Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Four

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 critical articles, 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.”

Hello everyone,
 
Attached is another article sent to the ESJ Ning (but not published–the file is greater than the 3 Mb allowed on the Ning).  It is in a binder in the staff lounge.
 
I prefaced the article with the following:
 
The authors of the following article, “The Intelligent Method of Learning,” (Alireza Moula, Simin Mohseni, Bengt Starrin, Hans Âke Scherp,
& Antony J. Puddephatt) argue that higher cognitive functions unique to human beings are, physiologically, located in the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobes. The prefrontal cortex covers about 1/3 of the surface area of the cortex for human beings whereas it covers 1/10 for gorillas. The prefrontal cortex provides the biological basis for the emergence of reflection, choice and intelligence.

The authors argue that the function of the prefrontal cortex is to adapt capacities and environment to each other—to act intelligently, or to coordinate means and ends until they form a unity. Such a view of the intelligence is consistent with the pragmatic view of the nature of intelligence (as exemplified in John Dewey’s theories, for example) as the development of a structure with a determinant function that can be learned. Through the development of intelligence (the capacity to adapt ends and means to each other and capacities to environmental conditions), more increasingly complex ends can be realized. Goal-directed behaviour on an increasingly complex level is made possible through the capacity to organize behaviour over time in a flexible manner through memory and attention systems that enable humans to self-monitor immediate acts in relation to the past actions and possible future actions. The prefrontal cortex permits the emergence of such executive functions through conscious reasoning and awareness.

The authors then describe two different kinds of schools. One school is authoritarian and relies on predefined outcomes, planned units and regular tests. The other is driven by problem solving, social solutions to problems and critical reflection by the students; both affective and cognitive aspects are emphasized in such schools.

One problem with the authors’ attempt to link the prefrontal cortex with Dewey’s view of intelligence is that Dewey considered the use of the body (via the basic occupations linked to the common social needs of human beings for food, clothing and shelter) to be essential to the development of intelligence. Problem solving first and foremost emerges as a function of the human life process in the environment through the use of the body (and not just the brain as a surrogate for the body). Indeed, for Dewey, the brain’s function was to integrate the sensory and motor functions of the body and in no way functioned as separate from such integration.

Another problem is that conscious reasoning and awareness, for Dewey, is intermediary; learning involves conscious attention in the context of a problematic situation that requires resolution, but such learning eventually becomes habitual. Conscious attention gives way to habit so that individuals’ consciousness can be focused on other aspects of the environment that require focus to handle increasingly complex problems and the formulation of increasingly complex ends.

Nevertheless, the authors of the article do broach an issue that requires serious consideration by educators concerned with equity and social justice: how to enable children and adolescents to adapt their capacities to the environment and to adapt the environment to their capacities. In other words, educators need to question whether, in the modern school system, the relationship between the executive function of the brain and the adaptive functions of the body assumes a class form as a distinction between “academic” intelligence and “practical”—unintelligence, with class divisions being a consequence.
 
Fred

Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part Two

This is the continuation of a post that reviews Jane McAlevey’s latest book entitled A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy. 

In the last post, I showed that Ms. McAlevey exaggerates the extent to which strikes and collective bargaining can offset the power imbalance between the class of employers and the working class. In this post, I will show that Ms. McAlevey’s point of view is definitely social democratic or social reformist.

She writes the following in her book:

There’s nothing neutral about suicide nets; there’s nothing inevitable about creating a greater climate crisis by offshoring jobs so ships bigger than small towns cross oceans, killing the ecosystem and creating a need for more fuel; there’s nothing comforting about creating millions of close-to-slavery working conditions in faraway lands that Americans can’t see when they happily upgrade to the latest phone. We don’t need robots to care for the aging population. We need the rich to pay their taxes. We need unions to level the power of corporations.

This call for corporations to pay taxes–certainly, corporations should be forced to pay more taxes, but the implication here is that if corporations did pay more taxes, there would be a fair system. I will criticize this social-democratic view in another post, where I will criticize the Canadian social-democratic call for corporations to pay their “fair share” of taxes? Corporations need to be taken over by workers if they are to control their own lives since corporations form part of the economic structure that expresses a kind of economy where workers are controlled by their own products rather than the workers controlling their own products.

In the quotation above,there is a further problem that illustrates Ms. McAlevey’s social-democratic approach. She refers to the need for “unions [in order] to level the power of corporations.” How does the existence of unions “level the power of corporations?” To conclude this is to exaggerate the capacity of unions to challenge the employers as a class. The unions in the 1930s did not “level the power of corporations.” Ms. McAlevey provides no evidence that they did. They limited the power of corporations, but it is bullshit to say that unions have or can level the power of corporations. Such a view ignores the power of employers to dictate what to produce, how to produce, when to produce and so forth. I worked in several unionized environments, both private and public, and I failed each time to see how unions even approached the power necessary to “level the power of corporations.

As I showed in my review of Ms. McAlevey,’s  earlier book, No Short Cuts: Prganizing for Power in the New Gilded Age (found in the Publications and Writings section of this blog), Ms. McAlevey claims incorrectly that, when workers organize at the firm level, there is no difference between structural power and the power of agents. She confuses the micro level of organizing with the macro level of the capitalist economy as a whole. In her most recent book, she ignores altogether the difference and merely assumes what she needs to prove: that organized workers at the level of the firm or corporation somehow magically control their own lives and are equal in power to corporations.

