Micro-Review of Chapter 4: Why Have School? An Inquiry through Dialectical Materialism by Rich Gibson

DeLeon & Ross, Eds. Critical Theories, Radical Pedagogies, and Social Education (Sense Publishers, 2010).

Gibson’s sweeping “Inquiry” into the titular question of this chapter is an interesting, if sometimes irreverent, or perhaps purposefully playful look at schooling in the U.S. in 2010 from a variety of angles. Gibson is a professor at San Diego State University whose writing I have become familiar with through a possibly now defunct online periodical known as the Rouge Forum. But Gibson has also contributed to magazines like CounterPunch, which I frequently read as well. Also, an essay of Gibson’s about Paulo Freire– actually a sort of “critical intellectual history” I think he called it, has really shaped how I think about liberation theology in education and Freire’s “Critical Education” movement as well.

The title of this chapter alone should reveal much of Gibson’s theoretical critical framework. Gibson affixes the beam of Marxist critical inquiry firmly on the institution of education: its past and present rooted in “capitalist democracy,” a term, which he then thoroughly deconstructs as part of his inquiry, and a potentially violent revolutionary future.

Among the most useful sections in this chapter to me were Gibson’s overview of teachers unionism in the United States at present, by the numbers, and also episodically to illustrate the pervasiveness of corruption that Gibson says is the hallmark of these large unions, which are themselves among some of the largest unions in the country. I will be able to go deeper with my teachers union history with a piece that Wayne Ross and Sandra Mathieson published around the same time as this one I believe. Stay tuned. Likewise, this volume I got from Wayne, which focuses broadly on radical social studies pedagogy, should have a bunch of other good essays to look at maybe later this week.

Another Hiroshima is Coming…Unless We Stop It Now – CounterPunch.org

When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. More

Source: Another Hiroshima is Coming…Unless We Stop It Now – CounterPunch.org

The first half of this piece is some of the most lucid reportage I have heard. They comprise vignettes from this journalist’s visits to a handful of “ground zeros” including Hiroshima in the 1960s, as well as the Marshall Islands in 2015.  John Pilger wisely centers the danger of supposedly “peaceful” nuclear tests, and links them with the far more well known attacks in Japan.

Then in the second half of this essay, Pilger highlights the Trump Administrations making everything much worse.  Personally, the first part of this story is more important I think.  The whole world knows of Trumps incompetence, as well as his greed and dictatorial flourishes.  But what even the Obama Administration worked at odds with often was a conception of the immense danger of even retaining a nuclear status-quo.

 

My Mom Is 55, Black, and Just Returned to Work in a Doctor’s Office in New York City. That’s Why I’m Scared (from T74)

My quarantine boredom is turning to anxiety as states begin reopening after months of pandemic-related lockdowns. Closer to home, my mother returned to the front lines on May 28. She is the practice manager of a pediatrician’s office in Manhattan, New York City, one of the hardest-hit COVID-19 hot spots in the world. She is […]

Source: My Mom Is 55, Black, and Just Returned to Work in a Doctor’s Office in New York City. That’s Why I’m Scared

I have not read writing about the pandemic with this much clarity and sense of purpose than these high school diarists.  Really brilliant!  Raw, real emotions.  As dire as the situation seems, these teenagers bring the perspective to motivate the work that may bring about the changes they themselves proscribe, with such pin-point accuracy almost innocence perhaps, but never naivete!  Kudos to T74 for this great idea.

Why Seattle educators demand cut to police budget– Jesse Hagopian in the Seattle Times

We can create safe and thriving communities by joining the growing number of cities who are re-appropriating funds from a punishment-based system and re-aiming them towards a new system that builds thriving communities.

Source: Why Seattle educators demand cut to police budget

I was unfamiliar with the work of Seattle teacher and activist, Jesse Hagopian before reading this opinion piece he wrote for the Seattle Times last week.  The story of his personal involvement with police violence and the lawsuit he won against the Seattle Police Department is important background for this piece too.  A quick Twitter search reveled this gif of the author being maced by SPD as he was trying to make a phone call.  WTF?

