25 February 2013

Lev Vygotsky on Jean Piaget


Education, Part 6b

From the cover of “Piaget for Beginners

Lev Vygotsky on Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget was born in 1896, three months before Lev Vygotsky. But Piaget outlived Vygotsky by 46 years. Vygotsky died in 1934, Piaget in 1980. Piaget spent most of his life in Geneva, Switzerland, and in nearby Neuchâtel, where he was born.

Piaget was an NGO man. He was Director of a Swiss NGO called International Bureau of Education (IBE) for 40 years, from 1929 to 1969 (i.e. from age 35 to age 75), after which the IBE was incorporated into the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The IBE remained, and still remains, in Geneva.

Piaget received a doctorate in 1918, in Natural History (of molluscs), although he was later known as a Psychologist. In 1921, at the age of 25, Piaget was made the director of a small private NGO called the Rousseau Institute, in Geneva. The Rousseau Institute had been started by Édouard Claparède in 1912 “to turn educational theory into a science”. Claparède had in turn been the protégé of Théodore Flournoy, a spiritist.

Jean Piaget as a promising young man

The same Claparède was soon the founder of a much more ambitious NGO, with “International” in its title, helped by a grant of $5000 from the US Rockefeller Foundation, in 1925. This was the IBE. From 1915 Claparède was Professor of Psychology at the University of Geneva in succession to Flournoy, and he held this position until his death in 1940. In 1929, Claparède promoted Piaget from the Rousseau Institute to the “International” NGO. In the same year of 1929, Piaget joined Claparède’s University of Geneva as Professor of Child Psychology.

The most prominent supporter of the IBE at its founding was Albert Thomas, who had become the Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) at its founding, in Geneva, in 1919, remaining in that position until his death in 1932. The ILO, though ostensibly concerned with labour, was and still is constructed as a “class neutral” or possibly “class balanced” organisation, with employers in it as well as workers.

Dr Jean Piaget, Director

“Since 1934, the IBE has organized the International Conference on Public Education (now the International Conference on Education) which, from 1946 onwards, was convened together with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), founded in 1945.

“In 1969, the IBE became an integral part of UNESCO while retaining intellectual and functional autonomy.

“In 1999 the IBE became the UNESCO institute responsible for educational contents, methods and teaching/learning strategies through curriculum development.”

At the moment in 1929 when Jean Piaget was made Director of the IBE, Thomas was still Director-General of the ILO, and Claparède was Professor of Psychology at the University of Geneva. By 1934, the promoters of the IBE had leveraged its initial origin as the private NGO project of Professor Claparède, into a de facto world authority, with state-level participation, led by an intellectual (Piaget) who had no equal, and hardly any critics apart from Vygotsky, from then until his death in 1980 and even up to now, 33 years later.

The Assistant Director of the IBE for the 40-year term of Piaget as Director, was Pedro Rosselló. Between 1934 and 1968 the IBE issued 65 “recommendations”. According to Pedro Rosselló’s historical note (downloadable here),

“It is difficult to form an opinion on the weight which these 65 recommendations may have had, their implementation having been left entirely to the governments’ discretion.”

This statement is intended to deceive, but instead, it reveals. This was a small lobby group with unrivalled access to international networks, and no opposition. Far from having vague misgivings about the effectiveness of its propaganda, it worked with relentless determination to create a hegemony for itself, for the pseudo-science that it pushed, and for the class that it represented. Without doubt, it succeeded. This was an NGO success story that modern NGOs (like, in South Africa, Equal Education and Section 27) can only envy. Doors were opened for them, and they swept through.

Jean Piaget, Master of the Universe, 1937

Piaget’s life’s work was to create an ad hoc, utilitarian framework upon which could be overlaid a set of arbitrary assertions, leading towards a non-political (i.e. bourgeois) system of syllabus and curriculum design that would be applied all over the globe. As the Director of the IBE, posing as an international authority, he promoted his gospel relentlessly. Piaget’s influence did not arrive by the luminosity of his science, which was practically non-existent, or by the intellectual recognition of his critical peers, who, with the exception of Vygotsky, remained dumb. Piaget’s influence came by means of bureaucratic manoeuvres and institutional pre-emptions. Piaget worked himself into the position of being the “default” theorist, as he remains, to a large extent, today.

The critique of Piaget is this: His volumes of literature on education were produced ex novo and without much reference to other branches of scientific human culture. In this respect Piaget was little different from his fellow-psychologists of the period. In the matter in which we are interested for the purposes of this course, and to which we will return, which is the periodisation of childhood development, Piaget’s work hardly rises to the level of the empirical (his attempt at empiricism rests on samples which are too small, and too local) and not at all to the philosophical, or scientific.

