8 April 2014

Planet of Slums?

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Development, Part 1a


Planet of Slums?

Today’s instalment is Mike Davis’ brilliant and celebrated essay, “Planet of Slums”, published in 2004 and later made into a book. It is appropriate to have it here, because of its early allusion to Engels’ “Condition of the Working Class in England” (“when the young Engels first ventured onto the mean streets of Manchester”), and because of Davis’s constant references back to what he says were the “predictions” of “classical Marxism”.

Davis starts by announcing the fact that at some point between 2004 and now, the world would change forever when, for the first time, the number of human beings living in cities would exceed those remaining in the rural areas.

The world moved from being majority-rural to being majority-urban.  It is good that Davis reminds us of this fact. The newspapers probably failed to notice it. Says Davis, in his opening summary:

“In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with a population over one million; today there are 400, and by 2015, there will be at least 550. Cities, indeed, have absorbed nearly two-thirds of the global population explosion since 1950 and are currently growing by a million babies and migrants each week. The present urban population (3.2 billion) is larger than the total population of the world in 1960. The global countryside, meanwhile, has reached its maximum population (3.2 billion) and will begin to shrink after 2020. As a result, cities will account for all future world population growth, which is expected to peak at about 10 billion in 2050.”

The cities that soaked up all the people were of different types, according to Davis. Using Marx’s and Engels’ foundational work as his polemical foil, Davis implies that Engels foretold a future of “Manchester Capitalism”, whereas, Davis says, the most massive cities and conurbations of today exhibit features that contradict Engels’ and Marx’s “predictions”.

Davis is trying to argue that the urbanisation that Engels described in his pioneering work, no longer applies. Perhaps he is trying to argue that the class struggle no longer applies, or has been cancelled.

Davis is undoubtedly wrong in this overall argument of his, but he does succeed in producing a stimulating focus on urbanism, and in highlighting a few facts, as he had previously done with his book “City of Quartz”, a class-based analysis of town planning in Los Angeles, California, USA.

Here are three Mike Davis quotes. The first two are from this essay:

“Classical social theory from Marx to Weber, of course, believed that the great cities of the future would follow in the industrializing footsteps of Manchester, Berlin and Chicago.”

“The global growth of a vast informal proletariat, moreover, is a wholly original structural development unforeseen by either classical Marxism or modernization pundits.”

And the third from a separate interview (in “Space and Culture):

“Neither classical Marxism, nor any other variety of classical social theory or neoliberal economics, ever predicted that such a large fraction of humanity would live in cities and yet basically outside all the formal institutions of the world economy.”

This is actually a literary fraud on Davis’ part, because Marx and Engels were never in the prediction business. It is true that they sought to understand the world and made many observations about it, but “the point is to change it”, as Marx noted in the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach.

A conception of the world as developing by itself in a certain direction, without the help of political consciousness and political agency, is something that has always been denounced by “classical” Marxists. Lenin called it “economism”. The inadequacy of “economism” is the reason why the vanguard Party is a necessity.

So Davis is wrong about Marx and the Marxists. Whether he is wrong in other respects is worth examining and debating.

·        The above serves to introduce the original reading-text: Mike Davis’s 2004 “Planet of Slums

7 April 2014

Urban from Rural

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Development, Part 1


Urban from Rural


This is the first main post of our series on Development, which is to run over ten weeks in the second quarter of 2014.

By serialising the material in this way, we are able to synchronise our reading, the better to assist dialogue around these texts. These postings are also arranged to conveniently serve a pre-planned schedule of weekly study-circle discussions. PDF reading texts will be attached, formatted for printing as booklets (A4 folding to A5). All the CU courses, including this one, are available for download via the link that is given below. That link will continue to be given at the bottom of each post.


To begin this course, we note that:

·        The National Democratic Revolution (NDR) is a class alliance. It is a unity-in-action for the extension of democracy to the outer limits of the nation and to all conceivable mass constituencies. It is the pre-requisite for further political progress thereafter.

·        Kwame Nkrumah wrote: “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all else shall be added unto you”.

·        The substance of people’s political concerns is of a material kind; but development is human



Engels

With these preliminaries in mind we begin our series on Development with the first of two instalments touching on the work of Frederick Engels.

