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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I provide Mr. MacNeil’s assessment grade by grade in separate posts (and post by followed by my reflections (response) that I provided. In other words, the performance evaluation of the three grades is distributed over three posts. In the case of Grade 6, I also included the first area of evaluation (Domain I, Professional Responsibilities), with Mr. MacNeil’s comments and my reflections (response). Four further posts follow that include Domain I (Professional Responsibilities),  Domain II (Educational Environments), Domain III (Teaching and Learning) and Domain IV (Professional Relationships).

Lakeshore School Division

Teacher Clinical Evaluation Report

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

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

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

3. Grade 8 French 2011 12 05 2:50 – 3:30 p.m.

“Pre-conference: Reviewing a quiz on passe compose. Fred will clarify expectations for a sports bulletin around research, then go up to the library for this research.

To note:

– nothing noted.

Post-conference: Fred was asked for his assessment of how this class went. He spoke to the need to review the passe compose again with the class, and to clarify again the intent of the assignment that the class was given for their sports bulletin.

I stated that, in my view, this was not the primary issue in the class. I pointed out that this was a class of 5 girls, with one new student who started this class today, and another boy whose attendance was “hit and miss” in Fred’s words. In my observation, all of the girls were unengaged and disinterested throughout the class. (Fred had occasion to remonstrate with each of the girls during this 35 minute class, and with some as many as a dozen times.)

I asked Fred for his assessment about how the situation had come to this pass, where I heard three of the girls state “I hate French” during the class. He responded by speaking to each of the girls in turn, describing what he believed to be their fault(s) in this matter. He pointed out that at least two of the girls were being forced to be there against their will, and I replied that, if we were to remove the students who did not want to be there, there might be no students left. After further prompting from me, about how this should not be the case for this class, he went back to previous years, where he spoke to the role of two boys, who have since dropped French, in having destroyed the atmosphere of the class.

I pointed out to Fred that, in all of this, he had not acknowledged his own role for the state of affairs in the class. He acknowledged that he did have some responsibility, for not having been sufficiently disciplinary with these students, but that he was working on this. He pointed out the detentions list he now has on his whiteboard. I asked how he intended to repair the relationships with these students, which he acknowledged to be damaged, and he said that he would talk with them.

Finally, Fred inquired about the next steps in this process. I clarified for him that the notes from the first two observations that I had given him were not part of my report. I told him that I would complete my report (using this template), give it to him for his comments, and that it would then be forwarded to the superintendent.”

Teacher’s Reflections

Grade 8

Re: “Post-conference: Fred was asked for his assessment of how this class went. He spoke to the need to review the passe compose again with the class, and to clarify again the intent of the assignment that the class was given for their sports bulletin.

I stated that, in my view, this was not the primary issue in the class. I pointed out that this was a class of 5 girls, with one new student who started this class today, and another boy whose attendance was “hit and miss” in Fred’s words. In my observation, all of the girls were unengaged and disinterested throughout the class. (Fred had occasion to remonstrate with each of the girls during this 35 minute class, and with some as many as a dozen times.)”

This is true. With one girl in particular, who has persistently been oppositional or defiant. I have since changed my tactics. If she does not do her work in French class, she then makes up for it during recess.

Re: “I asked Fred for his assessment about how the situation had come to this pass, where I heard three of the girls state “I hate French” during the class. He responded by speaking to each of the girls in turn, describing what he believed to be their fault(s) in this matter.”

The first thing that I said was that my formative assessment of their skills had been inaccurate—that I had overestimated their skill set. It was indeed an issue that came out when I had a discussion with the students subsequent to the observation and post-conference. One student said that I expected too much of them; I have taken that criticism into consideration and have tried to proceed more slowly and have made changes to the material as a support for their learning.

With respect to the issue of discipline, I would say that I made a serious mistake in trying to reason with certain students in past years who are no longer in French. My general approach has been to be empathetic to students (despite the contrary proposition by the administrator); I was too tolerant. I failed to identify real disrespect from mere shenanigans, and as a consequence I allowed the two students the year before too much leeway.

I have continued with the detention if the students talk while I am teaching.

As for referring to each student in turn, I indicated what they were doing that interfered with my direct instruction (such as persistent talking while I was trying to teach).

One circumstance that I did not mention was the obligation to teach in the home economics room. At the beginning of the year, I did not even know where I was going to teach. I was then assigned to the home economics room—a room ill-suited for teaching in general (apart from home economics) let alone French in particular. The room was several times used for meetings (in the evening and the day). I did not even have chalk at first and had to ask other teachers for some chalk. Then I was shifted to a different classroom. My sense was that such references to the unsuitability of environmental conditions and changes in environmental conditions would be interpreted by the administrator as “excuses.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lakeshore School Division

Teacher Clin

ical Evaluation Report

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

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

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

2. Grade 7 French 2011 11 29 2:15 – 2:50 p.m.

“Pre-conference: Students will ask personal questions of Fred. Then, students will take notes about gender of nouns, to give students a reference. Then, a lesson about possessive adjectives. When I asked what this lesson would look like, Fred responded “would you like a copy of the handout?”.

To note:

– in response, Fred says there is nothing to highlight, except that the class will be late due to coming in from recess.

Post-conference: I shared with Fred that it was not evident to me that there was any significant understanding of the possessive adjectives that students were being asked to learn/review, except on the part of one student. It was only this student who seemed to be particularly engaged during the lesson on the possessive adjectives. The only French written or spoken by the students throughout the lesson was when they recited “mes parents” twice after Fred.

We discussed two students in particular who seemed to be completely unengaged throughout the period. I shared that it appeared to me that Fred was “fighting” (for lack of a better word) with these students to pay attention, but to little or no effect. I asked whether Fred had considered other means of engaging these students, such as providing opportunity to learn in other ways for the student whom Fred identified as liking to draw. He said that he would consider this.

I asked Fred how he would know whether students had a command of the possessive adjectives which were the subject of this lesson. Fred replied that this would become evident as they worked on their family tree assignment. I asked how he might have a sense of this in the realm of formative assessment, and he said that he was led to believe they had a fundamental competence based on their responses in class. I pointed out that there were, effectively, no spontaneous responses in class aside from those of the one student who appeared interested and engaged.”

Teacher’s Reflections

Grade 7

Re:” Pre-conference: Students will ask personal questions of Fred.” I also asked questions of students.

Re: “Then, students will take notes about gender of nouns, to give students a reference. Then, a lesson about possessive adjectives. When I asked what this lesson would look like, Fred responded “would you like a copy of the handout?”.

There seems to be some confusion here. The administrator was supposed to observe a lesson on the possessive adjectives the previous week, which included taking notes on the possessive adjective. However, the same day was career fair for high-school students, and many classrooms were being used for that purpose—including my own. Ironically, it was the RCMP presentation which was located in the classroom where I taught. The presentation went to 2:30, but the observation was supposed to start at 2:15. Consequently, the observation took place the following week.

I had had the students already take notes on the possessive adjective another day. I wanted to give them a sense of the form of the possessive adjectives (certainly not “master” it in such a short period of time). I had also another day indicated that the possessive adjectives are difficult since their form is determined by the thing possessed. It can become confusing since the thing possessed may be plural while the person possessing the thing may be singular or plural. For example, mon, ma, mes: singular in the sense of the possessor, but mes is the plural form of the thing possessed even when one person is possessing the thing (ma soeur: singular thing possessed: mes soeurs: my sisters). It is true that I wrote on the objectives that the students would learn the possessive adjectives; I should have qualified that (mon, ma, mes); I made a mistake.

Re: “Post-conference: I shared with Fred that it was not evident to me that there was any significant understanding of the possessive adjectives that students were being asked to learn/review, except on the part of one student. It was only this student who seemed to be particularly engaged during the lesson on the possessive adjectives. The only French written or spoken by the students throughout the lesson was when they recited “mes parents” twice after Fred.”

I have partially responded to this above [in a previous post]. There are further issues. I was under the mistaken impression that I had to elaborate on learning goals before moving onto a specific task (see attachment). The claim that there was little evidence that the students had learned the possessive adjectives is inaccurate. A few did use it correctly; one student, for example, who is hardly a stellar French student, stated “mon oncle.” A few others also indicated the correct form. However, once it was clear that some indeed did not remember, I reviewed the possessive adjectives on the board in combination with the vocabulary for family members. I did not expect them to understand the possessive adjective immediately.

However, on further reflection, what I should then have done was to verify that more students grasped the concept of the possessive adjective. To that extent, the administrator’s assessment is accurate. I could have improved on my formative assessment. My formative assessment skills can always be improved.

A large part of the class was dedicated to an explanation of the learning goals and the task. I reviewed the possessive adjectives.

Re: “We discussed two students in particular who seemed to be completely unengaged throughout the period. I shared that it appeared to me that Fred was “fighting” (for lack of a better word) with these students to pay attention, but to little or no effect. I asked whether Fred had considered other means of engaging these students, such as providing opportunity to learn in other ways for the student whom Fred identified as liking to draw. He said that he would consider this.”

I am not certain about to which two students the principal is referring. We discussed one student’s lack of engagement. There was definitely one student who was tuned out and who did not pay attention. The principal has a valid point here. The principal suggested, besides the specific point of possibly attempting to incorporate the student’s drawing in order to engage the student that I differentiate instruction for the student. I have done that (see attachment), and the student has now drawn a family tree and written most of the required elements.

There was another student who interrupted me on occasion and who wanted to argue. I began to document her defiant behaviour. I called her parents, and we had a meeting. They were going to have her withdraw from French. They did not. I have attempted to walk a fine line in relation to this student.. Her defiant behaviour will probably continue, and I will address it when necessary, but to address it each time would disrupt the class. I have to use my judgement. When she is openly defiant, I will and have done something. For example, during a class subsequent to the observation, she wanted to get some white paper from the library for her family tree project. I let her, but she insisted on taking her binder. I saw no need for her to take her binder and told her to leave it. She made a point of taking it anyway; she had detention as a consequence.

Re: “I asked Fred how he would know whether students had a command of the possessive adjectives which were the subject of this lesson. Fred replied that this would become evident as they worked on their family tree assignment. I asked how he might have a sense of this in the realm of formative assessment, and he said that he was led to believe they had a fundamental competence based on their responses in class.”

This is a misreading of what I said. Given my philosophy of education, I would not expect that the students would have “increased their competence in the use of the adjectives or any other aspect of using the French language” during a few classes of French. I had reviewed possessive adjectives in French in general in previous lessons to provide a general but vague background. Concretization would arise through the process of creating a family tree within the limited context of using “mon, ma, mes” (delimitation of the set of possessive adjectives to a subset of them). To expect grade 7 students to be fluent in the use of even the possessive adjectives mon, ma and mes after a few lessons is unrealistic. Furthermore, since the use of these possessive adjectives constitutes a means to the end of creating a family tree (a solution to the problem of creating a family tree in French), they would be more efficiently learned—in context.

