A Principal’s Evaluation of My Teaching Basic French, or: How to Oppress a Worker Through Performance Evaluation, Part One

The following is the first of several posts that provide a verbatim reply (with a somewhat different order) to a “clinical evaluation” (a performance evaluation of my teaching) made by the principal of Ashern Central School (Ashern, Manitoba, Canada), Neil MacNeil, in the fall of 2011 when I was teaching grades 6, 7 and 8 French. It also includes my “Teacher’s response” to that evaluation.  

For the context of the “clinical evaluation,” see the post  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eight.

As a teacher, I was earning around $85,000 a year at the time. Undoubtedly, according to the social-democratic or social-reformist left, it was a “good job,” “decent work,” and other such clichés. Being under clinical evaluation or supervision, however, was in effect legal torture–and I could not grieve the continued harassment by the principal since it was within management’s rights to “evaluate” a teacher’s performance.

I responded to Mr. MacNeil’s clinical evaluation with an initial 43-page reply, with the then Manitoba Teachers Society  (MTS) staff officer Roland Stankevicius (later General Secretary of the MTS) providing edited suggestions that reduced it to about 30 pages.

Mr. Stankevicius remarked that the evaluation reflected negatively–on Mr. MacNeil:

You have provided a very scholarly response but it needs to be shortened.  I hope you agree with my suggestions. …

You have made your points here.  NM [Neil MacNeil] does not look good in a lot of how he states his observations (in my opinion).

I provide Mr. MacNeil’s assessment grade by grade in separate posts (followed by my reflections (response) that I provided). In other words, the performance evaluation of the three grades is distributed over three posts. Four further posts follow that include Domain I, Professional Responsibilities), with Mr. MacNeil’s comments and my reflections (response), Domains II (Educational Environments), Domain III (Teaching and Learning) and Domain IV (Professional Relationships).

The radical left should expose both what management does and how it does it. Discussion of the situation that various kinds of employees face need to be openly discussed, but to do that it is necessary to expose, in a transparent way, managerial behaviour.

Lakeshore School Division

Teacher Clinical Evaluation Report

Teacher: Fred Harris
School: Ashern Central School
Subject/Grade: MY French; ELA Trans. Focus 30S; SY Support

The teacher and administrator will review Administrative Regulations and Procedures Evaluation Process-Professional Staff (2.3)

  1. Date and Focus of Teacher/Administrator Pre-Conferences and Post Conferences

1. Grade 6 French 2011 11 10 12:45 – 1:25

Pre-conference: “Fred will be asking the class questions; Au Camp de Vacances. Class is working toward eventually creating a vacation camp brochure. Class will work on pages having to do with this topic.

To highlight: Nothing identified. Matthew M. is an issue re: his focus/obsession with certain topics. Fred pointed out the poverty of some of the students, and that this manifests in their behaviours.

Post-conference: Fred was asked about the learning goals of this class, which had not been identified spontaneously in the pre-conference, and were not identified during the class. In conversation with me, it was pointed out that there were several:

– lessening the antagonism students feel toward French as a second language;

– having students learn more about Fred through the questioning of Fred by students about himself during the first 15 minutes of the class;

– encouraging students to hypothesize about the meaning of words and phrases, rather than just “telling” them;

– having students learn that they can take meaning from the images on pp. 4-5 of the “Au Camp de Vacances” handout they have, which is written in French at a level which the students presumably are unable to understand on their own.

We discussed whether students should have learning goals identified for them. I pointed out the research backing doing so; Fred characterized this as unnecessary and counterproductive to the “inductive” methods he is utilizing with them. I also encouraged Fred to at least ensure that the learning goals were clarified in future preconference meetings.

We discussed student engagement and classroom management. I pointed out that a large segment of the class seemed unengaged for much of the class – speaking inappropriately, getting up and moving about the class, braiding hair, etc. Fred characterized this as being due to their being “forced” to learn a second language, something that he believes is inappropriate, and to their own personal struggles in school, at home, etc. Some of the behaviours which concerned me as being very inappropriate – e.g. throwing a paper airplane, getting up and walking around others’ desks for no reason, using a pencil sharpener (which was very noisy, so that hearing the lesson was not possible) when no writing was taking place – Fred in turn did not believe were serious.

I asked how Fred would know what students learned in this class. Fred responded that this would be evident in their quiz marks, or in other ways (unspecified). It was not clear to me what “French” would have been learned in this class, or how one would know whether any learning had taken place.”

Teacher’s Reflections

Grade 6

Re: “Fred was asked about the learning goals of this class, which had not been identified spontaneously in the pre-conference, and were not identified during the class. “

What the administrator calls learning goals was unclear to me at first. It eventually became clearer that he meant the means by which students realize a goal, that is to say, that my understanding of means to a goal or end is what the administrator calls learning goals.

Re: “Post-conference: Fred was asked about the learning goals of this class, which had not been identified spontaneously in the pre-conference, and was not identified during the class. In conversation with me, it was pointed out that there were several: … – having students learn more about Fred through the questioning of Fred by students about himself during the first 15 minutes of the class;”

This statement is a one-sided view. In fact, I asked them if they had any questions about me, and then I would ask them questions about themselves. I took notes (based on a suggestion from a facilitator at a French workshop). I have incorporated such notes in a game, Bataille, that we play (see attachment).

Re: “I pointed out the research backing doing so;”

If there is indeed research, I am certainly willing to read up on the issue. In fact, I indicated during one of the conferences that I would appreciate references so that I could read such research (especially articles since I do not have the time to read many books these days). He claimed that the specification of learning goals was the single most important variable in determining learning. As a philosopher of education, I am skeptical of such wide-sweeping assertions. My understanding of the learning process is that it is much more complicated than that. However, I am certainly open to such a claim and would enjoy reading up on the matter. I wanted to know more.

I did search for an hour at the resources on learning goals that the administrator provided me the day before I received the clinical evaluation report. I found no specific research that justifies the assertion that the specification of learning goals is the most important determinant of learning. Attached is a copy of evidence that I did go on the sites referenced by the administrator. I received the sites for resources only the evening before I received the clinical evaluation, and in effect only read them a little while before receiving the clinical evaluation.

Re: “Fred characterized this as unnecessary and counterproductive to the “inductive” methods he is utilizing with them.”

The use of “ ” marks in this observation may be a sign of a lack of respect for my ideas. The administrator has shown little empathy for my ideas.

See below about reading strategies, the inquiry process and the image or goal.

Re: “I also encouraged Fred to at least ensure that the learning goals were clarified in future preconference meetings.”

I will continue to comply with that request in further lessons.

Re: “The pedagogy to which Fred ascribes (at least as according to our conversations) presupposes a level of motivation to learn and pursue a second language which he identifies as being lacking in most of his students. This has repeatedly been identified by Fred as an issue – that his students do not value the learning of French, and that it is therefore almost futile to be attempting to force them to learn the language.”

The workshops that I have attended have emphasized a pedagogy of asking and answering questions, among other things. I have tried to incorporate that into the process. I will gradually stop translating, when appropriate. For example, when asking certain questions to the students (such as Quel est ton film préféré?=What is your favourite movie?), I do not translate anymore.

