Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

pro tips

Rebecca Commisso is a student at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education. She is taking a course with Guy Ewing in Adult Education about The New Literacy Studies.

Guy sent us some work Rebecca did in preparation for an essay so that we could share it with you.

Workers in Ontario are expected to be prepared, from an early age, to compete in the global marketplace. As part of this preparation, the Ontario secondary school curriculum requires all students to partake in a half-credit course in Career studies in order to graduate with a high school diploma. The Careers course, and the larger mandate of Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC), aims to prepare Ontario citizens with the skills required for economic success in this country.

The course and the assumptions behind it are problematic for me, because they make a number of assumptions with which I have always been uncomfortable.

The first assumption made is that there are certain transferable, or “essential” skills which lead to career success, and that these are learned in the formal school setting.

The second assumption made is that everyone can and should learn them, no matter what their background or culture.

The third, and to me the most insidious assumption, behind the way in which we prepare young people for the world of work, is that the individual has almost complete control over his or her success, and that a lack of success is the fault of the individual alone.

In her essay, Rebecca proposes to "critique a number of artifacts in order to explore these assumptions" and has "created three artifacts of my own in an effort to creatively express my continuing frustrations with these assumptions.

One of the artifacts is a "is a mock brochure, based on the brochures I collected from the guidance departments of the high schools at which I teach."

These brochures are intended to inform adolescents and their parents about which skills are desirable in the twenty-first century workplace, and how students can best acquire these skills. These brochures are in keeping with the message of the HRDC, which lists essential skills: reading text, document use, numeracy, writing, oral communication, working with others, continuous learning, thinking skills and computer use (Essential Skills website). ... Many of the brochures employ a colloquial question and answer format, like a Socratic discussion, which I have imitated.


So You Want to be a Success in Ontario

Q: So what if I cannot get a job in the field for which I have trained?
A: The government has invested millions of dollars in retraining to help prepare you with essential skills for the twenty-first century job market. We have all kinds of web sites which are updated every two or three years with job prospects averaged out across the nation for your chosen field. If you make a poor choice, that is your fault. If conditions change midway through your training, we can help you with more training to transition again. Better luck next time!

Q: I volunteer at a nursing home and I really like seniors and I want to be a nurse someday, but I am not good at math and my guidance counselor says I need to have a lot of math to be a nurse. How does learning quadratic equations help me become a good nurse?
A: It is important to be capable of performing decontextualized skills in order to achieve the flexibility required for twenty-first century success. You never know when you will be laid off, and such skills prepare you to learn all kinds of other things. Just don’t ask us what.

Q: Why would I want to train for a career in the service industry when I made more money working for GM? Why can’t I get another job like that instead? I mean, someone is still making cars, right?
A: Yes, someone is making cars, but you and your union cronies got too big for your britches and started making all kinds of demands for higher wages and safety and all that other fancy stuff, so we moved the plant to China. Now, learn this new skill and remember this lesson so that we don’t move that job, too.

Q: I am fifty years old, and I haven’t been to school in thirty years. How can I compete with the twenty- and thirty- somethings coming out of the same college at which I am retraining?
A: You can’t. Had you made an earlier commitment to lifelong learning, you might at least have had something meaningful to do while you looked for work. At least you can be a highly-skilled, literate unemployed person.

Q: If Canada is supposed to be part of a global economy, how come my education from :: insert country of origin :: is not recognized here?
A: Canada’s economy must compete in an international market. Workers, like oil or lumber, are commodities. A sound economy is based on exporting more commodities than you import. Since you came from somewhere else, you are importing your skills, which undermines our Canadian economy. To balance things, you need to help us export our skills by learning them all over again. If this does not make sense, don’t worry. The global marketplace is very complex, and only a few very rich white men are capable of understanding it.

Q: If the twenty-first century economy is supposed to be a knowledge-based economy, how come most of the new jobs are in the service sector?
A: With ever-rising minimum wages and troublesome workers demanding things like respect and benefits, it is necessary to place educational barriers in place to regulate the number of people eligible for such privileges. You would know this if you had more essential skills.

Q: Instead of making me train more at something I don’t really need to earn more, why don’t my employers just pay me more?
A: If you lack the essential skills, as defined by your employer, you do not deserve more money. If you have the essential skills, you should develop them more.

Q: If everyone all over the world is simultaneously involved in continuous learning, doesn’t that undermine the purpose of upgrading?
A: Not if you are just a little bit faster than the curve. Back to school, slacker.


We can't wait to read your essay Rebecca.
Stay tuned: On Friday, we will publish more of Rebecca Commisso's work.


Wendell Dryden said...

Arrg!!! I got angry all over agian reading this.

Of course, she's exactly right. I'd add just one other "assumption" (though i'm not sure that's the right word - "lie" springs to mind): if the nation has economic troubles and high under- or unemployment, that is somehow the fault of the education sector (rather than, say, the finance sector or people responsible for trade and employment policies).

risky mouse said...

sorry to make you angry on hump day :(

speaking of the financial sector and taking responsibility ... check out this guy from the fraser institute talking about who is really to blame: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xZnKbwAyx8

or don't. i am surprised my tv survived my viewing. and i came in about 1/2 way through :P

risky mouse said...

in case you cannot bear this drivel ... it was his response to the question @ 12:03 that almost cost my tv her life.

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