For the “other side” to the above-described critical view, i.e. for a more appreciative take on Jean Piaget, please see the Cambridge Companion to Piaget (432 pages, 3MB PDF) downloadable from here or here.

Vygotsky on Piaget

Lev Vygotsky, in the attached document, begins politely, but by his third paragraph he is beginning to thoroughly demolish Piaget.  There is little or no science in Piaget, according to Vygotsky. Following on from Freud and others, Piaget treated psychology as if he had a blank sheet upon which to write anything he liked. This was not science. Says Vygotsky:

“Piaget tries to escape [from “fatal duality” between theory and data] by sticking to facts. He deliberately avoids generalizing even in his own field and is especially careful not to step over into the related realms of logic, of the theory of cognition, or of the history of philosophy. Pure empiricism seems to him the only safe ground.

“The new facts and the new method led to many problems... Problems gave birth to theories, in spite of Piaget’s determination to avoid them by closely following the experimental facts and disregarding for the time being that the choice itself of experiments is determined by hypotheses. But facts are always examined in the light of some theory and therefore cannot be disentangled from philosophy. This is especially true of facts relative to thinking. To find the key to Piaget’s rich store of data we must first explore the philosophy behind his search for facts – and behind their interpretation, which he presents only at the end of his second book [Judgment and Reason in the Child] in a resumé of its contents.”

Piaget furtively conceals his theoretical framework, says Vygotsky, until his summary. Vygotsky says that Piaget makes an arbitrary choice so as to base his psychology on the “pleasure principle”, associated with the equally arbitrary, ad hoc, and non-scientific psychologist, Sigmund Freud.

Communists say that from its earliest moment, the child’s consciousness is social, and that it continues to develop in a social way. Piaget makes an arbitrary presumption that this is not so. Vygotsky notes that in Piaget’s work (“autism” here means self-centredness):

“...autism is seen as the original, earliest form of thought; logic appears relatively late; and egocentric thought is the genetic link between them.

“This conception, though never presented by Piaget in a coherent, systematic fashion, is the cornerstone of his whole theoretical edifice.”

Piaget smuggles in the presumption that the child as fundamentally self-centred, and not social, and then he makes this assumption the foundation of all his work. Vygotsky quotes one of Piaget’s arbitrary pronouncements, thus:

“The social instinct in well-defined form develops late. The first critical period in this respect occurs toward the age of 7 or 8 [Judgment and Reason in the Child, p. 276]”

In Vygotsky’s part II, where Piaget’s experiments are compared to his own, Vygotsky writes:

The development of thought is, to Piaget, a story of the gradual socialization of deeply intimate, personal, autistic mental states. Even social speech is represented as following, not preceding, egocentric speech.

The hypothesis we propose reverses this course… The primary function of speech, in both children and adults, is communication, social contact. The earliest speech of the child is therefore essentially social.

In his part III, Vygotsky again probes Piaget’s evasiveness. He writes:

“…many issues in the complex field of child thinking border on the theory of cognition, on theoretical logic, and on other branches of philosophy. Time and again Piaget inadvertently touches upon one or another of these but with remarkable consistency checks himself and breaks off. Yet in spite of his express intention to avoid theorizing, he does not succeed in keeping his work within the bounds of pure factual science. Deliberate avoidance of philosophy is itself a philosophy, and one that may involve its proponents in many inconsistencies. An example of this is Piaget’s view of the place of causal explanation in science.

“Piaget attempts to refrain from considering causes in presenting his findings… Piaget’s whole approach [is] a matter of purely arbitrary choice.”

Piaget’s apparent refusal of theory is a way of advancing an actual, but unsupported, theory of self-centredness, one that is consistent with bourgeois “common sense”. This theory is made to appear as if it is supported by empirical observation, but Piaget’s observations are of an absurdly limited sample of children, as is demonstrated in Vygotsky’s concluding paragraphs.

The inertia around educational theory, and the retention of the shallow NGO lobbyist Piaget as its “default” theorist for nearly a century, in spite of his clearly evident deficiencies, is a sign of a lack of self-confidence in the ranks of the millions of educators around the world, and a sign of their being trapped under a still larger hegemony, namely that of capitalism in the age of Imperialism.

This is a situation that is ripe for revolution.