Re: “ I pointed out that there were, effectively, no spontaneous responses in class aside from those of the one student who appeared interested and engaged.”

I have already addressed this issue in part. Furthermore, spontaneous oral response is harder than the written form (since spontaneous response is usually delimited by a shorter period of time) In addition, as indicated above, there were a few more students who did respond orally—not just one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lakeshore School Division

Teacher Clinical Evaluation Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher’s Reflections

Grade 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my dissertation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my dissertation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Nine

Introduction

This is a continuation of a previous post that illustrates how politically biased the capitalist government or state and its representatives (such as social-democratic social workers) are when it comes to determining real situations–especially when a person self-declares as a Marxist.

Just a recap (more details can be found in earlier posts in this series): I filed a complaint with the Manitoba Institute of Registered Workers against a social worker who had written a court-ordered assessment concerning my wife at the time, myself and my daughter, Francesca Alexandra Romani (ne Harris). I am using the initials S.W. for the social worker. Mr. S.W., claimed that my claim that the mother of my daughter was using a belt and a wooden stick to physically abuse her, was “somewhat ridiculous.” Mr. S.W. was much less concerned about determining the truth of this claim (which is in fact true) than with my so-called indoctrination of my daughter in my “Marxist ideology.”

Since the civil trial in April 1999, my daughter complained of the following  (as of February 18, 2000—it should be noted that the following does not include the many times Francesca told me that Francesca’s mother had hit her before Feburary 18, 2000): 1. Her mother was using a wooden stick on her buttocks; 2. Her mother used a belt to spank her on the same area; 3. Her mother grabbed Francesca and forced her into the apartment building; 4. Her mother had grabbed Francesca’s throat in the elevator and warned her not to tell me that her mother had hit her; 5. Her mother shoved Francesca to the floor on two separate occasions; 6. Her mother hit Francesca on the head with a book; 7. Her mother pulled Francesca’s hair; 8. Her mother scratched Francesca with a comb.

This contrasts with Mr. S.W.’s allegation, as noted in the last post, that ” Mr. Harris’ explanation for contacting the Agency [Winnipeg Child and Family Services] was somewhat ridiculous. He said that the child had made some vague indications that she may have been spanked.”

Mr. S.W. was much less concerned about the truthfulness of Mr. Harris’ claim (which is true) than with Mr. Harris’ Marxists ideas.

The Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers rejected my complaint, claiming that Mr. S.W. did not contravene the code of ethics of registered social workers in Manitoba.

I then filed a complaint against Winnipeg Child and Family Services (WCFS) with the Manitoba Ombudsman, and during their so-called inquiry, the WCFS threatened me in a letter with consulting their legal counsel and phoning the police on me. The Manitoba Ombudsman found the actions of the WCFS to be reasonable both before the letter and the letter itself: 

Our office has investigated the concerns you raised and have concluded that the position taken by WCFS as outlined in their letters of January 13, 2003 and January 22, 2004 is not clearly wrong or unreasonable. Accordingly there is no recommendation that can be made on your behalf.

So far, the Winnipeg Child and Family Services, the Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers and the Manitoba Ombudsman proved themselves to be anything but institutions that reflected any kind of fairness or equitable treatment. Quite to the contrary. They either involved oppression in one form or another or justification of such oppression by vindicating an oppressive institution. 

The social-democratic left rarely take this integrated nature of the oppressive powers linked to the capitalist government or state into account when formulating tactics and strategy. Indeed, many on the left even idealize such oppressive features by calling for, without qualification, the expansion of public services–as if such public services were not riveted with oppressive features. 

I then outlined how I tried to homeschool my daughter, how I failed my daughter by acting as an oppressive father and teacher while trying to teach at Ashern Central High and finish my doctorate in the philosophy of education; this included getting into many arguments over her lack of progress in her studies and physically controlling her when she threw a metal lid at me by putting her in a headlock and forcing her to the ground until she promised not to threw anything else (which I do not regret since she could have seriously injured me). It also included throwing hot tea, some of which hit her face. I also indicated that a mitigating factor was that I had, unknown to me at the time, invasive bladder cancer, but with chemotherapy treatment there was no further visible cancer.

I then indicated how the Anishinaabe Child and Family Services, located in Ashern, engaged in oppressive actions by falsely accusing me of choking Francesca and throwing her to the ground and forced me to inform the principal, Randy Chartrand, that I was under investigation. I also pointed out how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the RCMP–the national police in Canada) had me under surveillance before arresting me for allegedly physically abusing Francesca. Finally, I described the oppressive working situation that I experienced at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, and I outlined how I came to be receiving short-term and then long-term disability benefits.

Going on Sick Leave, Short-term Disability and Long-Term Disability: Another Form of Oppression 

I mentioned to the math teacher that I was to be put on intensive clinical supervision (where the superintendent, Janet Martell, would control my work); the math teacher suggested that I go on sick leave. However, given my former experience with cancer, I did not have sufficient number of accumulated sick days that would bridge the time from the beginning of sick leave until long-term disability benefits started (a period of 80 working days). Coincidentally, short-term disability benefits had been recently negotiated so that Lakeshore Teachers’ Association members would be eligible for short-term disability benefits provided that they worked at least one day after the start of the policy (March 1, 2012)–which was later than when I started my sick leave.

MTS and Lakeshore School Division made a deal; if I agreed to resign from the school division, the school division would allow me to work one day in order to qualify for short-term disability benefits. I worked at the board office on March 23, 2012, performing a superficial search for information for the Division (I forget the details of the work)–another humiliating experience.

In order to receive at first short-term disability benefits and then long-term disability benefits provided by the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, if the issue is not purely physical, it is presumably necessary to be subject to psychiatric evaluation in order to justify not being able to work for an employer. To receive such benefits, the worker must “agree” to the evaluation.

I also was to have an initial “psychiatric assessment”, performed by Gisele Morier, a psychiatrist at PsychHealth at the Health Sciences Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.. This was on March 15, 2012. I also was obliged to begin to see a psychologist–Alan Slusky.

Adelle Field Burton also obliged me to engage in voluntary work, progressively, once half-a-day per week at first, increasing it as time went on. Since I depended economically on disability benefits, if I had refused to “volunteer,” I would have jeopardized my receiving such benefits since one of the conditions for receiving such benefits was cooperation with a plan for rehabilitation. The term “volunteer” in this context, of course, is an oxymoron.

I decided to “volunteer” at Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, a social-democratic organization that addresses poverty issues. The organization evidently functioned on the basis of defining poverty exclusively on the basis of the level of income. It had no intention of addressing the problem of the power of employers as a class. 

Near the end of November, 2012, I had to have a reassessment–again by Gisele Morier. However, several months before the assessment ,Francesca, my daughter, was in another city north of Winnipeg (Arborg, I believe), with a friend (Katy Corder, I believe). Francesca’s heart apparently started to race, so she went to the local hospital with her friend. I do not know exactly what happened, but she (or someone else) called me, indicating that she was at the psychiatric ward for minors, located in the same building as Ms. Morier, who had her office there. Apparently, the hospital doctor in Arborg wanted Francesca to stay for tests, but Francesca refused. The upshot was that an RCMP officer forced her to go to Winnipeg and was placed in the psychiatric ward for the night (probably at the Intensive Child and Adolescent Treatment Service (ICATS) at the Health Sciences Centre (HSC)).

There was a meeting of many adults, to make a decision whether Francesca was to be released from the psychiatric ward or not–an oppressive situation for Francesca. I was invited to attend, which I did. I advocated for Francesca’s release, which is what happened.

When I was to have a meeting with Giselle Morier for my own assessment on November 29, 2012, I was still upset at having my daughter forced into a psychiatric ward against her will. I indicated this to Ms. Morier. She evidently found my “attitude” of questioning the authority of psychiatrists and other government “experts” to be non-plus.

Ms. Morier’s assessment was. like the court-ordered assessment in 1998, biased and full of distortions and unsubstantiated judgements. Thus, Ms. Morier considered that I suffered from “paranoid personality disorder.” Her evidence? Mainly my account of what transpired at Ashern as well as her own distorted interpretation about what I said.

Response to an Oppressive Psychiatric Assessment

Here is my response to the psychiatric assessment:

Context: An interview of Dr. Harris (Ph. D. in the philosophy of education, with four publications) by Dr. Morier on March 15, 2012.  Another interview on November 29, 2012.

Dr. Morier, in her report dated December 18, 2012 (based on an interview with Dr. Harris neglects to include how the interview started). 

Before the interview began, Dr. Morier requested that Dr. Harris sign a permission form.

Dr. Harris indicated that he did not want to sign it but that he had to if he was to continue receiving disability benefits through Manitoba Teachers’ Society. Dr. Morier immediately stated, in a tone that Dr. Harris found offensive, that he was free to sign it or not do so. When Dr. Harris replied that he disagreed with her but that he did not wish to get into a debate with her, she replied, in an offensive manner, that Dr. Harris would probably win since he knew how to debate. The way that Dr. Morier stated this was not meant as a complement.

Dr. Harris leaves it to the reader to decide whether the above is true.

Page 1 from the December 18, 2012 report:

“When asked whether he had noted any inaccuracies or had found discrepancies in what the writer had understood and reported from what he had stated or had any comments, he stated there were no errors, but that he objected to the term `paranoid’ being used to describe him.”

Dr. Morier reiterates this view on page 5:

“I refer the reader to my IME of March 28, 2012 for family and psychosocial history, as according to Mr. Harris, he did not find any errors or needed to make any correction to the information.”

This is untrue. Dr. Morier asked whether Dr. Harris had read the report, and Dr. Harris indicated that he had. The issue came up in the context of whether Dr. Morier had provided written recommendations about medication. Dr. Harris did not recall any such written recommendations in the report itself. He did recall Dr. Morier writing the recommendations on one of her business cards.

Dr. Morier then consulted the report and indicated that she indeed had provided such recommendations.

Dr. Harris did not say that there were no errors in the previous report; Dr. Morier never asked Dr. Harris such a question. There were errors in the previous report, but Dr. Harris simply did not bother to correct such errors—he did not believe that any purpose would be served at the time. He now sees that he was in error.

As for the issue of paranoid, Dr. Harris never indicated that he objected to such a term because Dr. Harris does not recall that such a term was in the first report. Dr. Harris no longer has a copy of the report. He was rear-ended in a car accident on July 20, 2011, and Dr. Morier’s report was in the trunk. Dr. Harris did not bother trying to pull out several papers from the trunk (he had to use a pry bar from the inside to gain access to the contents in the trunk since the trunk would not open from the outside). One of those papers was Dr. Morier’s previous report. Dr. Harris left the report in the trunk since he did not consider that report to be all that important when he delivered the car to Manitoba Public Insurance.

