Proletarianization and Professionalization Politics of Educational Reform Essay

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Proletarianization and Professionalization

Politics of Educational Reform in Alberta and Teacher's Struggle against Proletarianization

In the 1990s, Canadian educational system went through a series of reforms. The province of Alberta, under the leadership of Premier Ralph Klein and the Progressive Conservatives, took a lead role in implementing these reforms. The reforms were rooted in neo-liberal and neo-conservative ideologies and aimed at reducing costs for public education, maximizing economic returns, adopting managerial structure of corporations for educational institutions and schools, and increased workload for teachers. These reforms were introduced mostly as a top-down policy with little, if any, consultation with teachers and teacher associations. But Alberta's teacher associations -- Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA), in particular -- took a persistent stance, mobilizing teachers and struggling against new educational reforms. This paper argues that the Alberta government's attempts to restructure the educational system may be explained by the concept of proletarianization, while the ATA and teachers' stance against the reforms may be explained by the concept of professionalization.

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Neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism are the ideologies that have much in common. These ideologies have become a guiding principle for the governments of the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand, and Canada in the last three decades. For both neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism, market economy is the gospel that needs to be defended at all costs. Both advocate corporate tax cuts and oppose big governments as well as welfare states. Neo-liberals and Neo-conservatives advocate the pursuit of rigid free-market policies at home and abroad though these policies are riddled with internal contradictions. For example, advocates of these two ideologies have often contradicted the principles they adhere to by pressuring the governments of the U.S., U.K., and Canada to interfere in internal affairs of many developing countries in order to introduce market economies to these countries -- the policies which mostly benefited foreign investors (Harvey, 2005).

Essay on Proletarianization and Professionalization Politics of Educational Reform Assignment

The reforms that began in Alberta by the government of Ralph Klein should be understood within the context of the political environment in Canada at the time. Neo-liberal and neo-conservative thinkers in Canada saw a crisis in Canada's educational system and decided that the root cause of the problem was public education and the welfare state. Klein and other politicians argued that the cost of education in Canada was too high, while the Canadian students' performance was poor. In order to improve Canada's global competitiveness, Klein and his political allies argued, Canadian and Albertan educational systems should adopt the business principle of "doing more with less." The educational restructuring in Alberta, as Harrison and Kachur (1999) point out, was "ideologically driven," allowing the government to centralize authority and decrease "equality of student opportunity while opening market niches for private entrepreneurs" (xiv). Educational restructuring, for example, included adopting managerial practices of multinational corporations, greater fiscal austerity, and increased monitoring of school performance (Harrison & Kachur, 1999; Flower & Booi, 1999; Peters, 1999; Pocklington, 1999; Taylor, 2001). It should be noted that the Klein government's attack on public education was also an attack on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which upholds that children of Canadian citizens, including those of minority groups, have the right to receive education "provided out of public funds" (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms).

The educational reforms adopted by the Alberta government, among other things, significantly increased the teacher workload and decreased the teachers' autonomy in the profession by introducing various control systems and fixed regulations. Such a policy directed against teachers may be described as proletarianization, which is defined as "a process in which workers lose control over core aspects of their work, or one in which self-sufficient workers are replaced by employees in subordinate positions" (Wotherspoon, 2004, p. 155). Proletarianization occurs when workers are pressured by external forces to intensify their work, while being subjected to increased monitoring and control by supervisors and administrators. Proletarianization tries to codify the technical functions of teachers, "such as designing lesson plans, grading students, keeping records of student attendance and progress, and following rules and procedures regarding student discipline" (Wotherspoon, 2004, p. 148).

Most teachers in Canada, of course, did not share the vision of the Klein government. The Alberta Teachers' Association took a powerful stance against the government-led educational restructuring, spending half a million dollars and participating in roundtables aimed at mobilizing the public against the government's austere measures (Taylor, 2001; Flower & Booi, 1999). The teacher stance against educational restructuring may be called professionalization, which is described as "a trend in which a particular occupation gains status and recognition through specific credentials, specialized knowledge, or access to specified rights and privileges" (Wotherspoon, 2004, p. 155). Professionalization is struggle against external authority. In educational institutions, it has been especially important for women as a form of "female resistance to male authority, since in the past and present, teachers have been predominantly female and administrators, predominantly male" (Taylor, 2001, p. 173).

Professionalization is often used to describe recognized professions such as law and medicine, and in comparison to these professions, teaching is characterized as a "semi- or quasi-profession that remains constrained by external forces such as other professions and bureaucratic school authority structures" (Wotherspoon, 2004, p. 128). But throughout the twentieth century, teachers in Canada struggled against external authorities by improving their professional status and successfully lobbying the governments to better protect teacher rights. The fact that external forces try to undermine teacher authority does not mean that professionalization cannot explain the teacher struggle against educational restructuring in Alberta. In fact, the authority of medicine as a profession has also been threatened recently by government attempts to restructure the healthcare system. Therefore, professionalization is an ongoing process in which members of a designated profession are in constant struggle, trying to preserve their authority in the given profession. For example, in response to government-initiated reforms, the ATA in Alberta "has managed to maintain and even enhance its viability and vitality under particularly challenging political conditions," struggling "against oppression" and making "sense of what [was] happening' and 'work out ways of doing something about it'" (Bascia, 2001).

To see how proletarianization and professionalization were at work during 1990s in Alberta, we need to analyze the report prepared by the ATA in 1993, which discussed through collaboration with teachers, educators, superintendents, and other administrators eight major proposals made by the Department of Education (and at the initiative of the Klein Administration). The ATA report pointed out that most teachers were really dismayed at the fact that almost "everyone but the teachers had a hand in redesigning the education system" (ATA, 1993). The report was based on submissions by teachers and education administrators who offered variety of views on educational restructuring, many of them in passionate and angry tones, but also expressing dedication and concern for their profession and children. Some of the submissions agreed with the proposed restructuring of the educational system, but many suggested that the reforms were motivated not by the desire to improve the educational system but by political goals of those who did not really understand the value of education.

One of the government proposals that teachers discussed was integration. The ATA Special Education Council defines integration as "the practice of educating children with special needs in the regular classroom in their neighborhood school with their non-handicapped same-aged peers" (ATA, 1993). Teachers mostly expressed support for this policy as a principle but doubted that the proposal was workable unless the government was willing to allocate more resources for that. But it was precisely the purpose of cutting costs that motivated the local authorities to propose integration. Some teachers understood that the real motivation was to intensify the teacher workload, while reducing the costs of educating students with special needs. "The idea of integrating special needs students into the regular classroom seems to be motivated by economics rather than by any real concern for meeting the educational needs of the majority of students in the classroom," one teacher wrote. "Certainly, placing special needs students into regular classrooms is cost effective in that special classes for these students are no longer necessary. The real costs of placing such students into the classroom, however, cannot be measured in monetary terms" (ATA, 1993).

Another proposal the teachers discussed was the results-based curriculum. Results-based curriculum, which places heavy emphasis on educational results (student performance, high grades, achievements, and other "measurable" and "observable" factors), was obviously derived from a business concept that tries to maximize profit, while exploiting the labor force to the maximum. One teacher pointed out that integration of students with special needs was incompatible with the pursuit of results-based curriculum. "The danger comes in assuming that the worth and the depth of an individual can be measured by comparing to a list of desired 'results,'" another teacher commented. "Results-based evaluation works quite well in measuring the value of a mechanical process, like an assembly line. If we are wise, we will leave it there; and not try to fit our wonderfully gifted, talented and varied children into such a simplistic pattern!" The ATA… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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