RE: [xmca] Cobb & McClain from a different perspective

From: Michael Glassman (
Date: Fri Jan 05 2007 - 18:03:05 PST

I agree with Phillip. Dick Atkinson's view of teacher's unions makes me very sad. Of course there are not such things as unions per se - to use the language from the article - that is a reification. There are people who band together as a union, responding to issues as they arise, and many times those issues include fear - and fear many times for very good reasons. Our society many times devalues teachers and what they have to offer, thinking that somebody else knows better. I was talking yesterday to a student who is doing work exploring charter schools - for the most part they are a mess in Ohio. Because teachers - who were members of unions - were left out, and for profit organizations came in who knew nothing about education. But of course, at least they don't have unions. There is a lesser known aspect to the charter schools (that I just found out about recently) - where they are actually offered to teachers who want to put the effort in to create Schools Within Schools. I am working with one of these charters right now, and because it belongs to the teachers they are putting in an extraordinary effort, giving their lives to this school, and willing to look at any innovation. I would go back and ask the people who started Charter schools why this wasn't a bigger, perhaps central part to begin with.
I did read the Cobb and McClain article, and I am ambivalent about it. I really liked their attempt to develop linkages between social systems, and their attempts to develop social capital in communities that are attempting to deal with high stakes testing. As a matter of fact the definition of communities of practice are very close to the sociological and political science definitions of social capital - not so much creating communities, but creating bonds within a community in order to achieve a purpose (in this case it seems better scores on high stakes tests - or am I missing something? I found it a little disengenuous when the authors said the teachers and leaders were using the discourse of reform in their discussion and not the discourse of high stakes testing. It seemed to me that the purpose throughout the project was constant, which was to develop higher scores on the tests - but again perhaps I am missing something). Anyway the definitions used for developing the community of practice, especially mutual relationships seemed to mirror the ideas of social capital - and this gets to the idea that if you can get people to both trust (used in the broad sense here - maybe closer to the term mutual aid) and to believe that they were working together towards a goal they will develop better situational methods to reach those goals. But is this what we want? Development of social capital or communities of practice in the service of students doing better of high stakes tests?
Well that's enough for me for now. Not even sure I made any sense. It was an interesting article.


From: on behalf of Mike Cole
Sent: Fri 1/5/2007 8:24 PM
To: White, Phillip
Cc: eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Cobb & McClain from a different perspective

Hi Phillip--

Yes-- When a REALLY intelligent, experienced, and influential person has
this view, its disturbing. Of course, with a little discussion
is acknowledged. But concrete existence proofs of a "better way" that do NOT
trash teachers' unions, and which teachers do not trash, such as
provided by Cobb and McClain, are important.

The problem for me is that I am not clear of what the union's roll in this
case was, which is why I cc'ed paul and kay. Kay is on leave and we may not
hear from her, but I hope we will hear from Paul. And there are MANY of you
on xmca for whom this issue is important. Critique is important: existence
proofs of alternatives are important, critiques of the limitations of the
existence proofs are important.

my 2 centimes

Opps! Helena has just appeared on the screen! There is one person who should
have a ton to say for sure!!

On 1/5/07, White, Phillip <> wrote:
> Mike - sorry about the argument - and it's a familiar one for
> me - even hear it from teachers - and those who present the argument
> that unions are the problem are really not familiar with the history of why
> teachers took up unions, back in the 30's.
> however, the bigger difficulty for me is that people suggest a single
> cause and effect answer for why schools are in trouble - and historically
> schools have always been in trouble.
> this is just off the top of my head - i'll go back to the article for
> direct answers to your questions - and they're great questions.
> phillip
> ________________________________
> From: on behalf of Mike Cole
> Sent: Fri 1/5/2007 4:33 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Cc:;
> Subject: [xmca] Cobb & McClain from a different perspective
> Last night I had dinner with an early mentor and friend, Dick Atkinson,
> who
> was head of NSF, UCSD, and UC overall and has taken a lot of
> interest in things educational.
> We got into an argument about school reforms and Dick, a strong advocate
> of
> charter schools and variety creating mechanisms opined that
> "The problem was the unions."
> I argued that indeed, in some configurations of circumstances made unions
> uncooperative with supervisor's grand schemes. Allan Bursin steamrolling
> reforms in San Diego was an example.
> But, I also argued, that when reforms were organized in a proper manner,
> unions were NOT a problem and in fact, might be an important part of the
> solution.
> I have sent him the Cobb and McClain piece to think about.
> Question: What was the role of the unions in the case presented by Cobb
> and
> McClain? What does their experience teach us about dealing with draconian
> accountability schemes and "better" school as tightening the screws that
> hold together the iron cage??
> mike
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