Archive for the ‘labour movement’ Category

Robert Putnam: When Did Poor Kids Stop Being ‘Our Kids’?

March 14, 2015

Robert Putnam: When Did Poor Kids Stop Being ‘Our Kids’?.

Teachers forced to equip schools at own expense as austerity bites West Bank

January 24, 2015

Teachers forced to equip schools at own expense as austerity bites West Bank.

23 January 2015

Budgets are so tight that many Palestinian Authority schools cannot afford paper and pencils. Hard-pressed teachers must spend their own stagnating wages on supplies.

Ghadeer Rabi cannot remember a time during her five-year career as a high school teacher that her salary was enough to support her family. Without her husband’s income, the thirty-year-old says she would not be able to survive.

Rabi’s monthly paychecks are inconsistent, often coming as partial payments or none at all. The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority “keeps promising us a lot, like raises, but we haven’t seen anything,” she told The Electronic Intifada.

Rabi’s situation is not unique: the PA and public servants in the occupied West Bank have been at loggerheads for years.

These problems show no sign of letting up, especially since Israel began withholding taxes it is supposed to transfer to the PA as part of the Oslo accords.

Israel is withholding $127 million worth of tax funds and customs duties on goods that pass through present-day Israel before being exported, as reported by Al Jazeera English earlier this month. The Israeli move has been taken in retaliation for the PA’s decision to join the International Criminal Court.

Withholding Palestinian tax transfers, which Israel has done as a punitive measure many times in the past, intensifies the already difficult economic situation for public and civil servants, among them teachers. In response to Israel’s withholding of tax money, Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, said that “Western governments should refuse to follow suit [by imposing] their own sanctions” on the PA.

Wages stagnate

Living with her husband and infant daughter in Ramallah, Rabi teaches at the local Deir Jarir Girls High School and Mughtarabe Elementary School in the neighboring area of al-Bireh. The schools’ classrooms — which are overcrowded with upwards of forty students each period — lack heating, air-conditioning and most basic supplies.

Due to severe budgetary limitations, the twenty-eight teachers at Deir Jarir are often made to foot the bill for their own supplies, though more than 600 students attend the school. “We don’t even bother asking for additional supplies at this point,” said Rabi. “We know what the response will be.”

Aside from a one-time hourly wage increase of twenty shekels ($6) for the cost of living, “I have worked for five years and haven’t received a single raise,” Rabi said.

While the PA formally bans teachers from working a second job, Rabi said that most are forced to work elsewhere part-time.

Nidal Afafneh, a fourth-year English teacher at Anata Primary School in the West Bank, is one of those searching for a second job to supplement his income. “Some of my colleagues have even taken third jobs,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “This isn’t allowed, but they have to feed their kids.”

Afafneh, 26, said that teachers are demanding their basic rights, such as the school providing paper, pencils, and an annual salary increase to reflect the soaring cost of living, particularly in the Ramallah area. “Sometimes we don’t have electricity or water in our school for days at a time,” he added.

Israel’s harsh restrictions translate into stagnation for the Palestinian economy. In 2013, the World Bank estimated that Israeli control of the West Bank costs Palestinians some $3.4 billion each year. These restrictions have also created a dependency on foreign aid.

PA “dependent and fragile”

But critics also accuse the PA of rampant corruption. The lack of accountability within public institutions has led to widespread “embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, and exploitation of position for personal gain,” states a 2012 report by the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability, a Ramallah-based anti-corruption watchdog. “Those involved in these crimes were high-level employees, such as heads of government divisions, who were conspiring with lower and intermediate level employees.”

Alaa Tartir, program director of Al-Shabaka, a group that monitors Palestinian social and economic policies, explained that the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization “created an inherently dependent and fragile Palestinian ‘authority.’”

After years of building up its public sector, the PA today has around 150,000 public servants, Tartir told The Electronic Intifada. “When Israel decides to withhold Palestinian taxes or when the PA passes through a financial crisis — which is recurrent — those monthly salaries get majorly delayed or paid in installments over months,” he said.

“When Israel withholds taxes it does indeed commit another form of ‘collective punishment’ because it does not only punish the civil servants but also their families [and] we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people that are affected,” Tartir continued.