Since Dr. Harris no longer has a copy of the report, he can only recall one element from the first report that was “in error.” Dr. Harris had previous heart palpitations when he was a union steward in British Columbia. As a union steward, he filed a union grievance against his immediate supervisor for having written a job description that only personnel in the library where he was working could fulfill since only those who had job training in the specific library could obtain the specified skills. Since a job posting is supposed to be for all union members as far as possible, and since the rewriting of job descriptions to suit managerial will could, potentially, undermine the union as a viable structure, the union business manager agreed with Mr. Harris (Dr. Harris did not obtain his doctorate until afterwards) that a union grievance should be filed. Of course, Mr. Harris’ immediate supervisor did not like this and harassed Mr. Harris. As a consequence, Mr. Harris was subject to substantial pressure to resign, which he eventually did. Dr. Morier, however, failed to understand the situation and her first report reflects such a lack of understanding. If Dr. Harris recollects correctly, Dr. Morier personalized the issue in British Columbia rather than contextualized it in the context of the employer-employee relation (a relation of power). Dr. Morier persistently ignores context.

Dr. Harris would never have said that the first report was without error. It is untrue. Dr. Harris leaves it to the reader to determine which version is true and which version is false.

“She [Francesca, my daughter] was released the following day after being evaluated by a psychiatrist.” Dr. Morier either does not know or chooses to ignore the fact that there was a meeting of about nine adults, including Dr. Harris, a social worker from Child and Family Services and several others. After some discussion, Dr. Harris stated: “To sum up, this should not have happened.” No one contradicted him. Dr. Harris informed Dr. Morier that he had stated that the incident should not have happened.

“Mr. Harris appeared exceedingly angered and insulted by this. He states that both his daughter and his mother were abused by the psychiatric system.”

Dr. Harris’ mother was forced to undergo electric shock treatments against her will, forced to take so-called medication against her will and so forth. Perhaps Dr. Morier could explain what a rational person would feel when a person whom they love has been abused—unless of course psychiatric care in so-called mental institutions in the 1960s could not be characterized as an abuse. If they were not an abuse, why not reinstitute them?

As for Dr. Harris’ daughter, no one at the meeting indicated why Dr. Harris’ daughter was involuntarily incarcerated. Apparently, Dr. Harris should trust in the judgement of those in “authority”—because they are in authority—rather than in terms of understanding a situation. Why was his daughter incarcerated against her will? What damage did that do to his daughter? If a private person did that, it would be considered abuse and kidnapping. However, if the government does that, why is it is considered to be legitimate by some? Is this the attitude of a scientist? Dr. Harris leaves it to the reader to decide on Dr. Morier’s degree of understanding of the situation and the right of a parent to be angry when parent or child is possibly mistreated at the hands of “authority.” Until Dr. Harris knows the facts, he will presume his daughter’s innocence.

Furthermore, given the quality of Dr. Morier’s report, the reader can surmise the possible quality of care that Dr. Harris’ mother and daughter received.

Page 1:

“He was `well aware of their game.’”

This quote is out of context and therefore distorts the meaning. By decontextualizing the statement—which Dr. Harris did indeed make—Dr. Morier distorts its meaning. The context was in terms of his life in Ashern—a town of 1,400, where he was arrested on April 4, 2011 (by two members of the RCMP personnel in Ashern), with the charges dropped on November 16, 2011. Dr. Harris was arrested on a Monday. Since September 2008, Dr. Harris had a habit, on Saturdays, of going to the bakery/coffee shop at 12:30 in this small town, to read the Saturday Free Press and have a coffee and sticky bun and then study or do some work for his profession as a teacher until around 2:30. He would sit at the same table near the window every time (unless, of course, there were other customers who were already sitting there).

The RCMP never once sat across from Dr. Harris—until Arpil 9, 2011 the Saturday following the arrest). The father of one of Dr. Harris’ former French students was in plain clothes, but there were two other RCMP officers in RCMP uniforms seated with him. They arrived about a half hour after Dr. Harris arrived.

The same thing occurred the following Saturday, but this time the father was dressed in RCMP uniform—along with a couple of other RCMP personnel.

Dr. Harris was referring to this situation when he made the comment that he “was well aware of their game.”

Page 2:

“He chooses to eat take-out chicken two to three times a week in his car, which he parks at the same location on a public street. He believe that someone complained about this behaviour, reporting him to the police. He stated that late one night police came knocking at his door, which he did not answer. They left a City of Winnipeg Police business card, asking him to phone the police about an incident. He remembers his heart pounding.”

Dr. Morier neglected to mention that they arrived at the place where Dr. Harris was staying—at 11:45 p.m. (when, in fact, he was in bed and doing his breathing exercises as suggested by Dr. Slusky). She also neglected to mention that they flashed their lights in the window—a tactic which the RCMP also used in Ashern (in addition to stomping in the snow so that Dr. Harris would look out the window—in which case they would know Dr. Harris was there.)

Dr. Morier also neglected to mention that Dr. Harris had called the police at the number on the card left by the police the next day, but no one returned the call despite the fact that Dr. Harris left his telephone number.

“Since that time he has become more aware of police all around him.”

Also, page 4: “He does believe that the police are targeting him and harassing him. He has searched for evidence in his environment to validate these thoughts.”

Page 2:

“He questions whether they are stalking him and every time [Dr. Harris’ emphasis] he sees a policeman, he states that `I ditch them.’” Actually, Dr. Harris did indicate that once he felt that police in a police car were following him and that he did indeed ditch them. He also indicated that his heart was pounding. He categorically denies, however, saying “every time.” One instance hardly constitutes “every time.” This is a generalization made by Dr. Morier.

Dr. Harris is certainly more aware of the police around him—when he sees them, of course. As Dr. Harris discussed with Dr. Alan Slusky, clinical psychologist, when a person has experienced what he experienced in Ashern in relation to the police—the arrest and the subsequent harassment–increased awareness of the presence of the police is natural.

“…however, he is unhappy with his daughter’s choices, particularly her interest in Amway, because he believe that this organization is a waster of her time and is a `religion.’” Dr. Harris’ daughter invited him to attend a session of Amway with her, and he observed close at hand its operation. As a consequence, he did some research on this organization and sent it to Francesca. Francesca subsequently stopped attending such meetings. Dr. Morier, however, made the comment at the time, when Dr. Harris indicated disapproval of this organization and his daughter’s participation in it, that perhaps Dr. Harris was disapproving of her independence and was trying to control her. Attached is what Dr. Harris sent Francesca that he found on the Internet concerning Amway. 

“He [Dr. Harris] is well aware, however, that the vice-principal at Ashern School refused to give him a reference, as did the principal.”

Dr. Morier failed to pursue why the vice principal refused to provide Dr. Harris with a reference. The vice-principal was the former principal and was demoted to vice-principal the same time that Dr. Harris was demoted to being a de facto educational assistant after having his senior-high French classes stripped from him. The vice principal may well have refused to provide a reference out of fear for his own position. The year before, the vice-principal, who at the time was the principal, had evaluated Dr. Harris’ teaching positively. It is, moreover, Dr. Harris’ understanding that the vice principal would like Dr. Harris to call him since he stated that he had nothing to do with the situation that occurred at Ashern Central School.

“The main reason for this he believes was that these individuals disagreed with him on the value of John Dewey’s philosophy on education and their poor appreciation of Mr. Harris’ skills in teaching French.”

Dr. Harris does not believe this with respect to the vice-principal. With respect to the principal, Dr. Harris and Dr. Slusky have discussed how it is possible that the principal may have been intimidated by Dr. Harris’ doctorate and reacted accordingly. Undoubtedly the principal was concerned about the French program and attributed the problem to Dr. Harris’ apparent incompetence as a teacher. However, when the principal evaluated Dr. Harris’ French teaching, Dr. Harris responded with a 43-page reply, edited to 30 pages by Roland Stankevicius, MTS staff officer. Mr. Stankevicius also stated that the principal did not come out looking very well in his evaluation.

Page 3:

“Dr. Slusky has also prescribed the cognitive therapy book, called Feeling Good by Dr. Burns. Mr. Harris has read parts of the book but he stated that he has to disagree with many issues in this book, in particular in that he believes that there is no scientifically proven cause and effect relationship between thought and emotion.”

This is inaccurate. Dr. Burns claims that negative thoughts cause negative emotions. Dr. Morier failed to understand Dr. Harris’ assertion.

“He tried to engage the writer in a discussion defending this belief. When the writer would not participate and pointed out that he was being argumentative and pedantic, he stated that he feels that he needs to criticize everything.”

Dr. Harris denies this account of what transpired. Dr. Harris merely indicated that Dr. Slusky had recommended that Dr. Harris read this book as a prelude to engaging in cognitive behavioural therapy. Dr. Harris had already indicated to Dr. Slusky that, philosophically, Dr. Burns’ assertions are questionable. Dr. Harris did in fact write up a critique of parts of the book (attached).

Dr. Harris then indicated that he considered Dr. Burns’ assertions about the relationship between so-called negative thoughts and negative emotions to be unsubstantiated. Dr. Morier responded “Not yet” very emotionally.

After having felt abused by Dr. Morier, Dr. Harris felt inspired to do some research in educational journals that involved, implicitly or explicitly, the premises of cognitive behavioural therapy (which is linked to Dr. Burns’ assertions about the relationship between so-called negative thoughts and negative emotions). Dr. Harris came across Dr. Falkenberg’s article (attached), published in the Canadian philosophy of education journal. Dr.Harris submitted a short criticism of the article in the dialogue section of the journal (attached).

Dr. Harris has more appropriate outlets than debating with a psychiatrist who has economic power over him, indirectly, since the report, Dr. Harris knew, would influence whether he would continue to receive disability benefits from Manitoba Teachers’ Society.

Dr. Harris never stated, during this interview, that “he feels that he needs to criticize everything.” Such a view is simply stupid, and Dr. Harris would never say such a thing. On the other hand, he does have a Ph. D. in the philosophy of education and he agrees with John Dewey’s definition of philosophy as critique—and critique does not mean criticize everything—but criticizing what deserves to be criticized and that has importance in this world.

John Dewey was the greatest American philosopher of the twentieth century. Perhaps Dr. Morier would find John Dewey “pedantic and argumentative.”

Dr. Harris had no desire to engage in debate with Dr. Morier. He was not at the interview with Dr. Morier to debate with her.

Dr. Harris leaves it to the reader to judge whose version is more accurate.

