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:
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
Immediate Family Context, Or How I Failed Francesca, My Daughter, the First But Not the Last Time
As I indicated in my last post in this series:
In my next post, I will fast forward to 2007-2008, when Francesca skipped school so much that she was obliged to repeat grade eight in 2008.
I started my Ph. D. in 2002 and received a scholarship for three years, from 2002 until 2005, which helped financially, gave me some time to work on my studies without having to work as much as a substitute teacher, and enabled me to register Francesca in extra curricular activities without going into further debt (I owed around $16,000 from student loans associated with attending a bachelor of education program between 1994 (when Francesca was born) and 1996).
After 2005, however, I had to increase my work as a substitute teacher and, despite this, I increased my debt (by 2008, I had a credit card debt of around $7,000 and about $20,000 in student debt).
In the 2006-2007 school year, Francesca attended Elmwood High School, an inner-city high school not too far from the house where she lived with her mother. I was concerned about the impact her experiences at that school would have on her–as well as the kind of friendships she was establishing. (I had substituted at the school only a few times; my experiences did not impress me. For example, I substituted in one class that could lock from the inside. I had a key to the room where I was substituting, but it was in my jacket in the classroom. One student got up and left for no reason, and I followed him outside. Some students locked me out of the classroom. I had to go to the office and have the vice-principal open the door. I can certainly understand why students would do what they did in the context of an oppressive classroom setting–but I did want my daughter to learn something as well.
For the school year 2007-2008, her mother agreed to have her attend River Heights School, a middle-years school where I had substituted as well. The teaching, as far as I could see, was more rigorous, and there were more opportunities for extra-curricular activities.
However, my need to earn a living and my work on my doctoral dissertation led me to fail Francesca by not ensuring that everything was working out well at the new school. Her uprooting from her friends, and my lack of monitoring her situation, led to her skipping school more and more (I assume–her mother had fully custody–but I could have been much more active in ensuring that she felt more at home in the school and, if not, at least tried to talk to her and support her in attending. Francesca, it is true, erased messages that I received from school concerning her attendance–but that is hardly an excuse for my lack of rigor in monitoring the situation.
Furthermore, I should have known that something was wrong. At one point, she stole coins from one of my drawers. At another point, I had dropped her off for her swimming lesson at the Pan Am Pool in Winnipeg, and I received a call; the police had been called. Francesca had been caught stealing money from a purse in one of the lockers. Francesca was not charged–I convinced the police that this would not happen again. There is a difference between personal theft, which is wrong and theft from large stores and from companies–I told Francesca I do not do that not because it is wrong but because it is not worth the consequences of possibly going to jail or at least a criminal record. On the other hand, Francesca’s own defense of herself in front of the police was impressive.
In any case, I failed Francesca by not monitoring her situation. Not for the last time.
As I wrote in my last post in this series:
By that time, not even her mother could control her. Nor could I. Francesca had been violent towards me since 1999, when her mother refused to let me see Francesca or let Francesca to see me for almost three months.
In 2008, I obtained a position as a permanent teacher in September 2008, in Ashern, Manitoba, a very small town about 160 kilometers north of Winnipeg. Francesca’s mother agreed to have Francesca live with me since her mother could no longer control her. I decided to home school Francesca while living in Ashern and teaching there. I enrolled Francesca in distance education courses in June 2008, and I gave her the courses. She then left with her cousin, Laura, for Kelowna, a city in the province of British Columbia. I expected Francesca at least to work a bit on the distance education courses during the summer of 2008. She never did. That was the beginning of our problems.
Since Francesca was going to be taught by me by means of home schooling and distance education, I set up a schedule for the various courses. For example, for the social studies course, I wrote the following:
Assumption: Two days of work before August 31 and every day working on social studies Studying every day working on social studies until finished.
With such a start date, it is necessary to finish about 4 pages of the distance education package per day. The 4 pages do not mean just 4 pages of reading. It means that whatever is assigned for the 4 pages must be read or done and understood. For example, on page 3 of Lesson 1 for Module 1, it is necessary to become familiar with the Table of Contents by doing the exercise.
Module 1 August 21=Lesson 1, page 4 August 26=page 8 August 31=Lesson 2, page 12 September 1=page 16 September 2=Page 20 September 3=Lesson 3, page 24 September 4=page 28 September 5=32 September 6=Lesson 4, page 36 September 7=Lesson 5, page 40 September 8=Lesson 6, page 44 September 9=Lesson 7. page 48 September 10=page 52 September 11=Lesson 8, page 56 September 12=Lesson 9, page 60 September 13=Lesson 10,page 64 September 14=page 66, Review for Test 1 September 15=Test, Module 1 September 16=Review test, Module 1
How I Failed Francesca, My Daughter, A Second Time
We started to argue shortly after we moved to Ashern. Francesca did not study as she needed to if she were going to finish grade 8. In retrospect, I should have either hired a tutor (if possible since Ashern only had a population of 1,400) or registered her in the school where I was going to teach. I was afraid, though, that if I registered her in the school where I taught, she and I would have further arguments that would spill over into my workplace and, I could lose my job. For those who abstractly consider this irrelevant, I will simply point out that economic security forms a vital component of why the working class has a tendency to fight for socialism (see Marc Mulholland (2009), “Marx, the Proletariat, and the ‘Will to Socialism’,” Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory,” pages 319-343, Volume 37, Number 3; and by the same author (2010) “‘Its Patrimony, its Unique Wealth!’ Labour-Power, Working Class Consciousness and Crises: An Outline, Consideration” pages 375-417, Volume 38, Number 3.
The social-democratic left do not even talk about the conflict that members of the working class often face between their existence as members of a family and as members of the working class (wage workers, or workers who must subordinate their will to an employer) and how this contradiction ties into government actions. It is ironic because many movies and tv programs do just that–in a conservative manner, of course. How many reading this post have not watched a movie or tv program where the protagonists experience a conflict between the existence as family members, as members of the working class or as members of the state?
For example, Raju Das, in his book Marxist Class Theory for a Skeptical World, recognizes that family relations aid in identifying the class interests of family members. Thus, he writes (page 42):
A woman who is a school teacher and married to a working class man is not in the same class location as another woman school teacher married to a male ceo (1989d: 328). So the class location of husbands and wives should be treated as a function of both direct class location and their mediated location. Sometimes they can have a common class location and sometimes different.
Mr. Das is primarily concerned with indicating the primacy of class position or location (relative to, for example, being a member of a family); this is important, but from a practical point of view of how to organize the working class into a class capable of overcoming those class recognitions, we need to acknowledge and take into account the relationships that retard class consciousness or accelerate it.
Being a member of a family can do both. On the one hand, being a member of a family can make workers more militant as they struggle to maintain and improve their family life. On the other hand, it can also make workers more conservative when being a family member results in acceptance of subordination of the worker’s will to the power of the employer. For example, I remember one worker in the capitalist brewery where I worked (in Calgary, Alberta, Canada), who explicitly stated that his family was more important than his job. Of course, what a person says and what a person does need not coincide, but to ignore the importance of the family to members of the working class, organizationally, is bound to be fraught with problems.
Or it can result in contradictory tendencies since workers can be pulled in opposite directions simultaneously. Blindness on the part of academic Marxists to these issues indicate the extent to which Marxism as theory has become divorced from Marxism as practice.
In any case, I made the wrong decision by trying to homeschool Francesca on my own. We generally worked on her studies together after supper; before supper I prepared lessons and marked other students’ work. I worked late at night and on the weekend on my doctoral dissertation (which I finished in 2009, the following year).
Our arguments became more and more heated as it became evident that Francesca was falling further and further behind. I was becoming the person and father that I did not want to become–an oppressive father by pressuring Francesca to keep to the schedule. I had to revise the schedule several times, but it was always in need of revision.
