Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Fourteen: A Critique of the Educational Nature of So-called Educational Reforms

This is a continuation of a series of posts on summaries of articles, mainly on education.

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

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

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

The attached article for the ESJ Ning is prefaced by the following:
Hello everyone,
Attached is another article that I sent for the ESJ Ning. I prefaced it with the following:

Daniel Rossides’ article, “Knee-Jerk Formalism: Reforming American Education,” provides a detailed criticism of various school reforms in the United States. Since it does not focus on reforms for high-stakes testing (which have not found general acceptance in Canada), much of his criticism is also directed to Canadian school reforms.

Rossides not only argues against the neoliberal reform effort at high-stakes testing but also liberal reformers of schools. In fact, he argues that all school reform efforts in their current form will lead to naught.

He questions the view that schools (he calls it education) produce good workers and good citizens. There is no evidence to support those two claims. He also questions the view that schools sort individuals into various hierarchies at work according to relative merit.

Rossides’ reliance on educational research to justify his conclusions is all the more interesting since educational research invariably assumes that modern schools constitute the standard for determining the validity and reliability of educational research. The inadequacy of educational research will not be addressed here, but on the basis of educational research itself changes in schools can do little to offset the disadvantages of poverty.

Rossides argues that the school outcomes of those children and adolescents whose parents are from the lower classes will not change unless we shift resources both to those lower-class families and to the schools where those children and adolescents attend. School reforms that aim at supposedly changing the outcomes for the lower classes have been shown to be historically ineffective. School reform focuses on—school reform and not in reform of the socio-economic conditions of the lower class families and their neighbourhood.

The modern school system is characterized by a class system according to socio-economic status (SES). [The adequacy of such a definition of class should be queried, but I will not do so here. For some purposes, SES is legitimate—but it is hardly an adequate characterization of class since the source of income and not just the level is relevant in determining class.]

It is the middle- and upper-classes who have aided in producing lower-class learners with disabilities, the mentally retarded and so forth—by defining children and adolescents of lower-class parents by defining the characteristics of such children and adolescents as learned disabilities, mental retardation and so forth and then treating the children and adolescents as learners with disabilities, with mental retardation and so forth.

The extremely skewed nature of wealth and income, the persistence over generations of middle- and upper class dominance and lower class subordination, an excess of workers over the demand for workers (especially at the lower levels) with corresponding  poverty-stricken families and the domination of social and political life by the middle- and upper classes aids in defining the children and adolescents of the lower classes as deviant and labelled according to middle- and upper-class standards (and not, of course, vice versa—except when rebellions break out).

Although Rossides referent is the United States, there is little doubt that much of what he writes applies to Canada.

The modern school system is characterized by what seems to be classlessness: all classes attend the same school. The facts belie such a rosy picture.  Features of the school system are biased towards the middle and upper classes and against the lower classes; such features as an emphasis on literacy, abstract knowledge and patriotism (one—white—principal had the hypocritical audacity to announce over the PA system that Canada was the best country in the world—when two thirds of the student population were probably living in substandard conditions).

The fact that children and adolescents of various classes attend the same school, given the emphasis on middle-class and upper class concerns and definitions of what constitutes and education (such as academic subjects and literacy rather than the use of the body in combination with literacy and academic subjects), along  with a grading and testing system that streams or tracks students, as Rossides notes, hardly leads to a meritocracy. Rather, it merely reproduces the status quo.

Furthermore, there has been a decided trend towards class-based segregation of schools, with inner-city schools for the children and adolescents of the lower classes and suburban schools for the middle- and upper classes. (Of course, there is an added racist aspect of this structure, but poor white children are also caught in the web—or trap).

Rossides notes that, when SES was factored out of the equation, school reforms had little impact on the academic outcome of children and adolescents from poorer families. (Note, however, the bias of defining “success” in terms of academic outcomes.) The author points out that what is needed is not just more resources at the school level but more resources at the level of the family. Without addressing the extreme inequality of family incomes, changes in school resources and school reforms will likely have little effect in changing outcomes (despite the rhetoric of school bureaucrats and liberal ideologues in universities).

Equalizing school expenditures will not address the inequities that characterize income inequalities.

