This is the 10th year of the Left Forum, which will be held from May 30th – June 1, at the spacious new conference center at John Jay (CUNY) College in New York City. The conference grounds include beautiful open social spaces and many conference rooms (preview here).
In what is perhaps the most bizarre government sponsored “research” project ever in the history of British Columbia, the Ministry of Education has given two contracts to a 19 year old high grad to research teacher education in Finland and disseminate her findings to university deans in British Columbia, with the intent of transforming the professional preparation of teachers. Read the original news report here.
The reporter wrote the story in the genre of “young person with passion providing a unique perspective to spark change” without irony, without critical perspective on the workings of government, or any consideration of what it means to conduct social research.
But many in the chattering class who take education issues seriously, myself included, responded with criticism of the Rick Davis, a BC Superintendent of Achievement, who gave government contracts to support the teen’s “research” in Finland.
What I find particularly interesting is the mini-backlash in the Twittersphere against folks who are critical of giving under the table contracts to unqualified teenagers to travel to Europe to conduct “research” on the professional preparation of teachers.
The critics of the critics make an argument that goes something like this, “Everybody knows something about education, schooling, (and thus teacher education) so why are you trying to silence this young woman?” (Which, by the way, no one is trying to do, the criticism has been directed at government, not the young “researcher” in question.)
Yes, people have perspectives on their experiences, but as heartfelt (or extensive) as they may be they are not inherently informative for research, policy, or practice. I celebrate and encourage a complicated conversation on social issues. Broad public dialogue on social issues is a key measure of the health of a democracy. But all perspectives are not equal.
Participation in a public dialogue is important. Engage in the conversation. Share your ideas. The twist in this particular circumstance is that government has endorsed and financially backed a person with no distinctive qualifications (save having been a student in school) not to engage in a conversation, but to influence public policy on professional preparation of teachers.
Would the critics of the critics support having random patients sent to Europe to research the professional preparation of physicians? A random selection of drivers who cross the Port Mann Bridge everyday sent to Europe to research professional preparation of engineers?
No doubt that the years spent in a classroom give people a particular perspective on what teaching, education, and schooling are about. And I don’t deny the personally meaningful understandings that result from those long days and years. But, a student perspective is only a partial perspective on the complexity of what it means to teach. And, I would add that even the practice of classroom teaching itself is only a partial perspective on what is needed for effective professional preparation of teachers.
Despite what some characterize as a “Mickey Mouse” discipline, teacher education is not merely 50 Nifty Ways to teach algebra, The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or Pride and Prejudice.
Professional teachers are not merely competent in disciplinary knowledge, but understand the epistemological structures of their disciplines and the contested nature of what is or isn’t taught in school. Professional teachers don’t merely have a caring attitude toward their students they understand human development and the ways in which social and economic inequalities impact on the daily experiences of their students.
As in any professional practice, novice teachers begin their careers with an understanding of what it means to teach, and teach well, that is heavily influenced by their own experiences as students (as well as the popular “image” of what it means to be a good teacher). It takes time in the classroom, often years, before the full complexity of the job is understood even by those who are in the classroom every single day …
And, British Columbia Ministry of Education contracts with a high school grad to “research” teacher education in an effort to “spark change”?
Rick Davis and the Ministry are either woefully ignorant of what it means to teach and what it means to prepare teachers or they just don’t care. And this has nothing to do with the teenage victim of their ignorance or indifference.
Last February I had the privilege of presenting the keynote address to IX International Conference on Research in Teaching Social Science organized by Research Group on Teaching of Social Sciences at the Faculty of Education Sciences, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain.