One time, when we were arguing over her studies, Francesca, who was in the kitchen, picked up a pot lid and threw it at me like a frisbee. The lid nearly hit my face; she could have easily hurt me. I walked up to her and put her in a headlock, forced her to the ground, and obliged her to state that she would not throw anything further at me. She promised not to do so.
I do not to this day regret doing this; Francesca was out of control and could have easily thrown a knife at me.
Another time, we were arguing about her studies, and she punched me in the face. I pinned her arms in order to prevent her from hitting me again. I do not regret doing that either.
There was another time, however, which I do regret. We usually studied on the futon in the living room (where I slept). Francesca obviously felt tense when we were studying, and when she did not understand something, she would dig her elbows into my side.
One day, I was sitting on the futon, with Francesca on the right. We were studying, and I was drinking some tea. She began to dig her elbow into my right side, and it hurt. I responded spontaneously, and the tea went flying from my hands. Unfortunately, some of the tea hit Francesca’s face. She started to cry. Fortunately, the tea was not hot enough to burn her–but it could have been.
Yes, I stand condemned for hurting my daughter. The mitigating circumstance is that, unknown at the time, I had invasive bladder cancer, and the cancer had blocked my right kidney (it no longer functions). That is why I was having pain on my right side, and that is why it hurt when Francesca dug her elbow into my right side.
I had had drops of blood in my urine on and off for some time (usually at the end of urination). I had gone to the doctor’s office when I lived in Winnipeg, but he discouraged me from getting a scan because of the expense–it was a time of cutbacks, and he also discouraged me from having a cystoscopy (he said it was not a pleasant procedure–which it is not. But having cancer is also not pleasant). He thought it was a urinary infection and prescribed some antibiotics. The blood went away, but it returned when I was living in Ashern with Francesca–but it was much worse than before.
I started to urinate blood–my urine was red rather than yellow. After the incident with the tea, I showed Francesca this by showing her the toilet, which was filled with blood. This had no effect in her increasingly violent behaviour towards me or in the advance of her studies.
I went to see the doctor in Ashern, and he at first recommended antibiotics, if I remember correctly. Eventually he recommended a CT scan.
Francesca also started to communicate with her mother; undoubtedly, she was complaining about me and our relationship. She wanted to return to live with her mother.
I felt that I could not handle Francesca anymore, and since she was indifferent to my health, I also responded inappropriately by indicating that I never wanted to see her again. I failed Francesca again.
In early January, I took Francesca back to her mother’s place. Within a couple of weeks, though, Francesca and her mother fought again to the point that Francesca started living with her cousin, Laura, who already had children and was foster parenting. I did not communicate with Francesca, though–I was still hurting from her apparent indifference to the deterioration of my health.
The Experiences of a Sick Worker
In the meantime, I tried to hide my sickness from my employer, Lakeshore School Division, until I obtained my permanent position as a teacher, by cleaning up red spots that splashed on the men’s bathroom floor.
In January or February, I believe, the Ashern doctor informed me that the CT scan indicated that I had a tumor, but that I should not worry–in most cases tumors are benign.
In March, 2009, I was diagnosed with invasive bladder cancer. I waited for about two weeks before I communicated with Francesca.
I had surgery, but my urologist indicated that the tumor was too big to remove entirely through surgery without removing the whole bladder. He recommended chemotherapy followed by radiation.
In the meantime, Laura, Francesca’s cousin, was married to Sean, whose mother started to tutor Francesca. I also paid for an independent tutor for Francesca. She did finish grade 8.
In June 2009, the chemotherapy oncologist had his intern inform me that I had a 60 percent chance of dying in the next five years since the cancer had penetrated the muscle; I told Francesca this. He recommended the removal of the bladder. My urologist, who was also a professor at the University of Manitoba, informed me that surgery was the typical treatment for bladder cancer in North America whereas in Europe doctors usually tried chemotherapy followed by radiation to see if the tumor could be eliminated. I chose chemotherapy.
The chemotherapy worked during the summer of 2009. There was no visible cancer after the nine weeks of chemotherapy.
Francesca, in the meantime, started to attend St. James Collegiate in grade 9 and continued to live with Laura.
My urologist still recommended radiation treatment, but for some reason it took a long time before I saw the radiologist. After some time, the radiologist informed me that she refused to perform the radiation treatment because she claimed that my intestines and my bladder were too close together. She did indicate, however, that there was a procedure for placing a mesh inside me in order to shift the intestines out of the way in order to receive radiation treatment.
I reluctantly agreed to the surgery. The surgery was scheduled on April 19, 2010. Before that, on March 10, I believe, I received a letter from the doctor who was to perform surgery. I had to provide the letter to my employer in order to obtain time off.
Francesca and I were not getting along at the time. She was becoming more religious and refused to hear anything about the theory of evolution or my Marxist ideas.
Francesca’s Apprehension by the Winnipeg Child and Family Services: Oppression by a Welfare Service
On March 10, the day that I received the letter from the surgeon, I went to Tim Horton’s across from St. James Collegiate. I was going to tell Francesca about the surgery, show her the letter and also give her a book on evolution. She was, however, if I remember correctly, with another friend. She was taking the bus to return, I assumed, to Laura’s place. I decided that I would make a copy of the letter and put the book and the letter in the mailbox at Laura’s place.
I made a photocopy of the letter at Shopper’s Drug Store along the way, and then was going to go to Laura’s place by cutting across from Portage Avenue, ironically between the Manitoba Teachers’ Society building (McMaster House), on the one hand, and the building where the MTS Disability Plan office was located (as well as the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association-see illustrations below).
I took this route because Francesca was living on Nightingale Rd, where Laura, her cousin, lived; this was a shortcut that Francesca had showed me (see map below).
However, as I was turning to enter the shortcut, I saw Francesca walking towards this shortcut; she had obviously taken the bus, had gotten off and was going to take the short cut. I drove a little further on, parked the car, got out and gave her a photocopy of the doctor’s letter and the book on evolution.
I left to return to Ashern, Manitoba, 166 kilometers north of Winnipeg (where I worked as a French teacher); that evening, however, I received a phone call from the Winnipeg Child and Family Services (WCFS) indicating that Francesca had been apprehended by the WCFS and that I was forbidden from seeing her–on pain of being arrested. It was claimed that I had cornered Francesca and that she was afraid of me. It was also claimed that I had choked Francesca some tima ago, thrown her to the ground and that on another occasion I had pinned her arms.
I fought against this oppression for the next month. The WCFS sought custody from both parents, and I attended a meeting with a judge and the lawyer for the WCFS. The lawyer tried to insult me by asking whether I had ever been “psychologically assessed,” to which I responded by asking him the same question. I indicated to the judge how Francesca had been physically abused in various ways. The judge indicated that if the issue went to court and he were judge and the WCFS lost, then he would have no choice but to grant custody either to me or to the mother. Given Francesca’s and my present rocky relationship, I could not fathom our getting along together. Furthermore, now that it was probably that Francesca had played some part in the false accusations of choking her and throwing her to the ground, I felt that I could not trust her.
Of course, I did not feel that Francesca’s mother should have custody given the history of physical abuse.
I went to court one final time, indicating that I would abandon custody–but without prejudice.
The whole experience was very stressful.
On April 19, I had surgery in Winnipeg at the Health Sciences Center, but I had a lung infection and stayed in the hospital for 16 days. Francesca visited me once, and when I tried to talk to her about the claim that I had choked her and threw her to the ground by reminding her that I had put her in a headlock and forced her to the ground until she agreed not to throw anything else at me, she claimed that the choking and throwing her to the ground was a different occasion. Since there was no other occasion, my suspicion that she played some role in her apprehension by the WCFS was confirmed.