Rossides points out that study after study has shown that school aspirations, school outcomes, expenditure per capita, regularity of attendance, scholarships, entrance into college or university and so forth correlate highly with social classes and class origin.

In post-secondary institutions, the proportion of members of the lower classes represented on governing boards is lower than their proportion in the population and, correspondingly, the proportion of members from the middle and upper classes is overrepresented.

The proportion of those young adults who attend university is class-based, with more than double, for example, attending a four-year college program than those from the lower middle and working classes. Scholarships are skewed towards to those already with high grades, and these are typically not the lower classes. Thus, young adults whose parents can more afford to pay for their tuition and other expenses receive free money whereas young adults whose parents cannot afford to pay for their children’s tuition and other expenses are excluded from consideration—all this under the cloak of equality of opportunity.

The divide between public universities and colleges and private ones has practically been removed in many instances, with public colleges and universities operating as private institutions, with high tuition and partnerships with private firms (but with no public accountability in many instances). Public universities and colleges function more like markets than public institutions and are accessible to those with money—or high grades (which often probably correlate).

Rossides pinpoints formal education’s simple role: to determine where one enters in the occupational hierarchy. Formulated differently, the primary role of schools and other formal institutions linked to them is to allocate people to positions on the market for workers. The rhetoric about learning is secondary to this role.

Employers certainly believe that more formal schooling results in better workers, so credentials are important for hiring. However, once hired, differences in levels of formal schooling, surprisingly, do not lead to increases in productivity. 

Credentials and class are correlated, so credentials form another mechanism for the perpetuation of class differences.

Rossides also criticizes the view that schooling leads to improved citizenship—increase in knowledge about politics and creative public service (active and creative political participation). Political participation in fact has declined. Furthermore, in the United States, schools have not led to increased integration of children and adolescents through civics and other courses. The rhetoric of schools as producers of good citizens hides a reality of schools that perpetuate class divisions and inequality.

Although Rossides’ point is well taken, he seems to miss something vital about what schools do when he refers to schools hiding the real nature of schools. Schools do in some ways serve to integrate children and adolescents into the real world of inequality and class divisions by—hiding those realities from them. (Besides, he implies as much further in the article, in relation to his explanation of why school failure continues for the lower classes.)

 Through the rhetoric of equality of opportunity, civics and other courses (such as history), children and adolescents learn the supposed equality of all and supposed meritocracy. Rather than having children and adolescents learn just how unfair and inequitable modern society is, schools cover up the reality through the administrative, hierarchical structure, with administrators frequently attempting to impose their middle-class will on working-class children and adolescents (who may rebel in school through various means, ranging from passive absenteeism to active “misbehaviour”) in the name of efficient administration and ”learning.” By redefining children and adolescents as pure “learners” (learning machines), administrators then often discipline them for not acquiescing in the unequal situation in which many working-class (coupled often with racially oppressed) youth find themselves.

Schools have also not led to increased knowledge of the world in which they live that they can and do use in their daily lives. The knowledge that children and adolescents learn in schools is often what could be called “inert” knowledge—knowledge that is never used. Even if children and adolescents learned abstractly what political participation involved, since they do not use such knowledge in their daily lives (perhaps they would use it against school administration), they do not really learn to become good citizens.

Schools also serve to depoliticize learning by focusing on abstract cognitive skills rather than skills that relate to the daily lives of children and adolescents. Individuals become, to a greater and greater degree, interchangeable non-political units. Abstract literacy, by failing to link up to the social experience of children and adolescents, is soon forgotten outside school boundaries. The environment in which it is learned is so artificial that children and adolescents cannot transfer what they have learned to any other environment.  Furthermore, we have one life, but the fragmented way in which we study the world in school and formal learning prevents any synthesis of our experiences in school. That too leads to rapid forgetting of what was learned in schools.

This fragmentation of experience contributes to the continuance of the status quo since those in and outside schools can focus on their limited activity within a fragmented, academic and abstract curriculum and ignore the poverty, oppression and devastation that the children and adolescents inside and outside the school experience.