The talk I gave in Barcelona was based on work I have been doing in collaboration with Kevin D. Vinson (University of the West Indies) and a paper based on the Barcelona talk has just been published by Revista de Enseñanza de las Ciencias Sociales (Journal of Social Science Education), which is jointly published by the Institute of Educational Sciences of the University of Barcelona and the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Here is the abstract:
Revista de Enseñanza de las Ciencias Sociales
Volume 2012 No. 11 December 2012
LA EDUCACIÓN PARA UNA CIUDADANÍA PELIGROSA
E. Wayne Ross y Kevin D. Vinson
El concepto de educación pública se encuentra bajo la influencia de las imágenes dominantes y dominadoras más que en la autentica comprensión de la complejidad de las realidades diarias del aula. Basándose en los trabajos de Debord y Foucault, especialmente en sus visiones libertarias y antiestáticas del poder, de la autoridad y del control en la sociedad contemporánea, este artículo examina cómo el control social se ejerce a través de las imágenes dominantes y una mezcla de vigilancia y espectáculo. En respuesta a estas condiciones, desarrollamos el concepto de «ciudadanía peligrosa». Reclamamos que las condiciones contemporáneas requieren de una Educación para la Ciudadanía antiopresiva, que se tome en serio las desigualdades sociales y económicas, y la opresión fruto del capitalismo neoliberal que restringe las posibilidades antiopresivas y establece unas pedagogías oficiales y sancionadoras. El poder pedagógico de la ciudadanía peligrosa reside: 1) en la capacidad de alentar al alumnado y al profesorado sobre las implicaciones de su propia enseñanza y aprendizaje; 2) en visualizar una educación focalizada en la libertad y en la democracia, y 3) en interrogar y deconstruir sus bienintencionadas complicidades con el sistema a partir de prácticas y textos culturales, especialmente para relacionar las condiciones opresivas con las prácticas culturales del mismo estilo, y viceversa.
EDUCATION FOR DANGEROUS CITIZENSHIP
Conceptualizations of public schooling rest upon the influence of dominant and dominating images rather than on more authentic understandings of the complex realities of classroom life. Drawing upon the work of both Debord and Foucault, particularly their libertarian and anti-statist visions of power, authority, and control in contemporary society, this article examines how social control is exercised via controlling images and a merger of surveillance and spectacle. In response to these conditions we develop the concept of “dangerous citizenship.” We argue that contemporary conditions demand an anti-oppressive citizenship education, one that takes seriously social and economic inequalities and oppression that result from neoliberal capitalism and that builds upon the anti-oppressive possibilities of established and officially sanctioned pedagogies. The pedagogical power dangerous citizenship resides in its capacity to encourage students and educators to challenge the implications of their own education/instruction, to envision an education that is free and democratic to the core, and to interrogate and uncover their own well-intentioned complicity in the conditions within which various cultural texts and practices appear, especially to the extent that oppressive conditions create oppressive cultural practices, and vice versa.
This past weekend I had the great honor and pleasure to deliver a keynote address to the 6th Annual Equity and Social Justice Conference held at the State University of New York at New Paltz.
I would like to thank the conference organizers for inviting me to participate in an exciting day that included many cutting edge papers as well as a provocative and high energy performance/workshop by the Hip Hop Psychology Performing Arts Movement.
My keynote, titled “Dr Seuss and Dangerous Citizenship” explored the efforts of governments (in British Columbia, Arizona, and Texas) to keep schools “political neutral” and how these actions actually undermine opportunities for objective teaching and curriculum. I outline the contexts of rulings that have restricted the rights of teachers to express political views in BC (specifically in Prince Rupert where teachers have been banned from using particular Dr Seuss books and in a bizarre irony have also been prohibited from wearing t-shirts displaying portions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms). I also outline the attacks on Tucson (AZ) school district’s Mexican American Studies program and the right wing Christian revisions of the Texas history curriculum, which demote Thomas Jefferson and promote St. Thomas Aquinas; deletes abolitionist Harriet Tubman and highlights the Confederacy; and emphasizes the role of religion in American society at the expense of the US Constitutional separation of church and state.
If political expression is repressed and restricted in schools (and it certainly is, as I illustrate in this talk) then there are reduced opportunities to critically examine knowledge claims. The ideology of neutrality that dominates current thought and practice in schools (and teacher education) is sustained by theories of knowledge and conceptions of democracy that constrain rather than widen civic participation and functions to obscure political and ideological consequences of so-called “neutral” schooling, teaching, and curriculum. The consequences include conceptions of the learner as passive; democratic citizenship as a spectator project; and ultimately the maintenance of status quo inequalities in society.