The main one, attached today, is Engels’ own book “Condition of the Working Class in England

The next instalment in this part will be an article from a critic of Engels’: Mike Davis. To continue the course, these two will be followed by some modern writings on urban/rural problems. Then we will go to some of Lenin’s writings, including some from the period of the New Economic Policy or “NEP”, adopted after the Russian Bolshevik Revolution. After that, the series will proceed to the question of Industrial Development and of large-scale national planning.

It would be hard to exaggerate the historical importance of Engels’ work on “the condition of the English working class”. It is the founding work of town-planning, yet it was written by an office clerk in his twenties who had no university education. Chance had taken him to Manchester, a place so far ahead of its time in those days that the phrase “Manchester Capitalism” was coined to describe its uniqueness, as well as its universal significance.

The CU suggests that comrades page through the attached chapter, although it is long, and read as much of it as is comfortable for them.

Not only did Engels objectify the great industrial towns in literature, systematically, and for the first time. But also, his work laid the empirical and experiential basis, before Engels had fully teamed up with Karl Marx in September 1844, of the conception of the working class as the gravedigger of capitalism and as the leading class in all of humanity and in all of human history. This was at a time when the proletariat was in the most miserable circumstances, as Engels describes. Yet he saw the historic position that they occupied, and their consequent revolutionary potential.

The “Industrial Revolution

For context: It is said that in terms of the technology applied in the daily life of the masses, the condition of Western Europe by the middle of the Eighteenth Century (i.e. the 1700s) had hardly reached the level of the far more urban Roman Empire that had fallen more than 1200 years earlier, after which Europe sunk into rural-based feudalism, a condition which survived in some parts right up to the 20th century.

The first three centuries of bourgeois power in Britain had been taken up with cruel overseas adventures. Among them were the Atlantic slave trade, the slave plantations, the competitive trade in the commodities produced there, and the resulting wars. In this period the banking, insurance, shipping and financial services, that were later to serve capitalism, became highly developed.

The Industrial Revolution of the late Eighteenth Century marked the turn away from slavery and towards capitalist wage-slavery, coinciding with the development of the coal-fired steam power that allowed factories (“mills”) to escape from remote sources of water power and to coagulate in urban density.

Manchester

Manchester was the first of these great industrial cities. Engels arrived there from Germany at the age of 19 in 1839, when Manchester was reaching an urban-industrial maturity that was unique in the world. And Engels saw it for what it was.

Johannesburg was established in Engels’ lifetime, not so very many years after he wrote his description of the then-new “Great Towns” of Britain. Like Manchester, Johannesburg had its productive districts, its more polite commercial, commodity and financial markets, its separate dormitory slums for workers, and its nice suburbs for the bourgeoisie and their hangers-on. Johannesburg is close to the Manchester model.

There are people still alive in Johannesburg today whose grandparents were among the city’s founding inhabitants. It is not difficult to comprehend that only a few generations separate us from the time when overall social conditions had not yet surpassed those of Ancient Rome.

It is not too much to claim, in relation to this work of Engels, that this is where the concept of modernity begins. In this literature modern urbanism takes shape as an idea.

The picture above is of McConnel & Company’s Mills, Manchester, in about 1820, the year of Frederick Engels’ birth, and also the year of the arrival of the “1820 Settlers” in the Eastern Cape.

·        The above serves to introduce the original reading-text - Engels’ 1845 “Condition of the Working Class in England”, Chapter 2, The Great Town, Part 1 and Part 2.

2 April 2014

Development Is Ours

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Development, Part 0

Lenin and the GOELRO Plan, by Pavel Filonov

Development Is Ours

Introduction to a 10-part Course: “Development, Rural and Urban”



Some Relevant Quotations on “Development

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Marx/Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1848

Communism = Soviet Power + Electrification
V I Lenin, 1921

What we want is to combine in our process of inquiry the action of the forms of thought with a criticism of them. The forms of thought must be studied in their essential nature and complete development: they are at once the object of research and the action of that object. This is Dialectic, instead of being brought to bear upon the categories from without, it is immanent in their own action.
G W F Hegel, Shorter Logic (1830)

“When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master, that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, 1871

“The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”
Marx/Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1848



Development

“Development”, like many other powerful words, including “Freedom” and “Democracy”, had a meaning in revolutionary philosophy long before it had a vulgar bourgeois economists’ meaning.