Ms. McAlevey’s view concerning unions and their supposed power to level the playing field merely echos Canadian liberal sentiments, such as expressed in the work Reconcilable Differences: New Directions in Canadian Labour Law, by Paul Weiler (1980).

Furthermore, as a number of posts have shown (see for example Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia), the management rights clause in collective agreements provides management, as the representatives of employers, with wide powers; collective agreements do not question such power but only limit it. Even when a collective agreement does not have an explicit management rights clause, arbitration boards have indicated that there is an implicit management rights clause. Ms. McAlevey conveniently ignores such facts and thereby idealizes the power of unions, the power of collective bargaining and the power of collective agreements.

In another post, I pointed out how, in the context of health and safety, one union representative admitted the limited power of unions (see Confessions of a Union Representative Concerning the Real Power of Employers).

Ms. McAlevey’s confusion of the micro and the macro extends to her exaggerated claims concerning the extent to which workers gain from strikes directed against a particular employer. She often uses the term “big” when referring to wins by workers and unions. From the introduction:

Chapter 1 discusses three such examples of women winning big.

To win big, we have to follow the methods of spending very little time engaging with people who already agree, and devote most of our time to the harder work of helping people who do not agree come to understand who is really to blame for the pain in their lives. Pulling off a big, successful strike means talking to everyone, working through hard conversations, over and over, until everyone agrees. All-out strikes then produce something else desperately needed today: clarity about the two sides of any issue. Big strikes are political education, bigly.

It is certainly an innovation to focus on winning over those who disagree with us–the left often are a clique that simply address themselves. However, this constant reference to winning big hides the fact that even more important and wider successes are considered big wins rather than skirmishes that should lead towards the overthrow of corporate power. Divorced from such a movement, they can hardly be considered “big wins.” Only those who have faith in the legitimacy of the collective bargaining system to produce fair results could use such a term as “big.”

Nowhere does Ms. McAlevey question corporate power as such but assumes its legitimacy.

Just as Ms. McAlevey confuses power at the micro level with power at the macro level in relation to unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements, she confuses the levels of power when it comes to identifying problems related to the environment. She writes:

There’s plenty of money to make a Green New Deal happen. Investigative journalist Christian Parenti has recently pointed out that corporations are currently sitting on $4.8 trillion in cash—a subset of $22.1 trillion they hoard. That money could be used to quickly transition the economy to a robust unionized green economy, one that can reproduce a dignified quality of life for workers of the future and end the destructive jobs-versus-the-environment debate. But to access that money, it takes real power and know-how—the kind of authority that unions in New York still have, along with a few other major states. To rebuild union power elsewhere, the environmental movement will have to stand up and fight alongside them—really fight, not just talk about green jobs. That means actively throwing their support behind workers’ right to strike and actively backing workers. That kind of organizing and the power it builds will be necessary to raise taxes on the rich (versus just talking about it) [my emphasis] and make progress on shifting federal subsidies away from fossil fuels and toward a safe, resilient economy that works for humans and our planet.

Just as the British Labour Party, in its Manifesto It’s Time for Real Change, jumps on the bandwagon of climate change, so too does Ms. McAlevey. The view that climate change will be solved on the continued basis of the existence of a class of employers–a capitalist basis–by only making the rich pay more taxes is typical of social democrats these days (for my criticism of such a view, see The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One).

Ms. McAlvey’s social-democratic position finds expression as well in her idealization of other capitalist countries:

There is a third option: the kind of income supports that come with the social democratic policies found throughout much of Western Europe. This would allow greater labor-force participation by both parents, but it would require radical changes to the fabric of our economy. In Sweden, people have generous paid parental leave—two back-to-back years, one for each parent—so that each baby born has a parent as its primary full-time caregiver for the first two years of life. When this parental leave is exhausted, Swedish toddlers enter a nationalized child-care system that is essentially free: paid for with a fairer taxation system that levels the playing field for children’s opportunity and success from birth forward.

The idealization of Sweden and other Scandinavian countries is another ploy used by social democrats to prop up their own reformist tendencies.

Let us look for a moment at Sweden. The consensus between employers and unions started to break down in the 1980s, and accelerated during the 1990s, when there was an economic crisis. (From “Education and Inequality in Sweden: A Literature Review,”
Carl le Grand, Ryszard Szulkin and Michael Tåhlin; in Editors: Rita Asplund and Erling Barth, Education and Wage Inequality in Europe: A Literature Review, 2005, page 355):

However, since the beginning of the 1980s, the consensus around the
solidarity wage policy has been undermined. The national federation of
employers has adopted new policies aiming at wage determination at the
firm level, while the attitudes among the trade unions have been mixed.
This new situation has resulted in a decentralisation of wage negotiations, giving more space for local agreements. Hence, the scope for variation in earnings, both between and within groups, has increased markedly in Sweden during the last decades.