There are several goals of having them ask me questions and my asking them questions. Firstly, it is to establish a personal relation between them and myself. The principal, when he informed me that I would no longer be teaching senior-high French, contended that I may lack a personal approach to teaching. I tried to address this contention through this method. When talking with special education teachers and educational assistants time and again the issue of establishing a working relationship with such students was emphasized. I am by nature a rather private person (I did, after all, obtain a doctorate because I like to do independent study), but I have decided to open up more in order to achieve that goal. Secondly, it is a way of learning about their interests, and for their learning about my interests. It is also to learn about them and how I may be able to incorporate such information into my teaching. For example, from the questions that the students have asked me, I can infer that they do not see me as having a history; there have been only two questions about my childhood, one having to do with where I was born and the other having to do with my favourite video games when I was a child. I may have the students personalize a conversation and then have them imagine themselves as adults and how the conversation might change as a result. Thirdly, I am concerned with the attitude of the students towards the French language; I want to avoid their developing a negative attitude. Attitude is important in learning any subject. Fourthly, I have also gained an insight into the daily interests of some of the grade 6 students. For example, both Joseph and Draizen play PS-3 at home. Matthew Riley likes to play tag and help his foster father; he also likes to watch television, in particular CSI: New York. Emily likes to go horseback riding and play with her dogs and cats. As I indicated above, I have incorporated some of this knowledge into the game Bataille.

At a more philosophical level, the purpose of my asking questions is to link the everyday experiences (common-sense experience—something which Dewey emphasizes) of the students to the French language. That they are not learning “French” per se is not the point. The point is that they are learning that French, like English, is a way of communicating our experiences and lives in this world—a way of sharing our experiences—something which only human beings can do; human beings are social beings (one of the most constant experiences that people have in their lives is—other human beings). It is also to demystify the French (or, for that matter, any other language). The fact that all the students in the classroom already are capable of conversing in a language, and that fact is something which they share with all other human beings on this planet, needs to be recognized. It is a cultural issue. Being able to speak French is something similar to what they are already capable of doing—speaking a language. On the other hand, the fact that their experiences (and mine) can be expressed in another language is designed to decrease the distance between their lives and the French language, even if in terms of an attitude.

In addition to the use of questions, I have used other strategies to teach “reading across the curriculum.” There are certain techniques or strategies that are useful regardless of the language or subject. I have taken two full courses in reading strategies, one at the postbaccalaureate level and the other at the graduate level (one specifically for reading clinicians—which I thought of becoming at one point).

Pre-reading is a recognized strategy for the reading process. Looking at titles and pictures is a recognized pre-reading strategy.

Some students did use their inference skills to arrive at an understanding of the title. They also learned or practiced that the use of pictures can lead to a preliminary understanding about what the text is about. Perhaps the process could have been shortened somewhat, but learning a strategy requires time. Furthermore, it is appropriate to use part of the title, “L’arrivée,” to have them try to use their knowledge of the English language to come to a conclusion about the meaning of the “L’arrivée.” Another learning strategy for French is to use our own English background to learn more French. The English language does contain many French words.

I asked them how they knew (a bit of metacognitive recognition), and some indicated that they saw the pictures and guessed what it would be about.

In the second place, in addition to attempting to incorporate a declared goal of the Division of incorporating reading strategies into the lesson, I attempted to incorporate another strategy that is applicable across the curriculum: the method of inquiry.

From my dissertation:

Dewey defines inquiry thus: “Inquiry is the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate situation into one that is so determinate in its constituent distinctions and relations as to convert the elements of the original situation into a unified whole” (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, p. 108). An indeterminate situation arises objectively when the relation between people and their environment is undergoing change that disturbs the relation in some way. Dewey’s definition of inquiry implies that a problematic situation contains two essential elements that inquiry must address: an indeterminate situation and a disconnected situation. The situation requires both clarification and unification. It is this process of clarification and unification that constitutes the learning or educational process in general.”

The inquiry process was the process of inferring from the word “arrivée” what it might mean. The meaning had to make sense in the context of “L’arrivée au Camp Boisvert” and not just by itself. When one student said “arrived,” the context indicated that it did not make sense: “The arrived at Camp Boisvert.” So I pursued the issue until someone inferred that arrival made sense—meaning is, after all, what comprehension involves. Making sense (comprehension) is essential when learning a language (as it is when learning to read—that is why analysis of reading errors in such works as Jerry Johns’ Reading Inventory differentiates substitution errors, in part, as meaningful (they are substitutions which make sense in the context and indicate reading for meaning) from substitutions that do not make sense. Substitution errors that make sense are not counted as errors for the purpose of remediation since the reader is reading for meaning.

In addition to the idea of incorporating reading strategies and inquiry into the process of learning French, I have tried, undoubtedly in an experimental form, to incorporate the notion of “psychologizing the subject matter.” (See attachment). The students know how to speak English and use it evidently on a daily basis—and they also, implicitly, know many French words even though they do not explicitly realize it. I was trying to have them learn, implicitly, what they might already know, even if in a vague way (a technique used since Socrates and exemplified in Plato’s dialogues). This does not mean that they do actually use French words; however, they do use many words which are similar if not identical in spelling in both languages. Since the English equivalent is part of their everyday (psychological) experience, the focus on such words may lead them into a realization that they already know many French words.

Telling students that they know many similar words in French does not, in my experience, have much effect in actually having the students use such knowledge to develop their vocabulary; only those inclined to the use of deduction favour this method (that is how I expanded my French and Spanish vocabulary). When, however, they discover for themselves that such words are similar, the point may well be driven home more effectively.

Once we finished going over pages 4 and 5, we went over explicitly the words that are similar in English and French. They came up with about 30 words.

We may also have a competition between two or three teams to see who can come up with the maximum number of words similar in English and French.

Re: “Fred has resisted the notion that specific learning goals for students should be clarified and shared with students, but has begun to take some steps in this direction.”

I have no problem with the idea of specifying the learning goals—now that I understand that they often are a listing of what the students are expected to learn (in my terms, the means to an end). For most people, as I argue in my dissertation, it is the ends that are considered to be more important than the means by which those ends are realized. People need to learn to focus more on the means, not by focusing on them at the beginning, but indirectly, by coming to realize that the goal without the means is nothing but a chimera—a vague image or goal.

John Lennon, in his song, Beautiful Boy, sang something analogously: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” The idea is linked to the concept of the situated curriculum (see attached). Learning often occurs when you are busy doing other things. By creating a family tree, the students are learning to use the possessive adjectives (mon, ma and, in some cases, mes). They are not consciously doing that, but as they attempt to realize the vague goal (and it is vague because of a different environment—French—although it is not vague in relation to their native English language).

Re: “Fred has not indicated any significant understanding of either the importance of formative assessment [feedback by the teacher of a student’s learning, whether the feedback is verbal or written]  during a class, nor of how to effectively carry out the process. When I’ve questioned how Fred would know whether students are progressing effectively in their use of French, Fred has repeatedly referred to the subsequent use of summative assessments (at some future date) as indicating this progress.” [Summative assessments are marks or grades.] 

I certainly agree that my formative assessment skills can be honed—like any other skill. To claim, however, that I fail to understand the importance of formative assessment a complete lack of understanding of my position.

In the University Laboratory School (also known as the Dewey School), as far as I have been able to determine, there was nothing but formative assessment. This feature of the school caused some difficulties when the students were to prepare for college entrance, but provision was made for addressing the issue. Since the Dewey School was designed to be an experimental school, where hypotheses were formulated about the best conditions for learning, tested and modified, depending on the circumstances. Since no summative assessment was performed until the later years, and only then for the purpose of preparing the students for entry into college, it can be inferred that formative assessment was an ideal ground for learning.