I offer up “dangerous citizenship” as a framework I have developed along with Kevin D. Vinson (University of the West Indies) for re-thinking responses to these conditions and explore the work of interventionist artists as sources of inspiration for teaching and curriculum.
Download the paper and accompanying powerpoint from Academia.edu or below.
Consumers or Critical Citizens? Financial Literacy Education and Freedom
Toronto District School Board
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto
Given the recent and ongoing economic crisis and high levels of consumer debt, the teaching of financial literacy in elementary and secondary schools has received widespread support. Too often, however, financial literacy education policy documents promote the individualization of economic risk and privilege the autonomy of the consumer or consumer-citizen over that of the critical citizen. This article argues for the necessity of a critical financial literacy education aimed at supporting critical citizens by providing a Marxist critique of the dominant liberal and neoliberal notions of freedom and responsibility reproduced in financial literacy education policy documents. The choice highlighted here is not between financial illiteracy and financial literacy but between accommodating oneself to neoliberal capitalism’s needs so as to remain in perpetual competition with others or understanding and collectively altering an economic system that promotes alienation, insecurity and exploitation.
A video showing an officer methodically spraying pepper spray in the faces of seated protesters has created an uproar. While some say the incident represents a wider problem with the way police confront protesters, Santa Clara University professor (and founding editor of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor) Marc Bousquet argues that misses the point.
New issue of Critical Education: La Batalla Continua: Latina/o Educators Democratizing Educational Practices
Vol 2, No 12 (2011)
Table of Contents
La Batalla Continua: Latina/o Educators Democratizing Educational Practices
Marisol O. Ruiz, Luis-Vicente Reyes, Maribel Trujillo, Elizabeth Chavez, Nereida Antunez, Veronica Lugo, Ericka Martinez, Ben Rivera, Gaby Sulzer, Ana Granados, Veronica Lerma
This journey analysis shares the counterstories of practicing bilingual Latina/o educators teaching predominately Latino youth. The study is situated in a bi-national (US/Mexico) tri-city (El Paso, Las Cruces, Juarez), and tri-state (Texas, New Mexico, Chihuahua,) context. When teachers of color voice their concerns about oppressive institutional polices and practices, a counter-story is produced. One way to bring Latina/o students’ and their teachers’ counterstories to the center of schooling polices and practices is to create intentional spaces to examine the realities of how these policies and practices are oppressive in nature. These intentional spaces offer self-reliance and solidarity. Solidarity can lead to mobilization, an important aspect of the inherit praxis of this critical intentional space.
Critical Education is an international peer-reviewed journal, which seeks manuscripts that critically examine contemporary education contexts and practices. Critical Education is interested in theoretical and empirical research as well as articles that advance educational practices that challenge the existing state of affairs in society, schools, and informal education.
What is Capitalism Hiding?
By Bertell Ollman
What exactly is it about capitalism that our rulers are trying to hide? The short list would have to include: (1) that the most apt label for our society-because it brings into focus how our society works (particularly in production, an area of life that most of the other labels ignore or obscure), for whom it works better, for whom it works worse, and its potential for change—is “capitalism”; (2) that the real rulers of this society are those who own the means of production, distribution and exchange, and reap the bulk of the surplus; (3) that the Government, whatever democratic foreplay goes on, serves their interests, hence is their Government and not ours; (4) that we, the rest of us who don’t live on profit, rent or interest, are workers (whether we are willing to admit it or not), because we are forced to seek work in order to live; (5) that the conditions of life and work for us workers are bad and likely to get much worse-while the wealth of the capitalists keeps growing; (6) that a qualitatively better life, a more humane, just, free, democratic, egalitarian and ecologically rational way of organizing society can be developed; (7) that those who benefit from the present order of society have consistently lied to us about all of the above; and (8) that once workers—in the broad sense of the term—break through these lies and half-truths, they/we can win.