The increase in within-group inequality is connected to two developments
in the Swedish labour market that have important policy implications. First,
the gender wage gap has been stable in the last two decades although the
gender differences in years of experience have diminished markedly. This
lack of improvements in the gender wage differentials is closely related to the
fact that the returns to education have decreased for women in relation to
those for men. Thus, the trend towards increased within-group wage inequality
seems to be to the disadvantage of women in Sweden. …

Second, the relative wages for public sector employees have fallen drastically
in the last decades. This development is closely related to a decrease
in the returns to education for public sector employees in relation to those
for private sector workers. This trend is, of course, related to the first
trend, as women dominate strongly in the public sector. Reasonably, the
main explanation for the rise of earnings inequality between public and
private sector employees is the increasing financial problem of the public
sector, as well as the decentralisation of the wage-setting processes that has
taken place in Sweden since the first half of the 1980s.

Changes in the labour market were followed by changed in education in the 1990s, characterized by a shift in governmental policy towards management by objectives–including education. (From Anne Berg  and Samuel Edquist, 2017, The Capitalist State and the Construction of Civil Society: Public Funding and the Regulation of Popular Education in Sweden, 1870–1991 , page 173):

However, as a consequence of the turmoil surrounding the oil crisis in 1973, the digital revolution, and the rise of finance capitalism and global outsourcing, many classic Swedish industries, such as shipbuilding and clothing manufacturing, started to go out of business. Unemployment rates rose and consumption stagnated. Sweden
managed to hold off the worst consequences of the crisis, but the path towards a change in policy and governance had been set. The reform of 1991 was part of a general shift in government policy from traditional rule by guidelines and directives to management by objectives. It followed a broader trend of reforms inspired by neo-liberalism, which called for decentralisation and marketisation of welfare services: education, health care and social security. The neo-liberal ideology had gathered strength in the 1980s, encompassing all the major political parties including the Social Democrats. The neo-liberal programme was set out to solve the problem of how to manage society and the bureaucratic system of government while saving resources. The market, not government, was to handle issues such as social security and education.13 In 1988, there was a decision in principle to implement management by objectives and results throughout the Swedish government apparatus. Soon, such a reform was decided on for the compulsory and upper secondary school system, combined with a move to decentralisation, both of which were to be particularly important for the subsequent changes in popular education policy.14 Interestingly, this policy change, mainly intended to make public administration more efficient, was also suggested for the administration of popular
education and its grant system. Goal-oriented management was seen at the government level as a way of safeguarding and strengthening the independence of popular education.

According to management by objectives, education can be taught according to discrete objectives that are then somehow magically integrated. I will critique in a future post management by objectives (outcome-based education, or OBE) via a critique of several articles of a former professor of mine (Robert Renaud) concerning Bloom’s taxonomy, which forms a ground for outcome-based education. (From Qin Liu (2015), Outcomes Based Education Initiatives in Ontario Postsecondary Education: Case Studies, page 7):

OBE’s precursors can be found in the earlier objectives movement, as represented by Tyler’s (1949) Basic Principles of Curriculum and Design, Bloom’s (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, and Mager’s 1962) Preparing Instructional Objectives, as well as in mastery learning (Block, 1971; Gusky, 1985), criterionbased assessment (Masters & Evans, 1986) and competency-based education (France, 1978). From these sources, it becomes apparent that OBE stemmed from and is rooted in efforts to address pedagogical concerns.

The idea that Sweden “levels the playing field for children’s opportunity and success from birth forward” is a myth.

Furthermore, I will, in a future post, criticize the idea that there is such a thing as “a fairer taxation system that levels the playing field for children’s opportunity and success from birth forward” in relation to schools. This idea of “leveling the playing field” is pure rhetoric, and presents a completely false picture of the decidedly uneven playing field characteristic of a society dominated by a class of employers–whether unionized or not.

I will also further argue that even if equal opportunity did exist, it would not change the hierarchical nature of the division of labour and the class structure since competition between workers, inheritance laws and the hierarchical ownership of the conditions of lives would be recreated as workers competed (with some losing and others gaining in the process–thereby merely mirroring the present class structure).

I started out, in the first post, by quoting Sam Gindin, with Mr. Gindin pointing out how popular Ms. McAlevey is these days. Her popularity is undoubtedly due in part to her own innovations in organizing. It is, however, also due to her exaggerated claims concerning the efficacy of her own approach to collective bargaining in eliminating power, wealth and income differentials between the class of employers and the working class.

In the next post, I will refer to how the president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)–a social-democratic organization of unions federated to it and representing more than three millions Canadian workers– idealizes collective bargaining–like Ms. McAlevey.

 

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

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

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

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

I and others on the Substitute Teachers’ Committee created a survey for substitute teachers and used the results of such a survey to criticize the policy of the WTA of permitting only permanent teachers the right to apply for permanent positions (substitute teachers paid association dues and consisted of usually 700-900 paying members of around 4000 members, but they did not have the right to apply for permanent positions).

 

For October 2007 newsletter

In the last letter to the editor, it was pointed out that education unites the end (as an ideal) with the means, and the means with the end (as actual result). The question that needs to be posed is what the implications for such a view of the nature of education are. Human beings are, by nature, more concerned with the ends as final result than with the means required to reach the end. This assertion has its basis in the biological nature of humans as living beings. Unlike inanimate beings, all living beings, as living beings, require to maintain their existence through action on the environment. Their own nature is to seek to maintain themselves as living beings through such action. The end of their action is the maintenance of life, and in that sense human nature, as a part of the living process, is no different.