Part of the purpose of our studies is therefore always, and with deliberation, to reclaim the political language that our revolutionary predecessors pioneered and left to us, and to take it back from the bourgeois demagogues who constantly try to steal it.

Development is the interior unfolding of a unitary phenomenon or system, propelled by the struggle of opposites within it. Development is the essence of dialectics. It is dialectics in motion. It is the essence of change. This revolutionary meaning of the word “development” is the only one that has a clear definition and an intentional purpose. It means the development of people.

The vulgar economists’ definition of the word “development” is a vague gesture in the direction of more infrastructure, lowering the cost of doing business, a higher GDP, and other such “indicators” or presumed generally-beneficial goods expediently selected to suit the occasion. In the US slang, it is “motherhood and apple pie”.

On grander occasions, the brandished indicators may be an internationally-endorsed set of arbitrary “development goals”, which, though globally celebrated, nevertheless fail to rise above the ad hoc and the eclectic, because they continue to evade the dialectical meaning of “development”.

The obfuscation of the word “development” is as deliberate as our attempts to clarify it. This is because in actual human society, development is class struggle, with winners and losers. There is no such thing as a “win-win” class struggle. There is no such thing as a “tide that lifts all the boats”. Some of the boats are tied to the bottom.

Bourgeois economists, and Imperialism generally, although it has manifestly failed worldwide to employ even half of the people and to provide for them adequately, are obliged to pretend that there can be such a thing as generally-beneficial development that does not challenge the capitalist system.

Hence they have stolen our word and hidden its true meaning, in an attempt to deceive us. We must take it back.

The picture is Filonov’s representation of Lenin and the ground-breaking “GOELRO” plan that included the electrification of the Soviet Union.

·        To download the full Development, Rural and Urban course in PDF files, please click here

27 March 2014

SADTU’s Quality Public Education Campaign

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Education, Part 10a


SADTU’s Quality Public Education Campaign

SADTU recently launched a Promotion of Quality Public Education Campaign.

Says SADTU’s 2013 Human Rights Day (Sharpeville Day) Statement (attached):

“The national leadership of SADTU will soon embark on a nationwide information drive and the idea is to inform members, parents and communities about the initiative.

“The decision to come up with such a campaign is in line with SADTU’s 2030 Vision’s strategic pillar of Creating a Learning Nation.”

This is the tenth part of the Education course and the last item before we move to a new course on this platform, which will be the CU course on “Development”.

But Communist University courses are always open-ended.

We will therefore continue to post on SADTU’s Quality Public Education Campaign, as an extension of this course and for the record, as and when material is published that illuminates SADTU’s idea of quality in education.


·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: SADTU out to unite Teachers, Parents, Learners and Communities.

26 March 2014

SACP on Education

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Education, Part 10


SACP on Education

The attached document contains extracts from the South Africa Road to Socialism (“SARS”), adopted at the 13th National Congress held in Ongoye, KZN, in July, 2012.

SARS says, among other things:

“Education is a major terrain for the battle of ideas. It can be used to empower the working class and popular strata, but it can and typically is used to perpetuate the ideologies of oppressive ruling classes.

“... The SACP must wage a struggle for curriculum transformation aimed at empowering the working class and the majority of our people to play a meaningful role in the transformation of society.

“... In waging the struggle for access to education it is important that that struggle is coupled with the struggle for the teaching of progressive ideas throughout our education system.”

The document also includes an extract from a media release of the SACP in February, 2013 during a public controversy started by the government over the naming of teaching as an “essential service”, a term which has implications for teachers’ rights in labour law.

In the course of that quotation the SACP comes out clearly in favour of education for liberation, and for People’s Education for People’s Power.

The SACP is therefore on record as being ready for a struggle over the nature of education in our society.

In addition, in the document, there are words describing the intended Political Education regime inside the SACP.


·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: SACP, SARS on Education and on Political Education, 2012.

18 March 2014

Language, Politics and Education

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Education, Part 9


Language, Politics and Education

“The ANC is committed to the development of indigenous languages. We call on our government to prepare for the introduction of the teaching of our indigenous languages by 2014.”
ANC January 8th Statement, 2013

South Africa has 11 official languages, and these are not the only languages spoken, read and written in, in our country.

The latest South African legislation having to do with languages is the Use of Official Languages Act, 2012, gazetted on 1 October 2012.

