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

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.

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

This is a continuation of a series of posts on 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, “Clinical Pragmatism in Bioethics: A Pastoral Approach,” uses Dewey’s model of pragmatism to address ethical issues related to his work as a pastor in different situations often involving death and health care. Bioethical pragmatism, as he calls it, must determine whether an ethical situation exists, whether further data is required before making a decision, whether there may be a conflict of values and interests and to whom one owes a duty. Although the context of the article is health care, the pastor’s use of pragmatism is relevant to the school system.

The pastor points out that Dewey’s pragmatism requires inquiry as a basic part of the process of deliberation in situations characteristic of conflicting elements that involve ethical decisions. He argues that in the situations he describes, the issue is less one of making a moral decision and an immoral decision and more one of making a less immoral decision and a more immoral decision.

He argues that inquiry forms a necessary part of the process in order to arrive at the best possible decision under the specific circumstances of the case (determination of context by means of inquiry is essential). He emphasizes that the inductive approach forms an essential part of the process rather than a merely deductive approach.

One of the limitations of the article is the lack of questioning of some of the elements listed as forming the context. He mentions financial aspects as forming part of the context for health care. How that plays out in reality in the context of a class society would require inquiry. The author provides no evidence of engaging in inquiry about the impact of the financial context on health-care outcomes or consequences. Undoubtedly, financial aspects do enter into decision-making processes of health care. Does that mean that the financial aspects are considered as just part of the facts that need to be elicited through inquiry but are not questioned? Does inquiry involve questioning the premises of, for example, the financial aspects?

Equity and social justice issues in schools evidently deal with ethical issues. However, how many who are interested in equity and social justice issues engage in clinical pragmatism?

Fred

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

 

 

Social Democracy or Social Reformism and Trade Unionism: Their Social Limitations and Methodology, Part Two

In my last post, I referred to the self-righteous attitude of many of the social-democratic left, who consider anyone who tries to broaden the discussion to include wider considerations to be “delusional.” Their methodology, I argued, can be considered mechanistic since they try to isolate incidents from the wider social context and treat them as independent of those wider contexts. In fact, they revel in such isolation, taking pride in their narrow-minded attitude, and self-righteously opposing any who try to broaden the discussion.

For example, as noted in my earlier post, Tina Faibish, president of local 552 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), made the following commentary:

From Tina Robin Faibish “come on are you kidding me, you can not look at these two issues as if the level of unjust is similar or comparable because they are not!”


Note the self-righteous attitude of such a reply. How dare I take into consideration anything else! This is her attitude.

Her social-democratic friend then pipes in, when I try to broaden the discussion:

Liz Seaward Ash Fred Harris one thing has nothing to do with the other…you’re delusional..

Not only is this a self-righteous attitude, but it is a hostile attitude. Calling someone delusional is meant to be an insult, of course.

Let us leave these attitudes to one side, though (although anyone who wants to broaden the discussion these days should expect hostile and self-righteous attitudes from the social democratic left). Let us turn to the issue of methodology by referring to John Dewey’s philosophy of human nature. This philosophy considers human life to encompass physical, biological and social aspects that involve a process. This view of human life as an inclusive process has many implications for social analysis, but I will restrict it to the issue of abortion and the human body.

Dewey considers life in general in the following terms (from Experience and Nature, pages 277-278:

Every “mind” that we are
empirically acquainted with is found in connection with
some organized body. Every such body exists in a
natural medium to which it sustains some adaptive connection:
plants to air, water, sun, and animals to these
things and also to plants. Without such connections,
animals die; the “purest” mind would not continue with out them. An animal can live only as long as it draws
nutriment from its medium, finds there means of defence
and ejects into it waste and superfluous products of its
own making. Since no particular organism lasts forever,
life in general goes on only as an organism reproduces
itself; and the only place where it can reproduce itself is in
the environment. In all higher forms reproduction is
sexual ; that is, it involves the meeting of two forms. The
medium is thus one which contains similar and conjunctive
forms. At every point and stage, accordingly, a
living organism and its life processes involve a world or
nature temporally and spatially “external” to itself but
“internal” to its functions.

The only excuse for reciting such commonplaces is that
traditional theories have separated life from nature, mind
from organic life, and thereby created mysteries.

The idea that life (or the life process) involves something that is physically external to the body but is functionally internal can be easily understood if we try to hold our breath. We need elements from the air–which are physically external to our body–and this need is functionally internal to the continued existence of the body. If you extend this idea to all your needs, whether physical or social, then you can see that your life process extends far beyond your immediate physical body.