Yet, the PA’s neoliberal economic policies have only worsened the situation. A Western-backed agenda “entrenched the structural deficiencies in the Palestinian economy and created further distortion,” said Tartir. “It increased inequalities, poverty and unemployment. It created a status of individual wealth for some but national poverty for all.”

Harming the poor

The PA “created a capitalist class that are benefiting from the status quo and arguably from the mere existence of the occupation,” he noted, adding that “entrenching the neoliberal policies will only help Israel’s occupation directly and indirectly through adding another layer of repression that particularly harm the poor and [hinders] their process of liberation.”

As the costs of housing, food and utilities continue to increase, the Palestinian economy remains largely stagnant. According to a World Bank report published in September 2014, unemployment in the West Bank sat at 16 percent during the first quarter of that year.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 23.1 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza worked in the public sector during 2013. Of those, 16.4 percent were in the West Bank.

In addition to the punitive measures taken by the Israeli authorities, the constant disputes between the PA and teachers have resulted in several strikes over the last five years. Most of the more than one million students across the West Bank are affected, creating a difficult learning environment.

Citing the fall 2013 semester as an example, Ghadeer Rabi, the teacher, explained that there were several strikes, “making the actual class time very thin.”

“Strikes have made it a very difficult learning environment. Teachers go through the lessons really fast to catch up with what they miss,” she said. “And students aren’t motivated to be in class.”

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor to The Electronic Intifada. His website is www.postrickland.com. Follow him on Twitter: @P_Strickland_.

“Schools in Context”: The Full Text of a Major Study Comparing the U.S. to Eight Other Nations

January 21, 2015

“Schools in Context”: The Full Text of a Major Study Comparing the U.S. to Eight Other Nations.

What are the aims and purposes of human life? Who am I to become as an early childhood professional?

January 5, 2015

Thinking about Life and education with a focus on early Childhood

“This is one view of the nature of education, based on a conception of human nature … According to this conception, the child has an intrinsic nature, and central to it is a creative impulse … the goal of education should be to provide the soil and the freedom required for growth of this creative impulse … a complex and challenging environment that the child can imaginatively explore and, in this way, quicken his intrinsic creative impulse and so enrich his life in ways that may be quite varied and unique … governed, as Russell said, by a spirit of reverence and humility: reverence for the precious, varied, individual, indeterminate growing principle of life; and humility with regard to the aims and with regard to the degree of insight and understanding of the practitioners.” Noam Chomsky reflecting on philosopher Bertrand Russell’s humanist conception of education. (Chomsky, Otero 2003)

As an educator it would seem inevitable, given that we engage in a practice, a vocation, that demands we adopt a position that places children first. To take an ethical position means that we have to affirm that we are doing all we can to provide the best environmental circumstances to allow wholistic sensory and cognitive growth.

This is affirmed by the OECD (2006) report Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education And Care proposing that the ‘social pedagogy tradition’ is one that best defines positively, a humanist approach within education systems,

“…The social approach is inherently holistic. The pedagogue sets out to address the whole child, the child with body, mind, emotions, creativity, history and social identity. This is not the child only of emotions – the psycho-therapeutical approach; nor only of the body – the medical or health approach; nor only of the mind – the traditional teaching approach. For the pedagogue, working with the whole child, learning, care and, more generally, upbringing … pedagogues seek to respect the natural learning strategies of young children, that is, learning through play, interaction, activity, and personal investigation. Co-operative project work is much employed to give children a taste for working together and to build up shared and more complex understandings of chosen themes. The belief is widespread that encouraging the initiatives and meaning-making of children strongly supports cognitive development.”

My Story

My journey toward early childhood education began with a significant personal event, the birth of my daughter – born in the month of December in 1990 – a decade which opened with the USA governments initiation of a new wave of invasion and war in Iraq. The latter decades and years of this century were marked by global shifts in power most significantly by the collapse of the all the former communist states. I did not know then just how profound the effect these events were to have on the struggle for social equality, and social welfare. After two decades one effect of collapsing Communist Parties is the significant absence of struggles for improved social wellbeing which has also boosted the neo-liberal, small government, market rule economists.