South Africa has a Pan South African Languages Board, and there is a separate institution known as Kha Ri Gude Literacy Campaign, whose several objectives include the teaching of mother-tongue literacy, basic numeracy, and oral English to “adults who missed out on their schooling .

What is the concern of the Communist University in relation to languages? What would be the matters to discuss, about languages, in Communist University study circles, political schools and e-mail forums?

These questions must remain open, but we can attempt some provisional answers.

Language in the Communist University

The Communist University has its own language policy. It is that participants may use any language of their choice. It is not the responsibility of the speaker or the writer to translate his or her output.

Of course, this may mean that less people read or hear what the contributor is saying. That is something that contributors have to keep in mind and make choices about.

But in principle, we prefer that comrades use their first language, even though, in practice, most of the time they use English. We prefer that comrades use their first language because if they do not, then the spreading of our political dialogue will only reach as far as the boundaries of the English-speaking part of the population.

The Communist University wants to break through that barrier. Our objective is dialogue. The Communist University’s first and main necessity, therefore, is to foster reading and writing, and to adopt a method that is most conducive to the development of reading and writing habits among the participants.

There are other skills of communication, and we will set aside a full course called Agitprop that will cover song, graphic design, layout, clothing, and all kinds of means of expression. But here we are dealing with verbal communication, and from the point of view of language.


Dictionaries

This will involve the development of dictionaries in all of the official languages that do not have them, which are all nine of the African official languages (isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, seSotho sa Lebowa, siSwati, Tshivenda, and Xitsonga) of South Africa. Such a project could be assisted by the use of Wiktionary, a collaborative project for the development of language dictionaries (not translation dictionaries. An example is the “Wikamusi ya Kiswahili”, which contains 13,780 Kiswahili words, defined in Kiswahili. Every language needs a dictionary in the language itself. Every language needs a literature, composed and published in the language. Every language needs production of new literature in the language.

Language in School

The institution of 11 “official” languages in South Africa, sanctified by the Constitution, is as far as we know based on “human rights” precepts. Consequently, because human rights are passive, what has been done so far has not been very effective in terms of bringing the languages to life.

The teaching of children in the mother-tongue that they have from home when they enter school for the first time may be a human right. But if so, then it is not yet being well observed in South Africa. Motivation for change in this regard comes not from “human rights” but from the relatively poor rate of success in attempting to educate people in languages (English or Afrikaans) that they did not learn in the home and therefore do not, in the beginning of their schooling, know.

Imposing on young children the stress of attempting, at a very young age, to learn in language that they do not understand and have not yet been taught, is a cruelty and of course, it is not successful. On average, children who are presented with this hurdle, do not advance as fast as children who are welcomed into the formal education system in their own language.

Broader Political Considerations in relation to language

Politics, from the communist point of view, is the development of people, this being a social process that to happen properly must involve all. The National Democratic Revolution, to succeed and to complete its historic project, must organise the entire country into a communication, and a constant dialogue.

To do so by imposing, whether by design or by default, one single language, is something we as the SACP do not support, no matter what may have been thought in the past about nations needing to have a single, common language.


Translation

It follows that the matter of translation must be approached with care. It will not do to have the two former colonial languages, or more likely only one of them (English) being used as the bridge for translation between the speakers of indigenous languages. Such a situation will carry too much of a danger that the English language, which is enormously larger in vocabulary and literature than the South African indigenous languages are, will cease from being a medium, and will instead become a dominant source.

The problem of translation is one of serving a culture that is expressed in multiple languages. This is a different project from the colonial translation project, which had the aim of dominating the indigenous language-systems, taking ownership of them, and making a bridge by which all of the mother-tongue intellectuals could enter and dwell within the realm of the colonial lingua franca.

This distinction has to be asserted politically. Once accepted, it has technological implications which also have to be asserted. If not, then the gains won politically will be smuggled away in the technological execution.

Priority has to be given to the creation of new indigenous-language literature, including a first dictionary, in each language.

Update

Since this item was composed and first published in early 2013, the CU has created a full course on languages.