What has this to do with abortion and the issue that Ms. Faibish raised concerned the law in Ohio about preventing 11-year-old girls from having an abortion if they are raped? If control over the life process involves control over the immediate human body but does not end there but rather extends to the environmental conditions that are physically external but functionally internal, then control over the body is a necessary but insufficient condition for control over our own human life processes.

From John Dewey, Experience and Nature, page 295:

Those who talk most of
the organism, physiologists and psychologists, are often
just those who display least sense of the intimate, delicate
and subtle interdependence of all organic structures and
processes with one another. The world seems mad in
pre-occupation with what is specific, particular, disconnected
in medicine, politics, science, industry, education.
In terms of a conscious control of inclusive wholes,
search for those links which occupy key positions and
which effect critical connections is indispensable. But
recovery of sanity depends upon seeing and using these
specifiable things as links functionally significant in
a process. To see the organism in nature, the nervous
system in the organism, the brain in the nervous system,
the cortex in the brain is the answer to the problems which
haunt philosophy. And when thus seen they will be seen
to be in, not as marbles are in a box but as events are
in history, in a moving, growing never finished process.

The radical left needs to analyze the connections of the world in terms of something that is physically external but functionally internal. With such knowledge, it needs to criticize persistently the social-democratic left, who in general isolate now one aspect of what is functionally internal, now another aspect.

Such an approach is necessary if we are to both oppose those in power and those who ultimately propose to reform the world without radical restructuring of our lives. Along the way, we can of course expect to receive insults and be oppressed in various ways. That should be expected–but it should not deter us from doing what is necessary to oppose the power of employers as a class and to create a society worthy of our own nature as human beings.

But what does the radical left do in Toronto? Pander after the reformist left’s narrow point of view, refusing to challenge such views at every turn. They are like those who believe that the human life process goes beyond the human body but refuse to criticize those (the social democrats) who believe the human life process does not include the interconnected workplaces in the first instance in a particular country and, ultimately, throughout the world.

The radical left talk a lot about democracy these days, but democracy does not entail tolerance to mistaken ideas. It is the duty of the radical left, among other things, to show that the ideas that social democrats hold are mistaken by challenging them. Why does it not do so?

What do you think?

Intelligent Activity According to John Dewey: Its Political Implications for the Left

John Dewey, one of the greatest philosophers of education of the twentieth century, has this to say about intelligent activity. From Democracy and Education. Pennsylvania State University, 2001,

page 108:

 

The net conclusion is that acting with an aim is all one
with acting intelligently. To foresee a terminus of an act
is to have a basis upon which to observe, to select, and
to order objects and our own capacities. To do these things
means to have a mind—for mind is precisely intentional
purposeful activity controlled by perception of facts and
their relationships to one another. To have a mind to do
a thing is to foresee a future possibility; it is to have a
plan for its accomplishment; it is to note the means which
make the plan capable of execution and the obstructions
in the way,—or, if it is really a mind to do the thing and
not a vague aspiration—it is to have a plan which takes
account of resources and difficulties. Mind is capacity to
refer present conditions to future results, and future consequences
to present conditions. And these traits are just
what is meant by having an aim or a purpose. A man is
stupid or blind or unintelligent—lacking in mind—just
in the degree in which in any activity he does not know
what he is about, namely, the probable consequences of
his acts. A man is imperfectly intelligent when he contents
himself with looser guesses about the outcome than
is needful, just taking a chance with his luck, or when he
forms plans apart from study of the actual conditions,
including his own capacities. Such relative absence of
mind means to make our feelings the measure of what is
to happen. To be intelligent we must “stop, look, listen”
in making the plan of an activity.

We indeed, should “stop, look, listen”–but is that being done? Is not the context for most Canadians a context, directly or indirectly, characterized by the dominance of a class of employers?  That context, ultimately, is one dominated by the goal of obtaining more and more money–at the expense of the workers (and the environment). See (The Money Circuit of Capital).

Is there much discussion about this context? What is the consequence, for workers, of not questioning this context of the power of employers as a class? Exploitation? Oppression? Injury? Death? Is this acting intelligently?

Without taking into account the capitalist context, it is highly unlikely that workers will be able to act intelligently. Is there constant discussion about that context? Or is such discussion suppressed? Without a consideration of present social conditions, how can anyone act intelligently?

The lack of such discussion among most workers shows the extent to which those who call for “practice” and believe that they are eminently practical are eminently impractical; they neglect one of the fundamental conditions for practical intelligence: taking into account the social context when acting. To neglect the social context when acting is to act unintelligently.

What exactly is the aim of those who engage in “practice” among the left? Is there any real discussion about the aims? Or is there simply a rush to engage in one “practice” after another without really engaging in any attempt to unify in a consistent fashion the various actions? If so, is that acting intelligently? Or is it acting unintelligently?