22 February 2013

A Different Kind of Preparation for Work


Education, Part 6a

Hundred Flowers Campaign, China, 1956

A Different Kind of Preparation for Work

Some of the literature of the “Activity Theory” camp is about adult education, and about what they call “remediation”. This is the term for what is done to patch up in a classroom, or institutional environment, the gaps which were left in the student’s education by previous institutional efforts of the student, with other teachers.

This is an apologetic kind of way of approaching the general raising of the population’s cultural level. It takes for granted that the remedy for the failure of one institution or set of institutions is another, rather similar institution, or in other words, more of the same.

Hence we did not include Mike Rose’s article, based on US experience, called “Rethinking Remedial Education and the Academic-Vocational Divide”. But Helen Worthen’s criticism of Rose’s article is more interesting, and more to the point for our purposes than Rose’s article itself, so it is today’s attached text, with the title “A Different Kind of Preparation for Work”.

Starting from Mike Rose’s enthusiastic advocacy, Worthen works back to something like Jean Lave’s insight, arguing that it is not the skills that are used on the job, but the skill of having and improving the job that are more crucial. And these are general and social skills, and even political skills.

The heart of the matter seems to be contained in these two paragraphs of Worthen’s:

‘But coming to this project as someone with deep experience in the teachers union (and one that considers itself part of the broader labor movement), I could not help noticing that the majority of vocational classes were taught from the employer’s point of view, not from the worker’s point of view. (Exceptions were some joint college-union programs in the building trades and one union-sponsored food service delivery program, which were very interesting.) Thus the students learned nothing about labor and employment law, workers’ compensation, occupational safety and health or – especially – how to read, enforce or negotiate a contract, nothing about labor history or the history of labor struggles in their field, nothing about what union might or might not represent them. They might not even know how to read a paycheck to see if they were being paid as employees or independent contractors. They would be delivered to their first job interview as naïve about the social relations of their work as if they had just graduated from high school.

‘Labor education takes as its content domain all of these social relations. Mostly sited in land-grant universities around the US, and in some places in community colleges, labor education is the “applied” side of labor studies, which is an academic sister to labor education. Labor education is usually extension education, outreach to working people and the labor movement the way agricultural extension is outreach to farmers and agribusiness. Labor education programs burgeoned during the 1940s – 1960s; in the last forty years, they have become targets of the conservative political agenda. There is no doubt that the literacy artifacts of labor education qualify as requiring advanced academic skills: reading and analyzing legal documents including court cases, labor board decisions, arbitrations; reading and writing contracts, grievances, safety complaints; doing strategic planning; administering an organization including budgeting; running elections; producing newsletters or websites; dealing with the media, just to begin the list. These are not taught as bitted-down (fragmented) skills, however, and the labor education classroom does not in any way resemble the remediation classroom. People with advanced degrees (social workers, teachers, nurses, grad students) sit next to and learn from custodians, bus drivers, clerical workers, homecare workers or construction workers.  Teaching is very student-centered and strongly non-competitive.  In the best classes, a community of practice is being created. Yet it would be very hard to argue that this is not “preparation for work.”  Nor would you be able to place a class like this on one side or the other of the “academic divide.”’

21 February 2013

Everyday Life and Learning


Education, Part 6

Everyday Life and Learning

The big prize that is ahead of us in our studies, and which we are pursuing in this course on education, is a method that would serve to lift the entire population, as it is, to a higher and common level of revolutionary culture.

In this pursuit, we have looked, among others, at Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, N F S Grundtvig’s “Schools for Life”, the Cuban idea of the “Universalization of the University”, and have touched on McLaren and Fischman’s treatment of Antonio Gramsci’s concept of “organic intellectuals”. We have read about “People’s Education for People’s Power” and we have understood Lenin when he wrote that all education is political, and that therefore “we cannot conduct educational work in isolation from politics.”

Jean Lave and her correspondents (the Activity Theorists) have arrived at the same point as ourselves by various routes. They present us with another glimpse at the prize that we seek. Simply, Jean Lave claims to have studied empirically, and then understood, some of the process by which education takes place, as it has always done, in everyday life, throughout human history and pre-history.

There are educative mechanisms in everyday life that serve to educate the people. Life is in fact a process of learning. Schooling may or may not be educative, but schooling in our circumstances leaves most of the people branded, in varying degrees, as failures and rejects, and schooling has no good answer for the unemployed and the excluded that it leaves behind.

For the first time in any of its courses, the CU now recommends a video, which is of Professor Lave giving her lecture “Everyday Life and Learning” at her home University of California, Berkeley, on 26 March 2012. The lecture itself is about 50 minutes long and in this form it is very easy to take in, and is enjoyable.