How Che Guevara Taught Cuba to Confront COVID-19 – by Don Fitz at CounterPunch.org

Beginning in December 1951, Ernesto “Che” Guevara took a nine-month break from medical school to travel by motorcycle through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. One of his goals was gaining practical experience with leprosy. On the night of his twenty-fourth birthday, Che was at La Colonia de San Pablo in Peru swimming across the river to join the lepers. He walked among six hundred lepers in jungle huts looking after themselves in their own way.

Che would not have been satisfied to just study and sympathize with them – he wanted to be with them and understand their existence. Being in contact with people who were poor and hungry while they were sick transformed Che. He envisioned a new medicine, with doctors who would serve the greatest number people with preventive care and public awareness of hygiene. A few years later, Che joined Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement as a doctor and was among the eighty-one men aboard the Granma as it landed in Cuba on December 2, 1956.

Source: How Che Guevara Taught Cuba to Confront COVID-19 – CounterPunch.org

This is a fantastic article by Don Fitz, the author of the book pictured above, which I would really like to read.  I “rediscovered” my interest in Che Guevara recently when I used a brief version of his biography as the core of an EFL tutorial.  That lesson can be found at this website.  It’s a broad brush bio in about two paragraphs meant for English learners not already familiar with his story.  So, naturally it leaves a lot out.  But the episode Fitz relates at the beginning of this CounterPunch article is one that I certainly don’t remember from reading the biography of Che that came out in the mid-1990s when I was in high school, Che Guevara:  A Revolutionary Life, by Jon Lee Anderson, a journalist at the New Yorker.

 

http://www.jonathanbfisher.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/10836.jpg

I could be wrong, I do remember there being a section on Che’s becoming a doctor and his famous motorcycle tour.  I could be conflating Anderson’s account with the fictionalized film version “Diarios de motocicleta” (2004).  I was certainly more interested in the guerrilla fighter aspect of El Che than I was in the more practical embodiments of his revolutionary character.  I suppose, I was tricked by CIA propaganda that depicted a one-dimensional figure, a dangerous killer, Fidel Castro’s right-hand man.

But Fitz does a great job of re-calibrating the machinery here, centering Che’s liberatory social health work, against the present day back-drop of post-Cold War Cuba’s breakthrough medical mutual aid in the midst of the AIDS crisis, and now COVID-19.

The figure of Doctor Che is almost too perfect, to have served in the most lasting, arguably most successful anti-capitalist revolution in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world.  But I suppose that’s why the man is a legend.  My intuition is that there are plenty of teachers who have also acted in some respect as revolutionaries in their own times and places.  But who has had the conviction to risk their own life, to abandon prospects of career and personal gain to lend what power they possess to a larger cause.  I guess it is Che’s selflessness that I am most impressed by, and his ability to adapt to the conditions he saw in the world around him, whether as a medical student in a leper colony, or as a revolutionary fighter suddenly at the reigns of a new country’s financial system.

Mini Review: Michael B. Katz, “The Origins of Public Education: A Reassessment” History of Education Quarterly, (Winter 1976)

With the Japanese government finally undertaking more aggressive and widespread anti-COVID19 measures since the end of April, I have had a lot more time with the kids and a lot less time to read history of education journal articles like this one. However, in other recent news, I have learned that I will be teaching (or at least assistant teaching) an undergraduate class at UW in the fall. The class is a long-running elective for teaching licensure candidates called, “The Purpose of Public Education in a Democracy.” To be honest, I am thrilled to have been given this opportunity. To be teaching at a university is literally a dream come true. So, I have been all kinds of motivated suddenly in the past few days to do every little thing I can to make sure I will be the best graduate student teacher I can be come this September. All of this, of course, God willing, and I can make my way back to North America without succumbing to the current plague.

So, with all of that as a backdrop, I dug back in this week to some of the articles I had saved from the HEQ 50th anniversary retrospective, and found an earlier one– this piece by Michael Katz, who was the president of the History of Education Society in 1976. This piece about the origins of public education in North America, based largely on Katz’s own research in an industrial community in Ontario, Canada, gives a sweeping if perhaps over-general assessment of the field of History of Education with a focus on one of the major problems in the field at that time: how public education became an institution in North America. This seems like a particularly relevant article given the work assignment I just received this past week, teaching about the purpose of public education. As I read this piece, I kept wondering about the relationship between historical evidence for the ontological emergence of public education as an institution, and the normative or teleological roots of the institution. Is the class I’m going to be teaching more rooted in one or the other of these questions? And is the history of education as a field more concerned with one or the other, if not some third option?