Rossides then explains why, despite the failure of schools to make children and adolescents better workers and citizens, by noting that the situation accords with the interests of the upper class in maintaining the appearance of a meritocracy; in other words, the present school system aids in hiding its own oppressive nature of the working class. Those who have an economic and cultural interest in maintaining the present system of inequality limit access to credentials to their own children while presenting the present system as the very embodiment of equality and meritocracy. Much of what is studied, the author implies, is irrelevant, but it serves to weed out the lower classes from occupations that pay higher incomes.

The claim that schooling (or “education”) is the key to ensuring equality, social justice and equity serves to divert attention, as well, from the social inequalities, social injustices and social inequities rampant in our society.

After briefly looking at the invalidity and unreliability of mass testing suggested by conservative proponents of school reform, the author makes an interesting and important point about how conservative school reform has pushed for student outcomes based on so-called objective norms (outcome-based education again). Since Rossides considers this a conservative reform effort, it can be concluded, if his analysis is valid, that the NDP has instituted a conservative performance system provincially without many people, including teachers, even raising objections to this conservative trend.

He mentions in passing that parents of the upper class oppose any attempt to eliminate the grading system since the grading system is integral to the children of the upper class “inheriting” the same class position—a very interesting observation that warrants much more analysis and serious discussion. Unfortunately, it seems that educators do not want to discuss seriously such issues.

Rossides does maintain that the push for outcome-based education has no objective basis since there is no agreement on what constitutes objective standards. It would be interesting to have the Minister of Education, Nancy Allen, in the spotlight in order to determine how she defines such objective standards and how she developed such standards—along with other conservatives, of course.

The author argues that there are two real reasons for the poor performance of the United States (and, I might add, Canada). Firstly, there is the belief and practice that an unplanned economy, including unplanned capital investment, will lead to the good life. Secondly, there is the belief and practice that the antiquated political-legal system will enable most people to live a good life.

The back-to-basics movement (reading, writing and mathematics) typical of the present trend in the school system substitutes what should be means to ends into ends in themselves. (The same could be said of the so-called academic subjects.)

Rossides does contend that schools do matter, but he then commits similar errors as the views that he has criticized. He outlines what a good school is in purely conventional terms, such as a strong administrator who emphasizes academic subjects and reading. Rossides takes from one hand and gives with the other. He further argues that the main problem with schools, as learning institutions, has not been historically and is not now at the elementary school level but at the high-school level. Such a view deserves to be criticized.

Elementary schools focus mainly on reading—without many children (especially those from the working class) understanding why they are engaged in a process of learning how to read, write and do arithmetic. There is undoubtedly pedagogical process, but such progress applies just as much to high schools as it does to elementary schools.

The main function of elementary schooling is to have the children learn to read, write and do arithmetic, with the primary emphasis on reading. Elementary school teachers are specialists at best in reading.(It would be interesting to do a study on how many reading clinicians started out as elementary school teachers and how many taught only at the high-school level.) There are many problems with such a conception of learning. I merely refer to the many articles on Dewey’s philosophy and practice of education.

The author vastly overestimates the efficacy of elementary schools as institutions for real learning (as opposed to learn to read, write and do arithmetic—often for no ends than to read, write and do arithmetic. In other words, elementary schools, instead of teaching reading, writing and mathematics as means to an end, generally reduce them to the end of elementary school education.

Of course, the lack of inquiry into the world, a lack so characteristic of elementary schools and contrary to the nature of young children, becomes a burden that eventually distorts most children’s minds. The wonder of childhood becomes the boredom of formal learning rather than an expansion and deepening of our grasp and wonder of our experiences of the world.

Rossides` article, therefore, does have its limitations. Despite these limitations, his article contains an incisive critique of the neoliberal movement towards educational reform—and, more generally, the rhetoric that surrounds educational reform.

Should not those who attempt to achieve equity and social justice expose the rhetoric of educational reform?

Fred 

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Thirteen: A Critique of Outcomes-Based Education (OBE)

This is a continuation of a series of posts on summaries of articles, mainly on education.

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

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

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

In previous posts (see for example A Principal’s Evaluation of My Teaching Basic French, or: How to Oppress a Worker Through Performance Evaluation, Part One), I have implied that the principal of Ashern Central School, Neil MacNeil, used, among other methods, outcome-based education as a method of oppressing me when evaluating my performance as a teacher. He wrote:

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.