I remain an active socialist in the communist tradition and regard myself a Marxist. My ideas about class and socialism had found some purchase in my mind after a few years in the Royal Australian Navy. The hierarchical character of the armed forces was a rapid introduction to the larger issues of class and oppression that run through our societies. Decades latter a friend who was then an army intelligence officer, and an anarchist, articulated for me something I had understood but had not fully appreciated, the armed services in many ways is able to function because it relies on socialistic methods of organisation.

What has this to do with Early Childhood and education?

The collapse of communism and the influences of the Reagan and Thatcher era have been very disorientating politically as governments all over the globe sold-off our welfare to the corporations and so further concentrated ‘self-regulatory’ control and profits into fewer hands. As a labour movement activists I had to make sense of all this and seek new and different arguments and methods of organising. It was at this time that I came across the book ’Children First’ by Penelope Leach the British psychologist and child development and parenting expert. I vaguely knew of her, and was excited to see that someone who was a respected authority could write about the problems of capitalist society and its ill effects on children and human development generally.

“For our societies money is god, the market place is its temple and mass communications – from TV advertising to ‘motivational speakers’ – ensure that its creed is an inescapable driving force not just in corporate lives but in the lives of everyone of us.

With societies’ attention, energy and excitement focused on the marketplace, areas of human endeavour that cannot be directly bought with money and sold for profit tend to be regarded as peripheral. It may be thought worthy to work at personal relationships (as parents work to relate to their children and each other), but it will be usually considered more interesting to work at professional ones (as day care workers and marriage counsellors) – and get paid for it.”

“Children are a special case. Like the very old, the very young do not earn and therefore play little direct part in the marketplace. Indeed children are doubly unproductive because their maintenance and education cost money they cannot earn for themselves, and their care absorbs adult time that otherwise would be spent producing it. But because children are the producer-consumer units of tomorrow rather than yesterday, no economy can disregard them.” (Leach 1994)

Schooling and skills, is it education?

Preparing my daughter for school had a disturbing effect upon me that I had not expected. There were many good things about my school years but school itself was an indifferent experience. School had not built my confidence, if not undermining it, we sat in isolation while were encouraged not to speak unless spoken to, or asked a question, something to be avoided as it usually ended in humiliation. All said and done fertile ground for a sense of failure, as a teacher I vowed to improve on my experiences by not repeating them on the children in my care.

Studying and completing my degrees in Philosophy and Cinema Studies I then moved on into teaching. My semester in Philosophy with Children and the method of the community of inquiry, building out of Dewey’s conception of scientific inquiry, had given me fresh insights. This philosophical approach is a fine tool for facilitating children’s dialogue, engaging with each other in thinking about themselves and the world around them.

I have never had a desire to return to school, and this remains the case. I distinguish between schooling and education and I am sure I speak for many teachers who acknowledge their enjoyment of teaching as such, but find ‘the system’ vexing. Regulation enforcing minimum standards generally works to the detriment of improving and achieving best professional practice. Fenech, Sumsion, & Goodfellow (2006) used one educator’s description of regulation through the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System (QIAS) as “a double edged sword” because “notions of professional decision-making and practical wisdom are not readily identifiable in either QIAS or the NSW Children’s Services Regulation.

The chief concern I believe is the problem of regulations impinging on, or driving our pedagogical practice that is detrimental to children and is therefore not best practice. Pedagogues should begin with the question, who educates the educator? Any dialogue concerning the needs of children should begin here; what are the social, community and public needs of children generally, and the children with whom I work directly?

Love and learning

What can I do to develop their ‘Love of Learning’ that I believe that they initially come to me with? The mantras of ‘Life long learning’ and ‘learning readiness’ – within our formal institutions –suggests a view of learning that is knowledge transmitted down from the teacher, in contrast to the view that we have an innate predisposition to learn. How can we overcome or transcend the economic reductionism of the Corporate State that narrows the definition, purpose and possibilities of education?