The first of several surprises that Lave presents is that in workshops where apprentices are employed, no teaching takes place. Rather, the apprentices learn from being there, and from living through the experience. The second surprise is that the technical skills learned are only part, and are not the main part, of what is learned. The apprentices are learning how to be. Lave explains this very well.

The attached text is redacted from a lecture given by Dr Lave the previous year at the congress of ISCAR (International Society for Cultural and Activity Research), when she was summing up the congress. In some ways the two lectures are the same lecture, but the version given in the video is more accessible, while the one given to her colleagues at the ISCAR congress in Rome in 2011 is more exhaustive and more exhausting, but also more politically explicit. The lecture is published by Mind, Culture, and Activity, a scholarly journal for Activity Theorists.

What can we take from this? Jean Lave’s theories and those of her colleagues have all-round revolutionary potential. A starting point could be to exploit the way that these provide a place from which to criticise schooling. These theories strip away schooling’s claims of unique, exclusive power in education. These theories can help restore dignity to processes that have been dismissed by the rise of schooling, or more specifically, by the rise of schooling of the capitalist kind, under capitalism.

As can be seen from the attached text file, Jean Lave is not shy to make the connection between her own critique and that of Karl Marx, citing the Third Thesis on Feuerbach in particular. Lave also calls on the assistance of Gramsci and of the Gramscian scholars of today.

This is Jean Lave’s non-sexist-language version of Marx’s Third Thesis on Feuerbach:

“The materialist doctrine that people are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed people are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is people who change circumstances and that it is essential to educate the educator her/himself. Hence, this doctrine necessarily arrives at dividing society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionizing practice.” (Marx, 1845)

Below are more resources thrown up by the CU’s researches around Jean Lave’s work

Lave lectures on video
http://www.uctv.tv/shows/Everyday-Life-and-Learning-23201 (the “Everyday Life and Learning” lecture)

Lave lecture in PDF

“Activity Theory” resources


  • A PDF file of the reading text is attached

17 February 2013

Education and State Power


Education, Part 5c

Meeting of Doctors in the Medieval University of Paris

Education and State Power

From the time of the origins of the modern Universities about nine hundred years ago in Medieval Europe, a Doctor has been a person who has a licence to teach. At the beginning, the universal (Catholic) Church awarded the doctorates. Later, the universities became more autonomous, but at the same time more clearly part of the State, integrated with its bureaucracy, and inseparable from it in class terms. Napoleonic France codified the matter in 1808 by instituting the doctorat d'État (Doctorate of the State) as a monopoly.

Today, in South Africa, there is state control over education, and the Minister of Higher Education and Training is a communist, Doctor Blade Nzimande, who is also the General Secretary of the SACP.

The Communist University, however, is outside of this fold, unrecognised, and unsupported. It is a “school for life” in the sense of that term used by N F S Grundtvig and the Danish folk-high-schools. The CU requires no entry qualification, and it awards no certificates or degrees. It has no recognised Doctors. Yet it is certainly an institution of higher learning, where Marxism, the modern humanism, can be learned.

If the Communist University was to ask for contributions from its students, it would at once be suppressed as “bogus”. Likewise, if it tried to issue certificates, it would be crushed.

The dual, conflicted, condition of universities, including but not limited to the ones in South Africa, has been part of their nature from their beginning. What are they for? Who do they belong to? Who do they serve? This conflict is not over, and it will not be over until the free development of each has truly become the condition for the free development of all; until the university has been universalised; and until the class struggle has been left behind. Until communism arrives, and for as long as they have to exist in class-divided society, universities will remain internally conflicted, showing two faces to the world: the face of control, and the face of freedom. The face of enlightenment, and the face of restriction.

The attached essay, “Education and State Power”, by the late Doctor F.T. Mikhailov (1930-2006), divided into two documents for printing as booklets, was sent to the Communist University as a contribution to our course on Education.

N F S Grundtvig associated sterility with Latin studies, and advocated “Schools for Life” as an antidote. Freire denounced what he called “necrophilia” – love of death – in education, and promoted to its contrary a liberating, dialogical “pedagogy of the oppressed”. Mikhailov argues that in the old Russia of the Tsarist autocracy, bureaucratic control over the universities was dominant. There was a brief period following the Great October Revolution when, as we might say (although he does not use these words) “a hundred flowers bloomed”. But after that, and from the late 1930s, bureaucracy ruled again, he says; and this was the time when he was growing up and becoming a senior academic in the Soviet Union, in the discipline of psychology, where he played a role in the revival of studies of the work of Lev Vygotsky.