Admittedly, I have little sense of how this question of the emergence of public education has developed, or to what degree it has been “settled” or perhaps continues to be revised in the field of history of education. But reading Katz, I have begun to get a clearer sense of the directions in which the field developed, what questions were central to its early contributors, and where my future research might fit in, interrupt, stand up and clear its throat. For instance, the first piece of history of education I read consciously as such was Duberman’s social history of Black Mountain College, which became central to my own M.Ed. research on Dewey’s influence there. But Duberman, who was writing around the publication of Katz’s HEQ presidency was responding to Cremin’s The Transformation of the School (1961), which Katz also recognizes as a starting point (with Paul H. Buck, et al. 1957; and Bernard Bailyn, 1960) for his work. Likewise, I see echos of Katz claims about the “feminization” of the teaching profession in my advisor, Nancy Beadie’s earlier work.

I think I’ll just leave this “review” there for now. I need to return to childcare duties. So, the content of Katz’s analysis will have to wait. But these “big-picture” concerns are just as exciting. I look forward to being able to formulate an even more detailed history of the field as I begin preparing to teach this survey course in the fall.

Eat a Pear for Peace!

Mao Zedong - Wikipedia

Whoever wants to know a thing has no way of doing so except by coming into contact with it, that is, by living (practicing) in its environment… If you want knowledge, you must take part in the practice of changing reality. If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself… If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.

Mao Tse Tung “On Practice” (July 1937), Selected Works, Vol. I, pp. 299-300.

“Chinese Virus,” World Market by Andy Liu (n+1 magazine)

This is the best clarification of the global situation with Covid-19 I’ve read so far.  Is it a “Chinese Virus” a “Market Virus” or a “Value Virus” we have on our hands?  Andy Liu’s writing about China’s role in a global capitalist nexus is stellar.  This essay reminds me of David Foster Wallace in its attention to detail and moral clarity.  Excellent!

Source: N+1 Magazine, “Chinese Virus,” World Market by Andy Liu

 

Proverbs 17: 22 and Other Foolishness or: “Wipe Yourself with the Rich!”

My daddy sent me a link to this video, which has, I’m sure, made the rounds of the sometimes charming redneck circles he moves in ( currently sheltering in place) in Western N.C. The part that tickled me the most is the deadpan delivery of the line from the King James Version of the Book of Proverbs, which I had to look for online to recognize.

22 A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

The utility of this particular proverb, which goes on to countenance shutting up and letting the princes take care of things, is probably best left to the ancient Israelites who decided to write it down originally; but the genius and also the wisdom of the redneck duo quoting it in the present moment lies in their willingness to remind their listeners of a time in living memory when indoor plumbing (let alone toilet paper) was a luxury broad swaths of America couldn’t afford. After all, “there are all kinds of ways you can clean yourself,” including leaves, grass, or the coveted Sears Catalog. Less than a century ago, and perhaps now, once again, “toilet paper is for the rich!”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but these ridiculous (if somewhat talented) heehaws do what major network news media are all failing to do: they point out the class ramifications of the current global crisis.

Trump throws paper towels in Puerto Rico - CNN Video

Here Trump doles out paper towels in the wake of massive hurricane damage in Puerto Rico in 2017. I want so badly for this to become America’s “let them eat cake” moment– a symbol of the decadence of the current regime in the face of overwhelming poverty. I want people to finally connect Trump’s imbecility with the greed and bigotry that capitalism always foment. So, among the new rituals of hygiene we have all begun practicing– replace “social distancing” with SOLIDARITY and instead of toilet paper, maybe we can just wipe ourselves with the rich!

Micro Review: Joy Ann Williamson, Lori Rhodes, and Michael Dunson, “A Selected History of Social Justice in Education,” Review of Research in Education 31 (2007) p.195-224.