If human beings naturally focus more on ends than means, then the education process must shift children’s focus to the means required to achieve ends as well as providing conditions for children to learn how to coordinate the ends and means in conjugate relation with each other. The education process should begin with the ends of children, but should end with the children being capable of coordinating ends and means in an increasingly broader and more profound manner. The question that must be asked

In elementary schools, does the learning process begin with the ends of children and gradually shift focus to the means necessary to achieve specific ends? Is the curriculum designed to achieve the harmony between, on the one hand, the nature of children as beings who focus mainly on the ends of activities and the requirements of the subject matter, which are primarily means?

In secondary schools, with a greater focus on specialized studies, have the curriculum designers consciously incorporated into the structure of the curriculum provisions for enabling children, for a time, to consider consciously and willingly the study of specialized studies as ends in themselves? Do children, subsequently, learn to coordinate the learning of the specialized studies (which are refined forms of the experiences of human beings and constitute more generalized means for the achievement of diverse ends) with their own ends?

Can teachers, who are responsible for pedagogical execution, engage in education effectively if the curriculum structure prevents a shift from ends to means and then to their coordination? In other words, are pedagogical methods (such as differentiated instruction) sufficiently powerful to compensate for a curriculum structure that fails to address the necessary connection between means and ends?

Fred Harris, substitute teacher

The following appeared in the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association newsletter to explain how the survey of the substitute teachers was constructed:

Draft Results of Survey Held at General Meeting of Substitute Teachers, October 11 General Meeting and Survey

On October 11 a general meeting of substitute teachers was held to elect representatives to the Council. At the time of elections, there were 33 eligible voters, including myself.

At the meeting, the substitute teachers present were asked to fill out a survey proposed by the Substitute Teachers Committee and approved by the executive; 91 percent of those who could vote did fill out the survey—an excellent response rate.

Structure of the Survey

The survey was divided into four sections, with the fourth section asking whether the substitute teacher is retired or not. I therefore will present the general results in two ways: percentages in terms of those substitute teachers who are not retired for the first three sections and percentages in terms of those who are retired for the final section. I will begin with substitute teachers who are not retired.

First Section of Survey: How Long Substitutes Have Been Substituting

The first section refers to the period of time for substitute teaching. Forty-six percent of substitute teachers are short-term (0-3 years); 19 percent are mid-term (4-9 years); and 35 percent are long-term substitute teachers (10+ years).

This last statistic should give us pause for thought. Substitute teaching may have become a career for one-third of substitute teachers.

It may be said that these statistics are skewed. They undoubtedly are. To overcome such bias, it would be necessary to have a list of all substitute teachers in the WTA, either to survey them all or to survey substitute teachers on a random basis.

Second Section: Priorities of Substitute Teachers and Possible Problems

The second section of the survey looks at possible areas of concern to substitute teachers, and each has a rating of 1 for least important and 10 for most important. In this report, I will focus only on what the substitute teachers considered to be the three most important concerns, with the distribution as follows:

The number one concern of substitute teachers is the lack of a right to apply for posted positions, followed by salary and benefits.

Given that the lack of a right to apply for posted positions is the number one concern of substitute teachers, and given that the policy of the WTA is to uphold the Division’s policy of prohibiting substitute teachers and term teachers from being considered for permanent hire on the grounds that permitting substitute teachers access to job postings would decrease mobility among permanent contract teachers, then there is a potential conflict between the interests of substitute teachers and permanent contract teachers within the WTA. Some may say that such a view that recognizes a possible conflict of interest between two different sets of members is divisive. However, as the philosopher of education, John Dewey, pointed out, it is necessary to make explicit conflicts if we are to solve them. Human beings in this society are commodities, things to be bought and sold. There is competition among workers in such a situation. To the extent that there are a limited number of permanent contract positions relative to the supply of teachers, then there will be competition, and that competition may lead to conflict among workers, unless there is a mechanism that regulates and reduces that competition in some fashion.

If substitute teachers want to have access to job postings, and the WTA policy is to exclude them from such access, is there not a conflict? If there is a conflict, what is to be done about it?

Third Section: Economic Importance of Substitute Teaching for Substitutes

The third and last section refers to the extent to which substitute teaching is economically important to the substitute teachers. Fifty percent of them rely primarily on substitute teaching within the Division for their economic livelihood. Sixty-five percent of the substitute teachers primarily rely on substitute teaching, term teaching or a combination of the two within the WSD. In other words, about two-thirds mainly rely economically on employment with WSD.

Fourth Section: Retired Teachers as Substitute Teachers

For retired teachers, there is no pattern for sections one and three, perhaps due to the very small sample size. For section two, their top priority is benefits, followed by the lack of a right to apply for positions (with the qualification that 50 percent of the retired substitute teachers indicated their solidarity with non-retired substitute teachers and not for themselves).

