Why I have Trouble with the Self-Regulation Movement

Yesterday I happened to pick up on a story on the CBC’s The Sunday Edition. Just like the Globe and Mail and other media sources, the issue of increasing violence in the classroom was being highlighted. I retweeted the story and we listened to the episode.

It is an important story. It is a frustrating one as well because no one in positions of real authority seems to be listening. What might surprise people is the fact that the problem of violence is most pronounced in elementary schools. On top of that, these incidents of violence go largely unreported.

These were the results of an online survey conducted for the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario in relation to the 2016-17 school year. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

The article attached to the Sunday Edition episode includes an upsetting statistic:

Results from ETFO’s members showed only 22 per cent of teachers said they would report cases of verbal or physical violence, and less than a quarter said steps were taken to prevent future incidents.

The report continued by stating that many teachers felt that no change would take place so why bother reporting?

As a former elementary administrator, I understand their reluctance to report. People at the most senior levels of school boards are not comfortable with this kind of information and they have no answers for teachers who have to deal with violence in the classroom.

I am not making this up. Schools are generally on their own when it comes to violent incidents, especially at the elementary level. To complain does not do any good; you are reminded to rely on the resources you already have.  These resources continue to be cut back all the time. High schools have more specialized programming and more support staff. Elementary schools have the principal, a resource teacher, and the all-important educational assistant staff. That’s all.

One comment on my retweet struck me.

While I respect what Lisa was saying here, her comment misses the point. I am sure the teachers talking on Sunday Morning are good teachers trying very hard to do their best. Learning about self-regulation would not change what is going on in their classrooms.

I do think self-regulation is useful. It is always useful to learn about what motivates people and it is very healthy to acquire a deeper sense of self-knowledge. Most ancient religions are based on ideas of developing a deep sense of self.

There is a danger with a reliance on any one system of belief and the danger here is that we are really pushing the idea that the violence in schools could somehow be solved if teachers were just a bit better trained. The problem with this approach is this – the system will never be improved by political pressure or social advocacy, therefore, change must be on the backs of educators. Nothing else will change so we need to be the change.

This is why, I think, self-regulation is so popular amongst senior administrators and some consultants.  We are taking an ancient idea and asking educators to become agents of personal transformation. If educators are the only agents of change there is little need to call for the resources we truly need to make our system more effective, more humane and more peaceful.

Social change is hard to do and hard to understand. It is easier to give up on change and get teachers to take up the mantle.

That is why I am uncomfortable about waving the flag of self-regulation in front of the angry school.

I know there will be blowback against what I am writing but I want to be clear. I am an advocate for educators. I have seen the struggle they go through every day and I have dealt with my fair share of very violent incidents in elementary schools, some so dangerous that parts of our building had to be cleared to keep students and educators safe.

I also understand self-regulation. I have listened to and read really good material on self-regulation and acquiring self-knowledge and have undergone my own very painful journeys to understand myself and those around me. Yes, self-regulation is important for everyone – no it will not solve the problems experienced by educators in our schools today.

My point is simple – don’t put school reform on the backs of the educator. Self-regulation is simply not a panacea, it is one tool to help educators better understand themselves and their students. We are relying on this movement too much and it is crowding out the necessary conversation we need to be having on how schools can better serve students, parents and educators.

Let’s focus on a system that needs to be changed, let’s broaden the conversation.

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The Ones Who Correct the Path of the Powerful

 

I am totally caught up in the story of Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former Canadian Attorney General and Justice Minister who in recent weeks was demoted from her position in cabinet, then resigned as a Minister.

The Globe and Mail published a great story about her today – Why Jody Wilson-Raybould was destined to speak truth to power – an excellent article that really needs to be part of your reading this weekend.

In the article, Jody Wilson-Raybould is called a Hiligaxste or someone who corrects the path of the powerful. In indigenous culture, the Hiligaxste was a woman who grooms men for leadership roles. In our current culture, this means speaking truth to power.

This is such an important role today in our fractured society. No matter what level of governmental power one looks at, those in power continue to act with incredible impunity. In the case of the former Justice Minister, Liberal leaders, starting with Justin Trudeau have called Wilson-Raybould hard to work with. One MP even said she lost her post because she couldn’t speak French. The Prime Minister most recently stated she was moved because another minister resigned.

It is always difficult to speak truth to the mighty.

The attacks against Jody Wilson-Raybould are all very lame, but typical when those in power react to a strong-minded colleague who doesn’t easily back down – the Hiligaxste.

More people are standing up and saying things that are way out of the comfort zone of conventional leaders. In the United States, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is shaking up the political order by promoting a Green New Deal. While many people do not yet know what the Green New Deal (GND) is, the very idea of reworking the economy to mitigate climate change is too radical. Those in power are now warning that because of the GND, the hamburger and ice cream are now threatened.

I’m not making this up!

In truth, the GND is a new policy direction that truly looks to speak truth to power and offer something new.