Jonathan Fisher

March 19, 2020

Micro Review: Joy Ann Williamson, Lori Rhodes, and Michael Dunson, “A Selected History of Social Justice in Education,” Review of Research in Education 31 (2007): 195-224.

I came down with a fever two days ago, which I was afraid might be the COVID-19 bug, but turns out to be just a regular cold. Anyway, on the advice of my family and coworkers I have stayed home these past two days, which has given me a good chunk of extra reading time in a quiet house. So, I’ve been able to dig into some of the pieces I downloaded connected to my matriculation at UW in the fall, my future advisers there, and the topics which I will pursue leading up to the research for my dissertation.

This piece, I am proud to say, was co-authored by one of my future advisors, Joy Ann Williamson-Lott (I am guessing she has gotten married since the publication of this piece 13 years ago, since her last name is hyphenated now). It appeared in the AERA Review of Research in Education while Dr. Williamson-Lott was still at Stanford University. And it is important to me both because of its scope, and the force of its concluding argument for the necessity of historical research to projects of social justice in education.

That this is a “selected” history of social justice in education, I suppose is meant to be a nod to other groups such as LGBT people or to other religious or cultural minorities such as Jews or Muslims whose stories are somewhat conspicuously absent from this narrative, which is inclusive of Asian, Native American, Latinx and Black as well as White ethnic groups in its discussion. But from the beginning, this piece, importantly sets the stakes as more than just an enumeration of identifiable sub-groups within educational jurisdictions of the United States, but as the struggle of what constitutes education for social justice in the first place, broadly education that promotes assimilation, or education for cultural maintenance (“or something in between”). Will it “give students skills to alter the social order,” or “enable students to fit themselves into a higher station in that social order?” (195). Also, citing Donato and Lazerson’s earlier essay on contemporary problems in educational history, the authors consider the ends to which history of education is deployed, and caution against flat historical arguments that employ unbroken chains of causality through time.

I suppose this last caveat is aimed at a Marxist critical historical view, although I need to dig more deeply into the pieces cited by Donato & Lazerson, as well as Franke, (2000), to be sure. And yet, the conspicuous absence of a specifically materialist critique in this selected history is perhaps its most intriguing fault. It is an especially glaring absence in light of the inclusion of W.E.B. Du Bois quote, resonant not only among Black people, but, as the authors acknowledge, across a range of ethnic minority communities in the U.S.: “The Negro needs neither segregated schools nor mixed schools. What he needs is Education.” I read Du Bois here as making the materialist (not identitarian) argument. For, as the authors of this paper show, in the case of the Chinese American community in San Francisco who revolted against a 1971 desegregation order issued on behalf of students in predominantly Black schools. Assimilationist arguments are not the be-all, end-all of social justice education. Indeed, assimilationist calls for social justice may be wielded just as easily as segregationist racism as a tool of capitalists to exploit minority groups.

Despite a possible blind spot in the area of class analysis, the authors rightfully see the duty of historians of education as one of making sure previously untold stories make their way into policy discourses. They rightfully characterize this discourse as a “battle over our national collective memory.” They also note the power of historical scholarship to bring out narratives of how racial and ethnic groups and individual members of these groups have thought about their own struggles, and “defined social justice for themselves” (215). This mode of intellectual history is particularly attractive to me, and one which I want to pursue in the future.

For instance, I am interested in the question of how teachers or activists in various educational movements/ struggles through history of held up or looked to figures from other movements for inspiration or guidance, despite their goals or particular ideological stances differing. The contemporary case I’m thinking of is Tsuru for Solidarity, survivors of Japanese incarceration, and others recalling the voices of members of those activist movements to fight against the incarceration of children at the US/ Mexico border. Or else, Black Lives Matter’s use of Palestinian Liberation movement, but in a more specific educational context. I need to go back and read that Angela Davis essay about Palestine and Black Power… But also, I imagine somewhere amongst imprisoned Japanese Americans during WWII there were those who saw their plight as of a piece with earlier oppressed groups– students at Indian Boarding Schools perhaps.

I’m rambling on a bit here, but this is illustrative, again, of the power that history of education has, as a mode of research to inform policy decision shape the narratives that define curriculum at a variety of levels– personal, community, regional, state, and international.