Expression of My Opposition to the NDP, a Social-Democratic Government
Once I left the hospital around May 5, 2010, I stayed with a friend in Winnipeg for a couple of months. Since I knew that I had not choked Francesca nor threw her to the ground, her apprehension by an organization that was instrumental in contributing to her physical abuse and her violence towards me angered me, to say the least. I began to send emails to the New Democratic Party (NDP, the social democratic party in Canada); the NDP were in power in the province of Manitoba. In one email, I titled it “J’accuse”–a take on the following (from Wikipedia):
I sent, among other things, a table that contained some of Francesca’s and my experiences with the WCFS (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.
Return to Teaching Before My Arrest by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)–and Revelations
I returned to Ashern in the summer of 2010 to prepare for teaching. The surgery had failed–the radiation oncologist still refused to perform radiation because, she argued, my intestines were still too close to the bladder.
On October 6, 2010, Darrell Shorting, of the Anishinaabe Child and Family Services, called me at school. It was recess time (Ashern Central School, where I worked, was a grade 5-12 school). He stated that he knew what I had done, namely, choked Francesca and threw her to the ground. Mr. Shorting obliged me to inform the principal at the time (Mr. Chartrand) that I was under investigation.
I was put on administrative leave for perhaps one week. The staff, I believe, were told that it was medical, so I felt obliged to leave Ashern early every day early.
I had a subsequent meeting with Randy Chartrand, the principal, and Janet Martell, the superintendent. I categorically denied having choked Francesca and throwing her to the ground.
Lakeshore School Division decided to have me placed in the clinical supervision model for the year; my performance as a teacher was evaluated by Randy Chartrand, the principal at the time. I passed the assessment.
During the 2010-2011 school year, a few curious experiences arose with the RCMP. It was my habit to go, every Saturday at 12: 15, to a coffee and bakery shop called “Just My Kind of Bakery,” about a block and a half from where I lived. (see photo below). I read the Saturday Winnipeg Free Press there. I could have easily walked to the bakery, but I also often worked on either preparing lessons or marking student work after having read the paper and needed . I also generally bought groceries afterwards. It was more convenient to take the car with the newspaper and school work.
One time, I left the house where I lived at around 12:15 on Saturday, as usual, on a fall day, and I saw two RCMP cars enter the alleyway behind the row of buildings that included Just My Kind of Bakery. They went to the end of the alley, turned right and then turned right again–going towards Just My Kind of Bakery. I did not make anything of it–until I arrived at Just My Kind of Bakery. I took the shortest route to the bakery, but to park at Just My Kind of Bakery, I had to cross the yellow line. When I got out, the RCMP officers from the two cars approached me, and one of them stated that what I had done was illegal–I had crossed the yellow line. When I asked how I was supposed to get to Just My Kind of Bakery, he stated that I could approach the bakery from the other side in order not to have to cross the yellow line (the same route that they had taken–although they did not say that). Of course, apart from this instance, I had never seen the RCMP ever enforce this “law” during the three-and-half years that I lived there.
Sometime afterwards, I believe, I moved to the window seat in Just My Kind of Bakery because I wanted to be able to identify my accuser, Darrell Shorting. I suppose the workers there felt “threatened”–but my purpose was a typical claimed right of an accused–to confront one’s accuser. I had been charged and condemned for physically abusing Francesca without a trial; I wanted to know who was it who was accusing me (apart from the fascist organizations called Child and Family Services, whether in Winnipeg or in Ashern).
Ashern Anishinaabe Child and Family Services
Relation of Just My Kind of Bakery (Indicated by Fork and Knife) and Ashern Anishinaabe Child and Family Services
Another time, I was going to the school when it was dark to obtain something from the school in preparation for lessons; I saw an RCMP car nearby.
I forget exactly when, but Francesca contacted me, and we began to see each other. It must have been in 2011, before April 4. By coincidence we went to see a movie called “The Dilemma,” with Vince Vaughan as actor, among others. The dilemma was whether Vaughn, who saw his business partner and friend, should tell him that he had seen his wife kissing another man. My dilemma was whether I should confront Francesca with the false allegation of choking her and throwing her to the ground. After the movie, I dropped her off, and I decided to talk to her about it. We talked on the phone, and I indicated that I had not choked her nor threw her to the ground. She said that it did not matter since she forgave me. I insisted, however, that I had done no such thing. If I remember correctly, she hung up. When I tried calling back then and other times, there was no answer.
It was around the same time, or perhaps a little earlier, that Francesca was temporarily living with the parents of the husband of Laura since one of the teenagers who lived under Laura’s care had apparently tried to commit suicide, and there was blood in the house. I went to see Francesca there, and she told me for the first time that she had been sexually abused by Juan Ulises, the common-law husband, when she was a child. Given that she still claimed that I had choked her and threw her to the ground, I did not believer her at the time. Now I do. I attributed her earlier violence towards me to her mother’s physical abuse. However, even after she admitted that I had not choked her nor threw her to the ground, she insisted that Juan Ulises had sexually abused her. Her extreme violence towards me can be ascribed both to the physical and emotional abuse of her mother, the lack of action by the WCFS, the Progressive Conservative government and the NDP social-democratic government (elected in 1999)–and her sexual abuse by Juan Ulises.
My Arrest and Harassment by the RCMP
Just before the spring break, I noticed that two RCMP cars were parked outside the house where I lived and had flashed their lights.
After spring break, on Sunday evening, there was someone stamping outside the house–and when I looked outside, there were a couple of flashes of light from one of the RCMP cars. I heard a knock on the door, got dressed and opened the door. There were two RCMP officers at the door. They indicated that I was under the arrest. When I asked what charge, they asked whether I wanted others to hear about the charges or whether it would be better to hear about them inside. I “invited” them inside. They informed me that I was charged with three counts of assault of Francesca. I asked them what the charges were. Two of the three were the same allegations as the Winnipeg Child and Family Services–choking Francesca and throwing her to the ground. The third allegation was new–assaulting Francesca by throwing tea at her. The RCMP officer also indicated that I was not to approach Francesca and not to leave the province; otherwise, I would be put in jail. I was fingerprinted at a later date.
On the following Saturday (April 9, 2011), for the first time ever, several RCMP officers (some in street clothes) sat opposite me at “Just My Kind of Bakery” in Ashern, probably to intimidate me and to ensure that I was no longer looking out the window to see who Darrell Shorting was. One of the officers, not in uniform, was the father of one of my former French students at the secondary level. On April 16, 2011, several RCMP officers once again do the same thing, including the father once again–this time in uniform.
(As an aside, it may be that Darrell Shorting is the same person who complained about how children in First Nations communities should be kept in their own communities rather than shipped to Winnipeg under the “protection” of Winnipeg Child and Family Services (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/cfs-is-new-residential-school-system-says-former-cfs-investigator-1.2788730 ). If so, then Mr. Shorting saw fit to falsely accuse me of choking Francesca and throwing her to the ground and contributing to Francesca’s legal separation from me. Mr. Darrell, Shorting, as the article shows, was a former CFS abuse investigator for Aninshinaabe CFS.)
An Oppressive Working and Living Atmosphere
I returned to school next morning to teach. Curiously, one of the parents of a student I was teaching wanted to attend my class. I “agreed” to this.
Subsequently, at a teacher’s meeting, in May 2011 I believe, Neil MacNeil attended. He was a former teacher at Ashern Central School who had taught their for around 30 years. He was a principal in another school in another town within the same school division, but he was going to become the new principal at Ashern Central School during the 2011-2012 school year. At the meeting, he stated that he wished he could teach French since the French program was going downhill–which in itself I found inappropriate and humiliating since it was I who taught French.