 The GND is, at its heart, a form of social-democratic populism. Its intent is to involve the entire citizenry in the shared project of adapting to the 21st century, and in so doing materially improve the quality of life of the poor and middle class. It is an attempt to rebalance the economy and the political system, away from a monomaniacal focus on private goods, toward a more generous view of public goods and public purpose.

Vox  The Green New Deal, explained

It is encouraging to see these women defy the political hierarchy in their countries.

In another hopeful sign this week in Europe, thousands of students walked out of their classrooms as part of a coordinated walkout against climate change. Chanting “Save our planet”, these students are correcting the path of the powerful. While our political leaders – at least in Ontario – are fighting efforts to establish a carbon-tax  – Carbon-tax opponents don’t let facts get in the way (Globe and Mail, February 16) – students are speaking the truth that political leaders do not want to hear.

This is what it means to speak truth to power – whether it has to do with the politics of power and money or the inability of governments to see the looming climate change disaster, people like Jody Wilson-Raybould, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the student protesters are certainly the Hiligaxste.

For educators, what side do we want to be on?

The student protests in Europe were sparked by one student, Greta Thunberg who has been protesting outside the Sweedish parliament for weeks. It has not been an easy thing to do, but she is doing what must be done to correct the path of the powerful.

I am just a messenger, and yet I get all this hate. I am not saying anything new, I am just saying what scientists have repeatedly said for decades.

And I agree with you, I’m too young to do this. We children shouldn’t have to do this. But since almost no one is doing anything, and our very future is at risk, we feel like we have to continue.

Greta Thunberg – a Swedish schoolgirl with Asperger’s syndrome – sparked today’s action after protesting for weeks outside her country’s parliament.

Greta Thunberg, Jody Wilson-Raybould, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – people doing the uncomfortable thing, people making the powerful uncomfortable.

It is important that these issues get talked about in the classroom. The momentum for change can be delicate. It can be dashed on the rocks of indifference if people do not support these new leaders. It can create a world of change if everyone wakes up and joins their voices with these people.

I have said this many times. Educators need to get their heads out of the sand and wake up. These people are leading important changes and they truly are challenging the status quo in their own ways.

If you support them their efforts could change our world. If you don’t, why not?

The Class Struggle Podcast – Where We Come From

I think it might be good if we all introduce our perspective on things, like where we’re coming from. We all have unique places that we are at and I think it would be good for listeners to get to know some of that!

Stephen Hurley

This is beginning to take shape. We have a name for our political voice podcast – Class Struggle thanks to Heather Swail and several co-hosts – Heather Swail, Derek Rhodenizer and Stephen Hurley. Stephen has made the suggestion that we all make our views and background known to listeners so our bias is evident. We are planning to do this on our first podcast next Thursday, December 27th at 8:00PM.

While this will be an interesting ‘live’ experiment, I think it would be a great idea to put down here some of our thoughts and ideas on where we are coming from. It takes a while to figure this out and at least for me I do better writing down some of these ideas first. If the other co-hosts want to do the same I will roll out their ideas here as part of this post.

I will start. My political beliefs are informed first by my faith. It is hard to believe this is still true because I no longer attend church on any regular basis, but I was brought up Catholic and I taught in the Catholic system for 31 years. Within that structure, I was mainly influenced by Catholic Social Teaching and the life and struggles of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a cleric and martyr from El Salvador who was canonized just a few months ago.

What was truly formative for me have been my travels to Latin America with students and teachers. Over the past twenty years, I have travelled there many times and I have learned lots about poverty, injustice and the abuse of power by the privileged.

All of this has given me a strong sense of community and a better appreciation of the importance of speaking out against hypocrisy and injustice. Working at my last school, St. Anthony here in Ottawa gave me a wonderful opportunity to put some of these beliefs into practice. It also led to lots of run-ins with my superiors which eventually led to my retirement. There was more work to do at my school, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to work for an organization that valued compliance over social justice.

Now I have been retired for two years and I have spoken out much more since that time. The issues I write about are diverse, but anything that smacks of injustice and the abuse of power catches my attention. Apart from writing, I try to do something positive by supporting Christie Lake Kids, an organization here in Ottawa that works to transform the lives of low-income children through recreation, arts and leadership programs.

I do think that teachers have a duty to speak out. We as educators play a unique role in a democratic society. We are responsible for passing on to a new generation the laws, customs and beliefs of our society. We are leaders by the very fact that we hold such an immense responsibility to the youth in our society.

This view is not shared by our large corporate-like school boards. Loyalty means to be silent and compliance is the key. I think we are selling our educators short in this corporate culture and teachers need to have the freedom to express their opinions and speak out against injustice when they see it.

That is where I am coming from and I hope in our new show we will tackle some of the big political issues that swirl around us in this society. Maybe not all educators see this as a role we should assume. That is fine, but I would love to hear people actually say this.

I will keep this blog rolling out new comments from now until our first podcast this Thursday. You can write a comment at the end of this blog or DM me and I will add your material to this post. This sometimes can actually change the nature of a blog post. I am all for that – the voice of educators is so important – let it be heard.

