Proletarianization and Professionalization Politics of Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Neo-liberal and neo-conservative thinkers in Alberta were so focused in the end results of educational policies that they proposed two other programs that differed little from results-based curriculum: program continuity and continuous progress. Many teachers could not really understand what these programs were about. The Department of Education, for example, placed program continuity together with "results-based, levels-organized curriculum." Program continuity envisioned that students knew what they needed to learn and what they could accomplish, and the curriculum accordingly was supposed to gear towards achieving those goals. Teachers pointed out that imposing such expectations on students was at odds with the philosophy of letting students find their own comfort zones and levels of learning. Teachers also pointed out that these additional requirements forced them to work more, effectively turning them into working machines. What teachers resented most, however, was the "erosion of professionalism": "What I resent is that some are trying to take away my professional decision-making as to my philosophy, teaching style and even content" (ATA, 1993).

Another theme teachers discussed was the government proposal instructing teachers to design individual educational plans. Teachers were expected to work more with students individually. This was again an attempt to increase the teacher workload, intended to improve the student performance. In other words, the principles of running a large business company were being applied to administering schools again. This program also required that teachers prepare individual reports so that external forces could better monitor teacher activity and student performance. One teacher expressed her frustration: "The individual educational plans are very time consuming and present another cause of frustration to the classroom teacher, not only does she have to do reporting on a large class, but she has to do three, four or more individual reports," while another teacher pointed out that the program was essentially unworkable and unhelpful to students: "One teacher cannot provide material, counseling and motivation for 30 students with skills ranging over five or six grades. One teacher cannot have the skills to handle a Cerebral Palsy student, a student who lives in a correctional facility, a student who is facing death and a near blind student -- and this is all in one day." Another teacher stated: "With constant supervision and a stress on produce, produce, produce you'd think we were dealing with a business product" (ATA, 1993).

The government's most blatant attempt at proletarianization was the introduction of more external tests to evaluate the performance of students. Politicians and the media often referred to the successes of Japan, South Korea, and Germany, and argued that Canada's "failures" could be rectified by more external control. Teachers raised several issues with this proposal. Some of them argued that there were already too many tests in place, and others argued that additional tests would increase the teacher workload and stress even further. Most teachers, however, expressed dismay at attempts to diminish the role of a teacher as a professional. "Policy makers have changed the way we are able to instruct children," one teacher wrote. "Teachers have gradually lost legitimized control over classroom standards. External assessment measures are the same as saying 'something's wrong' and by testing, we will find solutions" (ATA, 1993).

Teachers were passionately upset about other such proposals. The Ministry of Education proposed preparing portfolio assessment for each student to identify individual needs of students in order to develop more efficient ways of addressing their demands and needs. This proposal certainly placed more time constraints and increased the teacher workload. One teacher responded: "There are only 24 hours in the day, the last time I heard. Where is the time for us to do all that is being demanded of us?" (ATA, 1993). Similarly, the vision statements proposal by the Ministry was, in the eyes of teachers, a top-down policy imposed on teachers without consulting their opinions. Pondering about the vision's emphasis on excellence of education, one teacher wrote: "it seems to me that 'excellence' for all students (gifted disabled, ESL, natives) is going to be expected with no more money being pumped into education" (ATA, 1993).

Indeed, over and over teachers pointed out that the policies were inspired not by educational motives but by the government's plans to cut costs. One educator made an important point about the so-called "innovations" introduced by the government. "These 'innovations' are not changes whereby something is dropped from our workload in order to try something new in its place," he wrote. "Instead, they are additions to an already demanding workload placed on teachers" (ATA, 1993). This was an apt description of the attempts to proletarianize the teachers. It is important to note that in response to government attempts to proletarianize the teachers, teachers responded by calling for professionalization. Again and again, teachers stressed the importance of allowing them to make major decisions on designing the curriculum and the methodologies. One of the main recommendations of ATA was the "recognition and enhancement of professionalism and of teachers' rights to make choices and judgments in the light of their training, experience, expertise, and needs and interests of their students" (ATA, 1993).

Educational reforms adopted by the Klein Administration in Alberta in the 1990s were inspired by neo-liberal and neo-conservative ideologies. These ideologies aimed at cutting costs of the welfare program, increased privatization, the adoption of business principles in running social programs, and a centralized authority despite their avowed aversion to big government. The Klein Administration pursued these goals with regards to educational system as well. As a result, the government proposed a series of programs the purpose of which was proletarianization of teachers. Teachers and teacher associations resisted the authority of the government, by calling for professionalization of the teaching profession. For government, education was a business project, while for teachers, it was a noble endeavor.


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