33 country fast food strike - TEFL lesson

33 country fast food strike - TEFL lesson

A lesson plan around the "Fight for 15 campaign" and a recent international one-day strike in support of US fast food workers fighting for better wages.

Lesson plan should take between 1 and 2 hours depending on levels of class discussion.

Teachers may also wish to play students this clip, which contains an interview with a fast food worker discussing why he intends to strike. The clip can provide practice with accents as well as understanding graphs and charts.

If at any point the above clip becomes unavailable on youtube, please PM the Angry Language Workers and we can email you a copy directly. Similarly, if you find any typos in the lesson plan, let us know so they can be fixed!

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May 27 2014 15:14

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Hieronymous
Jun 6 2014 05:43

First, I want to apologize again. If I was harsh, I'm sorry.

Chilli Sauce wrote:
I'd then encourage H, if he wants to comment, to consider how he might do so in a constructive, comradely way.

O.K., here are my constructive comments:

The initial post, clearly calling itself a "lesson plan" around a purported "international one-day strike," was posted on May 27, 2014 -- a full 10 days after the events in question.

jef costello wrote:
First of all, it isn't a lesson plan, it is a resource, and it isn't a bad one.

If it isn't a lesson plan, then why is it called one?

jef costello wrote:
The text chosen is not a bad starting point.

I ask this in good faith: a good starting point for what?

There's a logical flaw here: a text is posted on libcom, well after many, many discussions have happened about whether these events are even strikes, let alone wildcat actions, so what purpose does this text serve -- especially in the context of an EFL/ESL classroom?

Today is election day in the U.S. (in California, where I live, it's a midterm and primary ballot). For the last couple months the media has been a flurry about it. And I've seen campaigners all over my city, walking precincts and knocking on doors for the last few weeks. I even recognize a couple local activists, but even more who are union staffers. Even the local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle noted on this, saying in Sunday's (June 1, 2014) paper that ". . . with labor -- Democrat's most reliable source of campaign cash and foot power -- taking such a strong interest [in the electoral campaigns] . . . "

Campaigns of "progressive" Democrats across the U.S. are being run by high-profile Public Relations firms like Berlin Rosen, based in New York. Berlin Rosen also runs campaigns for unions in -- and formerly in -- Change to Win, like the Fight for 15 in fast food with SEIU, the various campaigns for Walmart workers with UFCW, and the Clean and Safe Ports with the Teamsters (these union demarcations overlap and aren't so clear cut). They also run AFL-CIO campaigns, as well as doing PR work for non-profits, NGOs and others in the "progressive" Left.

Here's what the PR firms says on their website:

Berlin Rosen wrote:

The Berlin Rosen Approach

Working hand-in-hand with the Walmart worker and fast food campaigns we developed a strategic communications plan that positioned the campaigns and emerging worker organizing as real solutions to rising inequality. When the ground actions took place—the first-ever strikes targeting Walmart, and the largest-ever strike of New York City fast food workers—BerlinRosen amplified the actions nationally, activating a network of engaged and informed reporters to tell the bigger story.

So the PR firm plants the story with major media outlets to build up for their major pseudo-strikes. Here are the bourgeois media outlets they target:

Berlin Rosen wrote:
The Outcome

Just about every major national media outlet covered the campaigns—from segments on ABC's "Good Morning America" and MSNBC's "Up with Chris Hayes" to lengthy articles in Bloomberg and The Nation. The widespread media coverage of the Walmart and fast food campaigns created a platform that didn't exist just months prior. Media exposure around Walmart helped to galvanize 30,000 protesters across the country in support of striking Walmart workers, activating tens of thousands more online. Coverage of the fast food strikes, which encompassed dozens of stores, led workers in hundreds of additional outlets to engage with the campaign. And when a month later Walmart rolled out proposals to address mounting questions about its employment and business practices, "Business Week" noted the link to the campaign: “Wal-Mart tries to improve its battered image,” the headline read.