Later that month, I was informed that I would no longer be teaching French at the high-school level (grades 9-12)–but I would still be teaching French in grades 6-8 (another teacher would teach French at the grade 5 level). Jennifer Bjorg, the daughter of the former French teacher whom I replaced once she retired (Darlene Hanlon), would be teaching basic French at the high-school level.
I enjoyed much more teaching French at the high-school level. It was optional for students, and most students wanted to be there and learn French. Since I did not like teaching basic French in the earlier years–especially since it was obligatory although many students did not really want to learn it–the stripping of my seniors French class resulted in an oppressive atmosphere for me.
Near the end of August, when I went outside, I found that one of the windows of my car had been smashed. The rock was still in the car. I went to the RCMP station a few blocks away to report it. The RCMP officer said that they could do nothing and that fingerprints could not be obtained from a rock. Nothing was done about it. There was no inquiry into the vandalism at all–further proof against the idealized version of the police by the “Marxist” Herman Rosenfeld (see, for example, Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Two).
The oppressive atmosphere where I worked and lived increased substantially when I was assigned the position of a glorified teaching assistant by having to supervise one special needs student instead of teaching the seniors French classes in September, 2011. It was humiliating, and my heart started to pound excessively in September 2011. Furthermore, I was placed on clinical supervision once again–with Neil MacNeil as principal, not Randy Chartrand.
I started to have problems sleeping at night due to the pounding heart. I started to take sleeping pills–which did not reduce the pounding heart, but they at least permitted me to distance the pounding heart sufficiently to sleep. I also started to drink a maximum of a cup of red wine every day (a measuring cup since I knew what alcohol could do to a person–my father had been an alcoholic and died when he was 50). (In fact, I started to drink red wine twice a week because my former supervisor for my master’s degree and Ph. D. Rosa Bruno-Jofre, who had cancer around the same time as I did, recommended a book “Foods That Fight Cancer.” In that book, the author recommended drinking red wine since it had a concentrated chemical not as easily metabolised if a person ate only red grapes. Drinking red wine every day, though, was due to the oppressive situation).
The whole situation was oppressive. Ashern is a very small town–around 1,400 people. I never stated to anyone that I had been arrested, but the three charges were to be addressed when a judge was to hear the charges. I did not attend personally (I hired a criminal lawyer “at a reduced rate” because I was a member of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society–Josh Weinstein It cost me around $3,000). Obviously many people knew about the arrest. I could not rest neither at work nor at home.
I also started having problems teaching French with some of the students. I always had classroom management problems in the grades 7 and 8 levels, and they intensified as the year proceeded. I also experienced the oppression of the principal hovering around the classrooms where I taught, looking in whenever he wanted.
Of course, the threat of being jailed if I tried to communicate with Francesca was also oppressive.
In October, I believe, I started to see Gene Degen, a counsellor for the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at the Manitoba Teachers Society building–the very building where I allegedly cornered Francesca and frightened her. I also inquired about going on sick leave.
The extent of the feeling of oppression can be seen from a series of communication between Adele Field Burton, case manager for the Disability Benefits Plan of MTS and me:
— On Wed, 11/2/11, AdelleFieldBurton<firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: AdelleFieldBurton <email@example.com> Subject: Apology To: “Fred Harris” <firstname.lastname@example.org> Received: Wednesday, November 2, 2011, 8:44 AM
I am sorry if I have offended you or misunderstood what you were trying to say. It was not my intention.
You are entitled to apply for benefits if you are medically unable to work.
I am here to help if needed.
AdelleFieldBurton, BA BSW CCRC
Disability Benefits Plan of The Manitoba Teachers’ Society
I find the contents of your email interesting–in its naivety.
Fact 1: I went to see a brand new doctor since my previous doctor had left Ashern (a typical phenomenon in rural areas, so I am told).
Fact 2: I only indicated that I was under extreme stress; I did not elaborate.
Fact 3: The doctor listened to my heart.
Fact 4: I had an EKG.
Fact 5: He prescribed to me a drug and told me to look up on the Net its effects.
Fact 6: I looked up on the Net the drug and discovered that it was addictive.
Fact 7: I purchased the pills–with the intention of taking them for the purpose of addressing my immediate concerns–my stress as expressed in my increasingly intensified heart.
Fact 8: It was the pharmacist who informed me (not the doctor) that the pills would likely have no effect for the period of the prescription; it would be necessary to take the pills for probably six weeks to notice any effect.
Fact 9: I have been taking over-the-counter sleeping pills to try to sleep; although they do not alter the pounding heart, they do allow me to exist in a state of semi-sleep, with the feeling (though not the fact) of a pounding heart to be less intense;
Fact 10: You presumed that I refused to take the pills based on my Marxist beliefs;
Fact 11: My immediate concern is my constant pounding heart and a solution to that–not in 6 weeks henceforth.
Fact 12: Neither the doctor nor you seem to recognize what stress involves and what the person under stress needs.
Opinion: I do not appreciate your “aside” etc. You apparently have little understanding of the situation.
As an “aside,” on November 15, I have a cystoscopy. On Novemeber 17 I will have a CT scan. Anyone who knows anything about those who have experienced cancer can infer that at least some will be nervous about such procedures because of the possible outcome of a a negative diagnosis. Indeed, I had a conversation yesterday with my advisor for my Ph. D. about this since she had colon cancer at the same time as I had invasive bladder cancer.
Furthermore, on November 16 is the court date. Couple that with the clinical supervision and the humiliation of being shifted to “teaching” one student for 8 weeks and for being denied the right to teach senior-high French this year (despite having taught it for three years in a row), my stress level is quite comprehensible.
I will address my problems and my needs without your help. Should I need assistance, I shall contact another person from MTS.
Rest assured that I have no intention of ever contacting you again.
Dr. Fred Harris, Marxist
— On Mon, 10/31/11, AdelleFieldBurton<email@example.com> wrote:
From: AdelleFieldBurton <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: RE: Stress Leave To: “Fred Harris” <email@example.com> Cc: “Roland Stankevicius” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “AdelleFieldBurton” <email@example.com> Received: Monday, October 31, 2011, 5:15 AM
I am sorry to hear that things are feeling worse for you.
I guess there are a couple of things for clarification.
Although you are certainly under stress, this is not a diagnosis, it is a cause. In order to take time off work for medical reasons you need to have a note from a medical doctor that states you are unable to work for “medical reasons” (that includes psychological). If your doctor is prescribing an anti-depressant then likely feels you are exhibiting signs of depression. I do have clients who chose not to take medication as a first line of treatment, preferring to use talk therapy first. My approach to that is – Unless there is a past history of mental health problems where medication has been useful, I think it is reasonable to try counselling first but if after 6 months, the depression (etc.) is not improving, then medication becomes a part of “appropriate care and treatment”.
So I guess the first thing is to see if your doctor will support your going off work for medical reasons. If he does, then I can refer you to a psychologist – I would try to chose one who I think might fit for you.
If your doctor does not support medical leave and you still feel that is necessary, I can refer you to a psychiatrist who would just provide a medical opinion on whether you could work and provide treatment recommendations. It would mean one, two-hour visit. I would be clear with him about your concerns with psychiatry and I believe that your concerns would not be well-founded. There is really no other way to confirm your medical status if your doctor does not agree with time off.
As an aside, it sounds like you may be choosing what you consider to be the “lesser of two evils”, so I still wonder about your ability to participate fully in sessions with the psychologist. In any case, I would rely on the psychologist’s assessment of whether that was taking place. I wish there was some way we could help without impacting your philosophical beliefs but I am not sure what that would look like. The plan document is very clear about appropriate care and treatment.
