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

Before I obtained a so-called permanent teaching position (I will explain in a much later post why I use the word “so-called”), I worked for a number of years as a substitute teacher (with short periods of term teaching positions). I became an executive member of the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association (WTA) (in the province of Manitoba, Canada), representing substitute teachers. I used this situation as an opportunity to criticize the limitations of the educational experience. Of course, representatives should not limit themselves to such criticism but rather perform their representative function in order to enhance the democratic nature of the union or association to which they belong. To that end, I referred to issues and clauses in the collective agreement that were relevant to substitute teachers as well as to the Substitute Teachers’ Committee. I and others on the Substitute Teachers’ Committee created a survey for substitute teachers and used the results of such a survey to criticize the policy of the WTA of permitting only permanent teachers the right to apply for permanent positions (substitute teachers paid association dues and consisted of usually 700-900 paying members of around 4000 members, but they did not have the right to apply for permanent positions).
Letter to the Editor: For September, 2007 Some philosophers of education may be criticized—justly—for being ivory tower theoreticians, useless in the real world. On the other hand, they frequently are criticized—unjustly—because they do not help teachers function more efficiently in the present school system. Such a criticism assumes that the present school system (and its premises) forms the standard by which to guide teachers in their actions. It is the task of philosophers of education, however, to question such standards or premises and to formulate alternate standards when necessary. One standard for determining whether activities in schools are educative is the unity and continuity of means (or process) and ends (or product)–a standard developed by the philosophers of education John Dewey and Alfred Whitehead. If the end or outcome is to be educative, it must be used by children themselves as an anticipatory means by which to guide their own actions in achieving that end or outcome. The children use the end or anticipated outcome as an imaginative means by which to select and organize the material and activities in such a way that the end or outcome as a finished product is reached. In this way, the means used and the ends achieved form a unity and are continuous with each other: the end functions within the means, and the final end or outcome is the unification of the means into a coherent and harmonious result. The unity of ends and means is an artistic criterion since art is characterized by the unity of means and ends. For instance, the curriculum in the Dewey school in Chicago between 1896 and 1904 provided for the common ends of all human life (food, clothing and shelter). These ends were pursued by the children, and the children learned how to read, write and engage in mathematics as means to the pursuit of these common ends. Reading was not learned independently of a concrete purpose; the process of learning how to read (as means) was tied to the end (product) of achieving common ends as living beings on this Earth. Education was conceived as the process of the art of living. If an act is educative only if there is a unity of means and ends or process and product in the above sense, then this definition of education can be used as a standard by which to judge current practices in schools. One question to be answered is whether the process of learning to read, write and do mathematics in the elementary schools as it is presently structured by the curriculum permits the teaching of the unity of means and ends. Another question is whether the process of learning the more specialized studies in secondary schools (such as the sciences) as it is presently structured by the curriculum permits the teaching of the unity of means and ends. Can the present curriculum structure permit the unity of means and ends? If not, what are the implications for the connection between school life and the process of education? Do not children deserve the best possible education–the unity of means and ends, or the learning of the art of living. Fred Harris, substitute teacher
Communication within a committee of a union is necessary for a number of reasons, including expediting organization. As chair of the Substitute Teachers’ Committee, I wrote the following to the members of that committee:
Hello everyone. I hope your summer was enjoyable. Soon we will have our first substitute committee for the year, on September 24 at 5:00 p.m. Since I am a new chair of the committee, I am learning the procedures as we go along—as you undoubtedly will be. Pizza and drinks will be available. Are there any persons with allergies or who are vegetarians? It is important to recognize that the substitute committee has no decision-making powers as such. The substitute committee can only make recommendations to the executive. The executive has certain decision-making powers, but so too does the Council, which meets once a month and is composed of representatives from each school. The executive may recommend something, but the Council may well vote against it. With the approval of the executive (and sometimes the Council, depending on the issue), the substitute committee can go ahead with recommendations made by the substitute committee. Without the approval of the executive, it cannot. I am attaching the same agenda for the first meeting in case it got lost. Some of the items may be eliminated, depending on the results of the executive meeting of the WTA on September 19. The meeting has been set for one hour, so we need to get to work right away. To expedite matters, I will comment on many of the agenda items to begin the process. Agenda item #2. Communication between WTA and substitutes: A constant problem. The WTA does not have a list of substitute teachers, and substitute teachers do not automatically have mailboxes in each school. How the WTA (and this committee) is to communicate with substitute teachers remains open to suggestions—from substitute committee members, if possible. Which leads to point 3 on the agenda. Agenda item #3. A list of substitute teachers in the Division, since it does not exist, may have to be compiled by this committee. How this is to be done and who is to do should be the topic for discussion. Agenda item #4. The survey is to be used during the general (once a year) meeting of substitute teachers to obtain information about substitute teachers in the Division, including their priorities. The survey is subject to the approval of the executive, so we will not know whether it has been approved until after September 19. Who will distribute and collect the survey, if it is approved, during the general meeting? Agenda item #5. The major purpose of the general meeting is to obtain as many representatives for substitute teachers as possible. These representatives can attend the Council meetings, vote and raise issues. For every 20 people who show up at the general meeting, we can elect one representative to Council (up to a maximum of, perhaps, six or seven, but this issues is unlikely to arise at this time). So, we need to try to have as many substitute teachers attending as possible. Another purpose is to obtain information about substitute teachers through the survey. Fielding their possible questions and thus providing them with information is also a purpose. Henry Shyka, the MTS business agent, or Dave Nadjuch, acting president of the WTA, will probably field questions. The general meeting will require the use of a list of substitute teachers and their telephone numbers (or email addresses). Who will contact them? I suggest that we distribute the list evenly, assigning approximately the same number of people to contact for each member of the committee. Any other suggestions? The announcement for the general meeting should also be provided in the phone-in system. I will contact the Help Desk when a date has been set. What date shall be set? The meeting will probably occur in October (earlier would have been viable if I had more experience in these matters). It would be best if all of us could be there, but that is frequently not possible. Furthermore, it will depend on the availability of Henry, Dave and the MTS auditorium. We will have to be flexible on the date. What time? The place will probably be the auditorium of the MTS building. But we need to book a time and place. How about 5:00? Would that give substitute teachers sufficient time to get there (especially if they have to take the bus)? How will we finalize registration for the meeting? Do we go through the WTA office or have one of the members of the substitute committee be responsible for that (confirmation through Glenda Shepherd)? When should food be provided? At the beginning of the meeting, in the middle? Re #5: d (ii): It has been suggested that it can create problems if we go through Glenda Shepherd in that we will not be up-to-date on who will be attending. If Glenda is not to be the contact person, how will we make arrangements for confirmation of attendance? Responsibility for clean up after the meeting: All substitute committee members who attend should be responsible for clean up after the meeting. (It was recommended by the executive that we leave the remaining food for the custodians of the building since they generally treat us better if we do so. I recommend that as well. Open for discussion, though.) Does that cover most bases for now? Fred, substitute chair
I also initiated a survey of substitute teachers to determine what was important for them (the formatting is somewhat different):

