Archive for August, 2013

August 31, 2013

Protesting Teachers Block Mexico City Airport

by JOHNNY HAZARD | Published Aug 30 2013 by Counterpunch.org

Thousands of teachers (seven thousand, according to detractors, more according to organizers), members of a dissident caucus within the dominant Mexican teachers union, blocked access to the Mexico City airport for about 11 hours on Friday July 23. The action was part of a series of escalating protests against the passage, without discussion, of an education “reform” package in the congress in the first day of the term of new president Enrique Peña Nieto, inaugurated in December amid charges of electoral fraud.

News reports have focused more on passengers’ and airline employees’ lamentations about inconvenience than about the teachers’ demands. One newspaper carried the complaints of a flight attendant who hurt her feet because she had to walk a mile or two to the airport in high heels, as if her unfortunate choice of footwear were the teachers’ fault. Teachers were about to enter and shut down the airport when some of their leaders paused, negotiated with authorities, and decided to limit the action to a blockade of all roads that lead to the airport (a highway and several major thoroughfares). This, while disappointing some of the more avid participants, still had the effect of forcing the delay or cancellation of most flights.

The week of intense protests began when the congress was to begin a special session to pass legislation that would enable the reform measures, which include more standardized testing for students and teachers and a fast-track route to fire teachers in violation of collective bargaining agreements. Media, business, and government leaders here tend to blame teachers for the low academic achievement of students who attend school only a few hours every day in schools with peeling paint, crumbling walls, no running water, soap, toilet paper, or nutritious food and a teacher shortage (not for lack of applicants) that creates class sizes of 40 or 50 in the early grades. In rural areas it is common for teachers to appear only via closed circuit television.

Read more: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/30/protesting-teachers-block-mexico-city-airport/

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August 21, 2013

What we know about schools — but choose to ignore

By P.L. Thomas | Published August 19 2013 by The Answer Sheet

Excerpt:

This comprehensive analysis of research from Brunsma replicates the message in Flock of Dodos—political, public, and media messaging continues to trump evidence in the education reform debate. Making that reality more troubling is that a central element of No Child Left Behind was a call to usher in an era of scientifically based education research. As Sasha Zucker notes in a 2004 policy report for Pearson, “A significant aspect of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is the use of the phrase ‘scientifically based research’ well over 100 times throughout the text of the law.”

Brunsma’s conclusion about school uniform policies, I regret to note, is not an outlier in education reform but a typical representation of education reform policy. Let’s consider what we know now about the major education reform agendas currently impacting out schools:

Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/08/19/what-we-know-about-schools-but-choose-to-ignore/

August 15, 2013

When Schools Become Dead Zones of the Imagination: A Critical Pedagogy Manifesto

By Henry A. Giroux | Published 13 August 2013 by Truthout.org

Excerpt:

While pedagogies of repression come in different forms and address different audiences in various contexts, they all share a commitment to defining pedagogy as a set of strategies and skills to use in order to teach prescribed subject matter. In this context, pedagogy becomes synonymous with teaching as a technique or the practice of a craft-like skill. There is no talk here of connecting pedagogy with the social and political task of resistance, empowerment or democratization. Nor is there any attempt to show how knowledge, values, desire and social relations are always implicated in power.  Any viable notion of critical pedagogy must reject such definitions of teaching and their proliferating imitations even when they are claimed as part of a radical discourse or project.  In opposition to the instrumentalized reduction of pedagogy to a mere method that has no language for relating the self to public life, social responsibility or the demands of citizenship, critical pedagogy works to illuminate the relationships among knowledge, authority and power. 24 For instance, it raises questions regarding who has control over the conditions for producing knowledge such as the curricula being promoted by teachers, textbook companies, corporate interests or other forces? 

Central to any viable notion of what makes a pedagogy critical is, in part, the recognition that pedagogy is always a deliberate attempt on the part of educators to influence how and what forms of knowledge and subjectivities are produced within particular sets of social relations. In this case, critical pedagogy draws attention to the ways in which knowledge, power, desire, and experience are produced under specific conditions of learning, and in doing so rejects the notion that teaching is just a method or is removed from matters of values, norms, and power – or, for that matter, the struggle over agency itself and the future it suggests for young people. Rather than asserting its own influence in order to wield authority over passive subjects, critical pedagogy is situated within a project that views education as central to creating students who are socially responsible and civically engaged citizens. This kind of pedagogy reinforces the notion that public schools are democratic public spheres, education is the foundation for any working democracy and teachers are the most responsible agents for fostering that education.