Mikhailov reports that after the enthusiasm of Perestroika, and after the subsequent “fall” of the Soviet Union, the bureaucracy re-asserted itself in exactly the same way, remaining dominant until the time of his writing (2006). We can safely assume that little has changed since then in this regard.

Mikhailov nevertheless reports (e.g. on pages 5 to 7 in the attached scheme of printing) that there were many centres of enquiring, true scholarship at all times in the life of the Soviet Union, running within, as well as in parallel with, the “system”.

On the other hand, and substantiating his point about the bureaucracy surviving from the Tsarist period, Mikhailov writes (p.13, under “How the past overflows into the present”):

“The most amusing thing is that in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century and very beginning of the twentieth century the clash between civil initiatives (and, consequently, of the corresponding forms civil society) and “state interests” took absolutely the same forms. The first citizens of Russia were fully aware of this. For purposes of illustration I shall cite models of the educational journalism of that time.”

And Mikhailov proceeds with some long quotations about that period. But what does he mean by “civil initiatives”? Later, under “So who governs our education today?” on page 3 of the second booklet, Mikhailov says the following:

“There is one simple and indisputable criterion of the real role that the community of scientists plays in the people’s life under the dominion of officialdom in a non‐civic state. This criterion is the place of scientific people in the structure of the all‐governing bureaucratic apparatus. If a place is most graciously established there for the community of scientists, then there can be no question of any innovatory self‐government in the sphere of education!”

It would be difficult for any free-thinking humanist not to sympathise with Dr Mikhailov’s essay, but what does he mean by a “non-civic state”, or a “civic” one for that matter?

Yes, there is a persistent and stifling blanket of bureaucracy in Russia, that did reassert itself within the Soviet Union, and which was not done away with by the “savage capitalism” of the 1990s in Russia. Far from disappearing, this bureaucracy remains entrenched up to this day, and particularly in education.

In South Africa, the academy remains quite uniformly conservative, even under a Communist minister. There is little or no room there for revolutionary ideas.

Mikhailov does not define his terms “civil initiatives”, or “civic state”, but he leaves us to imagine these things as constitutive of some kind of utopia, not very different from the South African conception of the “National Democratic Society”. The concept is absent any class content, and consequently, it lacks forward mobility. Thus, in the end, Mihhailov poses the anti-humanist trend of universities as a self-initiating curse, like a disease. Whereas the state does in fact serve somebody. It serves the ruling class. The ruling class in South Africa is a capitalist class.

But, universities can be places of learning, just as much as some ministers can be communists, even in these circumstances of capitalist class rule. Whether they are so, or not, can only be seen at the historical level, i.e. in practice.

Why was the Soviet Union unable to overcome bureaucracy? Mikhailov blames Stalin, and/or what he called “the retinue that manipulated the king”. This is a circular argument.

Perhaps it was having to do with the relations of production? In the Soviet Union, a job was still a job. Wages and salaries were paid as compensation for the labour power made available. The state was a capitalist. It expropriated surplus value. The dictatorship of the proletariat was not sufficient to destroy bourgeois relations of production, including the relations of production in education. The urgent, onward movement towards the withering away of the state, envisaged as a primary concern by Lenin in “The State and Revolution”, was blocked. With nowhere to go, the revolution had to mark time. This was the circumstance that made bureaucracy inevitable, and not the personality of Stalin.

If, instead of Stalin, Trotsky or Bukharin had become the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the same problem was going to be there, and the result was going to be in essence, the same: bureaucracy. In the written record, it is only Lenin who appears to have articulated this problem (see “The State and Revolution”, 1917, Chapter 5), but Lenin was already incapacitated by the early 1920s, long before he died, nearly 90 years ago, on January 21st, 1924.

Mikhailov too, fails to see the route of escape from bureaucracy. A “civic state”, lacking forward movement, would be as much of a haven for bureaucracy as the Soviet Union was, or even more so. This holds true in the realm of theory, and of education, as well.

The Communist University, free as it is of any financial or intellectual obligations, can be a model of new relations of production. The Communist University is not an amorphous “crowdsource”, however. It is not eclectic. The Communist University is partisan, edited and monitored. The Communist University is committed and is not class-neutral. It is not “civil society”, and it is not an NGO. The Communist University is an artefact. It is both the consequence and the occasion of collaboration between teachers and learners. But is not neutral in the class struggle, like the late Mikhailov appears to have been. Because of what it is, and because of what it is not, the Communist University is able to hold out the prospect of forward movement towards communism, which is the classless and therefore the stateless society.