To begin by asking, what do I have to do to be accountable to The State, is to unwittingly enforce the status quo and consequently the interests of the ruling class and the nation-market-state? Considering my position as an early childhood educator is one that needs to be regarded in terms of the real politic of education played out in each school under the auspice of education departments. As Bruer (1999) observes, politicians use ‘knowledge’ and ‘science’ to spin their gloss-over of practices detrimental to wholistic conceptions of early childhood education.

“Julia Gillard, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion, discussed ‘new’ knowledge…The new thinking that I’m talking about…is the new scientific research about the way children’s brains develop. …Gillard’s statement demonstrates how politicians can play a key role in framing and/or determining policy content and outcomes… Crucially, the quality of formal ECEC provisions for children also rests, to a considerable extent, on the policy decisions of politicians.

The problem is not so much one of science or developmental models opposing post modernist and humanist conceptions of education, but rather a crudely defined ‘medical model’ imposed on teachers and enforced through their practice. My experience of some school administrators is that they use counter reforming government demands, the use of regulations, and public service acts to enforce the medical model of testing, teaching to predetermined outcomes, and collecting quantifiable data as ‘evidence’ of ‘value adding’ to children.

Questions, questions, and more questions

The questions we should ask, how do educators defend best practice and research while they maybe dealing with draconian methods imposed by hierarchies, and unreasonable authoritarian methods at the departmental and school level? Who and what are educating the educator while they are being disciplined and undermined by those in authority? How do humanistic approaches that rely on qualitative means to measure personal achievements and growth flourish in this current period of reactionary politics?

Progressive approaches understand young children as ‘already human beings, with desires and powers of their own, and not as units of production and consumption, to be improved – potentially – for the benefit of the corporate profit-and-war machine. Part of the answer lies within ourselves as professional educators, by organising power into our collegiate and collective hands, so to build our profession and thereby serve the best qualities of all human kind.

References

Bruer, J.T. (1999) In Search of … Brain-Based Education, Phi Delta Kappan, 80(9), pp. 648-657, quoted in Brown, K., Sumsion, J., Press, F., Influences on Politicians’ Decision Making for Early Childhood Education and Care Policy: what do we know? What don’t we know?

Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood Volume 10 Number 3 2009, http://www.words.co.uk/CIEC

Chomsky, N. & Otero C. (2003) Chomsky on Democracy and Education Routledge pp. 163-4

Fenech, M., Sumison, J., Goodfellow, J., (2006) The Regulatory Environment in Long Day Care: A ‘double edged sword’ for early childhood professional practice, Australian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 31, No.3 September 2006.

Leach, P. (1994) People, Profits and Parenting, Children First: What society must do – and is not dong – for children today, Penguin, pp. 4-6

OECD (2006) A unified approach to learning: The social pedagogy tradition, Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education And Care, p59

Words 17

An end to the Queensland Acts

January 5, 2015

Minister Katter said the legislation, intended to protect sacred sites and other places of significance, was ‘socially divisive’, ‘simplistic’, would ‘freeze development’ and gave too much power to the Commonwealth. Detailed responses from each government department were shown to support this view. A submission to repeal the Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act was withdrawn in October (Dec. 44456).

Workers BushTelegraph (1996 - 2016)

[PN: A little over a year after the Commonwealth Games Protests of 1982 the Qld Government made extensive changes to what was known as the Queensland Acts which had kept a kind of apartheid in place in Queensland since the 1890s – here is a report of those changes using newly released Cabinet Minutes as their source]

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs

Grants totalling $1.5m for religious organisations running Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were approved by Cabinet members, with $1m allocated to the Lutheran Church (for Hopevale and Wujal Wujal) and $115,000 for the Brethren Church at Doomadgee (Dec. 42170, Dec. 42302, Dec. 44383). New community services legislation, to provide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, was approved (Dec. 42644, Dec. 42821, Dec. 44013). Provisions for liquor sales and other administrative functions were included.

Members considered the issue of award wages for Aboriginal and Torres Strait…

View original post 726 more words

Pride review – power in an unlikely union

January 3, 2015

A wonderful film that at times had me in tears not because I am sentimental but because of the reminder about the ground we have lost.