Now the best way for the capitalists to hide all of these facts is to hide the first one, that our’s is a capitalist society, because once people learn this all of the facts that follow become easier to see and to grasp. In his book, In Praise of Folly, Erasmus tells the story of a man watching a play who all at once jumps onto the stage and tears the masks off of the actors to reveal who they really are. If you think of Marx as this man and the capitalists as the actors, you can begin to understand both what Marx does and why the capitalists are not too pleased with him for doing it.
THE AWAKENING IN AMERICA
(Analysis of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement)
THE AWAKENING IN AMERICA
“A radical situation is a collective awakening. . . . In such situations people become much more open to new perspectives, readier to question previous assumptions, quicker to see through the usual cons. . . . People learn more about society in a week than in years of academic ‘social studies’ or leftist ‘consciousness raising.’ . . . Everything seems possible — and much more IS possible. People can hardly believe what they used to put up with in ‘the old days.’ . . . Passive consumption is replaced by active communication. Strangers strike up lively discussions on street corners. Debates continue round the clock, new arrivals constantly replacing those who depart for other activities or to try to catch a few hours of sleep, though they are usually too excited to sleep very long. While some people succumb to demagogues, others start making their own proposals and taking their own initiatives. Bystanders get drawn into the vortex, and go through astonishingly rapid changes. . . . Radical situations are the rare moments when qualitative change really becomes possible. Far from being abnormal, they reveal how abnormally repressed we usually are; they make our ‘normal’ life seem like sleepwalking.”
–Ken Knabb, THE JOY OF REVOLUTION
* * *
The “Occupy” movement that has swept across the country over the last four weeks is already the most significant radical breakthrough in America since the 1960s. And it is just beginning.
It started on September 17, when some 2000 people came together in New York City to “Occupy Wall Street” in protest against the increasingly glaring domination of a tiny economic elite over the “other 99%.” The participants began an ongoing tent-city type occupation of a park near Wall Street (redubbed Liberty Plaza in a salute to the Tahrir Square occupation in Egypt) and formed a general assembly that has continued to meet every day.
Though at first almost totally ignored by the mainstream media, this action rapidly began to inspire similar occupations in hundreds of cities across the country and many others around the world.
The ruling elite don’t know what’s hit them and have suddenly been thrown on the defensive, while the clueless media pundits try to dismiss the movement for failing to articulate a coherent program or list of demands. The participants have of course expressed numerous grievances, grievances that are obvious enough to anyone who has been paying attention to what’s been going on in the world. But they have wisely avoided limiting themselves to a single demand, or even just a few demands, because it has become increasingly clear that every aspect of the system is problematic and that all the problems are interrelated. Instead, recognizing that POPULAR PARTICIPATION IS ITSELF AN ESSENTIAL PART OF ANY REAL SOLUTION, the New York assembly came up with a disarmingly simple yet eminently subversive proposal, urging the people of the world to “Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone. . . . Join us and make your voices heard!”
Almost as clueless are those doctrinaire radicals who remain on the sidelines glumly predicting that the movement will be coopted or complaining that it hasn’t instantly adopted the most radical positions. They of all people should know that the DYNAMIC of social movements is far more important than their ostensible ideological positions. Revolutions arise out of complex processes of social debate and interaction that happen to reach a critical mass and trigger a chain reaction — processes very much like what we are seeing at this moment. The “99%” slogan may not be a very precise “class analysis,” but it’s a close enough approximation for starters, an excellent meme to cut through a lot of traditional sociological jargon and make the point that the vast majority of people are subordinate to a system run by and for a tiny ruling elite. And it rightly puts the focus on theeconomic institutions rather than on the politicians who are merely their lackeys. The countless grievances may not constitute a coherent program, but taken as a whole they already imply a fundamental transformation of the system. The nature of that transformation will become clearer as the struggle develops. If the movement ends up forcing the system to come up with some sort of significant, New Deal-type reforms, so much the better — that will temporarily ease conditions so we can more easily push further. If the system proves incapable of implementing any significant reforms, that will force people to look into more radical alternatives.