In my written response, I replied to this:

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.

OBE, therefore, has political implications.

The attached article for the ESJ Ning is prefaced by the following:
Hello everyone,
I sent another article to the ESJ Ning.

Colleen Capper and Michael Jamison, in their article, “Outcomes-Based Education Reexamined: From Structural Functionalism to Poststructuralism,” find that outcome-based education (OBE), though in a few respects empowering to students, generally reproduce the same oppressive school structure as before.

The immediate relevance of the issue of the extent to which OBE is empowering or oppressive is the push in Canadian circles for having teachers specify learning on the basis of outcomes (or “learning goals”), with the design of units to be a process of “backward design”.

The idea of specifying outcomes and then specifying the means to achieve those outcomes seems at first glance to be logical. The authors question, however, whether OBE is really as liberating for students (and teachers) as its advocates imply.

OBE has at least four aspects: the focus is on student success, with schools controlling the environmental conditions for success; curriculum design and pedagogy are a function of explicit learner outcomes; outcomes are differentiated into core (or essential) outcomes for all learners and extended outcomes (for the more gifted); mastery learning (based on Bloom’s concept of mastery learning), or the learning of prerequisite skills before moving on to more complicated or advanced skills with time constraints of the traditional curriculum being loosened (credit recovery, for example);  a management information system that permits the teacher to monitor students’ progress in terms of prerequisite skills learned and to group students according to skill sets already achieved; and, finally, an assessment system that tests the whole range of skills required for mastery learning a loosening of traditional time constraints, with an incomplete being assigned until the student has completed the set of defined skills.

Advocates of OBE imply that it enables a clearer conception of the curricula, permits the use of better pedagogical techniques and satisfies the need for more reliable and valid assessment measures of student achievement.

There are at least three forms of OBE. Traditional OBE involves the use of the same curriculum, but with clearer focus on learning outcomes. Transitional OBE specifies essential learning outcomes. Transformational OBE, being the most advanced form for some, in addition to specifying the essential outcomes to be learned for success, emphasizes attitudes and skills that have broad implications for success in their future in the modern world, such as critical thinking skills; it requires a reworking of the curriculum to satisfy those broad implications for success.

Ironically, one feature of OBE seems to have been at best only partially adopted in modern school systems in Canada—constraints of time. Traditional schooling has operated according to instructional time distributed over a set curriculum. OBE permits the breakdown of learning into outcomes that students can master at their own pace. Mastery of the material rather than ploughing through the material in a set period of time becomes possible; results can be the focus rather than the inputs from a set curriculum in a limited period of time. However, in Canada OBE the use of credit recovery, for example, only partially offsets constraints of time.

In addition to learner outcomes, a complete OBE program includes, among other things, a core and extended curriculum and criterion-referenced assessment. Its watchword is student success, and it assumes that all students can succeed.

The authors then analyze OBE from various theoretical lenses: structural-functionalist, interpretive, critical and poststuctural. Structural-functionalist and interpretive paradigms aid in reproducing the status quo; the difference between them is that structural-functionalism considers the status quo to be objective whereas interpretivism considers the status quo to be constructed socially and subjectively. Critical theory, by contrast, seeks social change by intellectually grasping and criticizing social reality that is largely oppressive. Critical theory is grounded in pure reason, considers a universal consensus among the oppressed to be possible and focuses more on class rather than on other forms of oppression; Capper considers these aspects of critical theory to be limiting factors.

Poststructuralism shares with critical theory a concern for social change but casts suspicion on any claim for universality and objectivity through reason given that people have multiple identities. Like interpretivism, it views the social world as a product of subjective reality.

The authors examine the language of OBE, its construction of personal identity and the extent to which OBE reproduces inequities from the point of view of the various paradigms.

OBE shares much with the structural-functionalist paradigm. For instance, knowledge is treated as a summation of its parts rather than the whole being more than its parts.  Discrete bits of learning are determined beforehand, dissected and distributed, often through a central agency. Control by others is the watchword despite the rhetoric of student success. Curriculum, pedagogy and assessment practices are centralized (controlled from a central bureaucracy), and learners are organized according to predefined skill sets.