Workers BushTelegraph (1996 - 2016)

Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and George MacKay sparkle in this tale of lesbian and gay activists’ support for the miners’ strike

Paddy Considine in Pride Left to right: Freddie Fox, Ben Schnetzer, Faye Marsay, Joseph Gilgun, Paddy Considine and George MacKay forge unity between lesbian and gay activists and striking miners in Pride.

Cards on the table: having been actively involved in the banner-carrying, badge-wearing, internecine bickering of student politics in the early 80s, I am predisposed to embrace any movie that celebrates the rag-tag allegiances that sprang up across class and gender boundaries during the miners’ strike. A fondness for cute quiffs, turn-ups, and Dexys hats helps too, along with nostalgia for the time when playing Bronski Beat records really loudly could be interpreted as a political act. Add to this an enduring love of British films such as Brassed Off and Made in Dagenham, which blend hard fact with sentimental fiction…

View original post 745 more words

Murdoch and other billionaires run the country and want to dictate how to standardise public schools

January 2, 2015

Murdoch and other billionaires run the country and want to dictate how to standardise public schools… So what!

Rupert Murdoch a self proclaimed expert on hacking into public schools and education; “We know the old answer- simply throwing money at the problem – doesn’t work…his reason? More money has fed a system that is no longer designed to educate – it’s become a jobs program for teachers and administrators.”

He our wants kids ‘taught’ online. ‘News Educational’ run by Joel Klein and ex-head of NY schools, is seeking the rights to provide online instruction that’s worth $500 billion dollars to the US corporations alone. Other transnational corporations have their eyes on this prize too. Walmart run schools in the US – why not here as well?

Murdoch also praises Sweden’s IKEA schools, whose head honcho says, “If we’re religious about anything, it’s standardisation. We tell our teachers it’s more important to do things the same way, than to do them well.”

US Cruise Missile manufacturer Raytheon Industries, which helps run the Pine Gap US spy base near Alice Springs, already operates programs within South Australian state schools.

We do have a choice. Do we want an education that encourages us to question and think so we can stand up for each other, or just life long training for one job after another? The choice is for us to make.

For the wealthy, the lives of working people and public education are expendable. Current, and future wage slaves are and will be casuals, underemployed, and unemployed. There will always a majority working in low wage jobs. The wealthy and their political minders in the parliament conspire to talk up ‘the problem’ of public education. The rich for-profit schools, which get the lion’s share of taxpayer supported funding are all OK – thank you very much.

The world’s wealthy are dictating their needs to us – they want to train us, to do as we’re told. We are told to buy a computer and connect, but if you cannot afford to run and maintain it they do not want to know you. They cannot make profits they need and then line their own pockets from people like that!

Why do ALP politicians and their fellow travellers seek out and listen to billionaires and corporate heads like Murdoch, and then implement education and social policies that are harmful to public students and teachers alike? Is it because the ‘Murdoch solution’ is in the long run cheaper for them and their ideal corporate state? No public schools, TAFES or universities would mean even fewer places for troublesome students and teachers to congregate, educate, and organise!

We deserve a whole lot better. We need an education to make a better future. An education that enables us to collectively determine what our democracy might be in a truly independent country, run for the benefit, of those of us who create the wealth and hand over the profits.

Do we really want to work and sacrifice our own and our children’s lives to maintain a political and economic system that ultimately only benefit the billionaire owners and managers of giant corporations? What is the cost to our future generations and those of us today? This is our fight now and we have a country and a world to win.            

… So what can we do!

Our land’s resources are finite – Relying on false hope and the ‘good luck’ of the wealthy is no way to pay for the present and prepare for the future.

The wealthiest people pay the least amount of tax. While we work and pay our taxes the vast proportion of this countries mineral and energy wealth disappears into corporate bank accounts and private trust funds. Reinhardt has never worked a day in her life; she has never owned or managed a mine! BHP-Billiton, Rio Tinto, Xstrata, Chevron and other giant mining and energy multinationals make massive profits and send most of it off-shore, out of the country.

These giant corporations can afford to return some of their massive wealth back to our communities. But they will not do it out of their own good will.