As for cooption, there will indeed be many attempts to take over or manipulate the movement. But I don’t think they’ll have a very easy time of it. From the beginning the occupation movement has been resolutely antihierarchical and participatory. General assembly decisions are scrupulously democratic and most decisions are taken by consensus — a process which can sometimes be unwieldy, but which has the merit of making any manipulation practically impossible. In fact, THE REAL THREAT IS THE OTHER WAY AROUND: The example of participatory democracy ultimately threatens all hierarchies and social divisions, including those between rank-and-file workers and their union bureaucracies, and between political parties and their constituents. Which is why so many politicians and union bureaucrats are trying to jump on the bandwagon. That is a reflection of our strength, not of our weakness. (Cooption happens when we are tricked into riding in THEIR wagons.) The assemblies may of course agree to collaborate with some political group for a demonstration or with some labor union for a strike, but most of them are taking care that the distinctions remain clear, and practically all of them have sharply distanced themselves from both of the major political parties.
While the movement is eclectic and open to everyone, it is safe to say that its underlying spirit is strongly antiauthoritarian, drawing inspiration not only from recent popular movements in Argentina, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Spain and other countries, but from anarchist and situationist theories and tactics. As the editor of Adbusters (one of the groups that helped initiate the movement) noted:
“We are not just inspired by what happened in the Arab Spring recently, we are students of the Situationist movement. Those are the people who gave birth to what many people think was the first global revolution back in 1968 when some uprisings in Paris suddenly inspired uprisings all over the world. All of a sudden universities and cities were exploding. This was done by a small group of people, the Situationists, who were like the philosophical backbone of the movement. One of the key guys was Guy Debord, who wrote THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE. The idea is that if you have a very powerful meme — a very powerful idea — and the moment is ripe, then that is enough to ignite a revolution. This is the background that we come out of.”
The May 1968 revolt in France was in fact also an “occupation movement” — one of its most notable features was the occupation of the Sorbonne and other public buildings, which then inspired the occupation of factories all over the country by more than 10 million workers. (Needless to say, we are still very far from something like that, which can hardly happen until American workers bypass their union bureaucracies and take collective action on their own, as they did in France.)
As the movement spreads to hundreds of cities, it is important to note that each of the new occupations and assemblies remains TOTALLY AUTONOMOUS. Though inspired by the original Wall Street occupation, they have all been created by the people in their own communities. No outside person or group has the slightest control over any of these assemblies. Which is just as it should be. When the local assemblies see a practical need for coordination, they will coordinate; in the mean time, the proliferation of autonomous groups and actions is safer and more fruitful than the top-down “unity” for which bureaucrats are always appealing. Safer, because it counteracts repression: if the occupation in one city is crushed (or coopted), the movement will still be alive and well in a hundred others. More fruitful, because this diversity enables people to share and compare among a wider range of tactics and ideas.
Each assembly is working out its own procedures. Some are operating by strict consensus, others by majority vote, others with various combinations of the two (e.g. a “modified consensus” policy of requiring only 90% agreement). Some are remaining strictly within the law, others are engaging in various kinds of civil disobedience. They are establishing diverse types of committees or “working groups” to deal with particular issues, and diverse methods of ensuring the accountability of delegates or spokespeople.
They are making diverse decisions as to how to deal with media, with police and with provocateurs, and adopting diverse ways of collaborating with other groups or causes. Many types of organization are possible; what is essential is that things remain transparent, democratic and participatory, that any tendency toward hierarchy or manipulation is immediately exposed and rejected.
Another new feature of this movement is that, in contrast to previous radical movements that tended to come together around a particular issue on a particular day and then disperse, the current occupations are settling in their locations with no end date. They’re there for the long haul, with time to grow roots and experiment with all sorts of new possibilities.
YOU HAVE TO PARTICIPATE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON. Not everyone will be up for joining in the overnight occupations, but practically anyone can take part in the general assemblies. At http://occupytogether.org you can find out about occupations (or planned occupations) in more than a thousand cities in the United States as well as several hundred others around the world.