Furthermore, the implied claim that I do not understand the importance of the present moment rather than the future misses entirely my position.

From my dissertation:

Dewey, by contrast, considers that the prehistoric pattern of mind still functions, though in modified form, in present conditions and that it has some positive attributes. One of the major positive attributes for Dewey is the capacity to focus on the present situation. For Dewey, the present is where the life process centers, and the past and future are relative to the living present. The past divorced from the present is dead, and the future divorced from the present is fantasy.1

Dewey gives the example of hunting in prehistoric times (1902/1976e). He outlines what differentiates it from other modes of living or acting. It is much less concerned with the mediation process or the objective side of the relationship between human beings and their environment. Its focus has more to do with the subjective side of the life process, and the subjective side, or the animate term of the life process, is always a living present. The concerns of prehistoric peoples are largely related to the personal side and not to the impersonal side of the life process. The rhythm of life is characterized by a tension that is personally felt; the stages of the life process focus on the personal at the expense of the objective. This mode of the life process is characterized by the drama, where superficiality in the treatment of phenomena is compensated by the degree of intensity of the emotions and the sharpness of attention in the use of the senses for the purpose of enhancing the personal side, such as increased acquisition and display of skills.

This personal aspect of the life process is preserved in the modern life process in the form of the “pursuit of truth, plot interest, business adventure and speculation, to all intense and active forms of amusement, to gambling and the `sporting life’” (1902/1976e, 45). Educationally, Dewey uses the hunting occupation as a model by which to criticize various theories and practices that purport to be educational but which violate the principle of the life process centering on the present and its potentialities and possibilities. In chapter five of Democracy and education (1916/1980a), for example, Dewey refers to education as preparation. This way of defining education is still prevalent in modern schools—preparation for obtaining a job, for further studies and so forth. The activity engaged in by the child is supposed to be useful in the future rather than functional now. Since the use of a structure is an integral part in the formation of the structure—function mediates structure—then the separation of the formation of the structure from its use in the vague future leads to ineffective and distorted structures that do not effectively contribute to the living present, either now or in the future.

Education needs to be preparation for confrontation of the present situation, which includes the past as relevant to the identification of the nature of the present problematic situation and to the future as the hypothesized solution to the present situation. The present, however, is still the focus since it is only the tension within the present life process that converts the past into something relevant or meaningful to the present, and the future potentialities of present conditions are likewise only meaningful in relation to the present life process:

Men are engaged neither in mechanical transposition of the conditions they have inherited, nor yet in simply preparing for something to come after. They have their own problems to solve; their own adaptations to make. They face the future, but for the sake of the present, not the future. In using what has come to them as an inheritance from the past they are compelled to modify it to meet their own needs, and this process creates a new present in which the process continues. (1938/1986, 238)

When the potentialities of the present situation are divorced from the formation of structures, then something external to the present must be attached to present behaviour—rewards and punishment. There is little wonder that Skinner’s concept of reinforcement, which focuses on the provision of an external reward having little to do with the activity, forms an essential component of the school system—the latter operates on an impoverished notion of education as preparation.

For Dewey, then, prehistoric life has something to teach us—the importance of the present as the locus for the relevance of the past and the future. Education is not preparation for some possible experience in the vague future. Freire’s philosophy, it is true, escapes some of the problems associated with defining education as preparation by incorporating some of the present problems of the peasants into the curriculum, but Freire’s abstraction from the life process a such prevents him from appreciating the positive aspect of prehistoric life and from incorporating those positive aspects into his educational philosophy and practice.

The Deweyan educational model incorporates the appreciation for the present living process whereas the Freirean model, though not excluding it, does not integrate it in the form of an appreciation of prehistoric life. Freire’s model, despite the emphasis on subjectivity, ironically, veers more towards the objective moment by treating prehistoric life as a stage to be overcome rather than a stage that is one-sided and that hence requires to be balanced by a more stable process of control of the objective conditions for human experience.”

On the other hand, I do recognize that there is often a sharp conflict between formative and summative assessment. Summative assessment is important at the public level, for other institutions, for example, as well as for scholarships; it is much more future oriented and divorced from present conditions. There is a conflict between the importance of formative assessment, which is designed for improving learning, and summative assessment, which is designed for other purposes. The different purposes easily come into conflict.

I am in total agreement with the administrator concerning the importance of formative assessment in the process of learning. Ideally, there should be nothing but formative assessment. [For a critique of grades, see the post   The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part One: Oppressive Educational Services. That post also contains a short description of a meeting between the principal, the superintendent Janet Martell,  and Mr. Stankeviciuse concerning the issue of formative versus summative assessment.] 

Re: “We discussed student engagement and classroom management. I pointed out that a large segment of the class seemed unengaged for much of the class – speaking inappropriately, getting up and moving about the class, braiding hair, etc. Fred characterized this as being due to their being “forced” to learn a second language, something that he believes is inappropriate, and to their own personal struggles in school, at home, etc. Some of the behaviours which concerned me as being very inappropriate – e.g. throwing a paper airplane, getting up and walking around others’ desks for no reason, using a pencil sharpener (which was very noisy, so that hearing the lesson was not possible) when no writing was taking place – Fred in turn did not believe were serious.”

The administrator, during our first postconference, claimed that the throwing of an airplane by one of the students constituted outrageous behaviour (that is the adjective that he used). I indicated during the discussion that we undoubtedly had different definitions of what outrageous means. I saw what the student did, and addressed the issue by minimizing disruption of the class.

To use the adjective “outrageous” for the act of throwing an airplane in class certainly put me on the defensive. I was wondering why the administrator would use such an adjective for this situation.

I would reserve the adjective “outrageous” to the probable living conditions of several students in that class. Although I have never been inside one of the houses of my students, I did drive one student (not mine), during one cold winter night in the winter of 2008-2009 to his house in the countryside (he knocked on the door and wanted to warm up a bit). Although the exterior of a house need not characterize the interior, if the former did indeed characterize the latter, then the living conditions of that student probably approached what I had experienced as a child.

Ashern Central School probably has a level of poverty comparable to schools in the inner city of Winnipeg ]Manitoa, Canada]. I also have experience with those schools in two ways. I substitute taught for a number of years in inner-city schools (I had been taking special education courses since 2001); Finally, when I was teaching two grade ten geography classes in French immersion at Oak Park High School in Charleswood (Winnipeg), one of my students set off a stink bomb in the class. The vice principal, who was responsible for discipline issues, warned the student and threatened that if he did anything else silly, he would oblige him to transfer to the class with fewer students, but his friends were in the class with more students.) A stink bomb is certainly more serious than throwing a paper airplane (it disrupted several classes since students could not study there for awhile.)

I did not find the throwing of a paper airplane to be outrageous behaviour; it was inappropriate, but it was hardly outrageous. I addressed the issue quietly and without disturbing the rest of the class.

I disagree with the administrator’s use of the phrase “large segment” (I would use “some”), some of the administrator’s observations concerning classroom management are valid and useful. When I study, I have the fan on—it helps me concentrate. I was not even aware of the sharpening of the pencil. I need to be more “with it,” to use an expression during my bachelor of education days. In fact, I used such an observation in my grade 7 French class recently to call into question the act of a student who got up and started to sharpen his pencil while I was giving instructions. There was no need to sharpen a pencil when he did so. I also need to be more consistent in my application of rules. I also did not notice that one of the students had not opened the booklet. I have tried to rectify the situation by being more “with it.”