Dr. Morier neglected to mention that Dr. Harris also stated that Dr. Burns argued, in his book,  that his book constituted bibliotherapy. Dr. Morier herself ridiculed such an idea. Dr. Harris leaves it to the reader to question why Dr. Morier permits such ridicule by herself but not by others.

“He stated that he often tried to have these philosophical discussions with Dr. Slusky.”

Actually, Dr. Slusky has been open to discussing a number of things. Dr. Harris need not “try to discuss”—he does discuss them. Dr. Harris also provided Dr. Slusky with a couple of his published articles.

Dr. Harris denies that he tried to discuss anything with Dr. Morier. He felt abused by her. Dr. Harris had no desire nor intention of trying to convince Dr. Morier of anything. He wanted the abusive process to stop—period.

Is it credible to maintain that someone wants to debate the other person if the person is feeling abused?

“He reported that Dr. Slusky is also trying to help him improve his interpersonal interactions by teaching him that there can be many ways of looking at and interpreting things which differ from his own view.”

Dr. Harris reported no such thing. Dr. Slusky and Dr. Harris have been discussing how Dr. Harris needs to understand how those in power are often threatened by the fact that Dr. Harris has a Ph. D.

What is sauce for the goose, apparently, is not sauce for the gander. Do psychiatrists display an understanding “that there can be many ways of looking at and interpreting things which differ from” their “own view?”

Dr. Morier implies that Dr. Harris’ views are dogmatic. Her views, of course, are not—according to Dr. Morier.

“He is also learning how to analyze his effect of his behaviour on other people.” The same issue again: the issue of Dr. Harris’ impact on those in power because he has a Ph. D.

Does Dr. Morier understand the impact of her behaviour on other people? Dr. Harris felt abused during the course of the interview.

“Mr. Harris seems to appreciate how flexible Dr. Slusky can be.” Dr. Harris certainly appreciates the respect that Dr. Slusky has shown Dr. Harris—unlike the extreme disrespect and indeed abuse that Dr. Harris experienced during the two-hour interview.

“When asked about his daily activities and his vocational rehabilitation planning, Mr. Harris spoke very disdainfully about how he was being `treated as a thing, as a machine’ by the disability insurance plan. He indicated that he was resentful that volunteering was forced upon him and increased by half-days on a weekly basis.”

This is inaccurate. Dr. Harris was forced to increase volunteering every half-day each month without any assessment of how the process was proceeding.

Dr. Morier, on page 1, decontextualized Dr.Harris’ assertion about being “well aware of their game,” thereby overgeneralizing. She here inaccurately reduces the timeframe for increasing the volunteering.

“He also disliked that he was told he needed to have an exercise program.” Dr. Harris believed that he had a right to express his dislikes to Dr. Morier. However, at one point, Dr. Harris queried whether Dr. Morier then expected Dr. Harris to subordinate his will to those in power. Dr. Morier’s response was, ”Exactly.”

Dr. Harris, during a meeting with Adelle Field Burton, case manager for MTS, and Kathleen Moore, employment counsellor, indicated that he had always hated physical education in school. They agreed with him. They saw nothing wrong with his choice of taking martial arts.

“Although he chose a form of martial arts training called Wing Chun for physical conditioning, he resents this as he does like being told what to do in class, feels exhausted after his weekly lessons and is in some pain because of recently developed bursitis. As well, he does not enjoy the sensation of having his heart pounding during the exercise.”

Dr. Harris at no time indicated that he was resistant to taking Wing Chun Kung Fu. Dr. Harris had taken such a form of martial arts when he was younger, and he is eager to learn this system. It is untrue that Dr. Harris “resents this as he does not like being told what to do in class.” Dr. Harris never stated such a thing. Dr. Harris recognizes the superior skill of his sifu, and he would never say such a thing. There is no evidence to suggest that Dr. Harris dislikes being told what to do in class. His sifu would undoubtedly confirm that Dr. Harris tries his best while in class.

Dr. Harris did indeed indicate to Dr. Morier that he often woke up in the early morning the next day after having attended the Wing Chun class. Dr. Morier’s response was rude: she indicated, in a very brusque manner, that Dr. Harris was out of shape.

“He clearly stated that he resents the Disability Benefits Plan telling him what to do and controlling his rehabilitation plan.” Dr. Harris talked to Dr. Gene Degen, counsellor in the EPA plan for Manitoba Teachers’ Society, while still working as a teacher. Dr. Degen indicated that, although one was expected to do certain things during rehabilitation, ultimately it was the person who formed the center of the plan and who was the driver.

“Upon reviewing the rehabilitation plan and the correspondence, the writer actually believes it is a quite gradual, gentle, generous rehabilitation program.” Dr. Harris is unsure what this means. Is Dr. Morier claiming that she reviewed the plan with Dr. Harris and stated that it “is … program?” Otherwise, the following sentence makes little sense: “He [Dr. Harris] abruptly stated that he wanted his family physician and him to negotiate the rehabilitation process.”

If Dr. Morier claims that she reviewed the plan with Dr. Harris and stated that it was a gradual plan, this claim is false. If she means that she reviewed the plan and found it gradual—that is her opinion. Dr. Harris was under the impression that he had a right to voice his views. Dr. Morier’s attitude that any negative attitude expressed by Dr. Harris was illegitimate shines through in this passage and was evident throughout the interview process. Her evident hostility towards Dr. Harris’ views formed the basis for Dr. Harris’ feeling of being abused.

Since Dr. Morier claims that the rehabilitation program is gradual when volunteering is increased a half day every week, she must, logically, consider the fact that volunteering was increased once every month to be even more generous.

Page 4: “The anger and irritability are much more prominent than sadness, which he acknowledged but has difficulty acknowledging that it is severe or disabling.”

This is false. Dr. Harris provided the examples to illustrate that he was less patient than before and that the impatience could be a problem for teaching since it was necessary to be patient as a teacher. He specifically stated that to Dr. Morier.

“…he clearly ruminates about the injustices he has suffered because he is a Marxist, as well as about his mistreatment and the mistreatment of his daughter at the hands of the police.”

Dr. Harris’ response is: And? Ignoring injustices is hardly healthy. Apparently, Dr. Harris is expected to view the world the way Dr. Morier does (despite the claim, in cognitive behavioural therapy, of viewing the world in diverse manners). Dr. Harris prefers a quote from the preface to Capital, volume one, by Karl Marx: “Perseus wore a magic cap that the monsters he hunted down might not see him. We draw the magic cap down over eyes and ears as a make-believe that there are no monsters!”

Page 5: “Content was significant for his preoccupations with all of the injustices in his life perpetuated by Child and Family Services….”

As for injustices in the world—Dr. Harris’ daughter has certainly experienced such injustice via the negligence of CFS and the Selinger government  [the NDP premier) (and, before that government, the Filmon government). [Gary Filmon was the Progressive Conservative Premier before Mr. Selinger.]

See the attached complaint against the Child and Family Services. Dr. Harris leaves it to the reader to determine whether the Child and Family Services has looked after the best interests of his daughter.

Apart from the above, there is further evidence of the inaccurate nature of Ms. Morier’s assessment. From Kathleen Moore, Rehabilitation Consultant, employed by MTS Disability, dated September 11, 2012: 

Fred made clear to me he has no interest in a gym program overseen by a therapist. I asked him what type of exercise programs he has done in the past and he stated he participated in martial arts programs. He has an interest in learning a martial arts program called Wing Chun. Fred found out the following that is of interest to him in terms of martial arts programs: 

  • Fred and I found one instructor who will instruct in Wing Chun but there were no others in this particular form of martial arts in Winnipeg. This instructor does it as a way of introducing the art to others and will only charge for the cost of the facility rental which is $30.00. Unfortunately he does not start a new class until November. The classes run for 3 weeks at 2x per week.
  • Fred has registered for a martial-arts and self-defense course with the Winnipeg School Division called “Personal Defense Readiness.” The cost is $89.00 total. It starts October 1st and runs for seven weeks 1x per week.

How anyone could claim that I resented participating in Wing Chun is beyond me. Perhaps it is due to stereotyping? As for the bursitis, the MTS Disability Plan actually paid a physiotherapist in order to solve that problem. I attended several sessions with the physiotherapist and engaged in exercises recommended by him at home in order to be able to participate in Wing Chun. That I felt tired while taking it is true–as was my pounding heart when I tried to sleep at night. I leave it to the reader to determine whether it is rational not to “enjoy” such sensations as a pounding heart that prevents one from sleeping properly. 

Conclusion

The oppression I experienced at the hands of Dr. Morier forms just one example of the oppression that many regular–and powerless–people experience at the hands of “experts” and “professionals” related, directly or indirectly, to the capitalist government or state. Such oppression is largely ignored by the social-democratic left, who idealize public services in general. 

In another post, I will further show how oppressive “psychological” therapy can be. 

Reimagining the Same-Old-Same-Old: Lakeshore School Division’s Reforms as an Example of School Rhetoric, Part Two: The Bias of Educational Research

In the last post on this topic (Reimagining the Same-Old-Same-Old: Lakeshore School Division’s Reforms as an Example of School Rhetoric, Part One)  , I looked at the school rhetoric that surrounded school change in a particular school division in Manitoba, Canada: Lakeshore School Division, by looking at the different phases of the “reform process” of school change in the school change project “Reimagine Lakeshore.” This post will look, critically, at some of the rhetoric involved in publications surrounding this reform process.

Jacqueline Kirk and Michael Nantais wrote an article titled “Reimagine Lakeshore: A School Division Change Initiative for the Twenty-First Century”  (in pages 317-342, Educating for the 21st Century:  Perspectives, Policies and Practices from Around the World, Suzanne Choo, Deb Sawch,
Alison Villanueva and Ruth Vinz,  Editors).The authors are hardly uninterested researchers. They themselves participated in the Reimagine Lakeshore project. From page 337:

A key part of the Reimagine process was the use of action research. Each year,
schools, teams of teachers, and individuals could apply for funding to pursue an
innovation in one of three pathways. Two university researchers, the authors, supported these projects.

The authors assume, throughout their review of the process, that the modern school system only needs to be reformed–not restructured in a radical manner to meet the learning needs of children and adolescents by integrating their nature as both  living beings and as intellectual/spirital beings (which is what The Dewey School in Chicago tried to do between 1896 and 1904). They assume, in other words, that children’s and adolescents’ learning needs are mainly symbolic and academic (see “Is the Teaching of Symbolic Learning in the School System Educational?” in the Publications and Writings section of this blog, found on the home page, for a critique of this view).

This lack of critical distance from the modern school system is reflected in their persistent positive evaluation of the project. They use the noun “excitement” several times in describing the reaction of the employees in the Division to the project. From page 334:

Data analysis indicated a high level of engagement and excitement [my emphasis] throughout the school division, particularly in the first phases of the Reimagine process. While direct involvement of teachers and administrators in the process was voluntary [my emphasis], approximately 67 % of survey respondents at the end of the second year (61 % response rate) indicated medium to high levels of participation, and only 11 % reported no participation.

