Friday, October 16, 2020

Imagine If Teachers Made the Decisions that Impact Teachers

So now the government has overruled regulation 274. I wrote about it ages ago, again firmly planted on the government side!! I'm really very, very pro-union, honestly, but some things just don't make sense to me. At the time, I was watching several LTO teachers in my building who knew the kids well, had developed strong relationships with students and staff, and had shown their excellence in spades, and they were passed over in favour of an unknown that happened to be in that top five in seniority. The LTOs passed over weren't brand new, as is often characterized, but had been supplying for years. It's not always that case that the longest serving are the most qualified or the best choice. And I haven't seen the regulation do anything to dampen nepotism. However, some people have seen the complete opposite effect. BUT that's not my focus here.

Some people think this entire issue is a distraction and are wary that the unions will go to town on it instead of focusing where we need them, on reducing class sizes by fighting to add more teachers or by allowing teachers to work from home. To what extent is all the reg. 274 talk a red herring to get us sidetracked? Lecce suggested that it will make hiring easier, but who's getting hired? Classes are being collapsed in this mess!

And then someone suggested to me that the entire reason we all have to teach online from inside the building isn't because of the board at all, but because of the union: it creates more supply teaching jobs. If teachers are allowed to teach from home, then they'll call in sick far less often, and there will be fewer opportunities for other teachers. I have NO idea if this is fact or fiction. It's pure conjecture at this point. But it does make sense that the union might support that (and therefore not fight it). And, while I completely understand that need for more job opportunities for OTs, having them show up to watch students log in while the teacher teaches from home, using up all their sick days, isn't necessarily giving them the best usable experience. A far better solution would be to split elementary school classes in half and have them "supply" using the teacher's lessons with the other half of the class and let the online teachers teach from home. But that's crazy talk, I know.  

However, my real focus is this: Wouldn't it be absolutely AMAZING if teachers had a say in all these decisions??

Maybe we could!

For the sake of my mental health, instead of marking this afternoon, I watched a talk from the Hannah Arendt Center: Revitalizing Democracy: Sortition, Citizen Power, and Spaces of Freedom. It was well worth it! I think it will show up here eventually (with suggested readings here). 

Roger Berkowitz led a discussion with David van ReybrouckHélène Landemore, and later Peter MacLeod, all about the very real possibility of changing the way policy is created by allowing for significantly more citizen participation through a mix of decision-making through a parliamentary system and, at the very least, an advocacy from citizens chosen through a lottery (sortition). It was used in Ancient Athens, and praised by Montesquieu and Rousseau, so it's nothing new or radical. It's not unlike when the House full of Commoners first got to join in decisions with the House of Lords. More recently, Macron backed an experiment to allow 150 randomly chosen citizen to develop climate change policies that would cut GHGs by 40% in the next ten years. 

Sincere apologies that I don't know who said what in my synopsis below; I just noted some interesting ideas in the mix, listening with one ear as I responded to emails. This is all very loosely paraphrased and/or abridged:

What does this look like?

We currently just get power one day every four years, and this would reinvigorate our democratic affiliations. There were a variety of models discussed, but here the gist of the idea:

There'd be a two-tiered lottery system: a random sample of 1,000 houses to get 100 people plus a stratified random sample of 1,000 houses to get another 100 people specific to the topic at hand. They would be chosen just to answer one question and then they could disband, however Macron's climate change policy group formed their own association.

The stratification could get complicated, but it doesn't have to be. It could be by age, gender, education, geography, race, topic, and/or opinion on the topic, all dependent on what the question is to be explored. There would be some biases, no matter what, but it would be much less bias than decisions made entirely by the 1%; it would be the general bias of the current public perception of the issue. And lobbying attempts to sway decisions could be kept to a minimum with such a tight group meeting over a short timeline on one specific issue. 

The group could meet every weekend for a few months, or Monday to Friday for a couple weeks. There would be experts to connect with, but the experts would be on tap, not on top! It would be a co-construction with the experts who are to give impartial guidance: facts, not policy. But the process must be institutionalized in order to ensure that the policies developed aren't just later ignored by parliament, which would be the worst case scenario: promising to listen and then ignoring the policy created. 

Citizen participation would prevent the closure of the conversation. The system would bring a collective intelligence to the discussion. There would be a maximum cognitive diversity to ensure the exploration of a variety of solutions. There would be a naivety but also a freshness of vision as people keep reopening the box, and it would de-ossify knowledge. 