I asked the teacher of this class last year about this class, and the teacher indicated that it was a very challenging class.

In addition, there was another teacher present while I was teaching this class. I have talked to this teacher at other times, and she has indicated that many students did listen much more to the classroom teacher than they did to her. This does not mean that they should not have listened to her; however, it is necessary to contextualize the behaviour of this class and realize that behavioural issues in this class have a past that extends beyond my French class both temporally and spatially.

Re: “I asked how Fred would know what students learned in this class. Fred responded that this would be evident in their quiz marks, or in other ways (unspecified). It was not clear to me what “French” would have been learned in this class, or how one would know whether any learning had taken place.”

I have answered this issue in relation to the reading strategy and the inquiry process. In terms of the reading strategy, I thought that the use of the inquiry process was appropriate. There is more to learn than just the subject matter.

1 Calore (1989) claims that Dewey’s theory, unlike those of Bergson, Mead and Whitehead, involves “ontological parity” between the past, present and future; unlike those philosophers, here is no ontological privileging of the present. Such an interpretation runs counter to the tenor of Dewey’s philosophy, where the past and the future are always functions of present living conditions.

Academic Narrow-mindedness: A Reason for Starting a Blog, Part Two

Introduction

This is a continuation of a previous post. In a previous post, I criticized the first reviewer’s assessment of an article I had written on collective bargaining and the situation of teachers in Nova Scotia.

Before I started this blog, I had sent an article critical of the implied concept of “free collective bargaining.” The article was rejected for publication. Given that the reasons for rejecting the article seemed absurd, I decided to skip the academic process and post directly my views. This seemed all the more necessary since the journal that rejected my article is called Critical Education.

Since I believe in the politics of exposure (exposing the real nature of social processes and not the rhetoric of such processes), I thought it would be appropriate to post my proposed article, the criticisms of my article by the reviewers and my commentary on their criticisms.

The proposed article is found in the Publications and Writings link on my blog, entitled “Critique of Collective Bargaining Models in Canada.” (There is a slight difference between the article submitted to Critical Education and the one found at the link: the article submitted to Critical Education contains an abstract, which I include below, and the title of the proposed article was changed to: “A Critique of an Implicit Model of Collective Bargaining: The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Strike and a Fair Contract.” 

My Abstract or Summary of My Article

Abstract

This paper looks at Brian Forbes’ presentation of the recent Nova Scotia teachers’ strike in order to analyze critically the nature of collective bargaining in a capitalist context. Forbes shows the underhanded nature of the McNeil government’s supposed negotiations, but he implies (like many trade unionists) that collective bargaining, in its normal form, results in a fair contract. The paper argues against this view. It does so in two ways. Firstly, it looks at Jane McAlevey’s alternative method of collective bargaining. Secondly, it looks at the limitations of her method in terms of the capitalist economic structure—especially as am exploitative and oppressive structure that transforms workers into means for others’ ends. A humanist view, by contrast, requires that human beings need to be treated as ends in themselves in a democratic fashion at work. Such a view, however, is rarely discussed precisely because the rhetoric of a fair (collective) contract in the context of the collective power of employers prevents such discussion from occurring.

Key words: teachers, collective bargaining, capitalism, exploitation, oppression, strikes, justice, fairness, Nova Scotia, Jane McAlevey

The decision to reject the article as is, as well as the second review are given below along with my comments on the second review. I put the reviewer’s evaluation in quotation marks:

We have reached a decision regarding your submission to Critical Education, “A Critique of an implicit model of collective bargaining: The Nova Scotia teachers’ strike and a fair contract”. Our decision is to: Decline submission.

Three external reviewers supplied reports (see below); I have also attached the file with the marginal comments of Reviewer C.

All three reviewers see potential in the manuscript and each recommends major revisions are necessary before the manuscript is ready for publication. The comments are the reviewers are quite detailed, but in short I believe it’s fair to say they all agreed that further theorizing and deepened/more sustained analysis of events are necessary.

I hope you find the feedback from the readers helpful as continue to work on this project.

Yours truly,

E Wayne Ross
Co-Editor, Critical Education
University of British Columbia
wayne.ross@ubc.ca

Reviewer B’s Assessment and My Comments

Reviewer B:

“This manuscript makes a convincing argument that there is no such thing as a good contract because in a capitalist economy, some portion of workers’ labor will, inevitably, be appropriated by capitalists.”

That is hardly what is argued in my article. The author is probably thinking of Marx’s theory of surplus value, in a capitalist economy, where the value produced by workers is greater than the value that they receive—necessarily–if the capitalist economy is to continue to exist.

How this reviewer concludes that I make a “convincing argument” of the inadequacy of a contract due to “some portion of workers’ labor will inevitably be appropriated by capitalists” is beyond me. I explicitly wrote: ‘Of course, the purpose of the whole process is to obtain more money at the end of the process than at the beginning. The whole process would have no purpose if the money that the capitalist receives at the end of the process were the same quantity as at the beginning of the process; the capitalist system would not last very long. The continued existence of the capitalist system, then, requires that the money at the end of the process, generally, be greater than at the beginning. Where the surplus money comes from does not concern us in this essay, though.’

I did not want to discuss Marx’s theory of surplus value as such since that theory, though very important in understanding the dynamics of capitalist production, exchange and accumulation, is not the only basis for criticizing the employer-employee relation. Employees of the government (state workers) do not produce a surplus value—but they are still used as means for purposes foreign to them (see The Money Circuit of Capital). This is anti-democratic and in fact dictatorial. It treats human beings as mere things who have no or little say in the determination of the purposes of their action as employees.

The point of the presentation of the money circuit of capital is to show that human beings are means to purposes external to them in order to criticize such use in the first place. It is implicitly a criticism of such union attitudes as expressed by John Urkevich, union rep for the Association of Employees Supporting Education Services (AESES) (see Comments from John Urkevich, AESES-UM Business Agent, to my Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994)–a public sector union. According to Mr. Urkevich: “After all the employer only has control over the how, what, and when, it does not have the right to treat employees in an unjust or undignified manner. Employees are not chattel.” See my criticism of such a view in ( Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994).

The reviewer obviously missed the point of presenting the money circuit of capital and imposed his/her own assumed view of Marxian theory onto the money circuit.

“That said, issues in the manuscript start with the title: labor relations in Nova Scotia are a pretext for the text rather than its subject, and the critique is not of an implicit model of collective bargaining but of collective bargaining itself.”

True and false. It is a critique of Brian Forbes’ implicit model of collective bargaining—which is the typical model of union reps (whether explicit or implicit). A critique of such an implicit model is simultaneously a critique of the typical model. Apparently, it is too much to expect academics to understand this.

Consequently, the first clause “labor relations in Nova Scotia are a pretext for the text rather than its subject” is true, but the next clause “and the critique is not of an implicit model of collective bargaining but of collective bargaining itself” is false since the implicit model is Brian Forbes’ model, which provides an exemplar for collective bargaining itself. Variations in collective bargaining, such as Jane McAlevey’s model, although innovative in some respects, still fall within the limits of the same collective-bargaining model since her model idealizes collective agreements as well. Furthermore, her wholly inadequate solution to the problem of agency and social structure by identifying the two at the micro level of the plant level or the specific institution level leads her to idealize such contracts rather than criticizing them as completely inadequate expressions of the interests of workers (even if it is the best that can be achieved under given power relations).