The PR firm goes on to say:

Berlin Rosen wrote:
What they said: The New York Times called the strikes against McDonald's, Burger King and other restaurants “the biggest wave of job actions in the history of America's fast-food industry.” In a cover story, Bloomberg BusinessWeek wrote that the emergence of OUR Walmart, which led the first-ever strikes against the retail giant, posed the “most potent challenge yet” to the company's low-wage, anti-union business model. The story proclaimed that the workers had “gotten Walmart's attention.”

So what Berlin Rose is doing amounts to the tail wagging the dog. Or to put it in a more sophisticated political context, they're conscious manipulative agents of the society of the spectacle.

So what the EFL/ESL teacher calling him/herself Angry Teachers Brigade was posting on libcom amounts to a press release, most likely issued by Berlin Rosen in New York (if someone can confirm -- or refute -- this, please do). Why I called this disingenuous is that this lesson plan was posted on libcom 2 weeks after the pseudo strikes. It's not even news, since the lesson plan was based on a press release.

Here's what I could garner from internet news sources about the pseudo strike on May 15, 2014:

    1. average duration of the so-called walkout: 20 minutes
    2. number of fast food outlets that were unable to serve customers: zero
    3. number of fast food workers protesting their own workplaces: zero
    4. number of protestors in New York City: 100+
    5. number of protestors in London: 25

Even scanning the photos for those 30 or so countries, you can't see more than a dozen at each location. And they're clearly protests not strikes, as customers can be seen easily entering and existing the fast food outlets.

Here's a flavor of the event from a news source:

The Independent wrote:
Hundreds of demonstrators in the US city of New York attempted to draw attention to their cause in the bustling city by beating drums, blowing whistles, and chanting outside a branch of pizza chain Domino’s.

The manager on duty inside said no employees from the store were participating, while a handful of customers squeezed past the protesters to get inside. Protests in Miami and Philadelphia also did not disrupt operations at targeted restaurants.

And in other countries the protests were non-protests since their contract with McDonald's prevents them from doing so:

The Independent wrote:
Meanwhile in Denmark, McDonald's worker Louise Marie Rantzau explained how activists had used social media to stage their protest, by taking photos outside Burger King stores.

Rantzau, who earns about $21 (£12.50) an hour, said a collective agreement with McDonald's in the country prevents workers from protesting the chain.

This lesson plan, based on a press release of an upcoming pseudo-strike that's already happened, doesn't serve any pedagogical purpose. All this spectacular hoopla was mostly being played out in social and bourgeois media, not by active members of the working class -- and was totally devoid of the agency of the fast food workers themselves (contrast this with the self-organized one-day general strike on May Day 2006, when millions of service industry workers -- including those in fast food -- wildcatted from their jobs).

Basically, fast food workers were pawns in all this, as its purpose was more to support larger union campaigns around Democratic politicians -- as well as to set up victory celebration when Obama raises the minimum wage. For example the Seattle minimum wage, which has so many tiers and exemptions (teenagers will be exempt; their wages will be sub-minimum), won't take affect for many sectors of workers for several years -- and unions made some of their own workers exempt!

Even if it was a news story about events that had already occurred, there's never been anything said about the demographics of the students.

Here are some questions that are crucial in any framing of pre-reading lesson activities and in the choosing of proper materials:

    1. Are the students working class immigrants?
    2. What sectors do they work in?
    3. Have they ever been on strike?
    4. What media sources do they consume and what's their level of critical engagement?

These should be considered, as well as the usual demographic questions about the age and national origin of the students, all well as any of the "learning outcomes" expected (and hopefully being undermined) at the school where it's being taught.

What I don't understand is the vehemence that people, especially on libcom, defend these PR agency run farces. It is even more absurd when the cheerleading is being led by people from across the Atlantic, telling us how much this media attention means to the workers themselves. To me, it's just apologetics for the class-denying anti-worker ideology embodied in the marriage of unions with the Democratic Party. And it's here that I wholeheartedly agree with Caiman that it sounds like the boilerplate Leninism of Trot groups, with their disingenuous "transitional demands."

commieprincess
Jun 6 2014 18:14

The Angry Language Brigade is not one person. We're all around you, man. We're in your tea.