In November 2011, the charges of assaulting Francesca were dropped–with no explanation at all.
I was to begin teaching an English class and a math class in November 2011, which I did–as well as the grades 6-8 French.
Neil MacNeil, the principal, submitted his clinical supervision report in December, 2011, evaluating my teaching during November and December 2011. I responded with around a 42-page critique, but I submitted it to Roland Stankevicius, a staff officer at the time with Manitoba Teachers Society (and later General Secretary), for comment. He recommended reducing it in certain places (and eliminating all evidently emotional language), so the final response was around 32 pages. Mr. Stankevicius indicated at the time that the clinical supervision report reflected badly–on Mr. MacNeil:
— On Mon, 12/19/11, RolandStankevicius<firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:From: RolandStankevicius <email@example.com> Subject: RE: Response to Clinical Evaluation To: “Fred Harris” <firstname.lastname@example.org> Received: Monday, December 19, 2011, 9:32 AM
I have tried to play the role of editor here. Cut down on the length, improve tone. The strikeouts should be deleted in my opinion and the yellow highlights added.
You have provided a very scholarly response but it needs to be shortened. I hope you agree with my suggestions. Please call me over lunch to discuss.
Best to get this put away. You have made your points here. NM does not look good in a lot of how he states his observations (in my opinion).
(I will be publishing, in several parts, my reply to Mr. MacNeil’s assessment sometime on this blog.)
However, Janet Martell, the superintendent and Mr. MacNeil had other plans. Mr. MacNeil, Ms. Martell, Leanne Peters, assistant superintendent, had a meeting with Mr. Stankevicius and me on February 13. Mr. Martell mentioned my cancer and my arrest–without Mr. Stankevicius responding at all to this. I was to be put on “intensive clinical supervision”–which meant that I would be put under her supervision–all supposedly to provide supports for my teaching. However, Mr. Stankevicius, a staff officer at the time with Manitoba Teachers Society (and later General Secretary) indicated that it was a prelude to my being fired. The starting date was to be February 14, 2012 (see letter below):
Fred Harris Box 473 Ashern, MB R0C 0E0
February 14, 2012
Dear Mr. Harris:
Intensive Guided Supervision
This correspondence is further to our meeting on February 13th, 2012. Also in attendance at the meeting was Neil MacNeil, Principal, Ashern Central School, Roland Stankevicius, MTS Staff Officer, and Leanne Peters, Assistant Superintendent, Lakeshore School Division. During this meeting, we discussed the need to move you from a clinical model of supervision to the Intensive Guided model as per Lakeshore’s Regulations and Procedures.
This change in supervision is necessary as your competency in providing a quality education to our students has been brought into question and your teaching is deemed unsatisfactory by myself, as determined in consultation with Neil MacNeil. We clarified the procedures and reviewed, in general terms, the elements and expectations of good teaching and professional responsibility. We discussed the opportunity you would have to assist in determining supports required to meet the expectations. The timelines, in a broad sense, would run from today’s date until the end of April 2012. At the conclusion of the timeline, I will convene a meeting of all participants to determine the outcome of the Intensive Guided Supervision. Possible outcomes are as follows:
Recognition that the plan to achieve satisfactory teaching was successfully completed, or
A recommendation to the Board of Trustees for termination of your contract.
A second meeting has been scheduledfor Friday, February 17th at 9:30 a.m. at Ashern Central School to develop a plan for Intensive Guided Supervision. The plan will include:
a clear description of the areas requiring improvement,
a clear description of the expected changes in those areas requiring improvement,
a description of resources available within and outside the division to assist the teacher to improve teaching performance,
the timeline for satisfactory improvement to occur,
the meeting dates to review progress, and
an outline of the evaluation process and timelines which shall be followed, including expected dates of reports, both interim and final.
At this meeting, you will have the opportunity not only for input into the process, but to request clarification of any component of the supervision model, which will ensure you are in complete understanding of the Division’s expectations. If you are successful in meeting these expectations and demonstrate your desire and ability to continue to do so, no further changes in your performance will be necessary.
I am optimistic that regardless of what has happened in the past, progress can be made to the benefit of all concerned.
CC: Personnel file
Neil MacNeil, Principal, Ashern Central School
Leanne Peters, Assistant Superintendent, Lakeshore School Division
Roland Stankevicius, MTS Staff Officer
On February 16, 2012, I had a meeting with Mr. Stankevicius and a lawyer for MTS at the MTS building (McMaster House):
Marni Sharples <email@example.com>
Wed., Feb. 15, 2012 at 1:37 p.m.
Coordinator, Teacher Welfare
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society
191 Harcourt Street
Winnipeg, MB R3J 3H2
‘ (204)837-4666 Ext. 239 or 1-800-262-8803
6 (204) 831-3077 or 1-866-799-5784
—–Original Message—– From: Fred Harris [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: February-15-12 12:36 PM To: Marni Sharples Subject: Re: Meeting – Thursday, February 16th
On February 16, 2012, I had a meeting with Mr. Stankevicius and David Shrom, a lawyer (probably a labour lawyer–he has since been on an arbitration board). Mr. Shrom informed me that the issue was grievable, meaning that the issue could be grieved on the basis of collective agreement provisions (but he did not specify, if I remember correctly, which provisions could be used to justify the grievance). However, he (or Mr. Stankevicius) indicated that, despite being grievable, I would still have to undergo intensive clinical supervision while the grievance was in process. Since I had no further desire to work for Lakeshore School Division (or for that matter any other employer), I decided not to pursue the grievance and made a deal to agree to resign if I was “allowed” to work one day in March to qualify for short-term disability until I qualified for long-term disability;
Bureaucratic Rules for Going on Short- and Long-term Disability
Fred Harris <email@example.com>
Sat., Feb. 18, 2012 at 9:29 a.m.
I received a doctor’s note yesterday for two weeks. I will fax that to the Division office. I also explained to the doctor the situation in relation to std [short-term disability], and he stated that he had no problem with signing another doctor’s note afterwards.
What are other conditions for std? Seeing a doctor regularly? Other conditions attached? What is the level of benefits?
I understand that I will have to work at least one day in March. In what would that consist? And where? I am unconcerned about the other teachers knowing about the situation–they undoubtedly will be curious. However, I have no desire to see Neil.
I do have some questions. Is std to be a bridging gap for ltd [long-term disability]? However, I skimmed through the ltd plan, and a condition for ltd is that the teacher still be employed. If the idea is to negotiate a deal and terminate, then I would not qualify for ltd. So I am unsure of this.
I also am wondering about prospects for future employment in other divisions. I would probably start out as a substitute teacher, but then again I do now know how difficult it is to be on the substitute teachers’ list in various divisions. Any ideas?
I also, as you know, plan on going to Toronto. Whether this year or next I am unsure. What probable impact, if any, would this have on working in Toronto, at least initially, as a substitute teacher?
— On Fri, 2/17/12, Roland Stankevicius <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: Roland Stankevicius <email@example.com> Subject: FW: Lakeshore short term disability insurance (std) To: “Fred Harris” <firstname.lastname@example.org> Received: Friday, February 17, 2012, 12:24 PM
Hi Fred, I heard your voicemail message. I am in the office call if you are available.
Further to the previous email.
The note for next week can be “on sick leave for an indefinite period while under doctor’s care and will be reassessed on 28th February.”
The matter is that you need to be ‘not on sick leave’ for at least a day (at work) on or after March 1st. It is a bit complicated but basically you will be transitioning from one medical leave to the other and therefore will need a second medical note after March 1st.
My email to a doctor involved specifying what was required to satisfy the short-term provisions of the disability program:
From: Fred Harris <email@example.com>
To: “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>
Sent: Wednesday, March 28, 2012, 02:09:46 p.m. EDT
Hello Doctor Faltas,
I am a patient of yours who saw the psychiatrist, Dr.Morier.