“Although the title is a minor problem, it returns in the abstract., which opens with a critique of the Nova Scotia contract rather than what it is a case  and then announces something like a review of McAlevey.  At a minimum, a clearer sense of, and focus on, what the manuscript is about–the limits of even more democratic forms of collective bargaining, with much of the evidence from the author’s own experience- needs to be clear throughout.”

Let us take a look at my abstract. It reads:

‘This paper looks at Brian Forbes’ presentation of the recent Nova Scotia teachers’ strike in order to analyze critically the nature of collective bargaining in a capitalist context. Forbes shows the underhanded nature of the McNeil government’s supposed negotiations, but he implies (like many trade unionists) that collective bargaining, in its normal form, results in a fair contract. The paper argues against this view. It does so in two ways. Firstly, it looks at Jane McAlevey’s alternative method of collective bargaining. Secondly, it looks at the limitations of her method in terms of the capitalist economic structure—especially as am exploitative and oppressive structure that transforms workers into means for others’ ends. A humanist view, by contrast, requires that human beings need to be treated as ends in themselves in a democratic fashion at work. Such a view, however, is rarely discussed precisely because the rhetoric of a fair (collective) contract in the context of the collective power of employers prevents such discussion from occurring.’

The structure of my proposed article is:

Introduction (not an explicit section with that title, but it is implied)

The Resistance of Teachers to the High-handed Methods of the McNeil Government and of the Provincial Executive

Jane McAlevey’s Alternative Approach to Collective Bargaining

The Limitations of McAlevey’s Approach to Collective Bargaining

Practical Considerations

Theoretical Considerations: Limited Standards of Fairness versus Human Standards of Fairness

Conclusion

I organized the presentation in an ascending order of forms of collective bargaining, from the least positive form of collective bargaining (the McNeil Government’s underhanded method of collective bargaining) to more adequate forms of collective bargaining (Brian Forbes’ implicit model, which is the typical model), to Jane McAlevey’s innovative model, in order to show, on the one hand, that there are indeed better and worse ways of engaging in collective bargaining from the point of view of the working class—but that collective bargaining even in the form of McAlevey’s model is wholly inadequate. The inadequacy of even McAlevey’s approach to collective bargaining is broken up into practical limitations and theoretical considerations. The practical considerations involved a comparison of a collective agreement under which I worked as a brewery worker in the early 1980s with the idealized collective agreement that Ms. McAlevey negotiated. Her persistent reference to the collective agreement as a “good contract” is typical of social-reformist leftists, and this is the implicit target of the article. The idealization of unions and collective bargaining needs to be criticized, and this reviewer generally fails to understand that.

As for my personal experiences—I intersperse them throughout the article as occasion and relevance arises. The underhanded way in which the McNeil Nova Scotia (located in Canada) government tried to subvert the traditional collective-bargaining process was similar to Winnipeg’s (Manitoba, Canada) mayor Susan Thompson attempt to subvert the traditional collective-bargaining process. My reference to Paul Moist, one time head of the Canadian Union of Public Employees union outside workers in Winnipeg (and, eventually, the national head of that union—one of the largest unions in Canada) d his use of the cliché “A contract is a contract” is meant to highlight how union reps assume that the basis for relations between humans must be in the form of a contract.

It never ceases to amaze me how little thought is given by academics (and others) about the legitimacy of the employer-employee relation. I have found, personally, that unions are necessary but by no means sufficient for expressing my own interests. I have belonged to several unions in my life, and all of them have assumed the legitimacy of that relation in one way or another. That academics fail, theoretically or practically (or both) to seek to go beyond such relations by creating all kinds of subterfuges should no longer be surprising, however. Most lack any burning desire to have exploitation really stop. They may pay lip-service to the abolition of exploitation, but their own practices (and often their own writings) belie such lip-service.

Is there really any wonder why I stopped trying to write for so-called peer-reviewed journals and started this blog? Often, for an article to be accepted it is necessary to alter substantially the content of an article to accord with the demands of the academic reviewers. There is no point in trying to please such reviewers—to do so is not in the interests of the working class. Quite to the contrary. Reviewers are unlikely to be concerned with such interests and thus to fail to understand the point of an article that addresses such needs. It is in the interests of the working class to oppose being used as means for the employers’ ends, but unions have no intention of pursuing such opposition. The limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements express the limitations of unions in relation to the working class, but it is highly unlikely that academic reviewers will understand that.

“The manuscript does a nice job analyzing elements of McAlevey’s argument and acknowledging the benefits of a more empowered rank and file, but at crucial junctures the manuscript was not persuasive. The author makes a brief and, in my view, inadequate case for the essential similarity of private and public sector workers. After rightly acknowledges that capitalism sets limits on the contract because pay has to be less than the value of what is produced,”

Again, this is an imposition of the reviewer’s reading on what I wrote. I specifically wrote the following:

‘If we ignore the exchange process, we have the following: M1 … P … M2. Here, it is clearly seen that the production process is a means for obtaining more money. Since workers are part of the production process, they too are means for obtaining more money—even if they are organized collectively and act militantly. Being used as a means so that others can obtain more money is not an expression of a just and moral society, where human beings are agents of their own social structures and relations. Rather, it expresses a society that treats human beings as things to be used for the benefit of others obtaining more money.’

The issue is the context of criticizing McAlevey’s claim that the relation between agency and structure is solved when the whole set of workers is organized—structure then melds into agency and agency into structure. The money circuit of capital shows that this is a wholly inadequate solution to the problem; agency must address the macro level if the workers are going to become agents of their own lives. The issue of whether the “pay has to be less than the value of what is produced” is not addressed at all. More money (M2) than M1 is characteristic of capitalist relations, but then so too is the use of workers as means to obtaining more money. The issue of exploitation is a related but separate issue. If, for example, M1 and M2 were the same, workers would still be used as means—but in this instance the employer would have no incentive to do so.

“the author then treats teachers as deserving unlimited resources.”

What nonsense. This reading illustrates once again the limited nature of academic reviews. Where did I imply that ‘teachers deserve’ “unlimited resources?”

“A much more developed theory and analysis of schooling in of the capitalist state is needed.”

I agree with this assertion. Two points can serve as a response. Firstly, peer-reviewed journals limit necessarily the extent to which authors can elaborate on certain points through a limitation on the number of words that an author can compose. In the case of the journal Critical Education,the limit: “Critical Education typically reviews manuscripts that are between 4,000 and 8,000 words in length.” To enter directly into the question of the “theory and analysis of schooling in the capitalist state” when the issue is the limitations of collective bargaining would be impossible.

Peer reviewers can thus use the impossibility of addressing all relevant issues as an excuse for criticizing what would be needed in a more well-rounded and fuller discussion.

Secondly, it is obvious that Marx’s theory of capital is the beginning of such an analysis and requires elaboration in relation to the specifically capitalist state. I mention taxes in relation to the capitalist state and imply that a further analysis of the capitalist state would benefit from a consideration of taxes. Jack Barbalet refers to the relevance of taxes, the state debt and finance capital for Marx’s theory of the capitalist state in his Marx’s Construction of Social Theory as does Ingo Stützle in Staatsverschuldung als Kategorie der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie. Eine Forschungsnotiz. However, I definitely do not have the theoretical background as yet (if ever) to discuss adequately the nature of the capitalist state and its relation to schooling.