Billionaires avoid taxes only to squander the efforts of our labours on multi-million dollar birthday parties held in super-sized mansions and then lounge around on multimillion-dollar pleasure craft competing for exotic locations. Meanwhile already time poor teachers’ and their overworked union organisers have to run a begging campaign to convince the powers that be to better fund the nation’s public schools. While student’s parents have to find people with the time to run sausage sizzles just to pay for a few more already scant resources.

Minerals and energy are finite. The millions made cannot go on forever, however their profits have increased by more than 900% in the past 10 years. If they continue to plunder our land and its wealth what will be left for our future generations, miserable people, a decimated environment and some huge holes in the ground and vast warehouses of nuclear waste?

We must organise to demand that they pay a whole lot more by taxing mining companies’s super-profits

From where will the money come to pay for our welfare today and all our children’s futures?

Increasing taxes on company and private wealth would assist to provide for the needs and welfare of all our country’s working families by;

  • Creating jobs by building local sustainable manufacturing, processing and agricultural industries to secure our sovereignty and independence;
  • Funding public education, health, housing, pensions, welfare, community services and public transport;
  • Reintroducing a death tax would assist to capture billions of dollars from unpaid taxes over a lifetime and held as family inheritances. We need it for the living.

It shouldn’t be difficult to find more money for less privileged schools by Denise Ryan

January 2, 2015

This article outlines the myriad concerns of thousands of teachers and school leaders when it comes to funding schools and programs. We know the bulk of money and resources go to the wealthiest schools and families: Inequality looms large and we are far to tolerant. Many of us are only to well aware of the complete disregard the most privileged in our society have for those most in need. 

‘Other people’s children also deserve an education’ February 9, 2010, Denise Ryan is an senior education writer for The Age a daily newspaper in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Teacher Brendan Murray made a public plea last November for someone to donate a portable classroom so that he could help high school drop-outs wanting to study at an alternative school program he and a small team of teachers and social workers have been running in Heidelberg West. Asked last week if any school had responded to his request to help teenagers in one of the most disadvantaged areas of Melbourne, he looked downcast. ”No,” he replied.

That seems extraordinary. Schools have never had it so good. Millions of dollars are flowing to state and independent primary and secondary schools. Yet not one school offered to help or to donate one of its old portables. No doubt they will end up in a paddock in Kyneton or one of the other graveyards for old school buildings. Murray has run the Pavilion school program for three years from rundown changing rooms in the former Olympic village. More than 80 young people who were previously not working or studying turn up on a rotational basis to a venue that can only comfortably cater for 12. The teenagers share toilets with cricket players who use the adjacent room.

The Education Department saw fit to award Murray its outstanding secondary teacher award for 2009, yet it failed to find his program suitable premises for three years. The federal government also knew about the program, awarding it a Closing the Gap award for its work with indigenous students. Following recent publicity about the Pavilion’s plight, the Education Department offered it rooms in the former Preston East Primary School. This is a wonderful outcome. But it is only a start. Another program for disadvantaged teenagers that urgently needs help is ‘Hands On Learning’. High schools have to run this program outside their budget, and this year schools such as Mornington Secondary College and Monterey Secondary College can’t afford it.

Mornington Secondary principal Sarah Burns says her most challenging students are devastated that this ”absolutely brilliant” program, where tradesmen and specialist teachers worked with them on practical building projects, can no longer run. She is not sure how she can prevent them from dropping out of school this year. More alternative school programs are needed to offer education to the 13 per cent of people aged 15 to 20 who are not studying or working. In its 2008 report, the Foundation for Young Australians calculated that 200,000 people fit this category. It’s not hard to find them. These are the young people you see hanging around Melbourne’s shopping centres and stations, bored and often getting into trouble.

There seems to be a disconnect, where the link between these disaffected young people and crime is not recognised. Sure, more police might help, but what about dealing with the underlying problem of hundreds of young people who would love a chance to rebuild their lives and learn, even if their literacy levels are low and they may first have to deal with problems such as substance abuse? At a time when the education system is flush with money, it seems timely to suggest that parent groups and staff in every school that received funding should sit down and work out how to help less fortunate schools.

