Category Archives: Organizing

Henry Giroux: The Educational Deficit and the War on Youth

Truthout Interview with Henry Giroux

Truthout contributor, director of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project and Board member Henry Giroux responded on June 10, 2013, to questions concerning varieties of pedagogy and fundamentalism, markets, and the prospects for public schools raised by his latest book: America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth

Leslie Thatcher for TruthoutDidn’t teachers open themselves up for attack when they used the agency acquired through strong teachers’ unions in the service of self-interest rather than modeling critical pedagogy? And hasn’t that begun to change? How would you contrast the real versus the ostensible goals of education “reformers”? What has to happen now? And concretely, what must each of us do?

The narrative about the contemporary assault on public schools doesn’t begin with the failings of public schools. One can’t even talk about them in such monolithic terms; some are outstanding and some are a disgrace, which is largely the result of a funding structure that has always been deeply unequal. But a critical understanding of the current war on public and higher education might begin in the seventies when right-wing billionaires and ideologues decided that the biggest problem with public schools was not that they were failing – but that they were public. The so-called new “reformers” are really radicals who want to transform the entire structure of public and higher education to serve elite, corporate and military interests. The project that informs their understanding of education is anti-humanistic, unjust, iniquitous and authoritarian in its attack on all things public, which also includes public servants such as teachers and especially teachers’ unions. The so-called new “reformers” are thoroughly ideological, politicized and market-driven missionaries who camouflage their intentions and their interests by advancing elements of a progressive discourse to push their deeply conservative agenda. Terms like “freedom,” “choice,” “equity” and “democracy” are emptied of meaningful content and bandied about in order to promote the neoliberal script of privatization, standardization, high stakes testing, commodification and unchecked competition. The new reformers are reactionaries who assume the posture of committed, avant garde patron saints of educational renewal. But in reality they are a new breed of philanthro-capitalists looking to dictate the educational experiences of entire generations of students – their aptitudes, their competencies, their consciousness, their aspirations – and make a lot of money at the same time. They are as disingenuous as they are backward looking. The new “reformers” are, in reality, pushing an old right-wing attack on schools and teachers. According to them, teachers are the problem because they lack accountability and unions promote a self-interested bureaucracy. Underlying this claim is a refusal to address how larger structural issues such as racism, income inequality and exploding poverty impact on school failings or how they should be reformed in light of these forces. Fixing public education is reduced to bashing teachers, unions, public servants, and funneling taxpayer money “away from the public school system’s priorities (hiring teachers, training teachers, reducing class size, etc.) and into the private sector (replacing teachers with computers, replacing public schools with privately run charter schools, etc.).”(7) The alleged new “reformers” are in reality a mix of conservative billionaires, hedge fund managers, bankers and right-wing ideologues that constitute an anti-public education movement that has produced “just another get-rich-quick scheme shrouded in the veneer of altruism.”(8)

Unlike current “reformers,” those who advocate egalitarian reforms – who promote education as the practice of freedom – are well aware that if public schools are going to improve, they have to be defined and appropriately funded. Such schools should serve as laboratories of democracy, critical and accommodating spaces where young people have access to the expertise, skills and experience that both deepen their understanding of history, the arts, sciences – of humanistic traditions and archives in general – and the new world of advanced technologies, digital communications and screen culture. The acquisition and mastery of such diverse technologies, knowledge and skills are important not only so young people can find meaningful work but also so they can determine judiciously and rigorously their appropriate and inappropriate uses. In short, so they can rise to the level of critical and engaged citizens of the world.