This introduction has been re-edited, and a text has been found that will serve to codify the questions of language in relation to education. This new text is an article (attached) by Khethiwe Marais, who is a linguist, translator and language expert, currently at UNISA. Her article covers what is interesting to us about language when it comes to education, and the bind that we are in, that causes us to make a disadvantage out of a potential multilingual advantage. Marais points out that the dominance of English, with the advantages that it promises (but does not necessarily fulfil), makes parents into a conservative lobby within the education system.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Multilingualism and Democracy, Khethiwe Marais, 2014

14 March 2014

Good Intentions

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Education, Part 8a


Good Intentions

The South African Council for Education (SACE), which is a registration council, has as a slogan “Towards Excellence in Education”.

Excelling what?

The Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign (QLTC; see attached) has the slogan “Ensuring Quality Learning and Teaching for All”.

What quality is it talking about?

Do any of the stakeholders (Departmental Official, Teachers, Learners, Parents and Community) think that “quality” means anything more than “good”, or “nice”?

The intentions are good. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Five years after the QLTC was signed, the teachers were being victimised. The obligations of the other four named stakeholder groups are forgotten.

Yet it was the teachers, and the SADTU teachers in particular, who “came to the party” with “Assessment for Learning”, under the auspices of the Curtis Nkondo Professional Development Institute, created by themselves. The teachers acted to make the QLTC a reality.

SADTU’s 2030 Vision statement, passed two years later in 2010 (attached) commits to (among the many other points), “creating, through our classroom commitments, a nation that learns and advances its civilisation.”

It goes on to say:

“The 2030 Vision represents a turning point in the history of SADTU and the pursuit of NDR objectives within the teacher community.

“The Vision is based on the view that we need to build a new teacher for an emerging South African society, rather than simply normalise something which was never normal.”

SADTU has taken repeated initiatives. SADTU’s Quality Public Education Campaign was launched on 8 March 2013.

It may be that, far from needing non-negotiability, South Africa needs a negotiation – a dialogue – about the quality of education; that is to say, about the nature of education, and what it is for. Merely declaring “non-negotiability” does not convert what is quantitatively relative, into something qualitatively absolute. Such a declaration only reveals a desire for firmness, while it displays a lack of firmness, a lack of concreteness, and equivocation between multiple bullet-points.

This course, so far, has explored what education might be, in its largest conception. We have found that the process of education is inseparable from politics, inseparable from liberation, and inseparable from a struggle for People’s Power.

The purpose of education is to change the world, and not to reproduce the status quo. SADTU recognises this.

Qualitative education will recognise, as Lev Vygotsky recognised, that it is qualitative crises that mark the education of a child in its development towards becoming an adult. It will recognise that these intense but necessary crises cannot be adequately comprehended quantitatively (i.e. by numbers).

Qualitative education will recognise that the social life of adults, as a community, must also pass through similar, but new, qualitative, revolutionary changes, and that the preparation of children for life must therefore also be, quite openly and explicitly, the preparation of children as revolutionaries.

No other kind of education will do, for South Africa.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: QLTC Non-Negotiables, 2008; The South African Democratic Teachers Union's 2030 Vision, 2010.

13 March 2014

Progress and Conflict

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Education, Part 8


Progress and Conflict

The writing of this Communist University course on Education was planned for years. Actual preparation took more than a year. It was rolled out for the first time in early 2013, one year ago. Naturally, the struggle in education has continued. In the first iteration, there was reference to current conflicts within education at the time. The course would not be able to trace every topical event. But there will need to be some sort of update or editing of the topical material.

Up to this point, we have managed to tackle the main theoretical load that the course must carry, and continue to carry, in its successive annual re-presentations on the four CU channels.

We have looked at theories of mass public education such as N F S Grundtvig’s “Schools for Life”, an idea that survives in the form of the Danish folk-high-school movement; Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”; and the Cuban “Universalisation of the University”. We have seen, through Lenin’s eyes, that all education is political. We have seen how the political conflict plays out in the realm of conventional theories of formal education, and through Jean Lave’s eyes, we have seen the relevance of Marx’s Third Thesis on Feuerbach, among others. We have understood, through Mike Cole’s, Andy Blunden’s and Lev Vygotsky’s eyes, that the conceptual separation of schooling from life is a mistake, and that the development of people is one historic and revolutionary process.

As with previous Communist University courses, the last parts of the course on Education have been reserved for the more current “problematic” facing South Africa, in the light of the theoretical review that is comprised in the earlier parts. Not for the first time in the CU courses, we found last year that life had conspired to dramatise the matters under review, and that a real-life crisis presented itself at the same moment as we arrived at consideration of the potential for conflict.