Hieronymous
Jun 5 2014 18:01
commieprincess wrote:
The Angry Language Brigade is not one person. We're all around you, man. We're in your tea.

Fair enough.

You work collectively, right? If so, then please check the accuracy of what you put out publicly. As I said in my initial comment, press releases don't make useful educational materials for working class immigrant ESL learners. Nor do planted stories on pseudo-journalistic TV infotainment shows. Unless you're critiquing coached videos to demonstrated how the interviewee's handlers (most likely from the Berlin Rosen PR firm) actually scripted the talking points. It could be used as a cautionary tale for workers about not being used as pawns by union hacks and electoral political operatives.

Also, did you read what I wrote above? Unless you can refute any of it, the lesson plan that started this thread needs serious revision. Since you're in my tea, please revise it. Frankly, there are better lessons on Dave's ESL Cafe.

Ed
Jun 5 2014 18:32

Edit to add: cross-posted with the two comments above.. let's keep this civilised, guys!

Hieronymous wrote:
First, I want to apologize again. If I was harsh, I'm sorry.

Just to say, I think this apology has definitely been accepted and very much appreciated. And I think your post above is super-constructive. I'm not sure how much I can really add as I think your points are basically all valid. I think you're certainly right in terms of questions to be asked about framing pre-reading activities/reading materials.. I wonder though, if the answer to your first question ("Are the students working class immigrants?") is no, does that change things?

For instance, at my first TEFL job, my students were all wealthy professionals (I did a quick 'guess the teacher's wage' activity to practice big numbers.. they had no idea what a 'low wage' was!).. sometimes they were a bit lefty (some of the older ones were even involved with the student movement back in the day) but for the most part they were just wealthy liberals. I would sometimes do political lessons (not the one above but others) as it would spark debate, much more than other stuff like the blander, more neutral TEFL topics like transport or favourite food where I would have to get involved, keep asking questions so that the discussion didn't flag.. often with political ones my only role would be to make sure the talking was spread evenly but rarely was their a shortage of opinion!

Politically speaking, I wasn't so interested in the 'outcome' of the lesson.. I didn't think anyone would change their minds and, to be honest, I don't think that it was that important to do so.. partly because, anyway, my students were mostly petit-bourgeois (at best), wealthy aspiring-bourgeoisie students or sometimes even straight up 'top hat and monocle' bourgeois.. but I also don't reckon that teachers can have that much of a transformative effect on their students' politics.. apart from maybe in individual cases, where a close bond is built between a particular student and a particular teacher. Mass transformation of people's politics can only come through waves of struggle.. either of teachers fighting against their school (with student support) or of students struggling in their own respective jobs as workers.. and I'm not sure that me fulfilling my (ex-)role an English teacher can do either really..

That said, I suppose maybe if my students had been working class I would've been more conscious about the precise political undertones of my lessons in a similar way that I probably would be hesitant about delivering lessons around, say, a Unison press release or whatever.

So yeah, I guess there are two questions here really: pedagogically, would using this text (which while I haven't I probably have used something similar) make me a bad teacher? And politically, if I used this text (particularly with wealthy students) would that me a bad militant? I'm quite open to the answer to both of those questions being yes; quite frankly it's probably true!

Red Marriott
Jun 5 2014 20:20
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I would basically ask that you refrain from commenting on these threads

I would basically ask that you give it a rest at the continued attempts to repress criticism. I know nothing about TEFL teaching methods but much of H's criticisms have been about leftist misrepresentation of workers struggles, something admins and SF-ers would normally want to correct, no? (Unless they really are practicing leninist tactics.) Even if some in the ALB group are inexperienced, others members clearly are - or should be - very experienced with use of the internet, the desirability of checking facts about struggles and the responses that such inaccuracies can expect. And surely most involved here know and should take account that calls for exceptional censorship when admin's pals are criticised unfortunately has a long and very sour history on this site (eg. Aufheben).

Ed
Jun 5 2014 20:35

I've asked once that we keep things civilised. Can we get back to the topic at hand? All other off topic comments will be deleted.