In addition, I drafted the substitute teachers’ concerns to the Council (a monthly meeting of school representatives and the executive of the WTA):

Draft Report of Fred Harris, Chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee, to Council, October 16 [2007]

On October 11, last Thursday, a general meeting of substitute teachers was held to elect representatives to this Council. At the time of elections, there were 33 eligible voters, including myself. Dave provided an overview of how Council works before the elections. Two people were elected to Council, Linda Kirkwood and Fred Standil. After the elections, Dave addressed some of the possible concerns that I had raised, and Henry followed by some of my other concerns. The question period that followed was very lively, especially around the issue of why the Division has implemented a policy of forcing substitute teachers to provide a reason why they are refusing jobs and stopping the computer system from calling them after three or four refusals.

At the meeting, the substitute teachers present were asked to fill out a survey proposed by the Substitute Teachers Committee and approved by the executive; 91 percent of those who could vote did fill out the survey.

I will divide my report of the survey in two: firstly, I will provide an overview of the results of the survey using descriptive statistics, not inferential statistics. Inferential statistics might be useful, but the sample size may be too small. Secondly, I will comment on the number of substitute teachers who attended.

The survey was divided into four sections, with the fourth section asking whether the substitute teacher is retired or not. I therefore will present the general results in two ways: those substitute teachers who are not retired and those who are retired. I will begin with substitute teachers who are not retired.

The first section refers to the period of time for substitute teaching. The percentage of non-retired substitute teachers who have substituted without a permanent contract for 0 to 3 years is 43 percent, for 4-6 years, 17 percent, for 7-9 years, 3 percent, for 10-12 years, 17 percent and 13 years or more, 17 percent. We can streamline this a bit by providing three categories: 43 percent of substitute teachers are short-term (0-3 years); 20 percent are mid-term (4-9 years); and 34 percent are long-term substitute teachers (10+ years).

This last statistic should give us pause for thought. Substitute teaching may have become a career for one-third of substitute teachers.

It may be said that these statistics are skewed. They undoubtedly are. To overcome such bias, it would be necessary to have a list of all substitute teachers in the WTA, either to survey them all or to survey substitute teachers on a random basis, with a smaller sample size than the total number of substitute teachers but with a larger sample size than the 30 responses that we obtained.

The second section of the survey looks at possible areas of concern to substitute teachers, and each has a rating of 1 for least important and 10 for most important. In this report, I will focus only on what the substitute teachers considered to be the most important concerns in five cases, with the distribution as follows:

The number one concern of substitute teachers is the lack of a right to apply for posted positions, followed by salary and benefits, and two further priorities: firstly, cancellation of a position when arriving at school and, secondly, the extent to which there is a lack of information, clarity or support concerning disciplinary procedures within schools for disruptive student behaviour.

Given that the lack of a right to apply for posted positions is the number one concern of substitute teachers, and given that the policy of the WTA is to uphold the Division’s policy of prohibiting substitute teachers and term teachers from being considered for permanent hire on the grounds that permitting substitute teachers access to job postings would decrease mobility among permanent contract teachers, then there is a potential conflict between the interests of substitute teachers and permanent contract teachers within the WTA. Some may say that such a view that recognizes a possible conflict of interest between two different sets of members is divisive. However, as the philosopher of education, John Dewey, pointed out, it is necessary to make explicit conflicts if we are to solve them. Human beings in this society are commodities, things to be bought and sold. There is competition among workers in such a situation. To the extent that there are a limited number of permanent contract positions relative to the supply of teachers, then there will be competition, and that competition may lead to conflict among workers, unless there is a mechanism that regulates and reduces that competition in some fashion.

If substitute teachers want to have access to job postings, and the WTA policy is to exclude them from such access, is there not a conflict? If there is a conflict, what is to be done about it?

The third and last section, which refers to the extent to which substitute teaching is economically important to the substitute teachers, presented a few problems. My intent was to have the substitute teachers check off one, and only one, choice. Six of the replies contain more than one check mark. Rather than excluding them, I have attempted to categorize them into only one of the categories, according to my interpretation of the intent of their answer.

Sixty-five percent of the substitute teachers primarily rely on substitute teaching, term teaching or a combination of the two within the WSD. In other words, about two-thirds mainly rely economically on employment with WSD. Furthermore, fifty percent of them rely primarily on substitute teaching for their economic livelihood.

For retired teachers, there is no pattern for sections one and three, perhaps due to the very small sample size. For section two, their top priority is benefits, followed by the lack of a right to apply for positions (with the qualification that 50 percent of the retired substitute teachers indicated their solidarity with non-retired substitute teachers and not for themselves) and, finally, the extent to which there is a lack of information, clarity or support concerning disciplinary procedures within schools for disruptive student behaviour

Turning now to the number of substitute teachers who attended the meeting, as I said, there were 33 eligible voters, but this number is about five percent of the substitute teachers on the substitute list in the Division.

One undoubted factor in limiting the number of substitute teachers who attended was a lack of a list of substitute teachers. Last year, however, at about this time, about 80 substitute teachers attended the general meeting. A drop of about 100 percent in the attendance of substitute teachers cannot be explained by a lack of a list of substitute teachers since there was no list available to the Substitute Teachers’ Committee last year either. Furthermore, in other organizations—such as unions—where there exists a current list of all members, attendance at union meetings frequently is only 10 percent of the number of members.