Public schools must be defended as public goods that benefit not just individual children and their parents but an entire society. Critical reformers must also fight to protect teacher autonomy, struggle for equitable modes of financing, and recognize that any talk about improving schools under conditions of alleged austerity has to include an analysis of the failed domestic war on drugs and the wars abroad and the devastating effects they have had on such basic social services by diverting funds from public schools and increasingly criminalizing the behavior of low-income white and poor minority students. True reformers have to fight against the neoliberal onslaught on teachers, unions, curricula, diverse modes of accountability, and reclaim democratic values and civic education as crucial for creating quality public schools. The most important starting point for creating genuine educational reform is the necessity of acknowledging that the crisis of education cannot be separated from the war on youth, the rise of the neoliberal state, the war on terrorism, and the ongoing financialization and militarization of the entire society. To not understand these basic connections is to misrecognize the real drivers in shaping currently proposed changes and misdiagnose meaningful educational reform. Those market and corporate forces that now undermine public education in the name of fixing it have little to do with democracy and critical teaching and learning, except to weaken both as part of a larger corporate restructuring and militarization of public education as a securitized, profit-based entity. Battling against those forces clearly puts one on the side of genuine educational reform.

In strategic terms what would this mean? In my view, genuine educational reform should begin with rejecting the financing of schools through local taxes, which is fundamentally out of step with the funding models for public education in every other advanced, industrialized nation. Moreover, the struggle over the proper funding of public education should coincide with the struggle for smaller schools and classes, more resources, and more full time quality teachers – which would also entail a robust commitment to critical and comprehensive teacher education and so a rejection of its current debased state. Schooling is a public necessity that is as important as national defense and should be funded as such. Secondly, all attempts at the privatization and corporatization of schools must be rejected so as to make education truly public and widely accessible, removed from those who see it largely as another source of profits harnessed to corporate power. Schools must be defined as democratic public spheres and not simply as sites whose worth is determined by the morally truncated, narrow instrumental standards of measurable utility. Teachers need to work under conditions that provide them with the autonomy that enables them to take risks, be creative, and draw upon a range of educational approaches and pedagogies. Schools must be defined as sites of political and moral practice deeply involved in the production of democratic agents. Moreover, matters of vision, agency, and support should be connected to the struggle against those pedagogies of repression that reduce teaching to the imperatives of standardization and testing. We need modes of pedagogy that enliven the imagination, create thoughtful and curious students, incorporate an ethic of civic responsibility, and teach the practice of freedom. That means connecting pedagogy to the histories, experiences, and narratives that young people bring to any learning situation – the very educative contexts denied by the standardization juggernaut. Pedagogy should not mimic economic models with their reductionist worship of method, stripped of any sense of morality or social context. Instead, pedagogy should provide the conditions for students to invest in robust and critical forms of self and social agency. Pedagogy is not a neutral method, but a deeply political practice that is always connected to the acquisition of agency, a practice that demands that educators be vigilant about what identities are being produced under what conditions and for what purposes.

Critical educators, in concert with concerned citizens, need to raise the bar so as to demand modes of education in which teachers are knowledgeable and reflexive, function as agents of civic education, and create pedagogies that are provocative and illuminating in their ability to get students to come to terms with their own power as individual and social agents. Any viable mode of critical pedagogy must treat young people with respect and enable them to develop their own voice and sense of agency, and do so in an environment that is thoughtful, critical, humane and challenging. In the end, I think it is reasonable to argue, as I do in this book, that education at all levels is the fundamental precondition that makes democratic politics possible, provides a space where meaningful histories, voices and cultural differences can flourish, and enables students to grow intellectually and morally, reflect critically about their relationship with others, and interrogate thoughtfully their relationship with the broader society and the larger world. I make no apologies in arguing that the project that informs this book furthers the attempt to establish a connection between learning and social change, educate young people to be able to translate private troubles into broader social considerations, and create the pedagogical conditions for the development of a formative culture that expands and deepens the possibilities of a democratic society. The Education Deficit and the War on Youth is a call for educators and others to organize collectively both within and outside of schools to further develop the ideas, values and institutions necessary to sustain a world where justice prevails and individual and collective consciousness does not fall asleep.

