the general context of a society characterized by the domination of a class of employers, it is unlikely that it would be very democratic. At least at Mondragon, in Spain, the funding is not primarily from government–and yet it is debatable just how democratic Mondragon really is (see  The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Four: The Myth of Creating Socialist Spaces). Real democracy requires much more than the rhetorical phrase “democratic public ownership.”