Transformational OBE does share with the interpretivist paradigm a concern for cooperative structures of learning. However, the interpretivist paradigm also holds that students learn best when what they are learning connects with their own interests—something which OBE, transformational or otherwise, ignores.

From the point of view of critical theory, there is little in OBE, transformational or otherwise, that leads to greater social equity and equality of opportunity. OBE does not aim at social change in such a way that oppression is lessened. Tightened control over the teaching process is hardly equivalent to real social change that leads to more equitable results.

Advocates of OBE may reply that, by removing time constraints for achievement, students are indeed empowered to a  greater extent. They may even suggest that they are concerned with fighting against oppression and for social justice.

However, Capper and Jamison question such advocates claims since OBE’s underside involves authoritarian structures of power—as poststructuralist analysis reveals. In particular, OBE does fails those who are disabled, especially the cognitively disabled. Furthermore, since OBE grounds its assessment on performance of set achievements, if a person cannot perform adequately even if understanding of the material is present, then failure will ensue.

A more telling criticism of OBE, even in its transformative form, is that the skills and knowledge specified in advance as required for success are assumed to enable students to succeed in current society. Current social structures within mainstream society are assumed to be the standard; there is little criticism of that standard itself. OBE is therefore conservative in its very nature and hardly progressive. One can imagine a white, male principal defining OBE in terms of student success—as defined by the experiences of the white, male principal and not in terms of the student’s own background and experiences. In the end, as the German philosopher wrote of Schelling’s philosophy—all cows are black (or white, male and middle class in this instance).

Mastery of the curriculum outcomes typical of OBE leaves little room for co-evolution of the curriculum and the students’ experiences. Furthermore, those who determine the outcomes are little different from earlier, state-mandated curriculum: policy makers, curriculum consultants and a few teachers. The outcomes are externally determined and controlled and defined according to what this minority deems to be worthy and relevant to have learned by the time students have finished high school. There is little flexibility in terms of the content of the curriculum. Related to this issue is the lack of control by most teachers  in determining outcomes; OBE is a way of increasing control over teachers by rigidly defining what they are to teach and by assessing them on that basis.

Differentiation of the curriculum into core and extended components also easily leads to a continued division of students into average students and an elite set of students destined to university or other, more prestige post-secondary institutions.

Finally, criterion-based assessment, in practice, results in students in the same age-level working on  substantially different outcomes as some require to spend substantial periods of time in attaining the minimal level of achievement specified in advance for advancement to another level of skill. Some may never be exposed to the extended curriculum since they must demonstrate mastery at a certain level before they can advance. OBE, together with criterion-based assessment, merely reproduces the inequities that already exist between different sets of students—despite the rhetoric of success for all students.

OBE, in whatever form, essentially relies on the structural-functionalist paradigm, which merely reproduces the status quo of injustice and inequity.

The authors then argue that what is required is participation by students and community in the determination of their own curriculum and education. They then note that poststructural and critical theory may be wed in some fashion by critical theory providing the direction and poststructuralism providing the deconstruction necessary for reason to be continuously challenged through tension and disagreement.

Such a view, though, is so general that it provides little guidance in practice. For example, school bureaucrats, who are also representatives of the employers of teachers, are so certain that they are right in instituting OBE and criterion-referenced assessment (currently characteristic of Manitoba public schools) and all others who question them are wrong, that the question becomes: How are we to struggle against such authoritarian impositions?

Indeed, why is it that teachers have not engaged in such struggle? An answer may lie in the deskilling of teachers and their becoming more like the rest of the working class: cogs in the economic  and school structure. In other words, an answer may lie in what teachers also are: employees, or things to be used by employers.

Should we as teachers and as employees not query whether OBE leads to just outcomes and is educationally sound?

Fred

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.

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Nine: A Feminist Logic?

This is a continuation of earlier posts.

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

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

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

The following is what I wrote to either the Ning or to the executive of Lakeshore Teachers’ Association or both (I cannot remember now):

I could not send the attached article to the ESJ Ning because the file size is greater than 3 MB and the Ning allows a maximum of 3MB.