Survey of the Substitute Teachers of the WTA

Information gathered from the following survey is entirely anonymous and will be used exclusively for the purpose of establishing a profile of substitute teachers as a whole in order to improve services to the substitute teachers of the WTA.
  1. For how many years have you been substituting (without a permanent contract):
0-3 years 4-6 years 7-9 years 10-12 years 13 years or longer
  1. Place in order of importance for you, with 1 being the least important to you and 10 being the most important:
1. Coverage of other teachers during preparation time 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                  Most 2. Cancellation of a position when arriving at the school 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most 3. U.I. (now called E.I.) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                  Most 4. Communication with the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most 5. Salary 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most
  1. (Continued) Place in order of importance for you, with 1 being the least important to you and 10 being the most important:
6. Benefits 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most 7. The lack of right to apply for posted positions 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                    Most 8. Being banned from schools (and other disciplinary measures) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most 9. Parking 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                    Most 10. Lack of lesson plans 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most 11. Extent to which there is a lack of information, clarity or support concerning disciplinary procedures within schools for disruptive student behaviour 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                    Most 12. Other (Please explain) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Least                   Most _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.
  1. Please indicate with an x the category which best describes your view of the economic importance of substitute teaching for you.
primarily rely on substitute teaching within Winnipeg School Division for income primarily rely on substitute teaching and term teaching within Winnipeg School Division for income primarily rely on term teaching within Winnipeg School Division for income primarily rely on substitute teaching in two or more divisions for income primarily rely on substitute teaching and term teaching in two or more divisions for income primarily rely on term teaching in two or more divisions for income other (please explain) _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.
  1. Are you a retired teacher?
Yes No

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

Even before I served as the chair of the Substitute Committee for the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association (WTA), I tried to establish communication between the rank-and-file teachers and substitute teachers and myself. Such communication forms a necessary aspect of the work of the radical left.