Read more: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/18133-when-schools-become-dead-zones-of-the-imagination-a-critical-pedagogy-manifesto

August 14, 2013

Labour’s battle for the public mind and the crucial social role of unions

By Rick Salutin | Published August 2, 2013 by rabble.ca

Excerpt:

Why doesn’t the union protest loudly that they’re taxpayers, too? Or that fairness in pay is something anyone who has a job can identify with and support. Plus: higher wages lead to more demand in the economy, therefore more jobs and taxes paid, lowering deficits, etc.

In other words, why don’t they contest the battle for the public mind? I don’t know why but they don’t, or rarely do. They seem to have lost track of that tactic. It went missing in the Ontario teachers conflict this year, too. The unions made little or no effort to explain their case and enlist parents, students and citizens on their side. That left the McGuinty government with the role of defender of the taxpayers. It’s not inevitable. The Chicago teachers’ union laboured for wider support and won their strike with it.

This matters not just because it would be smart for unions. It’s because they, for about a century, have been central to general social improvement. They provided inspiration, resources, organization: without them there would not have been public health care, universal pensions, health and safety laws, the whole panoply of the (now disputed) welfare state. It’s hard to imagine today how central they recently were to the electoral and legislative calculations of all political parties, not just Democrats in the U.S., or Liberals and NDP here.

Read more: http://rabble.ca/columnists/2013/08/labours-battle-public-mind-and-crucial-social-role-unions

August 11, 2013

Punishing Kids for Adult Failures

By Diane Ravitch | Published August 8, 2013 by NY Daily News

Excerpt:

The one certain result of the Common Core standards is that they cause test scores to plummet. Kentucky saw its passing rates fall by 30 percentage points using the Common Core. New York students have experienced the same blow.

So now, overnight, thanks to Common Core testing, the majority of students across the state and in the city are failures. That means that the schools are now required (by the state’s rules) to provide “academic intervention services” for them, which will take money away from the arts, physical education, foreign languages, history, civics and other essential subjects.

Who should parents and the public hold accountable for the collapse of test scores? Not the students and not the teachers, but state education officials. They make the rules that determine curriculum, standards, teacher qualifications and other factors that affect how schools function. They have changed the tests and the scoring repeatedly. They hold the reins of power.

If this year’s abysmal test scores were a genuine reflection of student achievement — and they are not — the regents would be the responsible party.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/punishing-kids-adult-failures-article-1.1420622

August 9, 2013

Video: Eat the Rich- An Animated Fairy Tale from the California Federation of Teachers

August 8, 2013

Building fighting teachers unions

By Lee Sustar | Published August 8, 2013 by The Socialist Worker

Excerpt:

CERTAINLY, OUSTING ineffective or conservative leaders is an important goal of militants among teachers, as it is for other union activists. And as the Chicago experience shows, a fighting union leadership can make a critical difference. But for most teachers union locals, those are long-term goals. So what do they do now?

That’s where CORE’s history is key. While the caucus only came into existence a couple of years before taking office, its roots go back decades to previous CTU reform movements. More recently, many CORE members were part of the reform administration of Deborah Lynch from 2001-2004, which was ousted after negotiating a weak contract. Others were active in the fight against the militarization of schools as well as school closures. Many first met in organizing around issues of violence that claimed their students.

As CTU President Karen Lewis often points out, CORE wasn’t formed with the idea of taking over the union, but simply making it more effective. The first step was understanding the enemy: hence a study group around Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine. CORE’s first big public meeting in January 2009 drew 500 people in the midst of a classic Chicago blizzard, compelling the then-union president to show up to speak.

Certainly there’s much to be learned by trade unionists everywhere in studying CORE’s activist orientation and organizational savvy. But what makes CORE different is the politics behind the operation. While it is far from a politically homogenous group–CORE unites everyone from Democrats to socialists–the role of the left has been crucial. Socialists, radicals and militants from various organizations and political currents work together in CORE to emphasize union democracy, rank-and-file activism and militant action. This comes not from a nostalgia from labor’s better days, but from a sober recognition of the prospects for unions in an era of a depressed economy, a rollback of the public sector and rampant social inequality.

Just as important, CORE militants saw from the beginning that the teachers’ struggle had to be the same as that of students and parents. Thus, there was no difference between the CTU’s message to its members during the strike and to the wider community: Chicago teachers were defending public education, and got overwhelming support as a result.

CORE’s argument can be summed up as this: Teachers unions will have to struggle harder than they have for decades simply to hold on to what they have–and their fight must be part of a wider working-class movement to defend public services and a decent standard of living. If the revival of teacher reform groups is any indication, it’s a message that teachers are ready to hear.

Read more: http://socialistworker.org/2013/08/08/building-fighting-teachers-unions