I still did send the following summary and commentary, though:

The author (Caroll Hart)  of the following article, “Power in the Service of Love,” argues that Dewey’s work, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, provides a basis for the development of a logic that addresses feminist concerns for a theory that incorporates contextual experiences into the fabric of logic (including the specific contextual experiences of women). Women’s experiences are not the same as those of men, but at the same time there are commonalities, she implies, so logic should be capable of developing a universal logic that incorporates difference within itself. Dewey’s logic attempts to do just that.

Traditional logic is primarily a male preserve that claims to be universally valid and that excludes a large part of experiences by women. Traditional logic excludes a large part of the chaotic and ambiguous nature of ordinary life and language. On the other hand, traditional logic does seem to have some validity—there is no rational ground for rejecting traditional logic in favour of no logic at all. The problem, then, is to develop a logic that incorporates some aspects of traditional logic but at the same time goes beyond such logic.

Carroll Hart argues that John Dewey’s theory of logic satisfies those conditions and that feminists would do well to incorporate Dewey’s theory into their own ways of thinking and practice.

Logic, for Dewey, is a means to an end and not an end in itself, when viewed from the point of view of ordinary experiences of human beings in their daily lives. Logic is a tool, serving human ends rather than some universal end to which human beings must submit necessarily. We use logic to improve our lives and performances in our lives, and it is our lives and our performance in our lives that logic must serve. Logic is an instrument or tool, and we are the master of that instrument or tool. Logic serves us; we do not serve logic. Logic is, as the title of the article suggests, in the service of love—for our own lives and for our environments.

A logic that serves us permits us to become more sensitive to the environment or context within which we act.

Logic in its traditional sense is ordering or organization in a systematic fashion; in a sense, it is the organization of organization, or systematic systematization. However, the nature of this systematization is in dispute. Is it a systematization of the actual order or structure of the natural world? Is it a systematization of our language?

In experimental science, logic serves a functional status as a means to economize on effort by applying logical rules to derive conclusions that can be experimentally more relevant. Logic in this context is a means for us to regulate or control our experience and not something separate from us or from a specific function. Typically, though, logic is separated from its function and becomes an entity unto itself, with the consequent degradation of human experience.

Logic and intellectualization are inherently about constant relations and connections, but the reduction of the world of human experience to pure, unchanging relations and connections ignores the nature of experience as variable and subject to change. The establishment of constant relations through logic and the intellect is a means of controlling the variable nature of experience and not of ignoring that variability.

Viewing the world in purely logical and intellectual terms (typical of schools) excludes a large part of human experience and denigrates that experience while elevating logical and intellectual experience to a superior realm above ordinary human experience. Logical and intellectual relations are important, but they are important as means for guiding and enriching ordinary human experience—not dominated and denigrating it.

Indeed, the need for logic and intellectualization emerges from the ecology of the body/mind, with a situation within that ecology leading to the need for inquiry and thus for logic and intellectualization. Logic and intellectualization also leads to that ecology by contributing to the resolution of the problem that gave rise to the need for logic and intellectualization in the first place. Learning (inquiry) exists, ultimately, for the sake of ordinary experience and not vice versa.

In a situation in ordinary experience in which a problem emerges, there are conflicting aims or ends that cannot be immediately realized. Common-sense inquiry typically emerges as a result in order to address the problematic situation. People make inferences of the consequences of acting in a certain way when certain conditions are present and judgement about the nature of the problematic situation and about what is to be done in face of such a situation.

Logical forms arise to ensure that inference and judgement are controlled rather than haphazard. Logic enables us to check our inferences and judgements against previous rules culled from past experience.

There are two general logical forms, one involving definitions (decomposable into “if-then” sentences), and the other involving actual conditions in the world. Logical forms that are definitions may be too abstract to assist in the process of inquiry, but they may be broken down into more specific and interrelated characters useful to guide inquiry. Logical definitions involve each character forming a necessary component of the total logical term. (A triangle, for example, as a logical term, must have three interior angles that add up to 180 degrees. If something is a triangle, then it must have three interior angles that add up to 180 degrees.)

The other logical form has to do with inference and the determination of the specific nature of kinds involved in a problematic situation. The determination of the various kinds involved in a situation and the kind of situation itself requires inquiry and is controlled by the logical form of definitions .