It may be said that the substitute teachers—or other union members—freely chose to not attend. They individually chose to not attend. Ultimately, it is an individual decision, for it is not an abstraction called an organization or society that decides, but a group of individuals.

I use the word “ultimately,” however. It is individuals who decide, but their decision ought to be made on the basis of an informed understanding of their situation.

My hypothesis of why many substitute teachers would not attend even if they knew about the gen4eral meeting is that they see little point in it: it does not, from their point of view, contribute to their control over their own lives. They lack hope in changing their lives.

Let me explain by way of illustration. I am writing my doctoral dissertation on a comparison of John Dewey’s philosophy of education and Paulo Freire’s philosophy of education. Freire was a Brazilian educator of adults, and he wrote, among works, Pedagogy of the Oppressed and A Pedagogy of Hope. In those works, he noted how adults would blame themselves for their poverty, including the literal starvation to death of their children, rather than the extreme concentration of the ownership of land, machinery, buildings and so forth among around two percent of the population.

Freire too argues that, ultimately, it is individuals who decide, but decisions that exclude a consideration of the social and economic context within which the individuals live are not free decisions. The educational task, for Freire, is to have people understand their own social situation so that they can make informed decisions. In other words, education is to develop their own capacities to be self-determining human beings.

Relating this now to a lack of turnout among substitute teachers, it is a defeatist attitude to use the lack of participation by adults in an organization as an excuse to do nothing about such a lack of participation. The reality is indeed that there is a lack of participation by substitute teachers in this organization. But present reality has two sides to it: the actualization of the potentialities of the past, and the potentialities of the present which may actualized in the future. To restrict reality to merely the actualization of past potentialities limits what human beings can do and limits the educational task. To expand reality to include the potentialities of the present opens up what Freire called the untested feasibility, or a pedagogy of hope.

If the reality which we experience does not accord with what we would like, then we need to look at the potentialities of that reality to see whether we can change reality by actualizing other potentialities and by eliminating those aspects of reality which cause us problems.

I suspect—and it is only an hypothesis—but an hypothesis based on my conversations with a number of substitute teachers and others over the years—that one of the main—though by no means the only—reasons why substitute teachers and others do not participate is their lack of hope for any real change to occur as a result of their participation. They see no point in it. They have lost hope of gaining control over their own lives.

To change that situation, as a start, I would strongly urge all Council representatives here present to ensure that substitute teachers have access, on a monthly basis, to the WTA newsletter as far as possible, whether via mailbox, posting on the bulletin board in the staff lounge or by some other method. It is my understanding that an extra copy of the newsletter is provided to each Council representative, so what I am requesting is feasible. Admittedly, this is a small step, but any change requires initial steps. The newsletter could become a more important means by which to enlist the participation of substitute teachers—and indeed permanent contract teachers—in this Association.

Apparently, there was some controversy whether the above report was going to be censored or not (I did not remember this when I searched for my work as the chair of the Substitute Teachers’ Committee of the WTA):

There may be several aspects of the article to which the Public Relations Committee and this executive find objectionable. I will try to address what I think might raise concerns.

I will justify the article in my own way and not on conventional grounds. I would like to hear others’ grounds for objecting to the article.

At the general meeting of substitute teachers, on October 11, what I heard gave me the distinct impression that the WTA supports the WSD policy of excluding substitute teachers from the right to apply for the blue sheets because such exclusion enables permanent contract teachers to have greater mobility within the Division. If that impression is mistaken, then of course my references to such support need to be deleted, starting with “Given…” and ending with “about it.”

If, however, it is the position that the WTA supports the WSD policy, then I will defend my inclusion of the two paragraphs stated above. Before going on, then, it is necessary to ask whether my impression that the WTA supports the WSD policy of limiting those who can apply for the blue sheets to permanent contract teachers is valid. Is it?

Firstly, the issue is one of the importance of conflict. According to Dewey’s philosophy of education, indirectly found in his book (Experience and Nature),1 the life process is, by its very nature, conflictive.

Conflict involves the rhythm of being in balance with the world and falling out of balance (a rhythm which forms a basis for music and various forms of art, incidentally: Art as Experience. The great works of art include various contrasting and clashing elements that are organized to form a harmony or unified structure]. The life process involves dependence on something external to the live being but something which it requires or needs. The live being satisfies its needs, and is in harmony with its environment. But satisfaction is always only temporary because either the living being uses up what it needs or the environmental conditions change. There is then conflict between the living being and its environment.

In the case of human beings, what is unique is that they, unlike non-human animals, can share experiences, or engage in a unified action towards a common end. To share such experiences, they must be able to express their views, which may indeed and indeed probably does involve conflicting views since different individuals have different experiences in life.

Variation of views, and hence conflicting views, should not only be permitted but is necessary if progress is to occur.

This conflict, in the case of humans, enables them to grow or to learn through the incorporation of conflicting elements in a larger whole. Education, then, is a process of learning how to deal with conflicting situations and how to create a wider situation that incorporates the conflicting elements in that larger whole.

If we hide conflicts, we will not be able to grow nor educate ourselves, both as living beings and as human beings.

The form in which the growth or education of human beings best occurs is through the democratic form. That form is a means by which human beings can develop and grow.

This view borrows from the Darwinian theory of evolution, about which Dewey wrote extensively.