Hieronymous
Jun 6 2014 17:25
Ed wrote:
I wonder though, if the answer to your first question ("Are the students working class immigrants?") is no, does that change things?

Yes, it does. Here's why:

Auerbach & Burgess wrote:
A more serious limitation of many texts results from not taking into account the socioeconomic conditions of newcomers’ [immigrants -- Hieronymous] lives. Middle class values, culture, and financial status are often reflected in lesson content; for example, a dialogue describing a student spending his one day off work playing golf fails to acknowledge that golf is a culture -- and class -- specific sport. (from "The Hidden Curriculum of Survival ESL," Elsa Auerbach and Denise Burgess, in TESOL Quarterly, v19 n3 p475-95 Sep 1985)

This incredibly lucid article also uses another example from an ESL textbook. It quotes a role play where two students look at a newspaper, with one explaining that she wants to see the weather report for possible snow because she'd like to go skiing on the weekend. Some textbook authors are totally oblivious to the class conditions of working class immigrants. Some teachers are equally oblivious in the classroom and simply assume that the students have the same -- often middle class -- tastes and values as they do.

Ed wrote:
For instance, at my first TEFL job, my students were all wealthy professionals (I did a quick 'guess the teacher's wage' activity to practice big numbers.. they had no idea what a 'low wage' was!).. sometimes they were a bit lefty (some of the older ones were even involved with the student movement back in the day) but for the most part they were just wealthy liberals. I would sometimes do political lessons (not the one above but others) as it would spark debate, much more than other stuff like the blander, more neutral TEFL topics like transport or favourite food where I would have to get involved, keep asking questions so that the discussion didn't flag.. often with political ones my only role would be to make sure the talking was spread evenly but rarely was their a shortage of opinion!

I had some similar experiences, when I used to teach EFL to white-collar Koreans in Seoul in the 1990s. A few had been student radicals and since I knew a little of the history, I could build whole lessons around eliciting what their hopes and aspirations had been in the late 1980s. I really, really learned a lot -- in the classical Freireian teacher-as-learner sense -- because they'd get worked up in an excited nostalgic frenzy and tell me what militant actions they'd done on their university campuses as part of massive mobilizations, like during the Great Strike wave of 1987. They'd also trace the trajectory of the military dictators and itemize the regional allegiances of various politicians. I once did a discussion activity where I asked the students if time travel were possible and they could live in any other time period, which one would they choose. It melted my heart when one business woman said she would like to travel back to the late 1980s, because "there was so much hope" and the social movements made it seem like "anything was possible." Teaching moments like that are precious.

While teaching EFL in the U.S., I generally do formal and informal needs assessments and build lessons around the students areas of interest or concern. I'm assigned textbooks, but I usually just pick and choose activities in them and mostly use them as grammar references. Most students freak out when they encounter San Francisco's sizable population of homeless people. Depending on where the students are from, I do several lessons to educate them about the social conditions causing homelessness. The simplest is to show video clips from Pursuit of Happyness, the 2006 film set in San Francisco, with Will Smith -- which most of my younger students have seen. I ask those having seen the movie to explain what circumstance drove Smith's character to homelessness. They usually remember vividly, and even get emotional about the scene with his son where they spend the night in a toilet in the subway. Someone always remembers that it's based on a true story. After significant discussion, students usually don't seem so freaked out about homeless people and stop dehumanizing them. Another method for more advanced students is to give them the homework assignment of doing interviews and asking people how they became homeless. I had some extremely bright young Swiss women who actually visited a homeless support non-profit, gathered their fact sheets, and did a presentation that showed statistics about the cost of housing and almost did a de facto Neil Smithian expose of the "rent gap" theory of gentrification. Another precious moment.

Most students I encounter at my main EFL job are language tourists, so I do a plethora of lessons about non-touristy ways to appreciate their stay here. I've done lessons on everything from why San Francisco's population is over 30% Chinese (due to the Gold Rush and later recruitment to build the transcontinental railroad), why so many gay people flocked here after World War II (depopulation and tolerant attitudes), to why Silicon Valley took off here (university research and military defense research projects). I think this gives students a deeper and grounded sense of where they're at and I would like to think they more fully enjoy their stay. If students, like some of the Saudis I've taught, want to debate gay marriage or issues related to feminism, like Ed I merely step back and referee the animated exchange of ideas. I've even seen some minds open up, which sometimes makes my own experience of alienating my labor power a little less miserable -- it's even close to being enjoyable at times.

Ed wrote:
Politically speaking, I wasn't so interested in the 'outcome' of the lesson.. I didn't think anyone would change their minds and, to be honest, I don't think that it was that important to do so.. partly because, anyway, my students were mostly petit-bourgeois (at best), wealthy aspiring-bourgeoisie students or sometimes even straight up 'top hat and monocle' bourgeois.. but I also don't reckon that teachers can have that much of a transformative effect on their students' politics.. apart from maybe in individual cases, where a close bond is built between a particular student and a particular teacher. Mass transformation of people's politics can only come through waves of struggle.. either of teachers fighting against their school (with student support) or of students struggling in their own respective jobs as workers.. and I'm not sure that me fulfilling my (ex-)role an English teacher can do either really..

Agreed.

Ed wrote:
That said, I suppose maybe if my students had been working class I would've been more conscious about the precise political undertones of my lessons in a similar way that I probably would be hesitant about delivering lessons around, say, a Unison press release or whatever.

When I'm teaching ESL to working class students, I feel a duty to act in solidarity with my fellow workers. I usually do extensive needs assessments and tailor my lessons specifically to their needs. As I said before, I then spend countless hours preparing materials for the lessons. Which is unlike the minimalist prep I do with students who are the present -- or future -- bourgeois elites of their countries (haven't had too many of these types though; most are sociologically in the middle class).

Ed wrote:
So yeah, I guess there are two questions here really: pedagogically, would using this text (which while I haven't I probably have used something similar) make me a bad teacher? And politically, if I used this text (particularly with wealthy students) would that me a bad militant? I'm quite open to the answer to both of those questions being yes; quite frankly it's probably true!

I wouldn't use this text for the same reason I stopped using mainstream news sources years ago. First, the spectacle is predicated on what poet Kenneth Rexroth called the Social Lie. I would feel disingenuous, as though I were lying to my students. Secondly, it comes off too much like a newspaper story, which is problematic because the bourgeois media uses language that is so culturally coded that it's impossible to get through the idioms, expressions and cultural allusions without wasting an immense amount of time. It's better to find simpler texts, or simply write your own. In the U.S., left-leaning groups like the New English Literacy Resource Center have many decent materials that can be poached. Their publication, Change Agent, is well-written and the materials have a range of appropriateness for different ESL levels, with many of them based on the stories, needs and concerns of immigrants. They often have essays written by ESL learners themselves, which are great first-hand sources to use in lessons.

If you used the text in the original post with wealthy students, I think you'd bore them to tears. Better to cater to their needs and talk about the Kardashians. Or get them to talk about the factories they -- or their families -- own and what products they produce, and the conditions of workers -- to better to understand the boss class' perspective on the class composition of their home countries. I once taught private lessons to an automobile industry executive, who had advanced degrees in mechanical engineering, at the Hyundai group's corporate headquarters in Seoul. If I asked him about technology, he'd geek-out and I could barely get him to stop talking. He even drew me an elaborately detailed map of the massive 4-assembly line vehicle-building complex in the company town of Ulsan (I still have the map somewhere in my files). These were the easiest lessons I've ever taught; additionally, I gained valuable insights into the dynamically evolving auto industry in Asia.

commieprincess
Jun 6 2014 17:51

deleted.

EDIT - The downing for absolutely no reason is getting to be a bit farcical. But please, tiny-wanged internet men, knock yourselves out.

Hieronymous
Jun 6 2014 18:30
commieprincess wrote:
deleted.

EDIT - The downing for absolutely no reason is getting to be a bit farcical. But please, tiny-wanged internet men, knock yourselves out.

I think we all agree that the anonymity of the internet is a farce.

I'd be grateful if you commented on what Ed and I wrote. I would very much like to hear your opinion about politicized lessons in the classroom and how you'd present events like media campaigns around a minimum wage and the right to unionize.

commieprincess
Jun 6 2014 18:42

H, what I actually wrote above before deleting it is that, in terms of these particular materials and your comments on the legitimacy of the strikes etc, I'm afraid I'm not super clued up and don't know the ins and outs. So I don't feel that confident about commenting on that in particular.

I also apologise if the tea comment came off as dismissive, it was just supposed to diffuse the tension.

On politicised lessons in the classroom generally, I'll give it some thought and get back to you. (If you're genuinely interested, which I can't tell if you are..?) I completely appreciate you've made an effort to change the tone of this discussion, but I still feel pretty uncomfortable giving an opinion here as you and Caiman did kind of kick this off in a really aggressive way. And you did completely misrepresent my private message to you. It's a bit tough to just jump in confidently with my opinion when people behave in this way.

Hieronymous
Jun 7 2014 14:40
commieprincess wrote:
I also apologise if the tea comment came off as dismissive, it was just supposed to diffuse the tension.

Accepted. [comment deleted -- H]

To unpack my critique, we'd have to look at some of the social history in the U.S. that drove the Democratic Party and unions to adopt such an expensive, high-profile type of media campaign like Fight for $15 (or the various Walmart worker front groups and the Teamster front group, Clean and Safe Ports).

Going back to the proposed anti-immigrant Sensenbrener Act (H.R. 4437) in 2005, the whole U.S. political establishment was caught by surprise and was totally unable to contain the working class self-activity in the General Strike of 5,000,000+ immigrant proletarians on May Day 2006. Try as they may, former union organizer Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, and his united front of the Catholic Church and the unions couldn't reign in this one-day militancy. It was the same at other sites of major strike action, like Houston, Chicago and nearly everywhere in the U.S. where there were Spanish-speaking workers.

So they channeled their energies into getting Obama elected, which even drew anarchists into the cross-class social-democratic-leftist "Hope Bloc," as the correct candidate for the global economic crisis in 2008. The union establishment tried to parlay this into a state-sanctioned law for unionization, with the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in 2009. But that failed miserably too.

So the whole political system was once again blindsided when a massive, nationwide response to crisis and austerity came to birth in the form of the Occupy Movement. Fortunately, this youthful mobilization was immune to attempts to channel it into electoral cul-de-sacs or to use it as canon fodder in top-down union campaigns for service industry workers. Mostly because the demographic that attracted participants to Occupy was educated, but with a high percentage of unemployment and a sense that all the prevailing institutions of society offered simply more-of-the-same social bankruptcy. The greatest contribution was that many Occupiers saw through the bullshit of the whole political racket.

To counter this, the Democratic Party/Change to Win/AFL-CIO/NGO/non-profit think tanks came up with their version of neo-liberal Alinskyism -- in the form of fast food worker, Walmart worker, and port trucker campaigns. They linked up with the "progressive" clergy and the entire non-profit-NGO-industrial-complex who exist in their well-funded orbit. On the surface they're trying to empower workers in these sectors, but beneath the surface their strategists (at New York lefty PR firm Berlin Rosen) are campaigning for minimum wage laws and new versions of EFCA to allow their Democratic Party allies to take credit if they succeed. They're trying to strengthen the marriage of the union-left with the political institutions of the state. We've said this dozens and dozens of times on libcom. Simply using the links from these threads would offer much better materials for lessons for EFL/ESL students than the press releases and media coverage generated by union or Democratic Party front groups.

I would actually like to see how the self-activity and militancy of of workers themselves could be used in the English language classroom. But in a non-pedantic, non-preachy way where learners could see their common class interests with their teachers. But if the lessons are for present, or future, managers of capital -- our class enemies -- why even bother?