It would be treated like jury duty, but better. In fact, jury duty should be improved to actually get people to be more willing to participate instead of being treated like a cattle call. People should be treated like elected representatives and paid at least $130/day. It's expensive, but worth the expense (and far less costly than parliament!).

We have to overcome the standing bias of liberal democracy: that the public is a risk to be managed rather than a resource to be tapped. This system can draw from and replenish the citizenry. It took centuries to ensure that all adults could have the vote. This is an extension of that. We all should share in the privilege and responsibility of governing. 

But I have questions:

The questions raised by the audience were excellent, and the answers provided were eye-opening:

What if people don't want to lead?

In one model that sent letters to 1,000 homes, 25% responded to a request to participate, and almost half of them (11.5% of the total asked) said they would be willing to give up their time and energy and weekends for a couple months to form policy that would actually be heard. As it gets better known as a system that works, it will likely get more interest.

People want to serve. We might think we elect people to outsource the job of governing to the bureaucratic elites in order to better pursue our own private interests. But people don't join parties because they want to belong to a group or give away money or knock on doors. They want to engage intensionally and occasionally when they believe their time and energy will actually make a difference. If a real offer is on the table, they will step up. Canada, France, Belgium, Germany, and other European countries have examples of this model already in place. The U.S. is way behind on this one. 

Do we want that much democracy or is it better to have decisions made by a more educated elite? What if you live next door to an imbecile who throws garbage at you?

Democracy is the best way to reduce violence. Sortition is relational therapy. Anger comes from not being heard. We need to hear people in order to channel our dark energy. As more and more people are more educated and aware of issues, the need to express ideas is bigger but the chance to express them in a truly effective manner hasn't changed much since the 50s. 

The essence of democracy is conflict. It's not about solving conflict, but learning to live with conflict and compromise. We make a lot of noise on shallow topics, and not enough on deep issues, so we need there to exist a place to talk freely. We need people to be able to share lists of priorities together instead of just occasionally getting to vote 'yes' or 'no' in a referendum. 

So, there's an attitudinal shift that has to happen around how government works - an acceptance of the imperfection inherent to the very process regardless what that process looks like. It's a matter of avoiding hell rather than trying to reach heaven. In the current method, decisions are never perfect. In this new method, they won't be perfect either, but there will be more accountability and responsibility and attachment to the ways laws are formed and the ways they can be changed - to the process

What if the citizens don't end up with the right decision?

The idea of a "right" decision is the problem here. We have to admit that we don't know the right decisions. There will always be mistakes made on any issue, but once problems are clarified, then we have a process in place to revisit the policy for corrections. If democracy is not about answering questions openly, then it's not a democracy. 

A parliament of 150 brilliant lawyers is not better than 150 random citizens with a variety of lived experiences. It's a shift from maximum competence to maximum diversity. But the current system leads to dead ends and wars and puts the profit motive above all else. Instead of talking about people with whom they never talk, they'll be talking with people.

I had this question at the back of my mind throughout until it was answered so clearly. I have strong opinions, and it feels like they're the right opinions. But knowing that citizens, at least half of them teachers, were at the helm to create policy and that the door is open to change if the policy need work, would do a ton to alleviate the stress caused by top-down decisions that I often suspect fulfill some ulterior motive. We need transparency and a voice in policy creation. Even if I ended up disagreeing with the outcome, I can concede that the process allowed more people like me to weigh in on the issues.

Back to teaching:

And this all fits so well with what teachers are going through right now. There are so many methods of doing the online teaching or hybrid teaching and disagreement about whether we should work harder for the kids or refuse to work in order to try to oust Ford, and tons of disagreement about reg. 274. Some teachers think we should walk out, and my question to them is, "And ask for what exactly??" What IS the very best plan that we want to develop to replace this mess??

Imagine if 100 randomly chosen citizens and 100 randomly chosen teachers picked from within specific fields and grades had all been given the resources to spend three weeks over last summer to actually decide how this year would be be run!! Would it be the perfect plan? Nope! But would it be better? Probably. AND teachers and the public would have felt heard. And the conversation could be left open for change as we all notice problems along the way. And we'd ALL know better than to spring a change on teachers just a few days ahead of time!! 

Just imagine

"You ask about the effect my work has on others. If I may speak ironically, that's a masculine question. Men always want to be influential. I see that somewhat as an onlooker. Do I see myself as influential? No. I want to understand." - Hannah Arendt

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