On the 5th of March 2013, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) called for Minister of Education Motshekga’s resignation, and announced its intention “to mobilize all our members for an indefinite strike as a response to the assault on collective bargaining, our basic right as workers and to promote quality public education.”

On International Women’s Day (8th March 2013), at a special event in Katlehong, Ekurhuleni, SADTU launched a Campaign for Quality Public Education. This was a potentially revolutionary move by the organised educators in SADTU to redefine education qualitatively, so that it can respond to South Africa’s historical need for popular development, as opposed to the narrow school curriculum dictated by the bourgeois imperialist hegemony that has still not released its long-term grip on South Africa’s educational system.

In the latter respects, SADTU’s intentions are in keeping with the ANC’s January 8th Statement of 2013 (attached), which in turn reflects the transactions of the 53rd ANC National Conference that took place the previous month, in Mangaung. The January 8th Statement calls for major, integrated, educational initiatives. It also declared the Decade of the Cadre, and declared 2013 to be the year of unity-in-action towards socio-economic freedom.

Among the initiatives mentioned in the 2013 ANC January 8th Statement were these:

·        Internal education of ANC members, politically, generally and academically
·        Literacy and general education of the community led by the ANC at local level
·        Assistance by ANC-led volunteers to the formal-education schools in the localities.
·        Expansion of access to education, including to Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges
·        Commitment to the development of indigenous languages and to their use in schools

If it had proceeded nicely, the ANC’s programme was capable of growing into the kind of co-ordinated raising of political and general culture of the nation that we would want to see in the light of the first seven parts of this course on Education. But instead, within days, there was conflict between the Minister of Basic Education and the organised educators. There was a massive one-day protest against the Ministers’ threats, in April, in Pretoria, organised by SADTU. This checked the Minister but did not finish the conflict. SADTU called for the resignation of the Minister, and of the Director-General.

An SACP 2013 statement came out plainly in favour of education for liberation: People’s Education for People’s Power! SADTU took up the banner of Quality Public Education, showing willingness to lead, in a revolutionary way, in this field.

We will, this time, continue to use the same 2013 documents that were previously used in this part, but we will add the extensive section on education from the ANC’s 2014 national and provincial election manifesto, as a separate 4-page leaflet. We will attach, and make available by download, the following documents:

·        ANC January 8th 2013 Statement
·        A Compilation of SACP, SADTU and ANC statements from February and March 2013
·        Extracts on Education from the 2014 ANC National and Provincial Election Manifesto

The next item within this part of the course looks at several visions of how the development of education can be managed for “quality”, in the bourgeois sense, derived from the trading of commodities, of semi-static standards or grades; and also qualitatively, in the revolutionary sense of qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, change.
  

28 February 2014

A Misunderstanding

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Education, Part 7b


ZPD (“Zone of Proximal Development”) Diagram from “Afl” programme material

A Misunderstanding

To conclude this part we will show how different and even opposite interpretations of learning theories can arise. We will try to show that the theory of Vygotsky, famous as it now is, can be followed in name, even while other, and even contrary, theories are being advanced.

Our text (attached) consists of excerpts from Module 1 of the Assessment for Learning (Afl) programme, which was, in2013, in its second year. The programme is run by the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) via its Curtis Nkondo Professional Development Institute. It was developed by staff of the Tshwane University of Technology.

This programme is admirable in many ways, and it is successful. It also marks a clear advance for SADTU into the overall leadership of education, above and beyond its role as a trade union and as a professional association, as previously conceived. With the Afl programme, SADTU is moving confidently on to ground that it did not fully occupy before, and it is doing so at a crucial moment in South Africa’s history.

Quantity and Quality

However, in this course of ours (now coming to the conclusion of its 7th part out of ten weekly parts) we are focussed on certain matters, which we have hitherto illustrated by comparing the ideas of Lev Vygotsky and those of Jean Piaget. The Afl document we are quoting has a section headed “Theories of Learning”. It sets out the rational basis for the further proceedings of its course. It does not mention Piaget. It does rely quite heavily on Vygotsky, but in a strangely misunderstood fashion.

This misunderstanding reveals a particular difficulty in education.