Such work, as Hegel once pointed out, requires time, as a new theory or principle needs to be worked out in detail.

In any case, although it is true that, for a fully developed criticism of the capitalist state and schooling, it would be necessary to delve into and analyse the capitalist state and its relation to schooling, for the purposes of the essay, such a demand is absurd given the imposed limitations of the journal itself. 

“Moreover, the focus on class size (rather than, say, wages) suggests that teachers’ self-interest will inevitably align with children’s or public interest.”

This is absurd. I chose class size to illustrate—the limitations and inadequacy of collective bargaining in relation to the working conditions of teachers. Here is what I wrote:

‘In relation to teachers as employees, the purpose of a teacher’s work, just like the work of nurses and other public-sector workers, is not defined by those teachers. Teachers certainly can choose how they teach in many ways (pedagogy has come a long way), but there are many areas in their work that can be addressed only to a limited extent, if at all, at the level of collective bargaining. For example, the issue of class size can be and has been addressed at the level of collective bargaining. Can the results of collective bargaining over this issue adequately address the needs of increasingly diversified student populations?

It is useful to compare a fairly homogenous student population–the students in the Dewey School in Chicago between 1896 and 1904—with this situation. After three years of functioning, as an experimental school, the School had 125 students, with fifteen full-time staff and 16 assistants (the assistants’ hours varied from half an hour to three hours a day (Camp & Mayhew, 1936/1966). If we take the average number of hours of these assistants, based on the minimum and maximum number of hours they worked per day, they worked an average 1.75 hours per day (.5+3)/2=1.75). If we assume a work day of 5.25 hours per day, then roughly there were five full-time equivalent assistants per day. Consequently, there were 21 adults working with 125 students—an average of about six children per adult; class size was definitely limited. Has any collective agreement in Canada for public teachers come close to such a class size?

Rather than addressing the need to reduce class size to a level required to address adequately the needs of individual students, teachers are expected to differentiate instruction. Of course, trying to address the needs of 20 or 30 children or adolescents based on differentiated instruction increases the workload of teachers. If class size decreases to a limited extent due to collective bargaining, often enough, the workload increases in other areas in order to compensate for such a reduced class size.’

I compared the typical class size of teachers in public schools with the class size in the Dewey School, where the class size in relation to the number of adults was substantially lower. I pointed out that collective bargaining over class size has not been able to limit the class size to the extent found in the Dewey School. I imply that children’s learning needs require a relatively high adult-to-pupil ratio, but collective bargaining has never been able to address this issue adequately. That teachers are interested in class size and yet cannot address adequately that working condition within  the confines of collective bargaining provides an illustration of the limitations of collective bargaining.

By the way, the reviewer’s concept of “public interest” is pure abstraction—as if there were some independent public interest that can be identified independently of class relations.

“In this, the manuscript treats kids more or less like the hops in the beer the author made.”

This is not only absurd, but it is insulting. How do I treat kids “more or less like the hops in the beer the author made?” Where do I do this? I guess it is treating “kids more or less like the hops in the beer the author made” to imply that collective bargaining cannot address adequately a reduced class size—and that is one of the conditions that children require to learn adequately—not just “differentiated instruction.”

I did not bring the salaries or wages of teachers into the picture because I wanted to illustrate the limitations of collective bargaining. Teachers’ salaries are relatively high absolutely when compared to the salaries or wages of lower-level workers (I was earning, gross, around $85,000 a year), but what would have to at least be factored in is the number of hours that teachers actually work and not the number of hours they officially work. From my own experience, I know that teachers work much longer than the official number of hours. I used to get to school around 7:15 in the morning (classes started at 9:00). My lunch hour had students in the classroom while I ate. I often stayed until 4:30 or 5:00 in the afternoon and worked at home afterwards. The higher salaries reflect in part, the longer working day of teachers. Undoubtedly other factors may also partially explain the relatively higher salary of teachers , but the focus on salary would detract from the limitations of collective bargaining in relation to the working lives of teachers as teacher-employees.

“Or to put it slightly differently, one would not, I think, say that the police controlling all conditions of their work in the colonized communities of the poor is self-evidently good.  Teachers have often been among those advocating corporal punishment in schools and the removal of difficult children. Why does teachers’ control of their work equate with the greater good?”

Note how the reviewer now shifts to an isolationist or micro position in order to argue against worker control (including teacher control) of their work. My assumption was that in a socialist society worker control would extend across the public and private sectors; such a situation would prevent teachers from being used as mere means for purposes foreign to their own lives. Motivations for engaging in teaching would likely change, and advocacy for corporal punishment would likely diminish substantially. If the children in schools were adequately cared for, so-called “difficult children” would be diminished.

The reviewer tries to engage in moral superiority. Obviously, this reviewer claims to disagree with corporal punishment—in schools. What does the reviewer do in relation to the corporal punishment characterized by parents? S/he fails to mention this at all and the role courts have played in perpetuating the physical abuse of children (see my own personal experience in, for example, the following post  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and its Representatives, Part One) as well as the summary of some of the physical abuse experienced by my daughter by her mother in the second part under the same name–part two). S/he also fails to address the impact on the behaviour of adults towards children of a kind of society where there is a market for workers—and that includes teachers. S/he also fails to address the imposition of a modern curriculum at the elementary level that focuses on symbolic learning (reading and writing) at the expense of children’s active interest in the world around them (including social life). My reference to Dewey was hardly accidental; Dewey criticized severely the lack of consideration of the specificity of children and their existence as living beings in schools. The Dewey School was meant to address many of these inadequacies by focusing on the production and reproduction of the common needs of human beings from a geographical and historical angle—and the accompanying intellectual development that that entails.

As for the reference to the police–I hardly idealize the police (see my post Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One).

The reviewer’s implied concern for children may or may not be true, but to try to impose her/his own agenda without any real basis further weakens the objectivity of her/his own review.

If work were organized democratically, the work would also change. The concept of “difficult children” might well vanish.

Of course, under existing conditions, some teachers do advocate for corporal punishment and want to have difficult children removed from their class. And? The reviewer is trying to argue from a position where teachers lack control over their own working lives in general in conjunction with all other workers.

I hardly idealize the current social situation in the proposed article, nor do I idealize teachers. Quite to the contrary. In other articles that I have written, I have implied that teachers largely accept the curriculum as specified by departments of education and fail to criticize the content and structure of the curriculum (see some of my articles in the Publications and Writings link). Furthermore, having been the chair of the Equity and Social Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers Association, I tried to widen the issue to include the employer-employee relation as such (among other issues). I tried to generate discussion among the other chairs of Equity and Social Justice Committees, but the only response was an insult, where one chair called my views asinine since, according to him, I was claiming that teachers did not address social-justice issues in the classroom. Of course, I was trying to have the teachers redefine what was meant by social justice—a redefinition that would involve the wider issue of the kind of society in which we live and work. Other than that response, the chairs remained silent over what I wrote. I am well aware of the limitations of teachers’ points of view.

“One could answer this question in a number of ways; one way or another, it is a question that needs addressing.  If they had the freedom to do so, teachers, the author seems to suggest, would reject their role as part of the ideological state apparatus.  Why?”