The occupations are bringing together all sorts of people coming from all sorts of different backgrounds. This can be a new and perhaps unsettling experience for some people, but it’s amazing how quickly the barriers break down when you’re working together on an exciting collective project. The consensus method may at first seem tedious, especially if an assembly is using the “people’s mic” system (in which the assembly echoes each phrase of the speaker so that everybody can hear). But it has the advantage of encouraging people to speak to the point, and after a little while you get into the rhythm and begin to appreciate the effect of everyone focusing on each phrase together, and of everyone getting a chance to have their say and see their concerns get a respectful hearing from everyone else.
In this process we are already getting a taste of a new kind of life, life as it could be if we weren’t stuck in such an absurd and anachronistic social system. So much is happening so quickly that we hardly know how to express it. Feelings like: “I can’t believe it! Finally! This is it! Or at least it COULD be it — what we’ve been waiting for for so long, the sort of human awakening that we’ve dreamed of but didn’t know if it would ever actually happen in our lifetime.” Now it’s here and I know I’m not the only one with tears of joy. A woman speaking at the first Occupy Oakland general assembly said, “I came here today not just to change the world, but to change myself.” I think everyone there knew what she meant. In this brave new world we’re all beginners. We’re all going to be making lots of mistakes. That is only to be expected, and it’s okay. We’re new at this. But under these new conditions we’ll learn fast.
At that same assembly someone else had a sign that said: “There are more reasons to be excited than to be scared.”
BUREAU OF PUBLIC SECRETS
October 15, 2011
[A PDF version of this text can be found at http://www.bopsecrets.org/recent/awakening.htm ]
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“Making petrified conditions dance by singing them their own tune.”
CALL FOR MANUSCRIPTS
Special Issue of Cultural Logic
“Marxism and Education: International Perspectives on Education for Revolution”
Issue Editors: Rich Gibson & E. Wayne Ross
FOCUS OF THE SPECIAL ISSUE
The core issue of our time is the reality of the promise of perpetual war and escalating color-coded inequality met by the potential of a mass, activist, class-conscious movement to transform both daily life and the system of capitalism itself. In this context, schools in the empires of the world are the centripetal organizing points of much of life. While the claim of capitalist schooling is, in the classics, education, “leading out,” the reality is that schools are segregated illusion factories, in some cases human munition factories. Rather than leading out, they encapsulate.
Mainstream educational and social research typically ignores, disconnects, the ineluctable relationships of what is in fact capitalist schooling, class war, imperialist war, and the development of varying forms of corporate states around the world.
At issue, of course, is: What to do?
The long view, either in philosophy or social practice is revolution as things must change, and they will.
Connecting the long view to what must also be a long slog necessarily involves a careful look at existing local, national, and international conditions; working out tactics and strategies that all can understand, none taken apart from a grand strategy of equality and justice.
The editors are seeking manuscripts that explore education for revolution and are informed by Marxist perspectives. We are particularly interested in manuscripts that explore and examine:
- local/regional contexts and educational activism linked to global anti-capitalist movements;
- broad foundational and historical themes related to education and revolution (e.g., philosophy, social movements, community organizing, literacy, popular education, etc.); and
- organizational and practitioner perspectives.
The editors are also interested in reviews of books, film, and other media related to education for revolution.
Article manuscripts should be approximately 5,000-10,000 words in length (20-40 pages), although we will consider manuscripts of varying lengths. The editors prefer that manuscripts be prepared using either APA or Chicago styles. Manuscripts should be submitted as email attachments (Microsoft Word or RTF) to the both editors: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Authors interested in submitting manuscripts should email manuscript title and a brief description to the editors by December 1, 2011. Final manuscripts are due April 1, 2012.
ABOUT CULTURAL LOGIC
Cultural Logic, which has been online since 1997, is a non-profit, peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journal that publishes essays, interviews, poetry, and reviews (books, films, and other media) by writers working in the Marxist tradition.