A friend told me recently about the reaction when she suggested at a Parent Teacher Association meeting at her child’s state primary school that it might use some of the $90,000 raised in the school fete to help a disadvantaged school – she was met with an uncomfortable silence. When she raised it again at the next meeting, she was firmly asked to drop the issue. I hear that school has just bought a baby grand piano. Those who work with troubled teenagers see it so clearly: To have a safe society, everyone must look out for the most needy. You can’t protect your own children when there are other children on the street desperate for help.

Education ‘reform’ another wrong diagnosis: union protectionism and the conventional wisdom

January 2, 2015

 I found this article in Washington Post, 12-17-09 but I omitted to save the authors name so my apologies to that person. It remains pertinent in 2015 especially here in Australia as our politicians and bureaucrats are hellbent on following one bad example after another in the name of ‘reform’. I think the article represents the opinion of many good and committed teachers. I am a committed teacher union activist however my criticisms of our unions are similar to those of the author.

The standards and accountability fad is an intellect-gutting, society-destroying myth

“Good teachers are the key to good schools. A major obstacle to staffing America’s school with good teachers is union protectionism.” So goes the conventional wisdom. I’m no fan of education unions. I fault them for not taking the lead in education reform, for misplaced priorities, and for a willingness to support bad legislation just to keep a seat at the federal education reform table. I was hammering union leadership on those issues decades before I could do it with the click of a mouse. That said, when it comes to education reform, teacher unions get an undeserved bad rap. No way are they the major obstacle to school improvement. Mark that problem up to institutional inertia, innovation-stifling bureaucracy, and misguided state and federal policy. Trace union bad press back to its origins and it’s clear that much of it comes from ideologues and organizations less interested in improving education than in destroying union political clout and privatizing public schools.

No, the main opposition to the education reform effort set in motion about twenty years ago by corporate heads and Congress isn’t coming from go-along-to-get-along unions. The sustained and blistering attacks come from professional educators like Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian, Stephen Krashen, Ken and Yetta Goodman, and dozens of others I could name. And me. Retired or otherwise independent, we can say what we think without fear of retribution or being accused of being self-serving. Most importantly, unlike the architects of No Child Left Behind and its gestating offspring, the Race to the Top, we’ve spent thousands of hours in real classrooms working directly with real students.

What do we think about Washington-dictated education reforms? We think they’re sufficiently abusive, counterproductive, and downright stupid to warrant a massive class action suit by parents and grandparents against those responsible. What explains the radically different views of experienced teachers and the suits in corporate suites and Congress who’re now running the education show? A sign that hung in Albert Einstein’s Princeton University office sums it up: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Data-enamoured, spreadsheet-studying, educationally clueless policymakers think Einstein was wrong. What is it, exactly, that can’t be counted? Most people think babies are born with minds like blank paper. Parents, teachers, and others, “write” on that paper, filling it with advice, information, explanations, and interpretations. Schools organize and compress the process with textbooks and teacher talk, and tests check how much kids can remember long enough to pencil in the “right” oval on a standardized test. It’s that simple. Except it isn’t. Not even close. Kids’ minds are never, ever, like blank pages. To matters they consider important, they attach explanatory theories. When a teacher or other explainer dumps information on them that doesn’t match their theories, they reject it. They may play the school game-may store the explainer’s theory in short-term memory until the test is over and the pressure is off-but rarely do they adopt it.

Kids don’t change their theories because doing so would be too traumatic. Their beliefs-about themselves, about others, about how the world works-are their most valued possessions (just as they are for the rest of us). Their theories are “who they are.” Casually exchanging them for someone else’s ideas would undermine their identities, their individuality, their confidence in their ability to make sense of experience. I learned the hard way-from thousands of adolescents-that I couldn’t teach them anything important. All I could do was try to get them to think about a particular matter, then ask them a question or give them something to do that their theories couldn’t handle and let them struggle to work it out. Changing their minds had to be their doing, not mine. Bottom line: It’s impossible to count how much kids really know. Period. Standardized tests are an appalling, monumental waste of time, money, and brains. Especially brains.