Read More: Truthout

7. David Sirota, “It’s No Coincidence that the Public Education and Poverty Crises are Happening at the Same Time,” AlterNet (June 3, 2013). Online:http://www.alternet.org/education/us-department-education-releases-study-schools-and-poverty-rate

8. Ibid., David Sirota, “It’s No Coincidence that the Public Education and Poverty Crises are Happening at the Same Time.”

Vancouver elementary teachers association endorse NDP in BC election #BCPoli

Given the BC Liberals history of underfunding public education, promoting corporate intrusion, and undermining of collective bargaining, the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association (VESTA) are  lobbying the BCTF to endorse the NDP leading up to the May 14 election.

“The change has been brought about by what we consider to be a decade… long attack on public education through government policy, strips of collective agreements, legislation,” said Gerry Kent, VESTA president.

“While (the BCTF is) not endorsing a political party, I think it’s clear that it’s time that maybe we do. Especially in light of the current budget that the Liberals propose, there doesn’t seem to be any help to remedy the difficulties that are affecting public education, which in our view have been put in place by the Liberal government.”

Listen to Media Mornings podcast of VESTA President Gerry Kent

BC schools face total budget shortfall of $130 million #bcpoli

CBC News, April 29, 2013– The B.C. School Trustees’ Association says it will call on the provincial government for more money after the election, as school boards across the province struggle with a budget shortfall of $130 million.

The trustees voted unanimously at its annual general meeting this weekend to ask whichever government is elected on May 14 to re-open the issue of school funding.

School boards are required by law to have balanced budgets, but Teresa Rezansoff, the newly-elected BCSTA president, says they are faced with wage increases and other rising costs.

“We’d like to see a commitment to sustainable, predictable funding that covers those annual cost pressures that are there,” said Rezansoff.

“There is no better investment you can make than in our future citizens and it should be an absolute top priority for any government,” she added.

The Vancouver School Board, which votes on next year’s budget on Monday night, is faced with an $8 million shortfall.

As a result, the board has decided to scrap its continuing education program and have another two-week spring break next year.

But parents say the time off means extra child care costs, adding to increasing fees and fundraising demands schools already places on families.

“It’s a direct hit to the children and to the low income families,” said parent Iraj Khabazian.

Last Week, the Coquitlam School Board took the drastic measure of cutting more than 140 jobs, after announcing a potential deficit of more than $7.5 million.

Read More: CBC News Story 1 and Story 2

BC schools forced to market public education to stem trend toward private schools

Private school enrolment is rising

An “ambitious” new strategy for the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district aims to lure private school students back into the public education system.

Nanaimo Daily News, April 10, 2013

An “ambitious” new strategy for the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district aims to lure private school students back into the public education system. The district has suffered financial blows with its dropping enrolment, while the city’s independent schools have celebrated student population growth.

It’s been a grating issue for the school board, which says it is about to reveal thought-provoking and controversial recommendations for its facilities Thursday. According to school board chairman Jamie Brennan, the recommendations will improve public school offerings and aim to lure children back into the public education system.

Teacher-government disputes, “substandard facilities” and an inefficient school system have eroded families’ confidence in public schools and driven parents to enroll students in private institutions, Brennan points out. There were 140 fewer students than expected this year in the district; another blow to a district dependent on government operational studies.

Independent schools in Nanaimo, however, are following a provincial trend of population increases. Since 1997, independent school enrolment has risen by 22.4 per cent, while public schools have seen a 11.3 per cent decline, reports the Fraser Institute.

Aspengrove School is anticipating demand to continue to increase as more families become aware of its higher-learning international baccalaureate program. It has asked the District of Lantzville to change its zoning bylaw to allow the school to host 150 more students. Discovery Montessori, another independent school, says it has also already seen double the admission for next fall.

“With the availability of private education, families do have choices and they are making the choice to pull their kids out of public schools,” said Brennan. “We need to find ways to attract students back.”