Or perhaps reference to the idea that human beings are commodities, things to be bought or sold is inappropriate. Empirically, it can be shown that human beings are indeed commodities in many countries, including Canada. I had my daughter take a picture of the following on a sign just a block from the Museum of Manitoba: “Need Workers? We will deliver them.” Admittedly, this is an extreme example of treating human beings as commodities, but it is only an extreme of a common-day occurrence in our lives: the purchase of human beings on the market for workers.

In Canada, that market began to form around 1826, when the British government ended land grants, obliging Irish immigrants in what was then Upper Canada to sell their skills (or lack of skills) to others to construct the canals. (I have a book in my office, I believe, that refers to that fact). In the United States, a market for workers began to form rapidly near the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century when the push toward the West ended with no more free land.

The case of Guatemala is instructive in this regard. Before 1954, the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz distributed the unused land of the United Fruit Company to about 500,000 Guatemalan families. The CIA helped overthrow his government and install a military dictatorship. The best land was returned to the wealthy landowners, and the Guatemalan peasants had to eek out a living on small land plots in the unfertile lands of the mountainous regions. Having insufficient land to maintain their families, they had to migrate to the coastal plantations of the wealthy landowners to produce bananas, coffee, beef and other export commodities. In the 1970s, however, the Guatemalan peasants, who were largely Aboriginals, began to organize against the wealthy landowners. They objected to being treated as commodities and wanted sufficient land to maintain their families. The Guatemalan military, with the help of the American government, responded by systematically terrorizing and killing tens of thousands of Guatemalans and creating more than a million internal and external refugees.

This situation is interesting since it indicates that when human beings do object to being treated as commodities, the government will often be used to ensure that the market for workers will be maintained.

Once that market is created, of course, as it is in Canada, then the economic dependence of workers on the employers will generally suffice to maintain that relation without resort to physical violence.

It may be objected, however, that even if there is a market for workers, human beings freely enter into contractual relations with employers. However, at the end of the Second World War, about half the working population still were not employees. Many owned farms or had their own business. Today only 10 to 20 percent of those who work are not employees. Did anyone freely choose to become employees? Or did it just work out that way in the development of the economy?

Now, as I indicated in an article that was published by this Association, employees are extensions of the will of the employer—they are means to the ends defined by the employers. You may not agree with that proposition, but why not then respond to it in the newsletter by providing an alternative hypothesis?

Coming now to the issue of substitute teachers, Joan once said that she was tired of hearing that substitute teachers are badly treated or something to that effect. She indicated that we are all members of the same organization. That is true. As members of the same organization, we should be treated in the same way. However, that does not mean that substitute teachers should necessarily all have the same rights as permanent contract teachers. A basic principle of political philosophy is that all should be treated the same unless there are differential conditions for treating some differently from others. And there are differential conditions, at least in the case of substitute teachers who are relatively new. Would it be fair, for instance, that permanent contract teachers, who by definition generally expect to work for the same employer for years, be reduced to the same rights as a beginning substitute teacher? Attachment to a particular employer for an increasing length of time forms the basis for privileging permanent teachers over substitute teachers, just as the principle of seniority does in unions.

However, as substitute teachers are engaged in employment with the same employer for an increasing length of time, the grounds for differential treatment become less and less valid.

Of course, the reported statistics do indicate that there is a substantial percentage of substitute teachers who have been employed by the Division for a number of years. Their exclusion from any consideration of whether they can apply for positions is less valid than the exclusion of shorter term substitute teachers. Of course, the exact cut off line is not easy to define, but the issue is first of all whether all substitute teachers should be banned from applying for positions. Perhaps there are counterarguments which justify such exclusion, and I would like to hear such arguments.

A further consideration is the issue of formal democracy versus living democracy, or democracy through formal rules, policies and procedures and democracy as a way of life. Dewey provided two criteria for distinguishing between formal and living democracy in his masterpiece Democracy and Education: “How numerous and varied are the interests which are consciously shared? How full and free is the interplay with other forms of association?” The first criterion indicates that there should be many interests which tie the lives of individuals together and not just one. It also means that there are varied interests which, despite being varied, are integrated into the organization. It is difficult to see how consciously shared interests can occur if apparently conflicting interests cannot even be recognized. The basic condition for the harmony of conflicting interests to arise is recognition that a problem in fact exists. Indeed, Dewey, in his masterful Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, argues exactly that: that recognition that a problem exists is the first step in resolving the problem.

Without such recognition, no adequate solutions can arise. It is also hard to see how the second criterion can be fulfilled if we restrict the identification and solution to problems to standing committees, the executive and even to the Council. These are organizational bodies that are formal means to the end of living democracy, which is the active participation of all members, as far as possible, in this organization. Indeed, Dewey’s Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, implicitly contains a criticism of formal democracy by criticizing formal logic, which assumes that logical rules, procedures and policies emerge independently of the process of inquiry. Similarly, he criticizes formal democracy, which merely emphasizes procedural rules without recognizing that such rules are means to an end and not ends in themselves. Furthermore, such rules are rules of a process and not independent of that process. They emerge as regulative conditions of the process so that the process can function smoothly. Such rules and the organizational forms that emerge to enforce them do not have—or should not have—any substantive independence. They are functions of a process and not substitutes for it.