This being a rolling blog, I am adding comments directly to this post. Here is a comment from co-host Heather Swail.

 

Heather Swail here. My political ideas and opinions were at first informed by school and community. I too was educated in the Catholic system. A number of my high school teachers were CND active or former sisters who were very involved in the lives of the disadvantaged in Montreal; at least three of my teachers had lived in Central America and followed and spoke about liberation theology and social justice. Their few stories – they were humble about their experiences – and the videos and news items they showed us inspired me to learn more about the world and to study politics in university. I did an MA in Public Administration in social policy and knew that my vocation was to work in the public or community sectors. Since my 20’s I have participated in community projects and initiatives that have attempted to develop opportunities for those with little power. I was approached once to run as a school trustee, but was not interested in that life, especially with a young family. My style typically is more diplomatic and questioning, rather than pedantic and being on the podium (family members may have a different opinion!)

I have been formed as much as by what I heard, learned and witnessed, as by what I did not hear. Ours was not a political family, neither parent spoke about politics. But there was a strong current within the larger family of pro-status quo and business. On a few occasions, when young, I was told not to ask so many questions. Paul and I raised our children to be aware of politics and inequalities. Perhaps too much at times, they would remind us.

Now, as an educator of 12- and 13-year olds, I prefer to ask questions and see where kids go with their observations and answers. I am more of a storyteller than a lecturer, I think. I will directly instruct about contentious or difficult issues and then ask students to explore further. By exposing younger people to information about what is going on in this world – good and bad – I am giving them the chance to see beyond what is apparent and certain. Children this age are very passionate about equality and justice – they just need help finding the stories.

Adding to our post is Stephen Hurley. We now have three of our hosts writing about brings them to this podcast.

I’m Stephen Hurley and, after retiring from 30 years of teaching with Ontario’s Dufferin Peel District School Board, I continue to be passionate about the conversations in education.

When it comes to teacher voice, I have some very specific ideas, but I look forward to this voicEd Radio series in order that these ideas might be challenged, deepened and, quite possibly, modified.

I have to admit that I have always resisted any monolithic characterization of voices in education. I bristle when politicians, union leaders and others make blanket statements like, “Teachers believe this” or “our members will actively fight for this.” I understand the efficiency and even the effectiveness of making statements like this but, for me, they undermine the fact that everyone who walks this planet has a unique perspective that is formed over the course of a lifetime by myriad events, experiences and encounters.

I think that, if we’re going to take the idea of teacher voice seriously, especially in the public square, we have to be prepared to make space for the individual stories that give way to a sense of subtlety and nuance. Our current conversations in education, especially at the political level, are not informed by these subtleties and shades of gray.

I look forward to entering into the Class Struggle conversations on which we are about to embark. I look forward to the honesty, the discomfort and even the disagreement that comes from opening up a space like this.

Where is the Political Voice of Educators?

Educators no longer have a political voice and that is a problem.

I have written about this before, but now I propose to do something about that. More on this later.

I am not entirely sure why this is the case. Part of the problem is that most of us work for overly bureaucratic school boards where having a political opinion is anathema. Part of the problem, I think, is that educators have gotten so caught up in their professional discourse that they have forgotten that they still play a public role as opinion leaders in a democratic society.

There is no question that the popular leadership in our society is now played exclusively by the media. This week in Ontario the Globe and Mail is leading the opposition against a corrupt newly elected Progressive Conservative government who sees no problem with selecting underqualified cronies to the top position in the Ontario Provincial Police – see their latest editorial here – Globe editorial: To end the OPP scandal, Doug Ford has to make a U-turn.

The same government seems bent on dismantling new initiatives focusing on indigenous education, after-school programming and in-school tutoring. The earlier assault on the 2015 sex-ed curriculum still remains in effect even after consultations in Ontario overwhelmingly rejected the substitution of the outdated 1998 program. Now it seems the government is considering walking away from the consultation saying that it was ‘flooded by unnamed groups‘.

In the United States, media outlets like CNN and the Washington Post daily speak truth to power as they cover the chaos in the American political system. Today they are tweeting and broadcasting about the American pullout in Syria that has led to the incredible public falling out between Donald Trump and his Defense Secretary James Mattis. If you haven’t seen the astounding interview Wolf Blitzer did with Stephen Miller you really need to witness this.

I listen to lots of podcasts and read my fair share of education blog posts and one thing I can conclude is that teachers are not publically commenting on these stories – with the notable exception of Andrew Campbell. At this point, Andrew is holding the political mantle for all Ontario teachers. There needs to be more public discourse where educators express their opinion on the political issues of the day. There is a notable political vacuum out there.

So, here is my proposal. A weekly political column or podcast by an educator (me) on one political issue that needs more discussion. Maybe I will be alone on my show, maybe it will only air on Sound Cloud, but it needs to be done. I am not saying that I have anything really new to offer to the political debates swirling around us, but educators need to at least express an opinion.

Maybe people will join me, maybe not. No matter, teachers need to exercise their political voice and this needs to be done in a public forum.