Read More: Nanaimo Daily News

BC teachers want to regulate private interests in public education

GUIDELINES NEEDED TO PROTECT PUBLIC INTEREST
Straight Goods News

Delegates at the recent annual general meeeting of the BC Teachers’ Federation have voted to call on the provincial government to establish conflict-of-interest regulations governing school districts dealings with corporations.

Private businesses are seeking to profit from public education, and using increasingly sophisticated and aggressive schemes to market technology, textbooks, learning resources and many other products,” said Susan Lambert, past-president of the BCTF.

“It’s high time we had consistent and clear guidelines to protect the public interest.”

After more than a decade of chronic underfunding, schools, parents and teachers face mounting pressure to raise funds through private means to meet the needs of students across the province. Delegates voted to have the BCTF gather information on the extent of funding coming from corporate sponsorships and donations, Parent Advisory Committee fundraising and teachers’ personal donations.

“We believe it’s vitally important for British Columbians to understand the extent to which parents and teachers are subsidizing the public education system, and how hard individuals are working to bridge the gap between the needs in schools and the funding provided by government,” said Lambert. “Our study will document that.”

Read More: BCTF News release and Straight Goods News

BC Teachers’ Federation puts education front and centre in election #bcpoli

With their extensive Better Schools for BC campaign, the BCTF has placed education front and centre in the 2013 BC election. “BC teachers are worried that, after a decade of underfunding, our students are being short-changed. The latest numbers from Statistics Canada tell a story of the growing gap between education funding in BC and the rest of Canada. Teachers have a plan to build better schools for BC.”

 “After a decade of government cuts to education, too many BC students are struggling. We need to change that. This election in May, let’s vote for better schools — with smaller classes, more one-on-one time, and help when students need it.”

An Open Letter Concerning CUPE 2278 and Job Action

An Open Letter Concerning CUPE 2278 and Job Action

A strike is a good thing and especially a good thing for the University of British Columbia at this moment in time. The very courageous CUPE 2278 labour action, full strike pending, is a wake up call, a breath of fresh air, or a catalytic measure for an apathetic campus, faculty and student bodies inclusive. Yes, there are individuals taking chances and stances on issues online and off, but a collective movement has materialized at UBC. Yes, those of us fortunate enough to be members of unions or the Faculty Association accept that a collective agreement is better than an individual agreement.

We invite students, faculty, staff, and administrators to do all they can to make CUPE 2278’s—the Teaching Assistants’– strike meaningful, effective, and successful and help the GTAs inject the campus with the spark and power of activism.

What to do as a student, faculty member, or administrator in the face of a strike? The question for staff tends to be redundant as union members in sympathy will rarely, if ever, have to or want to cross picket lines.

First, a matter of policy.  UBC’s Strike Policy and Guidelines note that the “University respects the right of students, staff or faculty members as a matter of conscience, to refuse to cross a picket line in a labour dispute.” Once a student communicates a decision to side with the striking workers (usually by the first or second day of the strike), accommodations have to be made or will be made once the job action resolves. Missed assignments will be given an extension and have to be completed. Students can gain access to a “senior faculty member to serve as an academic arbiter for students who have sought to resolve their concerns with their Faculties but feel that they have been treated unfairly.” Yes, faculty members, GTAs or undergraduate student employees, and staff may surrender salary for the duration of time taken as a matter of conscience, but it is a small price to pay for activism, dignity, and solidarity.

Strikes are not left vs. right politics, as eventually most want nothing more than fair treatment and find or would give a lot for the security and protection of unions. Reciprocity and shared benefit may be expected in the future when your union is mobilizing for job action. Just as the CUPE 2278 strike is a good thing for UBC at this point, honoring or participating in this strike is a good thing.  Individual dignity is bound to collective power.