Why would I want to address this issue in this article? Are there not many issues in the world that need to be addressed? I was not addressing the issue of “teachers” only since the freedom of control over our working lives is hardly limited to teachers, and the limitations of collective bargaining and the collective agreement are hardly limited to teacher unions.

“Similarly, the relationship of teachers’ workplace concerns to those of the working class as a whole.”

I was trying to address this issue indirectly by showing the inadequacy of collective bargaining in general. My reference to class-size and the inadequate way in which collective-bargaining addresses the issue points in this direction—but the reviewer, rather than recognizing this, accuses me of idealizing teachers. Such is the nature of reviewing and an underhanded way of rejecting articles that contradict the point of view of the reviewer,

“The author makes many points which seem to me valid: no doubt unions generally do not educate members and collective bargaining has its limits. I am not suggesting different conclusions in the essay. Rather, the stances the author takes need more development.”

My view is that, on the one hand, many of the the reviewer”s criticisms are invalid and, on the other, when her/his views are valid, s/he is asking for the impossible—to deal adequately with everything brought up would go far beyond the limits specified by the journal Critical Education. According to the journal: ‘Critical Education typically reviews manuscripts that are between 4,000 and 8,000 words in length.’

“On p. 14 the analysis of different pay scales was a bit confusing.”

Perhaps, but without further elaboration, it is impossible to determine why the reviewer believes that.

Conclusion

When a writer submits an article for possible publication, it is to be expected that revision will likely be necessary. There is, however, a difference between the need for revision and the requirement that the writer submit to the point of view and experiences of the reviewer.

I have had several articles published (see Publications and Writings section of this blog). I have had to revise each submission, and I have learned to accept this as a normal part of the publication of articles. However, I found the criticisms of the reviewers to go far beyond what the role of reviewers should be. As a consequence, I started this blog as a way of expressing my own point of view–without censorship.

Writing articles in peer-reviewed journals are inadequate for expressing issues of concern to the working class.

I will be posting, in the future, a final post concerning Reviewer C’s review of my submbitted article.

Much Educational Research Assumes the Legitimacy of the Current School Structure

When we read educational research, what is striking is how certain common assumptions run through such research. In particular, there is the assumption–hidden from view–that the curriculum or content and organization of studies taught at school–is sacred.

For example, in a short paper written by Jon Young and Brian O’Leary, “Public Funding for Education in Manitoba,” (August 31, 2017), and published by the social-reformist organization Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), they argue that we should not create a two-tier public school system, where some schools receive an unjustified amount of resources relative to other schools due, on the one hand, to increased expenses for field trips, the need for student ownership of computer technology and so forth and, on the other, to unequal funds arising through increased dependence on, for example, fundraising within economically unequal communities and unequal property taxes across school divisions. Differences in revenue from property taxes across school divisions can be as high as a 4 to 1 ratio per student.

One solution has been to shift funding from the local school board level to provincial and territorial funding (provinces and territories are the next largest administrative political unit in Canada) and coupling this with an equity formula to allow for different needs across. The problem with this solution is that it eliminates the democratic accountability that school boards provide by linking professional concerns in schools to the wider public interest, participation and accountability. Indeed, public schools presuppose democratic accountability (page 1):

 At the heart of this in Manitoba has been the commitment to public schooling as a public good – the belief that a strong public school system is the cornerstone of a democratic society that promotes well-being and citizenship for all – and not simply a private good, or commodity that can be differentially purchased by individual consumers. Everything flows from this. Public schooling as a public good involves the commitment to: public funding – that the full costs of public schooling are shared fairly across all sectors of society; public access and equity – that all students should have the opportunity to benefit fully from high quality schooling regardless of geographic location, local economic factors, or family circumstances; and, public participation and accountability – that decisions about public schooling are made in a democratic manner, which in Manitoba has meant a level of local autonomy, including taxing authority, for locally elected school boards.

Young and O’Leary then propose a compromise solution: 80 percent provincial funding and 20 percent funding from local property taxes; this combination would be linked to “a more robust provincial equalization formula” (page 3).

They then imply that this or any other model must involve focusing the expenditure of money on where it most matters: teaching and teachers. This view sounds progressive since school is supposed to exist for student learning: (page 3):

… that the most effective use of resources are those directed to the improvement
of teaching. This is echoed by the highly influential Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD) that concluded:

The quality of a school cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and principals…. PISA results show that among countries and economics whose per capita GDP is more that USD 20,000 high performing school systems tend to pay more to teachers relative to their national income per capita (OECD, 2013, p. 26)

Any discussion of money and funding need to be broadly cast as about resources and making resources matter – with teachers as our most valuable resource.

Teaching and pedagogy certainly matter in schools, but the authors are silent about the influence of the curriculum (the overt curriculum, or the structure or organization and content of studies) on student learning. This silence is typical of many discussions on schools and education.

Given that the modern Canadian history curriculum indoctrinates students by means of its silences concerning the nature and origin of the employer-employee relation (see the series, beginning with A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees), teachers can have all the resources they like, but it is unlikely that they will overcome such indoctrination since it is built into the school system.

Furthermore, the bias in the curriculum towards academics over vocational aspects of the curriculum follows the same pattern: it is built into the present curriculum. John Dewey long ago questioned the democratic nature of such a biased curriculum. From (Neil Hopkins (2018)., “Dewey, Democracy and Education, and the School Curriculum,” Education 3-13: International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education, Volume 46, number 4, pages 433-440), pages 437-438:

A critical area where Dewey’s Democracy and Education [Dewey’s main book on his philosophy of education] challenged contemporary assumptions on the curriculum was the idea that children and knowledge could be categorised as ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’. Such divisions have straitjacketed British education for the last 150 years, both institutionally (e.g. grammar and second modern schools; sixth-forms and FE colleges) and in terms of qualifications (e.g. O Level/CSE; A Level/BTEC). These divisions have often replicated class divisions within society-at-large to the extent that schools have often been seen as the nurseries of inequality and social injustice.

Dewey attacked the academic/vocational divide in terms of both knowledge and education. As a philosophical pragmatist, he was skeptical of purely abstract knowledge, stating that ‘the separation of “mind” from direct occupation with things throws emphasis on things at the expense of relations or connections’ (Dewey 2007, 109). These relations and connections are vital – once mind is separated from body, we lose the vital thread that ties ideas with standard notions of reality. Knowledge is an interaction of key concepts with the world as we know it. It is this sense of application and practicality that distinguishes Dewey’s work from some of his contemporaries. He was critical of

intellectualism [where] [p]ractice was not so much so much subordinated to knowledge as treated as a kind of tag-end or aftermath of knowledge. The educational result was only to confirm the exclusion of active pursuits  from school, save that they might be brought in for purely utilitarian ends – the acquisition by drill of certain habits. (Dewey 2007, 197)

This separation of intellect and practice, mind and body is often mirrored within the education system itself…

To this extent, education replicates and prepares children for the division of labour that exists within a capitalist society. This state of affairs deeply concerned Dewey in two ways. Firstly, as I have alluded to above, the partition of learning into academic and vocational gives a false depiction of how knowledge is conceptualised and transmitted. Secondly, the use of academic and vocational routes for students does not allow each to develop their faculties to the fullest extent.