To the “standards and accountability” cheerleaders-the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Governors Association, the US Department of Education, newspaper editorial boards, syndicated columnists, and so on-the complex, counterintuitive, kid-controlled, impossible-to-measure learning process I’m describing is alien. But that process lies at the very heart of teaching and learning. Trying to shield it from destruction is why older, experienced teachers are the most vocal, determined opponents of the present reform fiasco. They know the “blank paper,” count-the-right-answers theory propelling the standards and accountability fad is an intellect-gutting, society-destroying myth. And they know that adopting national standards and tests will lock that myth in place far, far into the future.

The origins of our Present: The struggle for the care of children within the family and society

December 29, 2014

The struggle for the care of children both within the family and society continues and changes. In this country, Australia, the treatment of children has gone through a number of major identifiable shifts. Initially the formal care and education of very young children, now commonly accepted as the early years, was the privilege only of the very rich. In many respects working class children were regarded as either not worthy, or incapable of being educated. So dire was the situation for the working class that they were reduced to being recipients of charity and volunteers’s good intentions. Aboriginal child rearing has its own special complexities over and above the settler population, their generalised dehumanisation and conditions of slavery still resound with paternalistic attitudes.

Conditions of life in “the 1920s and 1930s saw intense debate about the health and welfare of mothers and children…fuelled by a variety of concerns ranging from fears of ‘race suicide’ to humanitarian concern for the plight of the poor.” (Brennan 1994) Government intervention was effectively non-existent but by the late 1930s the extremely impoverished and unhealthy conditions of overcrowded working class life could not be ignored and were especially compounded by the effects of the First World War and the economic depression.

Consequently many women were left without a breadwinner and were forced into wage slavery themselves, while also suffering indignities at the hands of religious bigots, and the paternalistic class prejudices of the well-to-do philanthropists. Care of children and their mothers were the priority both from social and physical disease. Education as we understand it was not a concern in these circumstances, “During the depression…kindergartens added a ‘meal and sleep’ program…to ensure that children had at least one good meal and a rest each day. … relatively few children attended…the scale of the problem was vast. (Brennan 1994, p35)

While class issues continue to dominate our working and home lives, the inclusion of our concerns in the public discourse is glaringly absent. Perhaps, like the aboriginal and Torres Straight islanders, we are only included when there is a social crisis of a kind that even the most racist political leaders can no longer ignore it, as was the case of the Howard led Coalition Government which initiated the Northern territory intervention into aboriginal affairs. In this regard both ALP leaders of recent time have not only failed to speak to any of our most pressing concerns, they have actively assisted the most powerful people and corporations to disorganise and oppress our attempts to organise the working class.

Citizenship is not only a problematic concept for children, but it is an empty one for the majority, the working class. While Millei and Imre (2009) are thought provoking and raise any number of concerns around the problem of defining what citizenship may mean for children, and so therefore, definitions of a child and children, they too omit our everyday reality. While they confine themselves to the conceptual use of the term in policy documents, they beg the question, for whom, and by who, are policy written? Suffice to say that the word ‘children’ could be substituted with ’adult’, the issues remain, and are the same. Teachers who choose to be disempowered cannot empower the powerless.

Under the Fair Work Act (Workchoices) we do not have rights at work, the right to strike, the right to make our workplaces our places, therefore considering the idea of citizenship as a social and democratic element of the ‘good life’ is rendered especially meaningless. Policy is meaningless unless it is enacted. In regards to education policy, curriculum, and citizenship, it is correct to say it being misrepresented and undermined by the politicians and their departmental, and academic quislings. Rather it is quantitative data gathering, NAPLAN tests, and a generalised distrust of teachers that dominates the discourse – in effect the lowest common denominator prevails. The terms of ‘empowerment’, ‘citizenship’, and ‘rights’, the ‘rhetorical vision’ in social and educational policy will remain a chimera for the majority of us unless we organise and propose alternatives rather than merely continue react to the bourgeoisie’s corporate agendas. .

References

Brennan, D. (1994) The politics of Australian Childcare; From Philanthropy to Feminism, Cambridge University Press, p.33

Millei, Z. and Imre, R. (2009) The Problems with Using the Concept of ‘Citizenship’ in Early Years Policy, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Vol. 10(3)

 


%d bloggers like this: