Work experience, student organising, and the nature of schooling

Work experience, student organising, and the nature of schooling

At the same time that the public outcry—and, indeed, what might legitimately be called a movement—over workfare developed, students at my school were on a two-week unpaid work experience program. The blog entry will examine not only the nature of such placements, but explore the organising opportunities they present. Also, a big thanks to Croydonian Anarchist for giving me the kick up the arse to actually write this.

As an education worker who never had the “privilege” of work experience when I was in school, the whole program seems like it was a really terrible experience for the kids. Some horror stories came out of it—12 hour shifts, bullying—and some kids even got kicked out for various degrees of malfeasance. Then, of course, came the final indignity of the students having to send a thank you letter to their employer for their generosity in providing them with the opportunity to work 80 hours without compensation.

This, however, isn't what I want to concentrate on. Of all the issues I've encountered while working in the school system, work experience appears to have the most traction as something students could be organised around. Some of this will be thinking aloud, so I'd really appreciate feedback from current students, education workers, those who've done work experience in the past, and anyone who may have recently had students at their workplace on a placement.

Now, of course, I'm not a student. Nor am I in any position to begin organising students in my own workplace. However, I know a handful of sixth-formers who've joined the Solidarity Federation (of which I'm a member). My understanding is that the Anarchist Federation has more young members, including some who'd be at the age for work placements.

I'm hoping this piece might prove helpful in trying to orientate radical students around material issues. In my experience, student organising is often abstractly political (anti-war walkouts or against standardised testing—which is not to say that these things aren't worthwhile) or propagandist efforts. In any case, the most successful student mobilisation in a generation was over a fundamentally material issue, EMA.

Work experience is something that many students already resent. And for those who don't hate it from the get-go, the novelty of being outside of school quickly wears off and the boredom of '9 to 5' soon sets in. A simple bit of agitational work could crystalise this resentment into material demands. The most obvious would be “wages for work experience”. If our benevolent educational and business overlords want students to “experience the world of work”, the least they could do is offer them a taste of the wage element of wage slavery.

There are other options too, of course. The total abolition of work experience seems like a worthy goal. Students could also demand that instead of placements, they be given two weeks off to pursue whatever their extracurricular or professional interest may be. Students could propose a project of sorts, agreed to in advance, where they have two weeks of independent study to develop their knowledge and skill in a given field. Alternatively, the demand could place the onus on the school to only arrange work placements with employers who agree to pay students.

Practically, such a campaign has numerous advantages. For one, it'd be quite easy to use the school's own structures to facilitate interest. School councils are undoubtedly the most toothless, recuperative institution within all of capitalism. So count them out. However, getting the school debate club to host a debate on work experience should be easy enough. Likewise, securing a couple hundred words in the school newspaper shouldn't be a problem. Setting up a stall in the canteen could be easily done with or without the consent of the school authorities.

For bigger actions, a bit of picket line practice couldn't hurt as students could flier their coursemates on their way in and out of school. Pickets could also be arranged of employers who take on unpaid work placements. The ultimate direct action, of course, would be mass refusal to sign up to a work experience placement in the first place.

Politically, an anti-work experience campaign has the potential to move discussion from the 'bread and butter' to deeper issues about class, capitalism, and the nature of the wage system. Will the demand be minimum wage for work experience? A living wage? A union wage? From there it's an easy jump to “Where do our wages come from?”. And how come if workers do all the work, we only receive a percentage back as wages? What do workers do to raise their wages?

This can then all be placed within the context of capitalism and why things like the free labour of work experience benefits employers. Why are schools trying to get students to perform free labour in the first place? Are schools there for students' learning, as they say, or for employers?

This is not to say that any of this will be easy. However, as anarchists we should be strategic and engage with members of the class—be they students, workers, the unemployed, or pensioners—on material issues. Contrary to what may seem intuitive, the struggle that comes from trying to improve our lives materially is what creates class consciousness and opens up the space for discussion about things like capitalism in the state. If we can kickstart that process in school—and screw over some money-grubbing employers in the process—all the better.

Comments

Caiman del Barrio
Mar 7 2012 10:55
Chilli Sauce wrote:
This can then all be placed within the context of capitalism and why things like the free labour of work experience benefits employers. Why are schools trying to get students to perform free labour in the first place? Are schools there for students' learning, as they say, or for employers?

I think this is key, especially with the current outcry over claimants beign used as free labour. Let's not forget the link between Workfare and 'young' claimants (16-24 y/os).

the croydonian ...
Mar 7 2012 13:48

Largely spot on. The only bit I would not adovcate as a possible tactic would be trying to get the two weeks off to research etc. We all know we are not going to anything like that, includig the school, and therefore the school would probably try to enforce/monitor the research to make sure you do whatever. Like you said, thinking out loud.

Thanks for the shout out tongue Im glad I gave you the kick, some good ideas. I generally do not think leafletting/fliering or whatever you want to call it has much effect but doing it for students coming out or in could actually work. If its presented in the right way, I think most people would actually take an interest.

wojtek
Mar 7 2012 14:39
Quote:
Chilli Sauce wrote:
The total abolition of work experience seems like a worthy goal. Students could also demand that instead of placements, they be given two weeks off to pursue whatever their extracurricular or professional interest may be. Students could propose a project of sorts, agreed to in advance, where they have two weeks of independent study to develop their knowledge and skill in a given field.

I think if this were me back in Year 10 then I'd have just dossed for two weeks. Arguing for a minimum/ living wage for work experience imo would be a lot more constructive in terms of further discussion.

jef costello
Mar 7 2012 18:58
wojtek wrote:
Quote:
Chilli Sauce wrote:
The total abolition of work experience seems like a worthy goal. Students could also demand that instead of placements, they be given two weeks off to pursue whatever their extracurricular or professional interest may be. Students could propose a project of sorts, agreed to in advance, where they have two weeks of independent study to develop their knowledge and skill in a given field.

I think if this were me back in Year 10 then I'd have just dossed for two weeks. Arguing for a minimum/ living wage for work experience imo would be a lot more constructive in terms of further discussion.

I'd probably have dossed too. Plus you're going to need to get teachers some overtime to go through all of it. The last thing I need is more paperwork!
Interesting blog though, I think asking for better placements and expecting to be paid are good starting points. If it's an experience of work then they should get an experience of being paid, as that's what keeps me doing my job, which reminds me, I've got a lottery ticket to check smile
edt: student strikes are very common in France, although certainly at 11-18 level there are arguments that teachers are supporting them to avoid losing money by striking themselves. The strikes are certainly funded by student unions and I assume donations and maybe unions. They are usually self-organised and once they start they are run by student general meetings.

the croydonian ...
Mar 7 2012 19:33

That sounds pretty good.

Def
Mar 7 2012 21:36

I'm with wojtek. Still, plenty of interesting ideas in there.

Choccy
Mar 7 2012 22:59

I agree with the main points in the article, and I'd add that a successful student campaign would benefit significantly from teachers being onside. Teachers are actually responsible for monitoring the work experience - we're the ones who go and check on students when they're in work - mostly box ticking.

But there'll be a practical tension in that most of my colleagues aren't particularly critical of work experience. Sure they objectively agree that it's a bit of a waste of time but 'it'll give them a kick up the arse' and 'it gets them out of my hair for 2 weeks, plus I get lots of extra frees!'.

Obviously solidarity is paramount - I'm simply highlighting some points for consideration.

I defo think the idea of being paid for work experience is a campaign that has legs.

Chilli Sauce
Mar 7 2012 23:09

Yeah, I thought about all that as well while I was writing it. I agree most kids would just slack off if they had two weeks of independent study.

I think, again, this comes down to the difference between schooling and education. Kids reject schooling--as they should--and I think that's why a lot of them would just bunk off for the two weeks. But humans all have intellectual capacities that can encouraged through education. The idea of a two weeks off would be to pursue education. If it was doing things like spending time in a music studio or interviewing musicians or writing poetry or going to video game conference or shit that kids actually enjoy, I think independent study could actually be something kids want to do--especially if they can do it in groups and with the expectation that it's only a couple hours a day.

The other thing is that it might be a demand to which the school would more easily acquiesce, but it would still get the kids out of the building for two weeks. But then again, maybe that's not setting my sights high enough.

In any case, I really do appreciate the feedback.

Jef, you're based in France then?

Chilli Sauce
Mar 7 2012 23:14

Cross posted with Choccy and, basically, yeah.

jef costello
Mar 8 2012 18:33
Choccy wrote:
But there'll be a practical tension in that most of my colleagues aren't particularly critical of work experience. Sure they objectively agree that it's a bit of a waste of time but 'it'll give them a kick up the arse' and 'it gets them out of my hair for 2 weeks, plus I get lots of extra frees!'

My school made anyone who taught Year 10 do visits at work experience. fuckers.

Chilli Sauce wrote:
Yeah, I thought about all that as well while I was writing it. I agree most kids would just slack off if they had two weeks of independent study.

Definitely, but as you say it's about the difference between education and schooling. I can't think of many students that would have the ability to come up with this kind of plan and even fewer who culd put it into place.

Quote:
Jef, you're based in France then?

Used to be, wish I was still there got paid about 10% less after taxes and taught as many hours in a year as I do now in a term. If that wasn't a limited short term post I'd still be there!

I'm in a UK comprehensive now.

the croydonian ...
Mar 8 2012 18:37

Could we go as far as to say our current education system is actually not about education and more schooling, which as well know intales making clone work place fodder etc etc

Choccy
Mar 8 2012 20:58
jef costello wrote:
My school made anyone who taught Year 10 do visits at work experience. fuckers.

oh mine did too, but I defo ended up with a sweet deal - gained 8 frees and only spent two of them on local visits, YAY WORK EXPERIENCE! wink

the croydonian ...
Mar 8 2012 21:10

I didn't get a visit at mine but I know some people that did. What is it like having to speak to the employers ?

Choccy
Mar 8 2012 21:15

Boring box ticking. One I just did over the phone.
'Were they there every day? TICK' etc etc

lettersjournal
Mar 8 2012 22:22
Quote:
I agree with the main points in the article, and I'd add that a successful student campaign would benefit significantly from teachers being onside. Teachers are actually responsible for monitoring the work experience - we're the ones who go and check on students when they're in work - mostly box ticking.

This is to say that a successful worker campaign would benefit significantly from managers being onside.

Let's reword your post slightly: Managers are actually responsible for monitoring the work - we're the ones who go and check on workers when they're working - mostly box ticking.

Quote:
Kids reject schooling--as they should--and I think that's why a lot of them would just bunk off for the two weeks.

You would prefer the kids did school sanctioned/controlled "educational" activities for two weeks rather than bunk off?

Chilli Sauce
Mar 8 2012 22:34

Hmm...how to put this so I don't get cautioned on one of my own blog posts....

Let's try this:

Grow up, Letters. We all had a shit time at school, but let the teen angst go and get a class analysis.

And, until you do, please don't post on this thread any more.

lettersjournal
Mar 9 2012 00:27

You are discussing your professional function, which (in this case) is to oversee students doing compulsory, unpaid work for two weeks.

You contend that teachers, those who are responsible for monitoring this unpaid work, could help organize against the work, perhaps instead achieving a two week 'educational program' for the students away from school. To me, this is the same as saying managers in a workplace could organize a struggle there.

It is unclear to me why or how students forced to do unpaid work would trust those monitoring them. At the very least, it seems the beginning of such trust would be teachers refusing to monitor the work, allowing the kids to fuck off instead of accepting two weeks of slavery, but Chili Sauce you seem to be opposed to kids fucking off for two weeks. Apologies if I read your post incorrectly.

Chilli Sauce
Mar 9 2012 07:55

Yeah, you're not only misreading, but reading your own assumptions into posts and using analogies which wouldn't stand up to the gentlest of summer breezes.

What you could do is offer to be constructive and offer suggestion and what education workers/student solidarity would look like. (It's not just teachers who go out on visits to do the monitoring, btw. And it's a ballache and resented by staff much the way it is by students. That should be fucking abundantly clear to anyone who's read this thread.)

Seriously, tho, I'm not going to bother. I'm just going to ask you not to post on this thread any more. This has been a really productive, worthwhile discussion until you came on here with your angsty, juvenile antics. Start another thread if you want a good faith discussion about about class solidarity between students and teachers, but don't clog up what's, so far, been a really good thread.

Also, maybe try reading this (esp the last two paragraphs)before you come back again with some "teachers are just managers, man..." bullshit.

radicalgraffiti
Mar 9 2012 10:28

i remember work experience, i got sent to some kind of agency, after the first day or two of showing us how to use some software and doing all the assessments they had they ran out of things for us to do so we just messed around on the computer for the next two weeks smile

jef costello
Mar 9 2012 23:14
Choccy wrote:
jef costello wrote:
My school made anyone who taught Year 10 do visits at work experience. fuckers.

oh mine did too, but I defo ended up with a sweet deal - gained 8 frees and only spent two of them on local visits, YAY WORK EXPERIENCE! ;)

Me too! I signed up straight away to get ones I could get to easily. (although some people just ignored it until all the visits had been organised I can't get away with that this year and probably wouldn't anyway)
But I still felt a little cheated smile

Choccy
Mar 9 2012 23:40

Lettersjournal,

We don't 'supervise' the unpaid work. The employer does - I phoned mine up and filled in a form. I think the whole thing's bullshit.

But solidarity from teachers against unpaid work would be very important. A simple solidarity action would be teachers refusing to visit unpaid placements.

I'm assuming you wouldn't support that because TEACHERS ARE THE SAME AS MANAGERS.

lettersjournal
Mar 13 2012 04:46

Hi choccy,

Quote:
Teachers are actually responsible for monitoring the work experience - we're the ones who go and check on students when they're in work - mostly box ticking.

I understood "monitoring" to mean the same thing as "managing". My experience with most managers is that they monitor my work, make sure I show up, et cetera.

Quote:
But solidarity from teachers against unpaid work would be very important. A simple solidarity action would be teachers refusing to visit unpaid placements.

Actually, that is what I wrote:

Quote:
At the very least, it seems the beginning of such trust would be teachers refusing to monitor the work, allowing the kids to fuck off instead of accepting two weeks of slavery

I'm curious if any of you have done this. From your posts, it reads as if you all have agreed to do the monitoring of student slave labor (that is a hyperbolic phrase, but I don't know what else to call unpaid forced labor). You say that you "signed up straight away to get ones I could get to easily".

jef costello
Mar 13 2012 06:17
lettersjournal wrote:
I'm curious if any of you have done this. From your posts, it reads as if you all have agreed to do the monitoring of student slave labor (that is a hyperbolic phrase, but I don't know what else to call unpaid forced labor). You say that you "signed up straight away to get ones I could get to easily".

That would be me rather than choccy. When forced to monitor students I picked the ones that suited me best, hardly surprising and not certainly not indicative of an enthusiasm for it. As I'm in a precarious position and there's not much chance of solidarity I'm not going to risk taking an action like this by myself. Especially as it has already happened.

Chilli Sauce
Mar 13 2012 07:42

I mean, seriously, why not just condemn students for signing up to the work placements?

The nature of class struggle isn't to be a blacklisted individual martyr. That was the whole point of this piece: to talk about what work experience organising might look like. Outside of such a movement (which as Choccy points out would greatly benefit from staff-student cooperation), there'd be very little point in individually refusing to undertake visits. It'd make as much sense for an individual cashier refuse to charge customers for food because they're a communist.

Also, managers do monitor but that isn't what defines them as managers. It's the power to hire and fire and discipline workers. Teachers can't do that to you when you're on work experience.

Choccy
Mar 13 2012 22:19

Nor can we do it full stop. I cannot exclude a student. And even when staff want to, often for complex and sometimes justified reasons (an example of a friend last year, a female co-worker being sexually threatened) often management don't support it, and that worker has to face a person who has threatened them.

I think Lettersjournal is having a wee argument in their own head and seem to think isolated acts of martyrdom have anything to do with communism.

Did I refuse to go on placement visits? No, because I would have been in front of a tribunal in a matter of days in my academy.

Should teachers agitate for that kind of action? Certainly, aong with every other kind of struggle we should be engaging, but I doubt they will at your behest Lettersj.

lettersjournal
Mar 15 2012 05:43

The problem is how could a joint struggle arise between the students forced to do unpaid labor and the people who have to make sure they're doing it.

It seems possible that some students would refuse to show up or do the work, and then teachers (even the communist teachers), in the absence of a wider struggle, would write up those students and discipline them for refusing the slave labor.

The paradox is that a joint struggle would only be possible if the teachers first stopped monitoring the work (otherwise, why would students trust them? I certainly wouldn't trust someone where I work if their job was to monitor that I showed up to work), but as you say, why would a teacher risk their neck in the absence of a joint struggle? (And what about a student struggle that doesn't involve other teachers? Would you join that, even if it meant "martyrdom"?)

(Also... is this student slave labor thing actually against the immediate interests of the teachers? From reading what you guys wrote, it seems like most teachers are happy with it because they get paid but do not have to teach for two weeks.)

Quote:
It'd make as much sense for an individual cashier refuse to charge customers for food because they're a communist.

I work at a grocery store, and this metaphor doesn't make sense. A better example is if a manager refused to mark down lateness or absences. Certainly, this would cause the manager to probably lose their job... but if they do not refuse to do this, part of their job is enforcing work discipline.

Chilli Sauce
Mar 15 2012 08:14
Quote:
The problem is how could a joint struggle arise between the students forced to do unpaid labor and the people who have to make sure they're doing it.

It seems possible that some students would refuse to show up or do the work, and then teachers (even the communist teachers), in the absence of a wider struggle, would write up those students and discipline them for refusing the slave labor.

You're not from the UK are you? In any case, you clearly you don't understand how work experience operates.

In theory, the visit--which lasts twenty minutes and happens once over 2 weeks--is pastoral. We couldn't "write up" students and there are no mechanisms in place for the visiting teacher to begin any sort of disciplinary process, never mind actually disciplining the students themselves.

There is a senior school manager who oversees the project who the workplace managers contact with any problems. But--surprise, surprise--any punitive actions occur manager-to-manager and have nothing to do with teachers.

So if it was a case of students not showing up, slacking off, stealing shit, whatever, the teacher is not the contact point. Any issue would have been identified and dealt with long before any visit and would have occurred entirely over the head of any teaching staff.

meinberg
Mar 15 2012 12:52

i think there are two discussions going on in this thread one about the "work experience", which i think isn't a real issue, it wasn't for us in germany, two weeks aren't much in min. 9 years school, we could choose our "workplace" and the only real disciplinary measure in ensuring that we will work was that if we don't it'll impact our grades (the work diary was graded,...) if you dared not to show up in a row the "normal" disciplinary measures take place.

the other discussion is about the role "educational workers" can play in in struggles of students. i believe that in this context the objection in lettersj first posts go in the right direction and the reactions are extremely defensive.
yes managers is the wrong comparison, its more jailer, cop, etc but it can't be in question that one of the roles of teachers, etc in schools are disciplinary. in germany the disciplinary possibilities of a teacher are mostly on the lower end (bad grades, notices and meetings with parents, direct disciplinary measures(punishment work, etc)).

if i understood letters right, the point was that a joint struggle of students and educational workers is at least extremely difficult, because of the hierarchical difference. in my experience strikes, struggles etc in school were only noteworthy if the students searched the conflict with the teachers. only so the ground could be cleared and a (really small) minority of teachers could act in real solidarity with the students.

a last note to chillies linked article: i on't think teachers can teach or encourage critical thinking if it isn't n the students. but i do think that teachers can support critical thinking with is developing in the students.

communal_pie
Mar 16 2012 07:17

'its more jailer cop etc'

Honestly, your choice of words reflects a brilliant mind at work, thank you so much for gracing us with your supreme intellect.

communal_pie
Mar 16 2012 07:26

Now that I've gotten over that clearly excellent reply, I think that the article is really good.

My PSHCE (retermed as life skills I believe) teacher often referred to 'us' as "future employees" and talked about making us "employable" etc. Other teachers didn't really have this approach, in fact a lot of them didn't. I do believe that it was the teacher in question that refers you to the work experience tutor woman (who was actually really nice and very lenient with everybody, everyone liked her). I think she was under some pressure from the headmaster to send people to a few key placements, but a lot of people didn't wanna go on, so I don't know, the whole thing was a bit more complex.

I know my form tutor had the power to move kids to different placements or to cancel certain ones etc, which was exercised in a few cases mostly when kids complained about them.

I think that employers hold quite a lot of power in these situations, which is bad, but quintessentially it's important to remember that teachers can have real input in referring most kids to whichever programs they like, this does vary from school to school but in general, they can do what they feel is for the best, at least that's the impression I got.. so I think a teacher being the enabler for something a little better than a boring 2 weeks milling about a depressing office.. I don't think they could get away with just not giving the kids any placements.