Lakeshore School Division requires a doctor‘s note, with two parts to it.
The first part should indicate that I was capable of working on March 23 (whether formulated as alternative work or simply as work is your decision).
The second part then should indicate that I was not capable of working as of March 26. The MTS representative (union representative) suggested that the wording should indicate that I am incapble of performing full-time teaching duties due to general stress and anxiety (this last wording, he suggested, should also be used for the Wawanesa form when you fill it out after having received the Dr. Morier’s report). Of course, it is up to you how you formulate the note.
The note can be addressed as To Lakeshore School Division
The note can be sent to the following address:
Lakeshore School Division
If you have questions of the Division, you can phone the Division at 739-2101 and ask for Janet Martell (superintendent).
If you have any questions for me, my cell number in Winnipeg is: 951-2764.
Thank you, Dr. Faltas.
Political Lessons to Be Learned
When we look at all these experiences, it can be seen that the government and its representatives in many ways functions to oppress workers and citizens. The left seem oblivious to this aspect of the regular person’s experiences. Indeed, the left’s frequent reference to the solution of “expanded public services,” for many sounds like a call for an expanded system of oppression. Is there really any wonder why workers and citizens have moved to the right in many instances? The left, of course, absolves itself of any responsibility for this turn. It chastises the lower levels of the working class for, for instance, voting for the likes of Trump, while it fails to look critically at its own contribution to the continued oppression of workers and citizens.
It should be noted that, in some ways, I was a lucky person. I was to receive short-term and then long-term disability. A friend of mine who worked in a private school ended up in the psychiatric ward after suffering constant criticisms from administration and relatively well-off parents. He received no financial help whatsoever.
Of course, my luck is relative; I would have preferred, of course, not to have had to experience such “luck” in the first place.
In another post in this series, I will outline the oppression that I experienced while on short- and long-term disability.
In the previous post in this series, I argued against considering the expansion of free public services as socialist and for supporting the struggle for such free public services while simultaneously criticizing the limitations of such a struggle. The expansion of free public services in no way is the same as the beginning of a socialist society.
In this post, I expand on the limitations of the view that free public services amount to a socialist society by looking at the provision of such free public services from the side of the people who receive or use such services.
General Considerations: An Illegitimate Assumption
Dhunna and Bush make the following claim about their aims:
But those committed to principled class struggle should strive for the decommodification of public services. Compared with universal basic income, universal basic services cost less, meaningfully improve the material realities of working class and oppressed people, and affirm the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure. That’s our bread and butter.
They assume what they must prove: that there is an identity between “publicly owned infrastructure” and “publicly operated infrastructure.” What does “publicly operated infrastructure” mean? It must mean–operated by the government or state. They imply that the shift from private to public ownership somehow entails democratic control over “publicly owned infrastructure.” Publicly owned infrastructure is supposed to magically become operated–by the public–or operated democratically? They provide no evidence that the mere shift of services provided by the private sector to the public sector or the government somehow involves democratic control over the government.
In my previous post in this series, I acknowledged the positive side of state services that do not involve the user in having to pay personally or directly for such services in; in Canada, the classic example is free and universal basic health care. I have had cancer twice now (invasive bladder cancer diagnosed in 2009 and rectal cancer, diagnosed in 2015 (with metastatic liver cancer diagnosed in 2017). I certainly appreciate the fact that I did not, personally and directly, have to pay for health services connected to both the diagnosis and the removal and elimination of the cancer through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
The social-democratic left, however, do not focus on the negative side of such services to any great extent; alternatively, when they acknowledge it, they usually refer to the cliche of working “in and against the state.” The fact is that they mainly work within the state and pay lip service to working against the state.
Dhunna and Bush do not even acknowledge how their reforms will involve both positive and negative aspects–contradictions. Such services often simultaneously enable and alienate those who receive their services. From Adrian Little (1998), Post-Industrial Socialism: Towards a New Politics of Welfare, page 38:
As such it [the welfare state] cannot necessarily be regarded as an egalitarian institution because, as Baker suggests, ‘the present welfare state is a compromise which serves many interests. It helps people in need, but it also helps to keep them in their place. It is a system of support but also of control.’ In short, Baker argues that ‘the welfare state is designed for an unequal society’ (Baker 1987:10).
An enhanced welfare state is certainly preferable to a welfare state stripped of protections–but it is still a welfare state that presupposes that workers are to work for a class of employers–and that those who receive services from the welfare state are to be controlled to a greater or less extent in one way or another. Dhunna’s and Bush’s neglect of the issue of control over work and their focus on free public services ignore the negative side of public welfare in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers and the associated general economic, political and social structures.
As Primož Krašovec argues (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=25&v=T6HIhwVmgh4&feature=emb_title), the left’s idealization of the public sector–as if it were a haven of democracy–hardly provides an accurate picture of the nature of public sector work. Although the Canadian public sector is more heavily unionized than the private sector, to assume that higher unionization means democracy and control over our lives is just that–an assumption that requires justification.
Mr. Krasovec asks why some people–other than the rich–support neoliberal policies. His answer is that such neoliberal policies do address–unlike the social-democratic policies–some concerns of the ordinary worker about the public sector–such as the bureaucratic, neo-feudalist status of the state in the public education system. Both students and workers do not like these rigid hierarchical structures. Neoliberal policies may indeed be misleading about the efficacy of market policies in destroying these hierarchies if they are introduced into the public sector, but they nevertheless touch a real concern of workers and students.
This applies not only to public education but also to state administration in other public services. We cannot pretend that long lines at the doctor’s office do not happen, or that superficial treatment does not occur, or that bureaucratic incompetence does not arise–because people experience them every day in their dealings with these institutions. To fail to recognize these experiences and not to take them into account when formulating policy is to feed into the neoliberal backlash.
This idealization of the public sector will unlikely convince many who have experienced the negative aspect of public services since it does not correspond to their own experiences.
I mentioned above that I have been diagnosed with cancer twice (and diagnosed with metastatic cancer once). Given free public health care, as I said, I certainly appreciate the free treatment that I received. However, when we look at the wider context, the treatment also has negative aspects. As I argued in another post: (see Class Harmonies in Health Care? The Social-Democratic Way):
Today, though, many social determinants are largely ignored in favour of focusing on caring for those already sick. Consider breast cancer. It arises in many instances from environmental conditions, and yet most money is allocated to caring for those already inflicted with the disease rather than with preventing it from arising in the first place. From Faye Linda Wachs (2007), (pages 929-931), “Review. Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy. By Samantha King,” in Gender & Society, volume 21, number 6 (December), pages 930-931:
Recent studies reveal that simply removing known carcinogens from products and our environment could prevent thousands of cases annually (Brody et al. 2007). However, funding for such research is limited, while the monies for identifying and curing existing cases is the focus of most efforts. Indeed, many of the companies that fund survivorship continue to use known car cinogens in their products. King points to the fact that despite increased awareness, rates of breast cancer have increased from 1 in 22 in the 1940s to 1 in 7 in 2004. Even if one considers women’s increasing longevity, this still indicates an increase in the prevalence of breast cancer. Moreover, structural factors that affect risk and survivorship, such as socioeconomic status, remain woefully understudied.
Other experiences with the bureaucracy also tends to alienate the public from the public sector. Humiliation of the unemployed by office workers occurs, for example, and to not acknowledge such facts as a problem is to feed into the neoliberal ideology. So too does invasive surveillance of mothers by state bureaucrats. So too does humiliation of residents in public housing.