As I argued in my last post, “Teachers are employees and thus subject to the economic pressure and influence of their employer.” The authors simply accept the claim that “direct involvement … in the process was voluntary.” What would happen if most teachers did not participate in the process? Did some teachers feel coerced economically or socially in any way to participate due to their situation as employees? The authors are blind to such a question. They assume throughout that participation was voluntary merely because it was declared to be voluntary.

This lack of critical distance can be seen in other things they wrote. For example, from page 336:

Much of the excitement across the division seemed to arise from the culture of trust
and risk-taking that was encouraged and nurtured.

Again, how trust can really emerge in the context of being an employee, on the one hand, and the employer on the other (represented by principals and superintendent) is beyond me. It is as if the economic power of the employer simply did not exist. Such a view, however, is consistent with the indoctrination typical in Canadian schools (see, for example, A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees).

As for risk-taking, the following is supposed to express an environment of risk-taking. From page 331:

The school division supported the plans with necessary resources and freedom to
experiment without the fear of failure. This support was exemplified when a school
trustee stood and stated, “The board is behind you. We want you to try some things
in your classrooms; if those don’t work, try some other things. It’s OK to fail.”

Firstly, merely saying that failure is acceptable can hardly compensate for the economic power that an employer actually holds. Teachers know that. experiments were to occur always within the confines of the power of the employers over their heads. Secondly, even if teachers felt that they could experiment, the experiment was always defined in terms of the modern school system. The following is thus pure rhetoric. From page 336:

One focus group participant explained that the division gives them “permission to think outside of the box, permission to try new things, to fail forward, to take chances and to take risks . . . I think that’s really powerful.”

To think outside the box–within the boxes called the modern school system and the curriculum–such is the limits of “risk taking” and “permission to fail.” The process was rigged from the beginning. That some teachers fell for the rhetoric is probably true, as the quote above shows, but this does not change the fact that it is school rhetoric that hides the reality of the limited changes possible in “Reimagine Lakeshore.”

The authors refer to several researchers in justifying their views. Let us take a look at one of their references: Michael Fullan. Mr. Fullan has written several works on educational change and school leadership. His arguments are couched in terms of the modern school system, with proposed changes being merely modifications of the modern school system–like “Reimagine Lakeshore.” Since some of the schools in Lakeshore School Division (such as Ashern Central School) are similar to urban inner-city schools (with parents whose income is relatively lower than the average), the criticism of Fullan’s approach by Pedro Noguera, in his article titled “A critical response to Michael Fullan’s ‘The future of educational change: system thinkers in action,'” Journal of Educational Change, Volume 7, is appropriate. From pages 130-131:

… by neglecting to discuss context, and by that I mean the reality of social and racial inequality in the US (or for that matter Canada and the UK) and its effects on school performance, Fullan inadvertently contributes to the narrow, de-contextualized, ‘‘blame-the-victim,’’ thinking that characterizes much of the scholarship and policy in the field of education. In the field of education, generalizing about what schools or educational leaders should do to promote successful practices and higher levels of achievement, simply does not work given the ‘‘savage inequalities’’ (Kozol 1991) that characterize American education.

At the most fundamental level, the educational leaders in impoverished areas must
figure out how to get those who serve their students—teachers, principals, secretaries and custodians, to treat them and their parents with dignity and respect. This is an especially great challenge because in American society, the institutions that serve poor people are rarely known for quality service.

Mr. Noguera’s own approach is itself, of course, limited since he refers to school bureaucrats as educational leaders–as if they were not part of the problem. Nonetheless, he does recognize that neglect of consideration of the social and economic conditions of most students and their parents is typical of school reform.

Fullan in turn criticizes Noquer’s own critique: Michael Fullan, “Reply to Noguera, Datnow and Stoll, Jan 2006,” Journal of Educational Change, Volume 7. Mr. Fullan’s response to Mr. Noguera’s critique is hardly adequate. From page137:

I have two main disagreements with how Noguera positions his argument. First, he
assumes that my eight elements of sustainability are only conceptual. What could he have thought I meant by the ‘‘in action’’ part of ‘‘System thinkers in action?’’ From where did he think I derived the main elements? In fact, these elements of sustainability consist of conclusions from my own and others’ work on the very problems Noguera brings to the fore. All eight, starting with the first, moral purpose, are devoted to matters, strategies, actions focusing on raising the bar and closing the gap in student achievement. The majority of the work involves working with schools in disadvantaged circumstances, and none of it is distant research let alone abstract theorizing. It all concerns working in partnerships with schools, districts, and states ‘‘to cause’’ improvements relative to the very issues highlighted by Noguera. I can see how he might have been misled and frustrated by the broad strokes in my paper, and I should have used some concrete examples (see Fullan, 2006), but to interpret what I said as merely theoretical misses the action-basis of my message.

There are many problems with this response. Firstly, the claim that Mr. Fullan’s model for school change is grounded in real schools that existed in “disadvantaged circumstances” in order to “raise the bar” and “close the gap in student achievement,” as already noted, merely assumes that “non-disadvantaged” schools form the standard for judging whether the reformed schools have ‘raised the bar” and “closed the gap in student achievement.” In other words, Mr. Fullan accepts the present modern school system as adequate for meeting the learning needs of students. This is hardly the case.

Secondly, is there proof that students from schools in disadvantaged areas, even with such school changes, can actually “raise the bar” to the level of the assumed “non-disadvantaged” schools and “close the gap in student achievement?” Thirdly, even if that were the case, there would still be competition between graduates for jobs on the market for workers–and the market for workers would sort them out according to the needs of employers, with some being assigned lower positions within a hierarchy of workers. Fourthly, even if there were not a hierarchy of positions, graduates as workers would still be used as things by employers (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

Mr. Fullan also pulls the old trick out of his hat of arguing that it is necessary to offer solutions to identified problems rather than just criticism. From pages 137-138:

The second problem I have concerns Noguera’s failure to offer any solutions or even
lines of solutions to the critical issues he identifies. He devotes several paragraphs to a series of tough questions, such as, ‘‘In communities like Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles and Buffalo what should schools do to meet the needs of the children they serve? What type of reading program should the vast number of inexperienced and uncredentialled teachers in Los Angeles employ?’’ and so on. There are few people in the field who are more relevant to these topics than Pedro Noguera, but if you really want to be relevant, do not just ask the questions, start providing ideas relevant to action. I know Noguera is actually engaged in such action as his great book City Schools and the American Dream (2003) attests to; I just wish he had provided some of this wisdom to the issues at hand in this exchange.

Identifying problems forms part of any necessary solution–they are not separate. Indeed, the proper formulation of a problem goes a long way towards its solution, as John Dewey, a major American philosopher of education, noted (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, page 108):

It is a familiar and significant saying that a problem well put is half-solved. To find out what the problem and problems are which a problematic situation presents to be inquired into, is to be well along in inquiry. To mistake the problem involved is to cause subsequent inquiry to be irrelevant or to go astray. Without a problem, there is blind groping in the dark. The way in which the problem is conceived decides what specific suggestions are entertained and which are dismissed; what data are selected and which rejected; it is the criterion for relevancy and irrelevancy of hypotheses and conceptual structures.

Furthermore, conceiving solutions to problems in schools that are defined in abstraction from the problem of the existence of a market for workers and the existence of a class of employers–as Mr. Fullan evidently does–is to limit solutions to window-dressing. Systemic change in the modern school system, if needed as a solution, is excluded from the start. Solutions to problems are to sought that coincide with conditions that reflect the modern school system.

Ms. Kirk and Mr. Mantais,  in conjunction with Ayodeji Osiname,  (M.Ed. Candidate, Brandon University), Janet Martell (Superintendent, Lakeshore School Division) and Leanne Peters (Assistant Superintendent, Lakeshore School Division) presented at the 43rd Annual Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CSSE) Conference (2015) in Ottawa. The title of their presentation is: ” Reimagine Lakeshore: A Reflective Analysis of a School Division Change Initiative.” It is the same school rhetoric as analyzed in part one, so there is no point in referring further to it.

In the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents MASS Journal (Fall 2013), pages 12-15, Ms. Martell and Ms. Peters published an article on Reimagine Lakeshore titled “Excitement, Energy and Enthusiasm: Lakeshore School Division and the Process of Change.” The article is full of school rhetoric, such as “Teachers from all 10 schools in Lakeshore volunteered to work with their colleagues to imagine a different kind of classroom, with different ways to learn and to teach,” or the following (page 12):

The Challenge

In late December 2012, I l[Ms. Martell] aid down a challenge to all of our teachers, “By September 2014 we have to be doing something radically different [my emphasis] in each and every one of our classrooms. We are no longer serving the needs of our current student population.”

Obviously, their definition of “something radically different” is rather conservative. I take it that the reader will be able to determine whether the actual Reimagine Lakeshore was “something radically different” or not.

The authors provide one additional detail that is worth noting (page 13):

One of the key components of the Learning Vision has been reading comprehension.
In order to make this a reality, all teachers received professional development and support from literacy consultants in teaching reading comprehension  strategies to students. The division developed a Standard Reading Assessment (SRA) that is administered to students twice per year to track levels of comprehension and to determine areas for direct teaching. Although this presented considerable challenges, it became instrumental in shifting teachers’ thinking from the idea that teaching reading is the job of the language arts teacher to the idea that all teachers who put text in front of students are teachers of reading.

Learning to read in various disciplines is of course useful, but the focus on learning to read rather than learning about life in general and human life in particular, with reading as a means to that end, reflects what I called in one article the fetishism for literacy.

I will leave this school rhetoric for now. Students, as living human beings, deserve much, much more than this school rhetoric: they deserve the best that this society can offer all children–but that requires a radical change in social and economic conditions that are governed by a class of employers. In conjunction with such change, school changes will proceed to repair the division between human beings as living beings and human beings as spiritual and intellectual beings. That is the real radical challenge of our times–not the pseudo-challenges thrown up by school bureaucrats.

One final point: Social democrats and social reformers underestimate the extent to which it is necessary to incorporate constant criticism of such rhetoric in various domains. They thus underestimate the importance of an ideological battle not just in universities but in the community and in the workplace. The ruling class ideologues, on the other hand, persistently engage in ideological endeavours to achieve their goals. Reimagine Lakeshore is one such endeavour. Where were the social democrats? They were nowhere to be found.