A Philosophical (Critical) Commentary on the Collective Bargaining Seminar, August 22-24, 2007

I attended the collective bargaining seminar held by the Manitoba Teachers’ Society at Clear Lake. As I said to one of the MTS staff officers, it was an enlightening experience.

The seminar was very well organized. It was designed to combine a theoretical grounding in collective bargaining with hands-on practice through simulation of collective bargaining with a mock school board of two members.

The first day was spent meeting with pre-arranged teams of negotiating committees, with an MTS coach assigned to each team. The second day was split into two sessions, with the morning session involving the ins and outs of collective bargaining. There were separate sessions for members at the beginner level and for those with more advanced experience. In the afternoon, the negotiating teams met to develop their priorities for negotiating purposes. The entire Friday morning was a simulation of collective bargaining with two mock trustees opposed to each team. Other MTS staff circulated from time to time between the different negotiating sessions.

The use of the simulation mechanism provided an impressive air of realism to the whole learning process.

Another impressive aspect of the seminar was the emphasis on the importance of considering the impact of the acceptance of a clause in a particular collective agreement on teachers’ collective agreements as a whole.

In essence, that emphasis leads to a very important philosophical principle: considering any act as merely one phase in a larger, more inclusive act, undertaking or whole. The acceptance of a particular clause in one collective agreement begins just there, at the local level. Its consequences, however, may well extend far beyond the immediate collective agreement. These potential consequences then can be used to guide acceptance or rejection of the clause in a particular agreement. That is to say, the clause, when set in a larger whole (as a potential chain of consequences), may be modified or rejected because of its impact when considering that larger whole rather than seen in isolation. The means (a particular clause in a particular collective agreement) can then be made congruent with the end when the latter is conceived as an end that includes a larger whole. The implicit philosophical principle contained in the seminar was, then, the unity of the end in the means and the means in the end.

The realization of this principle is through communication, communication and more communication—from the local associations to the MTS and from the MTS to the local associations. In addition, the presence of MTS staff officers during collective bargaining is often (if not always) vital to ensure the realization of this principle.

That principle, however, could well be extended beyond the issue of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is only a beginning phase in a larger whole, whether that whole includes the administration of the contract, the legal system, the economic structure of society, and so forth. Just as an individual clause in a collective agreement may have a different meaning when viewed from a more global perspective, might collective bargaining itself have a different meaning when viewed from a more global perspective of wider social relations?

Could the principle implied in the collective-bargaining seminar—the unity of ends in the means and the means in the ends–be extended far beyond the issue of collective bargaining?

Fred Harris, substitute teacher

I wrote the following in the WTA newsletter (it is necessary to address more immediate concerns of workers and their organizations as well):

Substitute News

Fred Harris, a substitute teacher, was appointed the chair of the Substitute Committee for the 2007-2008 school year at the executive meeting held at Gimli on June 3-4.

At the general meeting of substitute teachers held in May 2007 (organized by Gerry Thornhill), Diane LaFournaise, another substitute teacher, was elected the representative of the substitute teachers for the WTA Council monthly meetings, to be held at 6:30 (snack at 6:00 p.m.) at 191 Harcourt on the following days:

September 24
October 16
November 14
December 13
January 15
February 12
March 12
April 17
May 12
June 9

Although only substitute reps can vote at WTA Council meetings, all substitute teachers can attend them. They can also attend the substitute committee meetings held at 5:00 p.m. in Room A on the same day as the Council meetings at 191 Harcourt. They can thereby begin to understand where they fit into the WTA and how they may, in the longer term, become a voice within their own organization.
A fall meeting for all substitutes may be held to field their concerns. More information may be forthcoming in the subsequent newsletter, the Sub-finder Express system, email or contact by phone.

Should a substitute teacher have concerns that specifically relate to problems associated with being an employee of the Division, please call Glenda Shepherd, Administrative Assistant of the WTA, at 831-7104.

Fred Harris, substitute teacher