Undergraduate students, keep in mind that inasmuch as you can organize a protest, and some of you have, you can also strike in sympathy with your graduate student peers. You can strike regardless of whether CUPE 2278 strikes. The BC Labour Code establishes limitations to the rights of workers or unions such as CUPE 2278, but is does not govern student strikes. As an example, the Quebec student strike lasted seven months, the longest student strike in Quebec history. For an excellent guide to student strikes, see the FAQ from the Students’ Society of McGill University http://ssmu.mcgill.ca/blog/2012/03/student-strike-faq/. It is a fair question to ask, in this case, ‘why don’t faculty members strike?’  Many faculty members at UBC wish we could but our Collective Agreement with the University has a “Prohibition of Strikes and Lockouts” clause. We will support strikes in sympathy nevertheless.

Second, a matter of pragmatics. From a labour activist standpoint, ‘do everything in your conscience and power to support the job action.’ Neither desire nor expect business-as-usual, as a disruption of this business is the intent of most job action, boycotts, etc. If you have to, plan ahead and retrieve necessities from your office or locker prior to the strike, as crossing a picket line is an aggressive response to the striking workers. If you find yourself behind picket lines, move to reposition yourself on the other side of the pickets. If your building of campus is picketed, do not try to sneak in a rear entrance to rationalize that you did not actually “cross” a picket line to get there. Being asked to cover and doing the work of those on strike is an anti-labour or anti-union response that invalidates the purpose of the job action and ultimately makes for a heated, toxic workplace, or in this case university. Be present and invest in strength in numbers. If you’re an administrator, especially without a real “management” designation, well, use your conscience and please don’t direct minutiae from the top down to intimidate the students and faculty. Call in sick if you don’t want to join your students and faculty on the picket line.

What do we have in common and when should we act collectively? For the most part, day in, day out, the only group demonstrating their political capital or clout at UBC is management, and in many ways what a conservative, corporate-driven, regressive politics this turns out to be! Management has its aggressive side and we can readily draw the connections between this and a learned apathy of faculty and students. As 180,000 students took to strikes, protests, and occupations of campuses and streets between February and August in Quebec, it is an affirmation of activism for a student movement to materialize here at UBC and what we used to call the ‘left coast.’ A strike is economically a good thing as well, as it sends a message to the University and government that “net zero workers” and bad faith approaches to collective bargaining are not working. A net zero mandate removes the ability of unions to actually bargain and legitimizes an employer’s option to shirk accountability at the bargaining table. The reasonableness of a CUPE 2278 strike is undeniable, as it would help workers across the province— everyone gains. So, the graduate teaching assistants’ union decision to hold a strike vote and mobilize for action is precisely the injection of student power into activism and bargaining that this campus needs. And let’s not forget the courage of CUPE 2278 in its valiant effort to bring a sense of fairness to the University and government in the full strike of 2003. Again, this is a declaration of full support.

Thank you,
Stephen Petrina & E. Wayne Ross, co-Directors of the Institute for Critical Studies in Education (ICES), co-Editors of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, and blogging at Workplace.

Inaugural issue revisited: Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor

ICES is returning to the archive and rolling out back issues in OJS format! We begin with the inaugural issue and its core theme, “Organizing Our Asses Off.” Issue #2 will soon follow. We encourage readers and supporters of Workplace and Critical Education to revisit these now classic back issues for a sense of accomplishment and frustration over the past 15 years of academic labor. Please keep the ideas and manuscripts rolling in!

Thanks for the continuing interest in Workplace and Critical Education,

Stephen Petrina & E. Wayne Ross, co-Editors
Institute for Critical Education Studies (ICES)
University of British Columbia

Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor
No 1 (1998): Organizing Our Asses Off
Table of Contents
http://ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/workplace/issue/view/182236