A Personal Example of the Oppressive Nature of  Public Welfare Services

Introduction

As I wrote in another post A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eight):

I sent, among other things, a table that contained some of Francesca’s and my experiences with the WCFS [Winnipeg Child and Family Services] (I will be posting a modified version of this table (the updated version is more inclusive) on this blog, much of which I have included in this series of posts. I also sent the material to the  Manitoba Minister of Justice and to the Manitoba Minister of Education. I also began to send the material to government institutions outside the province of Manitoba. 

The social-democratic or reformist left rarely address the many oppressive experiences that workers experience on a daily or weekly or monthly basis. Indeed, they often idealize public services and, thereby, do a disservice to workers. By not recognizing the often oppressive nature of many social-service agencies (government or state institutions), the social-democratic or reformist left contribute to the move among workers to the right. Of course, the self-righteous social democratic or socialist left then criticize such a move. The social-democratic or reformist left should look at their own practices and engage in self-criticism–but they rarely do.

Indeed, given the level of public (government) oppression experienced by the poorer sections of Canadian citizens, immigrants and migrant workers (measured this time in terms of level of income), it is hardly surprising that many of them would support tax cuts and a reduction in “public services.” Support for austerity has at least some basis in the oppressive public service–and the disregard for such oppression by the social-democratic or reformist left.

The table below is the modified version. It should be read from the right-side downward, chronologically, and then the left-side.

I refer to myself as “Dr. Harris” since I have a doctorate (a Ph. D). I referred to myself like that since workers as social-service agencies, in my experience, treat less educated persons in a more oppressive manner (I only obtained the doctorate in 2009).

The table below should be read in the context of points 1-4 on the right-hand side of the table (before the court-ordered assessment), and from point 5 onward on the right-hand side of the table.

Apprehension of Francesca, Dr. Harris’s daughter, by the WCFS, March 10, 2010Non-apprehension of Francesca, Dr. Harris’ daughter, by the Winnipeg Child and Family Services (WCFS):
1. Claims that Dr. Harris blocked his daughter’s path;1. False accusation of sexual abuse by mother at the suggestion of the Winnipeg Child and Family Services (WCFS) during mediation, 1996;
2. Claims that Dr. Harris frightened his daughter;2. January, 1997: Francesca begins to complain to Dr. Harris that her mother is using a wooden stick and a belt on her buttocks (she would say, “nalgas,” (buttocks) “cincho” (belt), “cama” (bed) in Spanish.
3. Claims that Dr. Harris indicated in a letter that he had choked Francesca at an earlier date; there was no mention of throwing tea (that came later—probably a fishing expedition to find any reason to justify the CFS’ actions in apprehending Francesca. To what extent Francesca was manipulated by CFS, the RCMP or other authorities remains unclear.3. False accusation of sexual abuse by mother once again through the WCFS, 1997;
4. Claims that Dr. Harris indicated in a letter that he had thrown Francesca to the ground;4. July 1998, perhaps: Beginning of formal complaints by Dr. Harris about use of a belt and a wooden object to discipline Francesca by mother to WCFS. He decided to do so after discussing the issue with a friend. The friend pointed out that if Dr. Harris did not inform the “authorities,” he could be accused of hiding the child abuse.
5. Claims that Dr. Harris has mental health problems (by the WCFS lawyer in front of a judge).5. Claim by Dr. Harris’ lawyer that the court-ordered assessor, a social worker, was sympathetic to Dr. Harris’ views (probably so that Dr. Harris would openly express his views).
6. Dr. Harris is forbidden to see his daughter—with the threat that he would face legal consequences.6. Dr. Harris did not see the court-ordered assessment by the social worker until the day of the pretrial hearing—contrary to procedure, which required him to have access to such an assessment before the pretrial hearing in front of Judge Diamond. When Dr. Harris tried to talk to his lawyer about the contents of the assessment (full of lies and inaccuracies), his lawyer replied, “Don’t talk politics to your daughter.”
7. Dr. Harris at first fights against these falsehoods.7. Claim by the court-ordered assessor (and consultant to the WCFS), in his 1998 assessment that Dr. Harris’ claim of physical abuse was “somewhat ridiculous.”
8. When a judge, during a pre-hearing trial indicates that even if the court judged in Dr. Harris’ favour, there would be no recourse except to have Francesca be released in the custody of one of the parents (and since neither Francesca nor Dr. Harris wanted to live with each other), Dr. Harris acquiesces. However, he then drafts a table and sends it to Premier Sellinger, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Justice, among others, with the subject heading “J’accuse.”8. Claim by the court-ordered assessor (and consultant to the WCFS), that Dr. Harris was indoctrinating Francesca in “the evils of capitalism”
9. Sometime after September 10 but perhaps before October 6, Dr. Harris believes, he contacted the Manitoba Human Rights Commission in order to file a complaint against the CFS. The Commission informed Dr. Harris that the time for filing a complaint had expired.9. February, 1999: Beginning of Francesca’s physical hostility towards him: punching, after mother found in contempt of court and did not permit daughter to see him. Francesca wanted to know why he did not want to see her and punched him often because of it.
10. October 6, 2010: Darrell Shorting, worker for Anishinaabe Child and Family Services in Ashern, Manitoba, calls the school where Dr. Harris is working and says that he knows what Dr. Harris has done, namely, choked his daughter and threw her to the ground. Mr. Shorting obliges Dr. Harris to tell the principal at the time (Mr. Chartrand) that Dr. Harris is under investigation.10. April 1999: During the civil trial, there were only two issues: whether Dr. Harris sexually abused Francesca, and whether he was continuing to indoctrinate—supposedly—her in Marxism. The issue of Francesca’s physical abuse by the mother was simply buried and did not form part of the trial. The judge considered the mother’s accusation of sexual abuse to be unfounded—especially when she made another accusation that Dr. Harris had sexually abused Francesca the night before.
11. Dr. Harris is put on administrative leave for perhaps one week. The staff, he believes, are told that it is medical, so Dr. Harris feels obliged to leave Ashern every day early from Ashern.11. The social worker who wrote the court-ordered assessment testified under oath that he would search for material that would indicate that Dr. Harris’ “indoctrination” of Francesca was harmful to Francesca (he implied that he had no proof at the time). By chance, Dr. Harris met this social worker about a week later. The social worker claimed that he was still searching for material. The social worker provided no such material to Dr. Harris—ever.
12. Lakeshore School Division decides to have Dr. Harris placed in the clinical supervision model for the year. Dr. Harris passes this assessment.12. Dr. Harris files a complaint against his former lawyer; the Law Society of Manitoba rejects it out of hand.
13. March 31, 2011: Dr. Harris files a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission against Child and Family Services.13. Letter to WCFS, January 20, 2000: mother used wooden object on Francesca because Francesca used the computer.
14. April 4, 2011: Dr. Harris is placed under arrest by Ashern RCMP and that he had been under investigation since September of last year. There were three charges: that Dr. Harris choked Francesca, that he pinned her arms violently and that he threw tea at Francesca and hit her with the tea (the latter charge was a new accusation that had never been made before).14. Dr. Harris files about a sixty-page complaint against the social worker who wrote the court-ordered assessment to the Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers now that the mother was once again physically abusing Francesca. The only issue for them was whether Mr. Ashley displayed any open hostility towards Dr. Harris (shouting, for example). They dismiss Dr. Harris’ complaint without any explanation.
15. April 9 (Saturday), 2011: Dr. Harris had the custom since he arrived in Ashern of going to “Just My Kind of Bakery” on Saturdays at 12:15 p.m. For the first time ever, several RCMP officers (some in street clothes) sit opposite Dr.Harris at “Just My Kind of Bakery” in Ashern.15. Letter to WCFS, January 28, 2000: (occurred on January, 2000): mother used a wooden stick to discipline Francesca near her hips for not eating her vegetables. Another occasion: her mother pulled her hair for not eating her cereal.
16. April 16, 2011: Several RCMP officers once again do the same thing.16.February 15, 2000: to WCFS: mother slapped or hit Francesca on the mouth
17. May 2011: Dr. Harris is informed by the new principal that he will no longer be teaching high-school French.17.Various threats by mother: Not sure when: mother told his daughter not to tell anyone about her so-called discipline because the police would take Francesca away. Not sure when: mother told Francesca that she would rip her face off. Consequence: Francesca refused to talk about the physical actions of her mother.
18. September 2011: Dr. Harris is assigned to one special needs student for the morning—a glorified educational assistant. Dr. Harris’ heart starts pounding due a rapidly increasing stressful situation.18.May 4, 2000: Discipline with wooden object and belt.
19. October 26, 2011: The new principal, the superintendent, a representative from Manitoba Teachers’ Society and Dr. Harris have a meeting. At the meeting, Dr. Harris is informed that he will once again be placed on clinical supervision. The MTS rep states, in private, that the school is the principal’s school and implies that Dr. Harris would need the principal’s approval to place articles in the staff lounge critical of schools.19.September, 2000: Mother told Francesca that she would smash Francesa’s teeth if she gave her father food from her lunch bag.
20. November 16, 2011: The charges against Dr. Harris are dropped—without explanation.20.October 10, 2000: mother slapped Francesca in the face; her lower tooth was bleeding
21. December, 2011: The new principal provides Dr. Harris with a copy of his clinical supervision. Dr. Harris replies with a 43-page rebuttal, which MTS rep reduces to 30 pages. The MTS rep indicates that the new principal’s assessment report does not reflect very well—on the principal.21.November, 2000: mother hit Francesca with a belt buckle.
22. .Late January or early Feburary, 2012: Another meeting with the new principal,.the superintendent, the MTS rep and Dr. Harris. The superintendent mentions the fact that Dr. Harris had cancer and the arrest. The MTS rep says nothing about this. She places him on “intensive clinical supervision,” which is to begin on February 16, which means that he would be directly under the supervision of the superintendent.22.January, 2001: Francesca indicates that she will no longer tell Dr. Harris that her mother is hitting her since she was afraid that her mother would find out that she had told him.
23. Dr. Harris goes on sick leave as of February 16, 2012.23. February, 2001: Mother slapped Francesca in the head—Francesca cried.
24. Dr. Harris resigns from Lakeshore School Division, June 2012. 24. February, 2001: Mother pulled Francesca’s ear so hard that Francesca cried. Dr. Harris had to promise Francesca that he would not tell the WCFS about this as well as the slap in the head.
25. Before Dr. Harris leaves for Toronto in 2013, he reads an earlier version of the table in front of the Manitoba legislature during a protest against the CFS (mainly aboriginal women protesting the apprehension of their children).25. Mother hit Francesca in the head with a book several times: not sure exactly when: before March, 2001.

26. The mother pushed Francesca to the ground: not sure exactly when: Before March, 2001

27. Mother slapped Francesca in the head several times, not sure when: before March, 2001

28. March 15, 2001: Letter from WCFS: no need for protection, Karen McDonald

29. January 13, 2003: Letter from Rhonda Warren, Assistant Program Manager, stating: “Whether we agree or not regarding the issue of corporal punishment, it is not illegal for a parent to use such practice and in absence of injury Child and Family Services does not have the authority to demand change. It appears from your lengthy correspondence that you and … [the] mother have very different childrearing practices.” This implies that the mother was using corporal punishment.