This lack of critical distance from the present school system, with its biased curriculum structure,  is characteristic of much educational research. There are schools that have tried to overcome this bias. The University Laboratory School (also known as the Dewey School) in Chicago between 1896 and 1904. In this curriculum, the focus was on the common needs of most human beings for food, clothing and shelter throughout history. The children reproduced, intellectually, socially and on a miniature scale, different historical epochs (such as fishing, hunting, agriculture and industrial). Reading, writing and arithmetic were functions of the human life process and not the center of learning as they now are in elementary schools.

A more recent approach is Kingsholm Primary School in Gloucester, England (page 439):

Kingsholm Primary made a strategic decision to move from a subject-based to a thematic curriculum to meet the perceived needs of the pupils at the school. The curriculum has been envisaged as a set of interconnecting circles to incorporate aspects of the child’s world, specific themes/curriculum areas, the geographical location and what the school has termed ‘the wider curriculum’.

One particular theme that was concentrated on in the video was ‘Earth and Beyond’. This was a Year 5 and 6 project that uses the idea of space to explore different elements of the primary curriculum. The theme included transforming the learning environment itself alongside work on the creation of a space poem using ‘word stones’ and a collaborative dance interpreting the concept of space in the form of bodily movement (as well as other activities).

It has to be acknowledged that such examples already build upon the excellent work on themes and projects undertaken by schools throughout England. These examples offer interesting opportunities to challenge the academic/vocational divide in the school curriculum. It allows children to see and create the connections between different aspects of knowledge so that concepts and their application become concrete. As we have already seen, this dynamic between concept and application was important in Dewey’s theory of knowledge. However, such innovations are likely to be easier to undertake in Early Years and Key Stage 1 – the requirements of programmes of study in Key Stage 2 and beyond make such thematic work more challenging (although not necessarily impossible). It will be interesting to see if the development of academies and free schools that can operate outside the parameters of the National Curriculum will lead to radical curriculum experiments in primary and secondary schools. For Dewey, such curricular innovation needed to take [the] statement below as its starting point:

In just the degree in which connections are established between what happens to a person and what he [sic] does in response, and between what he does to his [sic] environment and what it does in response to him, his acts and the things about him acquire meaning. He learns to understand both himself [sic] and the world of men [sic] and things. (Dewey 2007, 202)

Not only do Young and O’Leary neglect the importance of the curriculum, they also neglect the importance of marks and competition between students as an aspect that generates inequality. This situation contrasts with a more democratic form of schooling, one that attempts to avoid competition among students by eliminating marks altogether. Again, there were no marks used to evaluate students in the University Laboratory School (the Dewey School). A more recent example is from the 1950s: St. George-in-the-
East Secondary Modern School in Stepney, East London, with a much more democratic school structure (page 436):

Alongside this democratic decision-making structure were what Fielding terms as ‘existential frameworks for democratic living’ (‘Our Pattern’). These include values and principles that underpin the work of the school. As part of ‘Our Pattern’, a far-reaching set of beliefs and attitudes were formulated within the school body:

No streaming/setting→heterogeneous, sometimes mixed-age grouping
No punishment→restorative response
No competition→emulation
No marks or prizes→communal recognition
(Taken from Fielding 2007, 550)

The idealization of the modern public school system, by neglecting  the divided curriculum and the fetish for marks and competition, is typical of social democrats and social reformers. The call for the expansion of public services (without inquiring into the nature and adequacy of such public services) is also typical of the social-democratic left.

This lack of critical distancing from modern social reality by the social-democratic left feeds into the emergence of the far right and strengthens the right in general. Many working-class adults have experienced the modern public school system as in many ways oppressive. The social-democratic left, by failing to acknowledge such experiences, aid in reproducing the oppression characterized by the academic/vocational divide and the oppression of the assignment and competition of marks.

Should not the radical left distance itself from modern oppressive social reality and critically expose such oppression and possible, more radical alternatives?

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

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Three: The Academic Versus the Practical

This is a continuation of earlier posts.

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to copy 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 author of the following article, “Valid Knowledge and the Problem of the Practical Arts Curricula,” argues that practical arts, such as manufacturing (shops), home economics and agriculture are treated as less valid forms of knowledge than the traditional academic forms of knowledge and the attendant skills (science, mathematics, language arts)  in schools and universities. The author traces the historical roots of this hierarchical characterization of knowledge to Plato, and such a hierarchy of knowledge was class based.

The author then queries how the opposition to the integration of practical arts into the school curriculum has been reduced in the U.K. while it has been accentuated in the U.S. The author argues that the emphasis on academic knowledge in the U.S. (and, it may be inferred, in Canada) at the expense of the practical arts has reflected the class structure by enabling streaming students into those classified as more intellectually capable students and those classified as less intellectually capable students. Such a school system perpetuates class divisions, inequality and the control of some (those who supposedly use primarily their body) by others (those who supposedly use primarily their minds).

Although the author provides a summary of the historical roots of the split between the academic and the practical in schools and universities, he does not adequately explore the opposition of the integration of the practical arts into schools because of the fear of those who opposed turning schools into mere functions of the demands of particular sectors of employers.  Furthermore, he does not adequately address theoretically why Dewey considered manual skills as essential learning tools in schools and how his theory was materialized in practice in the Dewey School (or the University Laboratory School , as it was officially named).

Those who believe that equity and social justice can be confined to their particular classroom merely have to consider the relationship between the practical arts and the curriculum that they teach in their classrooms—and the curriculum taught by their fellow colleagues in the school where they work and in the schools of the division for whom they work. Are those students whose parents are in the lower socio-economic  ranks doing as well, in school terms, as those students whose parents are in the higher socio-economic ranks?

 

Fred

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part One: The Academic and Vocational Divide in Schools

This is the first of a long series of posts of summaries of articles, mainly on education. 

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 author of the following article “Intelligence, Knowledge, and the Hand/Brain Divide,” (Mike Rose) argues that, despite some advances in curriculum in the past century, the academic/vocational divide in the curriculum—and among students—still prevails in the modern school system. This problem is wider than the school system, however. It expresses the bias towards defining intelligence as equivalent to academic excellence rather than a way of acting that occurs in daily life and which is expressed in blue-collar and service work, such as waitressing.

The author shows how vocational education in schools, originally, had to become isolated if it were to survive and not be dominated by those who defined good schools exclusively in terms of academic subjects. However, this isolation led to streaming of children of working-class parents, parents of colour and immigrant parents into vocational education and the implicit (and often explicit) treatment of such children as unintelligent and, at the same time, the implicit (and often explicit) treatment of students in the academic stream as exclusively intelligent.

This treatment of students who enter the vocational stream as unintelligent has often been incorporated into vocational programs as cognitive requirements have been diluted. Similarly, students in the vocational stream, although they often express contempt for the academic stream, themselves internalize the academic definition of intelligence and consider themselves to be unintelligent.

The author notes that, at least in the United States, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education and Applied Technology Act of 1990, coupled with the complementary School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994, proposed the integration of academic and vocational subjects. The author notes how one school linked a course on chemistry with a course on graphic arts, and others have effectively linked vocational and academic courses in terms of an occupational theme—the latter reminiscent of Dewey’s use of occupational themes to integrate the curriculum in the Dewey School (or the University Laboratory School as it was officially named).

However, the author also points out that, in general, these two Acts have really only resulted in the external addition of a few academic requirements rather than any real efforts at integration and parity of the academic and the vocational.

The modern school system, therefore, is still class-based and racist more often than not—hardly conducive to a democratic social order.

Should those concerned with equity and social justice issues be concerned about this situation?

Fred