  • The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Education and State Power, Mikhailov, 2006, Part 1 and Part 2.

15 February 2013

Educate to Liberate


Education, Part 5b

Educate to Liberate

“Essential service” is a technical term in labour relations and in the SA Constitution, whereby a designated type of worker can be forbidden by law from striking. When, in early 2013, the Secretary-General of the ANC proposed that education be made an “essential service”, this was immediately, loudly and very successfully opposed by the teachers’ union, SADTU.

The matter ended with the unequivocal statement by the President of the ANC and the Republic, Jacob Zuma, as part of the 2013 State of the Nation Address, that teaching would not be made an “essential service” in this sense, and that teachers would continue to have the same rights as other workers, including the right to strike.

The communist party, the SACP, had used the occasion to issue a press release that said that debating the loaded phrase “essential service” was a waste of time for all, but that there is a necessary debate to be had about the nature and purpose of education. The SACP statement says:

“The SACP is further of the view that we should not just provide an education that produces readily made goods for absorption by the labour market but that our education, an education that must be essential, must be underpinned by the vision of People’s Education for People’s Power! This vision requires that our schooling and post schooling education systems do not just produce skilled individuals but individuals who are able to interpret and make sense of their political, ideological and socio‐economic conditions and thus be actors to radically alter those conditions.”

One month earlier, the well-respected educationalist Michael Rice, in an article prominently published by the Johannesburg newspaper, The Star, used the occasion of the announcement of the Matric examination results to argue:

“Our obsession with exam results has devalued education to little more than a means of obtaining a certificate to gain entrance to some sort of professional training or a job. The cultivation of values, critical thought, cultural sensitivity and the wide spectrum of opportunities for personal, intellectual and moral development have become irrelevant in the pursuit of marks.”

What is needed is a complete revisioning of education; what it is, what it is meant for, who it is meant to serve and how, and how to assess its worth. The abolition of the present public exam system would go a long way to making such a paradigm shift possible.”

Later on, Dr Rice says:

“Sticking with the present system is not an option.”

These two documents, the SACP press release and Dr Rice’s article from the Star, are reproduced in full in the attached file. Like the preceding item (the article by Prof Jeff Guy) these documents stand as evidence that that leading forces in society recognise that the very nature of education is currently at issue.

In the same State of the Nation Address of 14 February, 2013, President Zuma also said:

“We welcome the improvement each year in the ANA results, but more must be done to improve maths, science and technology.

“The Department of Basic Education will establish a national task team to strengthen the implementation of the Mathematics, Science and Technology Strategy.”

Dr Rice points out:

“Our present system was created to meets the needs of the first industrial revolution in the 19th century. It is demonstrably failing to meet the needs of the 21st century... Mass public education was first introduced in Prussia and later the rest of Europe to meet the needs of industrial competitiveness.”

In fact, mass public education has historically been a bourgeois, capitalist policy, designed to cheapen the cost, and therefore the market price, of commodity labour power. As much as you may think that you are getting educated for higher wages, in the scheme of the bourgeois, the intention is to lower your wages.

Whenever the mass education system tends towards what N F S Grundtvig called “education for life”, the collective bourgeoisie becomes restless and begins to agitate.

The bourgeois agitation for science is not for true science, which is a humanity, and is inseparable from philosophy. Their agitation for technology is narrow. Their agitation for mathematics is for “mathematics literacy” (“Maths Lit.”), which is intended to remove all intellectual content and leave only the barest and most impoverished kind of utility.

These measures are a reversion to something akin to the “Bantu Education” of old.

Above all, the South African bourgeoisie wants history taken out of schools, and politics taken out of the heads and out of the mouths of school teachers. Our purpose in this course is to frustrate that bourgeoisie, to restore history, to revive People’s Education for People’s Power, and bring back Education for Liberation from the Philistine, anti-human bourgeoisie.

South African Education Crisis


Education, Part 5a

South African Education Crisis

Writing for the SACP’s Umsebenzi Online, in August 2012, and seeing a deep crisis, the distinguished South African History Professor, Jeff Guy, began as follows:

“We are confronted by it daily: the failure of education at every level: attempts to remove the stifling legacy of our educational past brought to nothing by inflexible pedagogies, inadequate teaching, stifling bureaucracy, and inefficient administration all contributing to the waste of the funds and material upon which young peoples' futures depend. In the press, at conferences and workshops, this contemporary crisis is in the public view. Open comment and criticism of this kind are essential attributes of the democratic approach, and will lead, one has to hope, in the direction of radical improvement. But in the past fortnight I have been confronted by another dimension of the crisis in education. While it might appear to be very different I believe it is one that also has its roots in our history, and is as difficult to solve.”