30. Francesca becomes violent toward Dr. Harris toward the end of August 2003. He takes her to her mother’s residence and refuses to see her until she can promise to refrain from punching him.
.31. September, 2003: According to Francesca, the mother proceeds to rip up the swimming goggles Dr. Harris bought for her swimming lessons; the mother smashes the watch that Mr. Harris gave his daughter; she rips up a doll that Dr. Harris had gave her and throws it into the garbage can.

32. October, 2003: The mother’s nephews from Guatemala visit for a few months. Dr. Harris resumed seeing Francesca. Despite the court-order clearly indicating that Francesca was to be with him until 7:00 p.m., the mother orders Francesca to be home by 12:00 noon for her skating lessons—at 2:30—or, she tells Francesca, she will phone the police. Dr. Harris refuses to acquiesce; he would take Francesca home, he tells Francesca, at 1:00, like last time. Francesca begins poking him in the face with wooden sticks from a kit that he had bought her. He takes Francesca back to the mother’s place, indicating once again that he would not see Francescauntil she learns to control her violent behaviour. He also indicates to the mother that she has no legal right to interfere in his access rights.

33. January 22, 2004 : Letter from Mr. Berg, Assistant Program manager, threatening to consult its legal counsel and to phone the police. “We as a Branch, will not be investigating your most recent disclosure regarding your daughter and your ex-wife. I will instruct our Crisis Response Unit to screen all calls from yourself from this date forward particularly if they reference your wife and the quality of care your daughter Francesca Harris is receiving. As a Branch responsible for child welfare matters in the city, we will respond to legitimate calls. If in the future our Branch staff follow up on a referral call from yourself and we determine that the call is unfounded and malicious in nature, we will be consulting our legal counsel and the police to consider legal action.” The year before, the letter dated January 13, 2003, from Rhonda Warren, implied that his daughter’s mother was using corporal punishment. This year, Mr. Berg implies that Dr. Harris was making false claims. The issue was not just between Francesca’s mother and Dr. Harris; it was between my Francesca’s mother, the WCFS and Dr. Harris—as it has been from the beginning.
Subsequent to a complaint against the WCFS to the Ombudsman’s Office made by Dr. Harris concerning this letter , the Ombusdman’s Office wrote the following (May 12, 2005): “Our office has investigated the concerns you raised and have concluded that the position taken by WCFS as outlined in their letters of January 13, 2003 and January 22, 2004 is not clearly wrong or unreasonable. Accordingly there is no recommendation that can be made on your behalf.”
Subsequent to a meeting in June 2005, the Ombudsman’s Office wrote a letter, dated January 9, 2006, which contained, among other things, the following:
“It was agreed that our office would send you a further report after we had the opportunity to pursue one of the issues which remained outstanding. This issue related to the tone/wording of the letter addressed to you from WCFS dated January 22, 2004 which in part stated:
If in the future our Branch staff follow up on a referral call from yourself and we determine that the call is unfounded and malicious in nature, we will be consulting our legal counsel and the police to consider legal action.’
You advised us that not only did this paragraph leave you confused as to what you should do in the future should there be further incidents about which you were concerned involving your daughter’s care, but you felt this paragraph implicitly threatened you with police action.” …
WCFS is now aware that the tone and choice of wording of the letter in question gave you the impression that they felt your complaints were not legitimate and that you would be subjected to police involvement. We have confirmed that WCFS will respond to you as specified in The Child and Family Services Act.”
Dr. Harris replied to the Ombudsman’s Office that he was little concerned about the tone of the letter but about the real threat to use the police.

34. June 28, 2004: Mother hits Francesca in the nose, causing it to bleed as well as the mother throwing a wooden stick near Francesca’s face. On July 5, 2004, Dr. Harris take Francesca to the Children’s Advocate office, where Francesca is interviewed. The person who interviews her, Janet Minwald, then talks to Dr. Harris. She indicates that there has been a disclosure this time about physical abuse. Apparently, it took the WCFS several months before it interviewed my daughter.

35. After this time, Dr. Harris generally tried to limit his connections with the WCFS since the WCFS was clearly not doing its duty to protect Francesca (probably because he is a Marxist). Francesca was afraid to call the CFS from her mother’s home for obvious reasons and, according to Francesca, the school refused to let her call Child and Family Services. Dr. Harris therefore bought Francesca a cell phone so that she could call the WCFS herself. She had the number programmed into the phone. She had to hide in the washroom to call them.

36. 2007-2008: Francesca, lacking sufficient attendance in grade 8 for the school year 2007-2008, had to repeat it. Dr. Harris purchases distance education courses for Francesca for the summer. Francesca takes them with her for her holidays during the summer—and does not work on them.

37. Francesca begins to live with Dr. Harris in Ashern, Manitoba, in late August, 2008.

38. Dr. Harris decides to home school Francesca, creating a plan of studies.

39. Francesca falls behind in her studies.

40. When Dr. Harris confronts Francesca about her lack of studying, she becomes increasingly violent by, for example, digging her elbow in his ribs when he tries to teach her.

41. Around November, 2008, Francesca throws a metal lid at him, barely missing his head. Dr. Harris puts her in a headlock and force her to the ground, refusing to let her go until she promises not to throw anything.

42. Probably in December, Francesca punches Dr. Harris in the face. He reacts by pinning her arms.

43. During Christmas holidays, while his daughter was visiting her mother, Dr. Harris visits the doctor since he is not feeling very well, and there is an increased amount of blood in his urine (he had had traces of blood before, but not to that amount). The doctor prescribes some medication.

44. He starts to bleed more and more profusely when urinating. He begins to have pains in his right kidney. He contacts the doctor, and the doctor contacts a urologist (Dr. Bard) to have a CT scan.

45. When his daughter returns in January, Dr. Harris and Francesca continue to argue because of her lack of studying.

46. Since Dr. Harris did not have his permanent contract as a teacher yet, he tried to hide the fact that he was urinating blood by cleaning up any blood that splashed on the floor in the school washroom

47. Dr. Harris, while trying to teach Francesca, tried to show her that he was sick by showing her that the toilet bowl was full of blood. This had no effect on Francesca’s violent behavior.

48. While he tries to teach Francesca, she continues to act violently towards him. While drinking some tea, Francesca, digs her elbows into his side; he flings the tea, some of which hits his daughter in the face (fortunately, the tea is not so hot that it physically hurt her).

49. Dr. Harris takes Francesca back to her mother’s place on approximately January 28, 2009 and gives her mother a letter, indicating that he did not ever want to see Francesca again.

50. February, 2009: CT scan reveals that Dr. Harris has a large tumor in his bladder. Dr. Harris still does not want to see his daughter.

51. March 2009: Dr. Harris is diagnosed with invasive bladder cancer and has partial surgery to remove part of the tumor (it is too big for surgery to remove all of it). Dr. Harris informs Francesca that he has cancer, and they start to see each other again—although Francesca does not want to talk about the cancer and the possibility of her father dying.

52. June, 2009: The intern for the chemotherapy oncologist informs Dr. Harris that there is a 60 percent chance that he will die within the next five years.

53. June-August, 2009: Dr. Harris undergoes chemotherapy. It seems to work.

54. February or March, 2010: Dr. Harris opts for radiation therapy as suggested by his urologist Dr. Bard instead of removal of the bladder. Radiation oncologist refuses to perform the radiation because the bladder is too close to the lower intestine. Dr. Harris opts for surgery to move the lower intestine out of the way by means of a mesh so that radiation can occur.

55. March 10, 2010: The surgeon provides Dr. Harris with a note that indicates that he will have surgery on April 19.

56. March 10, 2010: Dr. Harris gives his daughter a copy of the note (and a book on evolution in order to try to have her read something that contradicts the Bible).

Reimagining the Same-Old-Same-Old: Lakeshore School Division’s Reforms as an Example of School Rhetoric, Part One

The following is a critical look at the reforms proposed and implemented in Lakeshore School Division, in the province of Manitoba (I worked for this Division as a French teacher from 2008 until 2012). Such reforms illustrate the extent to which school rhetoric is rampant in schools these days. You would not, however, know it if you read social-democratic or social reformist articles–most of the authors talk about defending “public education this” and “public education that” without ever engaging into inquiry about the adequacy of such public education.

On December 9, 2014, in EdCan Network, Leanne Peters, Janet Martell and Sheila Giesbrecht published an article titled “Re-imagine Lakeshore: Design, Education and Systems Change” (see https://www.edcan.ca/articles/re-imagine-lakeshore/). At the time, Leanne Peters was assistant superintendent of Lakeshore School Division, Janet Martell was the superintendent and Sheila Giesbrecht was Student Success Consultant, Manitoba Education. In essence, they were all unelected (appointed) school bureaucrats.

It is full of school rhetoric that the left should criticize.

School Rhetoric of Representatives of a Public Employer

In December 2012, Superintendent Janet Martell laid out a challenge to the school division. She told staff and board that “we were no longer meeting the needs of the students in our classrooms and we need to do something dramatically different.” Teachers were working hard and they wanted the best for the students, but we just weren’t having success.

School Rhetoric, or Putting Words into Teachers’ Mouths: Ignoring the Employee Status of Teachers

The teachers agreed and we embarked on the process of “Re-imagine Lakeshore.”

Teachers are employees and thus subject to the economic pressure and influence of their employer. Did they really “agree” with this, or did they comply with this assessment? If people are coerced economically, is their “agreement” really agreement? (See my post   “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: OCAP)  for the view that employees are economically coerced. See also Employers as Dictators, Part One).

The Re-imagine Lakeshore process was designed to examine current practice and imagine new ways to improve practice. The division collaborated with one of our co-authors, Dr. Sheila Giesbrecht of Manitoba Education, who laid out a design-based school improvement process to help guide Lakeshore’s work. Teachers listened with extreme interest as the design process unfolded.

What evidence that the teachers listened with “extreme interest?” Ms. Martell provides no evidence We are supposed to just believe–on faith–that such extreme interest existed.

Phase 1: Understand (December 2012 – January 2013)

To begin this work, teachers came together to understand their divisional context.

As employees, teachers “come together” by means of an external contractual process of employment, with the unity of the workers not being due to their coming together and willing a common goal, but through the will of the employer defining the goal independently of them. From Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1, page 451:

They [the workers] enter into relations with the capitalist [or public employer], but not with each other. Their co-operation only begins with the labour process, but by then they have ceased to belong to themselves. On entering the labour process they are incorporated into capital [or the public employer]. As co-operators, as members of a working organism, they merely form a particular mode of existence of capital [or a public employer]. Hence the productive power developed by the worker socially is the productive power of capital [or public employer].