Definitions and kinds are not isolated but form part of a system of interrelated cultural meanings. Interrelated definitions permit extensive logical implication and refinement; interrelated kinds permit extensive logical inference.

Interrelated definitions and kinds, if not situated in their function as means of controlling our inquiries in the face of problematic situations as we live our lives, assume an independent form that seems to be valuable in themselves—independently of human beings. However, such autonomization of logical forms typical of the conventional view of logical and intellectual terms leads to meaningless terms since such forms have meaning only in relation to their function of aiding in guiding and controlling inquiry in the face of a problematic situation.

Logical and intellectual forms thus must be connected to the world of ordinary experience, which involves the body and not just “pure reason.” Logical forms must involve a unity of the existential and the ideal. Both, in turn, must involve the inquiry process in the context of a problematic situation arising from ordinary experience.

To reduce the world of ordinary experience to the world of logical forms is to strip our multifaceted experiences to a one-dimensional world characteristic of academics—who have mainly been male. Such a world undoubtedly has its elegance, but to take it as the whole of human experience is to confuse the part for the whole and to sacrifice the whole for the part. It is to strip the richness of human experience of its qualities and to sacrifice that richness for the sleek elegance of logical forms.

It has been male academics who have traditionally claimed such logical forms to be universally applicable regardless of differences in human experiences. Dewey, though male and an academic, recognized that such universality was a chimera. The logical forms are means for the end of enrichment of the human community and not some universal end to which we must all conform. We use logical forms when faced with a problematic situation, and those logical forms assume a universal form but always emerge from and return to differential situations with all their “chaos and messiness.”

The logical forms enable us to grasp commonalities among situations, but differences among situations lead to a refining of the logical forms as well as branches that constitute different commonalities over time.

One of the problems which the Hart does not face is whether differences may take precedence over commonalities. Although of us live on this Earth and therefore share a common situation to that extent, differences may indeed lead to irreconcilable conflicts.

The educational implications of this view of logic and intellect should be obvious. These educational implications are opposed to the modern school system, which makes intellect the end of everything. The experiences of students that do not have the intellect as their focus are considered irrelevant. Learning, and only learning, is important. Although Dewey’s logic appreciates the importance and role of learning, the intellect and logic in human life—indeed, Dewey wrote his book Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, in part, to emphasize the importance of inquiry and hence learning in the life process—it is still an end to other means for most people. To take the means (learning) for the end (improvement of human life), and to take the end as the means (human life is to be sacrificed for the sake of learning) is to pervert human nature and to assume an academic and elitist attitude towards human experience.

Schools need to treat the development of the intellect in functional terms, as means toward an end and not ends in themselves. The development of the intellect may indeed become a temporary end as students learn to appreciate the importance of intellectual development for the improvement of human life, but it should never be forgotten that the focus on the development of the intellect is a temporary perch before the child flies towards other goals that are most often more important than so-called learning goals for the students.

There is a limitation to Hart’s article. Hart recognizes that she is from the middle class, but her difference from the working class may blind her to their distinct differences. For example, the middle class often denies the importance of the power of employers in influencing workers’ behaviour. Often, they cannot even face the situation that workers (whether male or female) become employees who are converted into things to be used by employers. Their personhood is denied when they are working; it is only recognized in the sale. Loss of civil rights as an employee is rarely something that the middle class can face critically. They seek to avoid engaging in debate over the issue since such debate may oblige them to rethink their lives and change the direction of their lives, and they have little desire to change the direction of their lives.

Dewey’s logic has therefore much to recommend itself to feminists, but those feminists who are of the middle class, if they do indeed wish to recognize difference within commonality, must make a sustained effort to recognize the limitations of their own experiences. Working-class women are both women and members of the working class—subject to the power not only of males but of employers. Educators, too, must come to recognize the importance of that power and incorporate such recognition in their own practices—together, in solidarity with each other and with other employees subject to the power of employers.

A working-class feminist logic may indeed appreciate and incorporate Dewey’s theory of logic into its own theory, but it must be supplemented by a logic that incorporates differences that may indeed be irreconcilable—such as the differences between employers and employees.

Educators would well incorporate Dewey’s logic into their own work and supplement it with a logic that recognizes irreconcilable differences. Equity and social justice demands such recognition.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fred