1 It is an excellent but difficult book.

The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part Two

The following is the second of a two-part series of posts, providing a critical assessment of some of the views expressed in the 2019 British Labour Party’s Manifesto, It’s Time For Real Change.

The section on public services is typical of the social-reformist or social-democratic left: what is needed is mainly a quantitative expansion of existing conditions rather than a qualitative change in such conditions. For example, in education it is proposed (page 38):

We will reverse cuts to Sure Start and create a new service, Sure Start Plus,
with enough centres to provide a genuinely universal service, available
in all communities, focused on the under-2s.

Labour will radically reform early years provision, with a two-term vision
to make high-quality early years education available for every child.

This is the dream of all social democrats–provision of equal opportunity (especially in education), so that all can compete on an even-level ground. Of course, such competition will lead to inequality, but such inequality, it is implied, is healthy and justified.

Nowhere does the Manifesto address the question of whether the education system itself is adequate to the task of providing quality education on a different basis than the typical academic curriculum. Indeed, in a typical reformist fashion, it proposes to merely add on to the existing curriculum arts and other programs to supplement the existing curriculum (page 39):

The narrowing curriculum is denying many children access to modern languages, arts and music, or technical and engineering skills that will be essential in a world
shaped by climate change.

The proposed educational system might then look like what the Chicago Teachers’ Union proposed–an inadequate model for the educational needs of students (see my publication “A Deweyan Review of The Chicago Teachers’ Union’s Publication The Schools Chicago Students Deserve, found on the Publications and Writings link on this blog).

On the issue of social justice, the Manifesto is vague and contradictory. It states (page 64):

For Labour, the true measure of fairness is not social mobility but social justice.

Implicit in the notion of social mobility is the idea that poverty and inequality
are acceptable provided some people can climb the social ladder.

Social justice, on the other hand, demands that we end poverty, reduce inequality and create a society in which the conditions for a fulfilling life are available to everyone.

It is claimed that it is possible to end poverty. What is meant by poverty remains unclear. It probably is measured by level of income, with those below a certain level of income being in a state of poverty and those above it not being in a state of poverty. Hence, if everyone had a certain level of income that was above a defined poverty line, then poverty could be eliminated–according to social democrats.

I criticized the adequacy of such a view before (see ???     ), so I refer the reader to that post.

The issue of inequality, in all likelihood, also refers to level of income rather than the source of that income. The same problem arises with such a definition of inequality as the definition of poverty.

In addition to the problems with such a definition of poverty (and inequality) as pointed out in a previous post, the following demonstrates the limitations of the Manifesto (pages 60-61):

We will give working people a voice at the Cabinet table by establishing
a Ministry for Employment Rights.

We will start to roll out sectoral collective bargaining across the economy, bringing workers and employers together to agree legal minimum standards on a wide range of issues, such as pay and working hours, that every employer in the sector must follow. Sectoral collective bargaining will increase wages and reduce inequality. This will also stop good employers being undercut by bad employers.

This distinction between “good employers” and “bad employers” is a typical social-democratic tactic of avoiding to address the power of employers as a class. I have addressed this issue, briefly, in another post (see The Contradictions of Unions: Reformist and Radical Assessments), so I will not belabor the point here.

The Manifesto’s social-democratic message also becomes clearer when it refers to the police. On page 42, we read:

The primary duty of government is to keep people safe. Our communities were
endangered when the Conservatives took 21,000 police officers off our streets.

If the primary duty of government is indeed to keep people safe, the Canadian federal government should commit suicide–in 2010, there were about 550 murders and 1000 workers who died at work (in addition to over 600,000 injuries).

On page 43, we read:

A Labour government will invest in policing to prevent crime and make
our communities safer, and we will enforce the laws protecting police
and other emergency workers from violent assault.

We will rebuild the whole police workforce, recruiting more police officers, police community support officers and police staff. We will re-establish neighbourhood policing and recruit 2,000 more frontline officers than have been planned for by the Conservatives. We will work with police forces to invest in a modern workforce to tackle the rise in violent crime and cybercrime under the Tories.

There is little recognition that police themselves are sources of oppression and violence in the context of a society characterized by the dominance of a class of employers (see my post Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One) for an elaboration of this point.

It is unnecessary to further analyze the Manifesto. The purpose of the Manifesto, evidently, was designed to gain votes by jumping on the bandwagon of climate change, anti-neoliberalism (not anti-capitalism) and the fear of personal crime and the idealization of the police.

Such are some of the limitations of the social-democratic left not only in the United Kingdom but in Canada, the United States and elsewhere.

What is needed–and what has been needed for a long time–is a political party whose aim is to free workers from the power of the class of employers. What is needed is a class party that addresses directly the power of the class of employers as a whole by challenging its power in its various forms, whether at work, in schools, in hospitals, at home, in the malls and in government.

What is not needed is just more of the same–the skirting of the power of employers as a class, the domination of that power in the associated economic, social and political structures, and the creation of solutions that never question the basic power of employers to dictate to workers what to do, how to do what they do, how much to produce and whether what they do is satisfactory or not.

 

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part One

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

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to copy critical articles, 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 “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