A National Resistance for Better Education (NRBE)

1. Learning is a natural feature of human life. Studying is volitional learning.

2. Learning does not occur within the individual human mind. Instead it is a process mediated by social connections, co-participation, and created in communities (both large and small).

3. Teaching is, at the end, a communicative process.

4. Assessment is a process that discovers what has been learned in the teaching situation.

5. Assessment must always be accessible, equitable, understandable, and practicable.

6. The main structural form of a learning is the community of investigation or practice

7. Educational institutions serve their students, teachers and society at large.

8. Educational institutions have a core responsibility to facilitate the work of their teachers.

9. Educational institutions must NOT exploit their students and teachers for the sake of their income and corporate progress. NRBE believes all institutions of learning should be non-profit organisations.

10. Every teacher should have the right to join an appropriate Trade Union (as they wish), without fear of victimisation.

11. Continuous professional development should be in the interests of teaching professionals, not solely the corporate institutional entity.

12. Professionalism in teaching is paramount. Professionals should be respected for their independent ability to implement teaching-and-learning, and not forced to conform to local petty bureaucracies.

13. The role of education in society is not simply an instrument of continuous economic growth.

14. Achieving a qualification without achieving the praxis is a pointless and potentially fraudulent process.

15. Teachers should be treated as ends, not means.

16. All part-time contractual teachers should have the option of being permanently employed as and when they can demonstrate contractual continuity.

17. There are no discipline or subject area hierarchies in education. All learning is equally valuable.

18. All teachers should be trained and qualified to a level relevant to their chosen role and disciplines.

19. Every teacher should be entitled to paid time within their workplace dedicated to further research and personal development. This should be monitored and evaluated by teachers themselves.

20. NRBE believes that the prevailing character within (and between) our institutions should change from micro-management, fear and competition to mutual trust, dialogue and collaboration. NRBE’s aim is to create a community of learning in each and every institution, and networks of such co-operative communities in each locality.

21. Smaller is better. The NRBE supports devolved and locally responsible institutions.

22. There will be an end to ‘observation of teaching-and-learning’ based on management compliance. In its place, NRBE requires a collaborative and collegiate system of peer-based support.

23. NRBE believes that the current framework of national educational inspection is corrupt and antagonistic. It should be abandoned and a new approach adopted, geared to support and improvement rather than punishment and compliance.

24. Educators are entitled to a private life apart from teaching.

25. Bureaucratic systems MUST serve teacher interests and not solely those of the institution. Administrative processes must be made as minimal as is humanly possible.

26. Educators have the right to work in supportive, enabling institutions, which implement equality and diversity in a pro-active manner.

27. All educators, whatever their taught subjects or employment, acknowledge the vital importance of democracy, cooperation, and community as a core aspect of their work.

This come from over thirty years of teaching, and the work of colleagues across the entire sector. I acknowledge the work of my associates in ‘Tutor Voices’, with especial regard to Frank Coffield.

Finally, if you agree with my stance, then let me know. If there are enough supporters we can perhaps get something off the ground. I don’t see NRBE as a trade union, or a professional body. Instead, perhaps it is a UK nexus for educational praxis and activism.

PLEASE feel free to circulate to colleagues, students, friends, etc. as you see fit.

Hatred

Hatred is an insoluble word. Once something has been labelled as hatred then there’s nothing to be done about it. Hatred is like a modern version of the term ‘the devil’: a way of objectifying emotions and psychologies that are fearful, alien, horrifying.

But I think we need to find ways of dealing with the actions we call ‘hatred’. Then we can save ourselves.

Wittgenstein

I read and love Wittgenstein’s work not because he gives me ready-made arguments or answers, but because his process provide a certain discipline of thinking. This has a ‘sanitising’ effect: a tendency to create an oasis of mental calm amongst all the monstrous chaos, where thinking can begin again.

Wittgenstein does not disdain concepts of belief. He simply differentiates between productive and non-productive avenues of thinking. These are not always as obvious as they might seem. For example, he’s against scientism and the misuse of logic. He’s (generally) for the specific and the everyday. He has an underlying ‘feel’ for religious faith, and treats its concepts with respect. But he is fervently ‘anti-nonsense’. He is progressive, not willing to rest on his laurels.

Reading his work is not easy. It takes some time and constant effort to penetrate his obsessive ‘gnawing’ at what seem esoteric problems. And then the penny drops, and you realise he was talking about everyday life all along.

I recommend it. It has been good for me. Get reading!

Faith

All of us have a faith, in the sense that all of us have a commitment to some principle or other that demands a ‘leap in the dark’.