Caiman del Barrio
Jun 7 2014 13:17

Someone above asked of what importance critiquing TEFL resources written by radicals is, which is an issue I'd like to return to. There are a few things I would personally love to exterminate from activist culture/psychology, such as baseball caps & beards ( wink ), the notion of consciousness raising (patronising, disingenuous and essentially Leninist in its conception of the working class) and the whole notion of simplifying/dumbing down a 'message' in order to achieve greatest possible breadth. I think it's really important to trace the relationship between militancy and education, since - apparently - a huge number of militants see it as their job to 'educate' the working class in 'the truth'. As a result, we can see 'activist' teachers trying to perform the same role in teaching as they do in activism. This line of thinking leads us to theoretical and, er, praxical (apologies for neologism) compromises where a 'line' or principle is diluted in order to appeal to more people (or so the thinking goes). This is the logic of so called 'anti-imperialism', where support for bourgeois nationalists like Fidel, Chávez and even Putin is taken on as a precursor to insertion in a broad movement which enables individuals to argue for socialism to a larger audience (again, so the thinking goes).

I think you could possibly suggest something similar has happened here where a hugely problematic thing like the Fight for 15 campaign has been presented uncritically in an apparent attempt to argue for the principle of workers' rights and revolution. Some people have denied that this was the original intention above, but I frankly find this implausible if taken alongside the discussion questions (eg "would you join this strike?" etc). If we forget the pedagogical critiques of the class as an exercise in teacher soapboxing (which, I think, we've largely established, is not the best strategy for encouraging people to act in their own interests), then there is the obvious question of what the teacher believes they can achieve with this class: do you want your students to leave the class convinced they should join a mainstream trade union and be footsoldiers for their PR campaigns? I mean, taking away the odd focus on the US workers' movt (America-centrism at its worst!), and assuming you had students working in the low wage restaurant sector, would you encourage them to uncritically join, say, Unite? What is the point of merging/blurring the boundaries between teaching material realia and agit prop if the agit prop doesn't match the sort of militancy you want to catalyse, after all? How disingenuous is it to get your students to think that Fight for 15 is a great thing if you're fully aware that basically isn't?

This is the implicit Leninism behind it IMO.

Ed
Jun 7 2014 14:00

Right, this is getting ridiculous now. I've unpublished all the off-topic or insulting comments. If people want to discuss how much they hate each other I suggest they go elsewhere. Any other comments of that type will be unpublished and the poster will receive a temporary ban.

H, I have some comments for your earlier post but I'm really busy and probably won't get round to responding until this evening. Sorry about that, can't be helped.

Hieronymous
Jun 7 2014 17:43

There's so much to discuss here, even if we simply limit ourselves to the lesson plan.

And if anyone disagrees with what I write, feel free to not like me Facebook-style. But it would be much more comradely to engage, constructively, with what I write.

One criticism of the pdf lesson is that it's taken, verbatim, from Al Jazeera without attribution. No big deal, right? But it might be useful to track down the original Berlin Rosen press release, and I'd be amazed if Al Jazeera didn't simply reprint it verbatim -- or verbatim regarding content. Which brings up the question of intellectual honesty. I doubt that whomever wrote this intended to be unethical, but how much did s/he verify any of what was actually being presented in the classroom? Al Jazeera is the mouthpiece of the ruling family of Qatar, the house of Thani; the network is notorious for its pro-Sunni positions, as well as their biases in coverage of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian Civil War, and their anti-Zionist conspiracy theories (e.g. General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi being of "Jewish origin," etc.). So students in the classroom are getting a New York PR firm's version of events -- that haven't even happened yet!, filtered though a Qatar-based bourgeois media network, and fed to them by their teacher. That's too many degrees of separation for something to be credible.