By writing in the Business Day, Professor Guy had suddenly become exposed to a furious, vindictive barrage of Philistine commentary, the nature of which he describes as: “ignorance of the great themes in modern history - that is, of the world that has made us and we have made.”

He goes on: “the reaction to my article has persuaded me that the crisis concerns not just the educationally disadvantaged, but the advantaged as well.”

Two things come to mind at once.

First is the confirmation that a general elevation of the educational level of the entire society needs to be contrived, whether in the manner of N F S Grundtvig and the Danish folk-high-schools, or in the manner of the committed intellectuals described by McLaren and Fischman, or in some other way, such as the political education programme envisaged in the “South African Road to Socialism” passed at the 13th SACP Congress in Ongoye a month earlier than Guy’s article, in July 2012.

Second is the apparent fact that in the utilitarian rush to “improve maths, science and technology”, as President Zuma put it in his State of the Nation Address on 14 February 2013, history has been relegated in schools to the status of an optional subject, of no worth. President Zuma did not even mention history. This is what he said:

“We welcome the improvement each year in the ANA results, but more must be done to improve maths, science and technology.

“The Department of Basic Education will establish a national task team to strengthen the implementation of the Mathematics, Science and Technology Strategy.

“We urge the private sector to partner government through establishing, adopting or sponsoring maths and science academies or Saturday schools.”

So, far from repairing what Professor Guy described as “ignorance of the great themes in modern history - that is, of the world that has made us and we have made,” the actual prospect is of even deeper ignorance because of lack of incentive and because of the time being crowded out by the ostensibly market-sanctified trio of “maths, science and technology”.

14 February 2013

Organic Intellectuals


Education, Part 5

Peter McLaren and Gustavo Fischman

Organic Intellectuals

The attached item today, in this fifth partof our current course, has the long title: “Rethinking Critical Pedagogy and the Gramscian and Freirean Legacies: From Organic to Committed Intellectuals or Critical Pedagogy, Commitment, and Praxis”. It is by Gustavo Fischman and Peter McLaren, who are present-day exponents of Critical Pedagogy, or in other words the educational method of Paulo Friere.

The McLaren/Fischman article immediately starts to grapple with “the notion of teachers as transformative intellectuals”.

If you had a method of educating the masses, what else would you need in the way of revolution? Is there any difference between politics and political education? Or is it a trinity that is at the same time a unity, namely: Educate, Organise, Mobilise?

Paulo Freire concentrated his intellectual fire on the single most practical priority, which at the same time requires the deepest philosophical clarity: the education of the existing masses. He called it “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”.

Fischman and McLaren make clear, by reference to Gramsci, that such a Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a direct form of class struggle. It is a direct confrontation with the interests of the bourgeois state. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed is an open contradiction of the bourgeois class dictatorship as applied through state-led education, as well as through the instructive function of the judiciary.

The authors note that Gramsci is often misappropriated (see also CU). They write:

“Because Gramsci identified civil society as an arena used by the ruling class to exert its hegemony over the society, the struggle for Gramsci was not to transform civil society but rather, as Holst points out, ‘to build proletarian hegemony’.”

That is to say: proletarian ascendancy, also known as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Fischman and McLaren are rejecting the view of “hegemony” as a “Third Way” that could by-pass revolutionary confrontation. Revolution cannot be by-passed, but is an unavoidable necessity.

After discussing Gramsci’s organic intellectuals they quote Gramsci as follows:

“Critical self-consciousness means, historically and politically, the construction of an elite of intellectuals. A human mass does not ‘distinguish’ itself, does not become independent in its own right without, in the widest sense, organizing itself; and there is no organization without intellectuals, that is without organizers and leaders, in other words, without the theoretical aspect of the theory-practice nexus being distinguished concretely by the existence of a group of ‘specialized’ in conceptual and philosophical elaboration of ideas.”

Fischman and McLaren go on to argue for the “committed intellectual”, with “an unwavering commitment to the struggle against injustice”.

These words aptly describe the revolutionary teachers necessary to a revolutionary society.

12 February 2013

We must not voodoo the people


Education, Part 4c

We must not voodoo the people

In the well-known chapter from “The Wretched of the Earth” called “Pitfalls of National Consciousness”, Frantz Fanon says things like:

“In its beginnings, the national bourgeoisie of the colonial countries identifies itself with the decadence of the bourgeoisie of the West. We need not think that it is jumping ahead; it is in fact beginning at the end. It is already senile before it has come to know the petulance, the fearlessness or the will to succeed of youth.”