Nowhere do Ms. Dhunna and Mr. Bush acknowledge relations of domination and subordination in the public sector. Such experiences also alienate the public from the public sector. Mr. Krasnovic, by contrast, argues that it is necessary for the left to engage in a critique of the public sector in order to acknowledge the real problems that real people experience in relation to state institutions and state inequalities. It is necessary for the left to acknowledge these problems if they are to address neoliberalism and how it feeds off of the daily experiences of people in relation to the state.
Nowhere do the writers really address the nature of the problem of “the market.” despite the title of their article. On the assumption, though, that they oppose in fact the exploitation and oppression of workers in the private sector (a big assumption since many social democrats merely pay lip service to opposing exploitation and oppression since they really have no intention of aiming for the beginning of a movement towards the abolition in the present but rather push such a goal to the vague future–see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three–as Mr. Krasovec points out, it is hypocritical to criticize exploitation and oppression of private sector workers while not doing so in the public sector. Mr. Krasovec, like me, does not believe that any just society can arise as long as the capitalist state exists.
General Oppressive Structures and Relations in Public Services
Dhunna’s proposal for expanded public services would be different from present-day life, but not that different–as John Baker (1987) notes in his Arguing for Equality, pages 9-10:
Equality and the welfare state
For nearly a century, equality has been linked with the idea of the ‘welfare state’: income support for the elderly, unemployed and disabled; publicly provided education for all, with a trend in the direction of comprehensive, mixed-ability schooling; a free, comprehensive health service, at least for the worst off; public housing for people on low incomes; and a variety of social services for people with special needs. Would an egalitarian society mean more of the same? Since the welfare state does stand for more equality than ‘free market’ alternatives offered by its opponents, there are certainly good reasons for supporting and defending it. But there are two major reasons why an egalitarian society might turn out to be very different.
First of all is the issue of democratic control. The present welfare state is a compromise which suits many interests. It helps people in need, but it also helps to keep them in their place. It is a system of support but also of control. In some areas, particularly in housing, users and providers of public services are starting to cooperate in making the system more democratic, but there’s a long way to go. Too much of the system still runs on the belief that the bureaucrats know best and that consumers should be grateful for whatever they’re given.
The second reason is that the welfare state is designed for an unequal society. Many of its policies and problems would be transformed by more equality. For instance, there’s a lot of argument in education over how to promote equality of opportunity in an unequal society. There are bitter conflicts over the use of limited funds, with parents fighting over the means to protect their children’s futures. Schooling is seen as a major cause of achievement in adult life, and since all children are in competition for advancement there is no limit to the demand for educational resources. Even a good school could be better, making a crucial difference to children’s educational success. No wonder there are disputes over private schooling, mixed-ability classes, examination systems, busing! In an egalitarian society, there would still be disagreements over the best ways to ensure that every person had the opportunity to develop their ability in a satisfying and fulfilling way and over how to use our resources — disagreements that it would be impossible to sort out now. But there wouldn’t be conflict over access to privilege; the penalty for ‘failure’ wouldn’t be poverty; there wouldn’t be a contrast between inner city ghettos and middle class suburbs.
Undoubtedly the welfare state provides some of the materials for the social institutions of an egalitarian society, as well as a great deal of experience in providing for people’s needs. But it would be wrong to imagine that an equal society would just be a bigger welfare state. It would be in many ways a different society altogether.
Or, as Wolfgang Streeck (2016) argues, the building of protective layers over top of the capitalist economy seeks a different form or variety of capitalism–and not its dismantling. From How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System:
Fred Block’s notion of an ‘always embedded’ capitalism subject to a ‘primacy of politics’ radiates an optimism that conspicuously resembles what European social democrats have for a long time made themselves believe: that socialism, as defined above, could be had, preserved and surreptitiously expanded on top of a capitalist economy-cum-society, by serving its inexorably growing functional need for collective governance. Looking back at the past four decades, however, we see a sustained process of institutional transformation, slow but irresistible and driven, not by democratic politics but by the dynamic logic of capitalist development, that has effectively destroyed most if not all of the political safeguards whose establishment had been the very condition for capitalism being allowed to return after the disasters of the first half of the twentieth century. That logic, and the reorganization – or disorganization – of social life that it dictated, culminates today in the dual crisis of the global financial as well as the national democratic state system. Decades of ‘reform’ aimed at meeting the ever more aggressive demands of capitalist markets have only exacerbated the capitalist wear and tear on the social fabric, often with the connivance of blackmailed states and governments, including social-democratic ones. Is this experience really compatible with a theory that considers ‘market society’ to be at the disposition of politics? Or does it not rather speak for attributing to capitalism as a social action system a life, a logic, a power and a dynamism of its own, on which social-democratic post-war politics as usual has more and more lost its grip? If one comes to conclude, as I have, that it is the latter that is the more realistic perspective, is it then still responsible to invest one’s time and energy in developing responsible ideas as to how responsible governments may repair ‘the system’ or turn one variety of capitalism’ into another? Or would it not be much more constructive to be less constructive – to cease looking for better varieties of capitalism and instead begin seriously to think about alternatives to it?
This post does try to focus on some of the negative sides of public services in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers.
The school system, of which the university is a part, is simply not considered. For example, are not grades (marks) an oppressive feature of the modern school system (including universities)? Do they not function to sort the “intelligent” from the “less intelligent?” Of course, assessment of some kind must occur, but all assessment could be in the form of feedback for improvement (formative assessment) and not in any form of quantitative assessment. As I wrote in an article (see in my Publications and Writings section, “Dewey and Assessment: Opposition to the Modern School System):
A few years ago, I was the chair of the local Equity and Social Justice Committee of a teacher’s association. I sent off articles and some of my thoughts to the Equity and Social Justice Ning (a kind of blog) of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society. At a school where I worked in Manitoba, I also placed the same articles and my own thoughts in binders in the staff lounge for the staff to read. At one point, I argued that there was a conflict between grades and teacher feedback (usually in the form of written or verbal comments) that is supposed to improve teaching and learning. My own experience in receiving both teacher feedback and grades was such that I almost always looked at the grade first and only then (if at all) looked at the teacher’s comments afterward. I doubt that my experience is unique.
At a meeting with Janet Martell, the superintendent of Lakeshore School Division, and the principal of Ashern Central School, where I worked, Ms. Martell stated that she considered my argument about the contradiction of grades and teacher feedback via formative assessment to be faulty and would address it later during the meeting. She never did.
Grades, or what in educational circles is called summative assessment, is characterized by the following. From Shujon Mazumder (2020). “Critical Education: Increasing Student Achievement through Formative Assessments.” The Organizational Improvement Plan at Western University, 149. Retrieved from https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/oip/149, pages 10-11:
According to Frey (2014), the defining characteristics of summative assessments include: • Assessing student learning at the end of a period of instruction. • Is typically very formal with defined test-taking rules and scoring procedures. • Its main purpose is to determine grades. (p. 91) Summative assessments view students as receptacles of information, and learning is measured by how well they can restate facts and knowledge given to them by their teachers.
The typical summative procedure of grading proceeds as follows page 11):
Table 1 Traditional Sequence of Activities in Student Assessment Cycle
1. Students are given instructions and advice about how to approach the assessment. 2. Students may undertake developmental, formative assessment to gain some feedback on their progress in this area of learning, before submitting their formally assessed (that is, summative) work. 3. Students prepare for their summative assessment, either individually or in collaboration with peers (where the latter is permitted and required). 4. Students undertake the assessment (e.g. write the essay; complete\the group project; give the presentation; sit the exam). 5. Students submit the assessment to the assessors, who are already experts in the field. 6. Students await feedback on the assessment. 7. Feedback and/or marks are made available. 8. Students may or may not access the feedback on their work. Students may or may not assimilate the feedback and actively use it to inform future approaches to learning and assessment.