Vygotsky was concerned to discover how children can, and do, successfully develop into mature adult members of society, which in his case was a dynamic, optimistic, revolutionary society – the Soviet Union, in its early years.

Vygotsky distinguished between qualitative development and quantitative learning. Like all communists, his presumption was that qualitative, substantive change of nature is always the product of revolutionary crisis, whereas quantitative change is marginal, incremental, gradual and cumulative.

There is a relationship between the two kinds of change. In any given case, quantitative change will bring matters to the point where qualitative change is possible, and therefore, at once, inevitable. This understanding of gradual, quantitative change, leading to precipitate, revolutionary change, is one of the “tools of analysis” of Marxist practice.

Vygotsky studied the crises of childhood and adolescence, and found much more in them than trouble. He found that this is where the most important gains are made. This is where “development” happens, and where development means something different and greater than learning.

Learning knowledge, of itself, does not cause a child to “grow up”. Accumulated knowledge only causes the child to complete tasks which, being complete, present the child with what Vygotsky calls a “predicament”. This means that the child cannot go on living in its old way, but must make a risky, frightening jump into a new way of living and being (“neoformation”).

Now see how our Afl document describes Vygotsky’s ideas:

“Vygotsky argues that it is within the ZPD that all learning takes places. The implications of Vygotsky's theories for teachers is noted by Allrich (n.d.) who notes that as learning proceeds, a portion of the Proximal Zone becomes part of the Present Knowledge, and as a consequence, a smaller Proximal Zone remains.”

This is a misunderstanding. Vygotsky actually says that most learning takes place between crises. The kind of learning that takes place between crises is measurable, because it is by nature quantitative.

The much more important qualitative kind of change requires a special kind of attention. It is not like “all learning”. Vygotsky calls it “neoformation”, and he says that when such a transition is approaching, it is not helpful to expend a lot of energy on other things.

Let us now look at what Andy Blunden wrote in an e-mail to the CU:

“The problem is that zoped [“Zone of Proximal Development”] was not a big concept for Vygotsky or his following, but when the theory got to the US (which as it happens is where Vygotsky got the concept in the first place) it really took hold. So in American renditions of Vygotsky's ideas, ZPD is transformed into the key concept. But like I said in my speech on Child Development, who would try to teach kids things they either couldn't do even when you helped them, or something they could do already without help?

“The point is to be aware of that obvious fact, and not wait until development happens somehow unaided, and the teacher can say "Oh Johnny can now add up so let's teach him addition." (which is what Piaget tends to tell us.) The tricky bit, which is that what Vygotsky was concerned with, is to know just which activity learning will bring in its wake a qualitative development - when a penny's worth of learning turns into a pound’s worth of development. It is also a good idea to keep in mind when you are teaching a group (as you always are) and the kids are helping each other.”

The above should be sufficient to defend Vygotsky’s ideas, and to show that it is not all right to exchange, as in the diagram shown at the top (and again in the attached document), the word “development” for “learning goals”, or vice versa, and still attribute the idea to Vygotsky.

Learning goals are nominated by teachers or perhaps by the Department of Basic Education. Development, on the other hand, is a matter of necessity. The necessity is primarily social, and is bound up with biology and with aging. Development is not about facts and information.

In terms of the Afl, not much harm is done by this misunderstanding. The brief setting-out of the theoretical stall, even if it falsifies Vygotsky, serves the good purpose of preparing the ground for a necessary and beneficial discussion of Learning Intentions and Success Criteria. These are undoubtedly vital pedagogical tools, and crucial to the assessment of learning, which is a good thing.

But the document fails to understand Vygotsky, and it therefore leaves unfinished business that is arguably even more important than the kind of learning that is being assessed and measured. This unfinished business is the growing-up of children into society as mature adults.

There is an assumption that those who get jobs, will be all right. And there is a second assumption, that if the children are well prepared they will all get jobs. Whereas there is nothing in history, or in logic, that makes either of these propositions to be any more than very unsafe assumptions.

What can teachers do about that? Vygotsky suggests that teachers should first keep their eyes on another prize, which is development of the personality within society.

Vygotsky’s is a revolutionary suggestion. When teachers are ready for it, they will have to take it up. To paraphrase Vygotsky, this is a neoformation waiting to happen.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: First Module of Assessment for Learning, SADTU, 2012, Excerpts.