I also think Caiman's critique is valid. It smacks of Leninism for activist teachers to promote workers' rights (i.e. the right to unionize and minimum wage laws) in an EFL classroom, without at first explaining the context (and determining the demographics of the students being taught: who are they? what's their level? what's their purpose in learning English? where are the from? what do they do? how old are they and do they have work experience? what's their class and educational background? etc.? etc.?). And do the teachers in the U.K. have a substantial grasp of the labor law in the U.S.? If so, why are they promoting the agenda of one faction of the American bourgeoisie, the Democrats, to bring legislative change around these labor laws? The position of these Berlin Rosen-led campaigns is a farce: the National Labor Relations Act (a.k.a. the Wagner Act of 1935) gave U.S. workers (there are different laws for agricultural and railroad workers) the right to form unions. Strikes are legal, but workers only have protection against being permanently replaced by scabs if they walk out because of "unfair labor practices," not for higher pay. Hence the attempt to get the government, with minimum wage laws, do what unions have become incapable -- or unwilling -- to fight for. Joe Burn's Reviving the Strike gives an excellent account of this; another labor lawyer -- and historian -- Staughton Lynd dates the decline of class struggle to the rise of the CIO and its complete conformity (and perhaps even complicity) with the legal limitations of the Wagner Act.

Speaking from my own experience, in a largely pro-union town, most working class people see unions as compromised -- even corrupt -- institutions of the political establishment that are one, of many, special interest groups. To anyone somewhat aware, they are pegged as the electoral wing of the Democratic Party. Which is true. If you talk with any rank-and-filer in one of the mega-unions, like the SEIU or UFCW, they consider their own union to be pro-boss. They're forced to watch passively as management hands a cut of their paychecks (the infamous dues checkoff) to their class collaborationist union bosses.

None of this reality is expressed in the "33 country fast food strike" lesson plan. That's why I -- and others -- say it's flawed.

To return to my previous post, the Occupy Movement despite it's many, many flaws gave many young working class people a taste of self-organized politics. They could fully participate in the decision-making process of an organization they were full participants in. Had these attempts been successful, they saw that they might be able to shape their own destiny. The political establishment -- meaning the politicians, political parties, unions, clergy, NGO/non-profit/lefty think tank/industrial complex, leftist parties (mostly Trots), business lobbying groups, etc. -- saw this and panicked. Literally. They decided to throw tens of millions of dollars into these media blitzkriegs to bolster, and attempt to reinvigorate, the pro-state marriage between labor and the Democrats. The worst example of this is Walmart union front groups, who pooled workers' money to buy Walmart stock in order to join up with pension fund stockholders, to vote out Rob Walton and -- hopefully -- vote in a new more sympathetic Walmart chairman. Now that's an anti-class struggle position reaching the point of pathos.

So my question to the Angry Teachers Brigade is why don't you do lessons about class struggle in the countries where the students are from, instead? Or on working class conditions in the U.K.?

But a much more interesting discussion would be how to use any ideological material in the classroom. I stopped using any bourgeois news sources years ago because I found not only the use of jargon inappropriate for all but the most advance levels, but also because of their near universal pro-capitalist biases. But this is putting the cart before the horse, isn't it? My lesson planning methodology is based on finding what the students' needs and interests are, finding the appropriate structures (grammatically) they can use to express those ideas, then using material that will scaffold their use of language to a higher level. If I use readings in class, I always do pre-reading exercises that "activate background knowledge," which taps into their long-term memory -- the schemata -- and makes them more cognitively engaged. If this sparks post-reading discussion, or even more ideally debate, I simply referee the students and try to facilitate everyone's involvement. At best, the EFL/ESL classroom can develop critical thinking skills. I agree with Ed that consciousness comes from struggle -- and that almost always takes place elsewhere.

Caiman del Barrio
Jun 7 2014 16:39

WTF? I wrote a 3 paragraph post full of ideas for discussion.

Hieronymous
Jun 7 2014 16:57
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
WTF? I wrote a 3 paragraph post full of ideas for discussion.

I think Caiman's post was on-topic and was of great substance. It included an important critique of TEFL resources written by radicals and the relationship between militancy and education.

Could the mods please re-post it?

Thanks

Red Marriott
Jun 7 2014 17:39

The censorship on this thread has been totally biased and ridiculous.

Ramona
Jun 7 2014 19:03

This thread is now locked. For the record, plenty of posts by both Angry Language Brigade and their critics have been hidden as they were off-topic.