Articles

  • Foreword: The Institution as False Horizon
    • Marc Bousquet
  • What Hath English Wrought: The Corporate University’s Fast Food Discipline
    • Cary Nelson
  • Unionizing Against Cutbacks
    • Paul Lauter
  • What is an “Organization like the MLA”? From Gentleman’s Club to Professional Association
    • Stephen Watt
  • The Future of an Illusion
    • Christian Gregory
  • Resistance is Fruitful: Coalition-Building in Ontario
    • Vicky Smallman
  • This Old House: Renovating the House of Labor at City University of New York
    • Barbara Bowen
  • Jobless Higher Ed: An Interview with Stanley Aronowitz
    • Stanley Aronowitz, Andrew Long
  • Life of Labor: Personal Criticism
  • Looking Forward in Anger
    • Barbara White
  • Performing Shakespeare: Writing and Literacy on the Job
    • Leo Parascondola
  • The Good Professors of Szechuan
    • Gregory Meyerson
  • Forum: Organizing Our Asses Off
  • Cannibals, Star Trek, and Egg Timers: Ten Years of Student Employee Organizing at the University of California
    • Kate Burns, Anthony M. Navarrete
  • Critical Year
    • Edward Fox, Curtis Anderson
  • What’s Next? Organizing After the COGS Union Affiliation Vote
    • Julie Marie Schmid
  • 7,500 Down, 200,000 To Go: Organizing the City University of New York
    • Eric Marshall
  • Unions, Universities, and the State of Texas
    • Ray Watkins, Kirsten Christensen
  • Organizing Democracy: A Response
    • Karen Thompson
  • Beyond the Campus Gates: The Personal Is Still Political
    • Vincent Tirelli
  • Institutional Memory and Changing Membership: How Can We Learn from What We Don’t Recall?
    • Alan Kalish
  • Field Reports
  • Report on the 1997 MLA Convention
    • Mark Kelley
  • Report on the “Changing Graduate Education” Conference
    • Alan Kalish
  • Book Reviews
  • Review of Michael Denning’s The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century
    • Derek Nystrom
  • Review of Staughton Lynd’s Living Inside Our Hope
    • Paul Murphy

New Issue of Workplace Launched

Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor has just published Issue #20, “The New Academic Manners, Managers, and Spaces.”  This issue includes key conceptual and empirical analyses of

  • the creation and avoidance of unions in academic and business workplaces (Vincent Serravallo)
  • the new critiquette, impartial response to Bruno Latour and Jacques Ranciere’s critique of critique (Stephen Petrina)
  • the two-culture model of the modern university in full light of the crystal, neural university (Sean Sturm, Stephen Turner)
  • alternative narratives of accountability in response to neo-liberal practices of government (Sandra Mathison)
  • vertical versus horizontal structures of governance (Rune Kvist Olsen)
  • teachers in nomadic spaces and Deleuzian approaches to curricular practice (Tobey Steeves)

We invite you to review the Table of Contents for Issue #20 for articles and items of interest. Thanks for the continuing interest in Workplace (we welcome new manuscripts here and Critical Education),

Institute for Critical Education Studies (ICES)
Workplace Blog

US National Resolution on High Stakes Testing

This resolution is modeled on the resolution passed by more than 360 Texas school boards as of April 23, 2012. It was written by Advancement Project; Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund; FairTest; Forum for Education and Democracy; MecklenburgACTS; Deborah Meier; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; National Education Association; New York Performance Standards Consortium; Tracy Novick; Parents Across America; Parents United for Responsible Education – Chicago; Diane Ravitch; Race to Nowhere; Time Out From Testing; and United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.

To sign the resolution, click here.

WHEREAS, our nation’s future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship and lifelong learning, and strengthens the nation’s social and economic well-being; and

WHEREAS, our nation’s school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money and energy on high-stakes standardized testing, in which student performance on standardized tests is used to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators and schools; and

WHEREAS, the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public schools by hampering educators’ efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy; and

WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and

WHEREAS, the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in too many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate; and

WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the culture and structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that promote joy in learning, depth of thought and breadth of knowledge for students; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that [your organization name] calls on the governor, state legislature and state education boards and administrators to reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and to develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools; and

RESOLVED, that [your organization name] calls on the U.S. Congress and Administration to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act,” reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.