How many reading this post have experienced the oppressive nature of grades–which is counterproductive to real learning? How many can identify with the following comments on the experience of grading in schools (dated February 11, 2018):
Reading The Case Against Grades brought up a TON of emotions for me this week. Some of the emotions this pieced evoked from me were anger, frustration rage and even a bit of embarrassment. I’m not embarrassed for my present self, but embarrassed for my younger self, the me 10-15 years ago who wasn’t among her high-achieving peers in the classroom. I went to school in a county, on a particular side of the county where high grade marks and straight A’s were an expectation of almost everyone. As hard as I tried, I wasn’t one of those students. I excelled in my elective classes like music/choir classes, home economics/teen living and sociology but could never seem to master’s subjects like physics, geometry and chemistry. It was embarrassing to receive my test scores and they sometimes were significantly lower than my peers.
In The Case Against Grades, Kohn mentions that several of the effects of grading are that grades tend to diminish what students are learning, grades create a preference for the easiest possible task and that grades tend to reduce the quality of students thinking. All of these statements resonate with me on a personal level. … Essentially, students are not taught to think at all. Grades are a way of inhibiting students learning. If students do not receive good grades, they are thought of as less than adequate and labeled as “problem” children when, in fact, many of those labels could not be further from the truth.
The oppressive nature of grades is similar in many ways to what I referred to in an earlier post about external or bad aims (which are oppressive) (see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three). Internal or good aims link our goals to what we are doing now and the means available to us by organizing present activities and means; they link the future with the present and the present with the future in a logical and coherent manner. External or bad aims, by contrast, involve a disconnect between means and ends. In the case of grades, the goal is to obtain the highest grade possible, and there is no intrinsic connection between that goal and the organization of present activities and means as internally related to each other. Such an external aim as obtaining the highest grades often leads to focusing on satisfying the teacher rather than the specific nature of problems–and hence diminishes the power of children and adolescents to address the problems that arise in the process of living.
Alfred Kohn (see link above) has this to say about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in relation to grades:
Motivation: While it’s true that many students, after a few years of traditional schooling, could be described as motivated by grades, what counts is the nature of their motivation. Extrinsic motivation, which includes a desire to get better grades, is not only different from, but often undermines, intrinsic motivation, a desire to learn for its own sake (Kohn 1999a). Many assessment specialists talk about motivation as though it were a single entity — and their recommended practices just put a finer gloss on a system of rewards and punishments that leads students to chase marks and become less interested in the learning itself. If nourishing their desire to learn is a primary goal for us, then grading is problematic by its very nature.
I mentioned above another form of assessment–formative assessment. This form of assessment is supposed to provide feedback to students without quantifying it–it is more qualitative and narrative. However, as Alfred Kohn notes, when it is linked to summative assessment, it performs a subordinate role and thus is still linked to an oppressive practice. From Kohn (see the link above):
It’s not enough to add narrative reports. “When comments and grades coexist, the comments are written to justify the grade” (Wilson, 2009, p. 60). Teachers report that students, for their part, often just turn to the grade and ignore the comment, but “when there’s only a comment, they read it,” says high school English teacher Jim Drier. Moreover, research suggests that the harmful impact of grades on creativity is no less (and possibly even more) potent when a narrative accompanies them. Narratives are helpful only in the absence of grades (Butler, 1988; Pulfrey et al., 2011).
Unsurprisingly, given the title of this blog, it would be better to aim for the abolition of grades in order to facilitate internal or intrinsic learning and to abolish the oppressive nature of grades and external or extrinsic learning. What is needed is only formative assessment or narrative (and personal interviews and personal forms of assessment).
For those who are parents, it should be obvious that you never quantify your assessment of your child’s or adolescent’s performance; you provide verbal feedback mostly in order to guide the child or adolescent.
The Oppressive Curriculum, or the Oppressive Program of Studies
In addition to the oppressive nature of grades for some students, there is the question of the adequacy of current curriculum structure and content to address the learning needs of children and adolescents. As I argued in another post (see Much Educational Research Assumes the Legitimacy of the Current School Structure), most educational research assumes that the current educational system is the standard, with only variations (reforms) around this standard conceivable (similar to the social-democratic or reformist left).
The imposition of grades as external motivators then permits the creation of a curriculum that involves the learning of many irrelevant things that have little to do with addressing present problems and interests. This in turn leads to the weighing down of the mind by unused and irrelevant facts, leading to the dulling of interest and the wonder of children in the world around them. From Katherine Mayhew and Anna Edwards (1936), The Dewey School: The Laboratory School of the University of Chicago, 1896-1903, pages 21-22:
“He must learn by experience” is an old adage too little heeded by modern methods of schooling. Too often these methods take for granted that there is a short cut to learning, and that knowledge apart from its use has meaning for the developing mind. The memorizing of such knowledge has come to be a large part of present-day education, with the result that great masses of young lives have been denied the thrill of experimental living, of finding the way for themselves, of discovery, of invention, of creation. The fine aspiring tendril of childhood’s native curiosity, like the waving tip of a growing vine, seeks the how and why of doing its intellectual food. It is early stunted in many children. The strong urge to investigate, present in every individual, is often crushed by the memorizing of great masses of information useless to him, or the learning of skills that he is told may be useful to him in the far-away future, the sometime, and the somewhere. Only those in whom the urge to know will not be denied break away into new trails by virtue of individual and experimental effort, and when directed in the use of the scientific method, climb to the highest peaks of living; the majority travel a wide made-easy way of schooling into a dead level of mediocrity.
Are not most schools public? If so, then they must fall under Dhunna’s and Bush’s idealized view of public services: schools, as public institutions, “affirm the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure.” Quite to the contrary. Public schools ‘affirm the oppressive power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure.’ Merely because citizens do not pay for such services does not mean that oppression does not form part of such services–as long as there is a class of employers, along with the associated economic, political and social structures of such power.
Dhunna’s and Bush’s idealization of public services is typical of the social-democratic left. As I noted above, Mr. Sam Gindin, former research director of the former Canadian Auto Workers union (now Unifor, the largest private-sector union in Canada) merely views a socialist society as an expansion of public services rather than the abolition of oppressive structures in such services. He has this to say about public services in a socialist society:
As for the public sector, the growing acceptance that environmental limits translate into limiting individual consumption in the developed countries leads to a greater emphasis on collective consumption. We are on the cusp of having to urgently redefine what we mean by ‘abundance’ and to place greater value on retrieving our time, leisure, social services (health, education), collective goods (public transit, libraries), and public spaces (sports, music, arts, parks) – a reorientation, that is, to the expansion of the public sector and public sector jobs [my emphasis].
There is little recognition of how “the public sector” can be oppressive. Referring to social services, such as “education” as if schools and the school system were identical to non-oppressive services leads not only to the perpetuation of oppressive conditions but also to members of the working class becoming right-wing since such left-wing rhetoric fails to capture and express their experiences in this world. The social-democratic left, by idealizing the public sector, contribute to the right-wing backlash that has been raging for more than four decades.
Dhunnah’s and Bush’s solution–expanded public services in the form of free education that do not involve the purchase of such services–does not solve the problem of an oppressive situation. Their critique of the principle of universal basic income, therefore, loses some of its legitimacy.
In future posts, I may refer to the other side of the coin in education–not from the side of children and adolescents but from the side of those who work in schools, including teachers and custodians. Or perhaps health services (although I have already referred to some problems with the health sector (see Health Care: Socialist versus Capitalist Nationalization)–and therefore may not. Since most readers of this blog have provided little feedback or discussion, I will write on topics as I see fit–unless there is more feedback and discussion.
However, I will definitely address in another post the criticisms of basic income that Dhunna and Bush offer–such as they are.