Belonging to a union may modify this situation (depending on the unity of the workers in their wills to achieve common  objectives or goal), but it does not by any means radically change such a situation. For instance, Lakeshore Teachers’ Association, the union for the teachers, pursued certain goals (such as obtaining two paid personal days in their collective agreement), but the establishment of the general goals of Lakeshore School Division does not form part of the voluntary deliberative process of the teachers and other workers.

One specific goal–defined by the school bureaucracy and not by teachers and other workers–was evidently the integration of computer technology into teaching practices:

Teachers responded to surveys about their ability to integrate technology into their lessons and provided data around the teaching strategies they regularly employed in their classrooms.

Who determined that the integration of technology was vital (really meaning “computers”–as if technology and computers were synonymous)? Further, did the teachers voluntarily provide data? If they provided no data, would they face any negative consequences?

One general goal of Lakeshore School Division is “student success.” What does Ms.Martell mean by success? We await with enthusiasm what that may be.

School Rhetoric of Success Defined According to Quantitative Graduation Rates–Nothing Else

Teachers worked through their school and catchment area data, graduation rates.

It is, of course, necessary to determine the present situation if you are going to specify the problem and offer relevant solutions. However, we see here an implicit assumption of what “success” means–graduation rates. Presumably, if all students graduated, then there would be substantial success. If they all graduated within four years (grades 9 to 12), then there would be 100 percent success, presumably.

We can compare such a goal with the goal of having every individual student developing their potentialities in diverse ways (physical, emotional, aesthetic (capacity to enjoy art), artistic (capacity to produce art), kinesthetic, mathematical, scientific, empathetic and so forth) to the maximum of their abilities. From John Dewey (1916/2004), Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, pages 186-187:

If what was said earlier about originality of thought seemed overstrained, demanding more of education than the capacities of average human nature permit, the difficulty is that we lie under the incubus of a superstition. We have set up the notion of mind at large, of intellectual method that is the same for all. Then we regard individuals as differing in the quantity of mind with which they are charged. Ordinary persons are then expected to be ordinary. Only the exceptional are allowed to have originality. The measure of difference between the average student and the genius is a measure of
the absence of originality in the former. But this notion of mind in general is a fiction. How one person’s abilities compare in quantity with those of another is none of the teacher’s business. It is irrelevant to his work. What is required is that every individual shall have opportunities to employ his own powers in activities that have meaning. Mind, individual method, originality (these are convertible terms) signify the quality of purposive or directed action. If we act upon this conviction, we shall secure more originality even by the conventional standard than now develops. Imposing an alleged uniform general method upon everybody breeds mediocrity in all but the very exceptional. And measuring originality by deviation from the mass breeds eccentricity in them. Thus we stifle the distinctive quality of the many, and save in rare instances (like, say, that of Darwin) infect the rare genius with an unwholesome quality.

Graduation rates are quantitative in the first instance and, in addition, are quantitative in a second instance since in order for a student to graduate, the student must have–comparatively–received a passing (quantitative) grade. For a critique of the assessment of students according to grades or marks, see  The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part One: Oppressive Educational Services.

The power to define “student success” is hidden by the use of apparently scientific words, such as “explore”:

They explored divisional successes and examined ways in which the teachers modeled exemplary practice. Finally, the community responded to a student success survey and helped to further define the “successful student” and the “successful school.” Teachers, administrators, students and the community collaborated to develop common understanding around the character of Lakeshore School Division.

Exploration requires the freedom to explore–to search, think and define problems freely. Being employees, where is there evidence that teachers freely explored issues? Further, who defined “divisional successes?” If the school bureaucracy define it in one way and teachers in another way, how is the conflict resolved?

Who defined what “student success is?” And how? There is the claim that “teachers, administrators, students and the community collaborated to develop common understanding”–but under the dictatorship, of course, of the school bureaucracy, which represents the employer. Participation is hardly equal among the different “partners” (for the idea that employers are dictators, see  Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Defining Success at the Micro Level But Ignoring Problems at the Macro Level

Phase 2: Problemate (February – March 2013)

During the second phase, teachers worked to describe the specific challenges faced within their school. Using the narrative and quantitative data collected during the Understand Phase, schools created a “problemate statement” to define what they wanted to improve within their own school. For example, one school’s statement was: “To raise the bar and close the gap for every child.” The process of understanding and creating a problem statement was difficult. Developing a problem statement meant that both successes and challenges had to be faced head-on. Schools continued to dig deeper during this phase and were challenged to work with open mindsets. Each school worked to create a focused design challenge that they wished to address through this school improvement process.

There are undoubtedly always problems that any school will face that are unique to that school: hence “teachers worked to describe the specific challenges faced within their school.” However, are such problems to be solved by a school, or must larger social structures be changed to address certain problems? For example, Ashern Central School can be characterized as similar to many inner-city schools in Winnipeg: the level of income of many parents is limited. Defining improvement in any school is purely reformist and will never address many of the problems in schools–ranging from an alienating curriculum that focuses on “academic learning” at the expense of the lived bodily experience of many students–to defining success purely in terms of “graduation rates” that involves quantitative measurement of “success” through grading practices (marks or grades).

Phase 3: Ideate (April – June 2013)

During the third phase teachers worked to develop new ways of approaching the design challenges they developed in the second phase. Working in cross-divisional cohorts, they identified 14 common themes and challenges based on the schools’ problem statements. These included technology integration, instructional strategies, whole student approaches, relationships, parental involvement, and facilities. Teachers gathered on their own time to conduct research, share ideas and look at ways to enhance their own and divisional practices. During this phase teachers worked to extend their professional knowledge base, skills and ideas. They also worked to explore new ideas and strategies.

It is interesting that there is no mention of the curriculum being a common problem (for a critique of the oppressive nature of school curriculums, see The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part One: Oppressive Educational Services). It is probably assumed as something fixed over which teachers have no control. They thus probably focused on problems that they could immediately control at the micro level. Their own activity was already likely delimited to defining and searching for problems as defined by the school hierarchy (bureaucracy). That the school system might itself be a problem never arises here, of course.

As for teachers meeting on their own time–probably true–teachers do work a lot, in general. However, some of this is due to the nature of the work–and some due to implicit hierarchical pressure to do so. It is difficult to separate what is freely done outside school time and what is done out of fear of retaliation by management. See the above section “School Rhetoric, or Putting Words into Teachers’ Mouths: Ignoring the Employee Status of Teachers.”

School Rhetoric and Educational Research

During this time, Lakeshore School Division became part of Brandon University’s VOICES Project and with that came additional support and funding to expand Lakeshore’s school improvement work. Several teachers participated with learning tours and additional professional learning around the 14 themes. Teachers shared their new understandings both informally and formally across the division. Prior to this process, this level of research and conversation had been unseen. One teacher remarked, “I haven’t read so much educational research since I graduated from university years ago!” The cultural shift was deepening.

The reference to “educational research” expresses a lack of critical thinking. Most educational research, assumes that the present school system constitutes the standard. It goes around in circles by engaging in educational research while assuming that its object of analysis is the only possible one (with minor changes only possible). Such an approach is of course conservative. As I wrote in one publication (see in the Publications and Writings section of this blog, on the homepage, “A Deweyan Review of the Chicago Teachers’ Union Publication The Schools Chicago Students Deserve: Research-Based Proposals to Strengthen Elementary and Secondary Education in the Chicago Public Schools (2012):

The basis of the research—both the document itself and the sources used–however, is the present school system, so the structure of the present school system constitutes the standard for determining what good education is. Since the modern school system emphasizes academics, research based on that system is bound to do so as well—in a vicious circle. The research, based on a school system that emphasizes academics to the exclusion of the human body (or the latter as an afterthought or add on), then reinforces a school system that emphasizes academics to the exclusion of the human body and so forth. There is really no alternative vision to the present school system but merely a variation on an old theme despite the good intention of being critical.

For further criticism of educational research, see the post  Much Educational Research Assumes the Legitimacy of the Current School Structure.

There is a lesson to be drawn from the above: the social democrats or the social reformers underestimate vastly the extent to which future workers (students) are indoctrinated into accepting the present social system. There is so much rhetoric thrown around in schools (and elsewhere, such as social-service agencies and organizations) that there is little wonder that workers become cynical of the possibility for real change. And what do social democrats do? They, for the most part, remain silent–rather than engaging in constant critique of such rhetoric. Or they themselves participate in such rhetoric by referring to “social justice in schools,” “fair contracts,” “decent work,”  and so forth.

Let us now look at Phase 4:

Phase 4: Experiment (September 2013 – June 2014)

During the fourth phase of the process, Lakeshore teachers and administrators focused on trying out some of the skills and strategies they had explored during the Ideate Phase. This involved enhancing existing practices and innovating and trying new approaches. Experiments included using class iPad sets within various settings, developing interdisciplinary classrooms, reimagining learning spaces, experimenting with flipped classrooms and developing project-based approaches. One of the most powerful moments in the process came when trustee Jim Cooper stood up in front of the teachers and said, “The board is behind you. We want you to try some things in your classrooms; if those don’t work, try some other things. It’s OK to fail.” This attitude of openness and acceptance allowed teachers to imagine, innovate and experiment with new educational strategies and ideas. The divisional culture shifted to allow teachers to adopt new mindsets around what it means to teach and learn.

Experiments involved using a particular form of computer technology in various contexts–but evidently within the framework of the existing bias of a curriculum focused on literacy and numeracy at the elementary level and academic learning at the junior and senior high-school levels. As I wrote in my article “Is the Teaching of Symbolic
Learning in the School System Educational?” (in the Publications and Writings section of this blog, found on the home page):

Evidently, then, symbolic learning forms the core of the modern school curriculum at the elementary level and continues to form a central aspect in middle and high school curricula with their emphasis on academic learning.

Experiments also involved using interdisciplinary classrooms. Presumably, such subjects as language arts and social studies could be combined–as was the case for English language arts and social studies in grade 9. However, as I have pointed out in another post, the Canadian social studies curriculum is biased and indoctrinates students by not teaching them how and why employers exist (see, for example,  A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees). Combining curricula will not change this fact. Nor will it change the focus on academic learning and symbolic learning.

“Reimagine Lakeshore” was really not very innovative. It was a top-down initiated process that lacked any real critical thinking. Its reimagination–was to imagine a rehashed school system that merely modifies a few “variables” (such as integrating a few subjects within a predominately symbolic and academic curriculum that itself is biased).

A critical look at this “reimagining process” will continue in a second post by looking at some “analyses” of this process as well as one source that such analyses rely on to justify their views.