After such denunciations, it is quite easy to overlook the more positive, last third of this essay, in which Fanon the freedom fighter and psychologist seeks to prescribe what the newly-independent ex-colonial country, which he refers to as the under-developed country, should do; and this mostly has to do with education.

For example:

Everything can be explained to the people, on the single condition that you really want them to understand.”

“Now, political education means opening their minds, awakening them, and allowing the birth of their intelligence; as Cesaire said, it is 'to invent souls'. To educate the masses politically does not mean, cannot mean making a political speech. What it means is to try, relentlessly and passionately, to teach the masses that everything depends on them; that if we stagnate it is their responsibility, and that if we go forward it is due to them too, that there is no such thing as a demiurge, that there is no famous man who will take the responsibility for everything, but that the demiurge is the people themselves and the magic hands are finally only the hands of the people.”

“The collective struggle presupposes collective responsibility at the base and collegiate responsibility at the top. Yes; everybody will have to be compromised in the fight for the common good. No one has clean hands; there are no innocents and no onlookers. We all have dirty hands; we are all soiling them in the swamps of our country and in the terrifying emptiness of our brains. Every onlooker is either a coward or a traitor.”

“The duty of those at the head of the movement is to have the masses behind them. Allegiance presupposes awareness and understanding of the mission which has to be fulfilled; in short, an intellectual position, however embryonic. We must not voodoo the people, nor dissolve them in emotion and confusion.”

“To educate the masses politically is to make the totality of the nation a reality to each citizen. It is to make the history of the nation part of the personal experience of each of its citizens.”

Here are some words from the Conclusion to Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth”:

“Let us try to create the whole man, whom Europe has been incapable of bringing to triumphant birth.

“All the elements of a solution to the great problems of humanity have, at different times, existed in European thought. But Europeans have not carried out in practice the mission which fell to them, which consisted of bringing their whole weight to bear violently upon these elements, of modifying their arrangement and their nature, of changing them and, finally, of bringing the problem of mankind to an infinitely higher plane.

“Today, we are present at the stasis of Europe.

“Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.

“Comrades, have we not other work to do than to create a third Europe?”


11 February 2013

Universalization of the University


Education, Part 4b

Cuba: A Nation Becoming a University

Universalization of the University

The central idea within the German Karl Marx’s “Capital”, and within the Brazilian Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, is the full restoration of the human Subject as an individual, within human society, making humanity out of a material world.

This dialectic of the individual and the collective was well expressed by Marx and his friend Frederick Engels when they wrote, in the Communist Manifesto of 1848:

“In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

The SACP’s constitutional stricture is to “Educate, Organise and Mobilise”. Education is the means by which organising and mobilising are done. Education is more than a preparation for politics. Education is the method of politics and the substance of politics, which, when considered broadly, excludes all other substances. Education is the essence of humanism.

We have looked at N F S Grundtvig’s vanguard role in relation to the Danish Folk-High-Schools, institutions which played a major part in the reconstruction of that country as a modern nation, even though bourgeois, and even though still having a king or a queen.

In the present time another and more advanced illustration of the idea of education as the substance of political practice is Cuba, a country that has become one big university, and a “society of knowledge”.

Please see the article (download linked below) by the US philosopher Cliff DuRand for an exposition of this concept, including what is called the “Universalization of the University”.

“Raising the cultural and educational level of the entire [Cuban] population has become a central focus,” writes DuRand.

This is what South Africa needs to do, for all the reasons mentioned by DuRand, and for additional reasons having to do with our own history.

As is the case with China, in relation to town planning, for example, where the Chinese are the leaders in the world today, Cuban literature on educational theory is hard, or practically impossible, to find in English translation on the Internet.

Cliff DuRand has done a good job with this article in terms of problematising education in the Cuban context, and showing how education can be seen as the answer to nation-building problems even in what appear to be unfavourable circumstances, such as youth unemployment, and what he calls “class closure”.

In the next item, concluding this part, we will have Frantz Fanon’s (Martinique, Algeria) views about development and education, with reference to countries Africa that had newly become independent at the time of his writing..

As a taster, here is one sentence from Fanon that fits well with DuRand’s article:

“If nationalism is not made explicit, if it is not enriched and deepened by a very rapid transformation into a consciousness of social and political needs, in other words into humanism, it leads up a blind alley.”