“At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.” (Wittgenstein, ‘On Certainty’)

Prejudice, not being founded on reason

“Prejudice, not being founded on reason, cannot be removed by argument.” (Samuel Johnson).

We’re not going to stop violence that comes out of bigotry by changing our laws or putting more police on the streets. We can only mitigate the problem by changing our social order (our fundamental attitudes to people-and-community). We must remove the sources of deep alienation that cause resentment, and sometimes extreme violence:

  • Massive social inequality
  • Poverty, and a society that doesn’t care
  • Education systems that exacerbate failure
  • Exploitation in and out of work
  • The feeling that nobody matters, only money and fame.
  • That the blame for all the above lies with others who are not ‘like us’.

Oh yes it is! Oh no it isn’t!

I know some transpeople have a downer on traditional British (i.e. English) pantomime. It’s all that travestie: men dressing as women and making fools of themselves on stage, whilst children learn that laughing at a guy in a frock is ‘de rigeur’. Or at the very least, socially sanctioned. Which maybe some of the little blighters translate into action outside the theatre. Hegemony of ideas does have a habit of making bad behaviour ‘OK’.

I used to hold this anti-panto’ position myself at one time, primarily because I used to feel very less confident than I do now. This of course, is a somewhat egocentric position (I nearly wrote selfish, but I’m not that self-flagellating) considering the issues that many transfolk have as they come out and find a niche for themselves in the world.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that the issue is not the jokes that our society has about cross-dressing. A sense of humour is a necessary asset for anyone who has to deal with the vagaries of frocks, accoutrements, make-up, and getting feckin’ shoes that fit. BUT the problem is that the if the ONLY message that our culture gives is that laughing at trannies is fine, then we create a nasty ghetto of thinking where cruelty lives unrestrained. We need alternative narratives that give a contrast to the ‘Ugly Sisters’ routine. Things that show us in a positive light. Unfortunately the UK is still a loooooong way from getting this right; but there is (I think) some hope at the end of the tunnel (for which, may we be truly thankful).

So, yeah… panto’ is just fine. As long as the joke’s not on me all the time.

You really should have said, y’know…

(I wrote this article back in 2011. Time for a ‘re-print’ I think).
There comes a day when a transgendered person gets ‘found out’.
 
I suppose that little needs a bit of explanation. You see, almost all transgendered folk start their lives firmly in the closet. And why not? … after all, it’s hardly a condition that anyone wants to be all that ‘frank’ about (pun intended!). Prejudice and stigmatisation of anyone with gender issues is still very rife in British society. Some have said in fact that the situation that trans people are in today is rather like that of the gay community forty years ago: still full of stereotyping and ridicule (and that’s at the best of times). Yes, we have our ‘tolerance zones’ and ‘safe areas’, but there are still too many incidents of hate crime, still too many news stories of trans people being assaulted, still far too many media jokes that make us appear like an easy target for yobs in search of a safe victim. It ain’t easy being a girl (or a bloke, for that matter)!
 
So we largely stay in the closet, unless the need for gender-transition is so strong that the only way to survive is to come out and face the consequences. After that, all other issues become secondary and one becomes a touch-stone for the world’s ills. It’s amazing how just being an ‘out’ transwoman can seem so very provocative. Suddenly old friends act as if you’ve just revealed that you’re really an alien from the planet LV-246, and you know it when you get dropped from their mobile contacts list. And at work they either treat you with kid gloves (just in case you sue!), or try to pretend you’re not there. Of course there are up- sides… the world isn’t all doom-‘n’-gloom … but it’s still a traumatic process for all that.
 
But what if you’re in the closet and quite happy to say there? Well, there’s always the chance that you’ll get caught by your partner whilst ‘dressed’ one fateful day. By ‘dressed’ I don’t mean just ‘wearing clothes’ of course. I mean wearing the clothes of the opposite gender (There… I’ve said it. Shock-horror! Call the Daily Mail immediately!). There you are, feeling comfy and safe. It’s just an ordinary day. Your better half has gone out for the evening to see friends, and you decide to take the opportunity to slip into something less comfortable. There’s that new bra and high-heels that your secreted into the house a few weeks ago, which you’ve never had the chance to properly try on. So, the temptation gets the better of you… you abandon yourself to unreason, climb into your best clobber and slap. And it’s bliss! It’s just fab’! This is what you were born for: the whole female ‘thing’ in all it’s glory. Yeah, you avoid looking in the mirror (don’t want to break the spell!), but for that brief moment you’re as glamorous as Marilyn (and with much longer legs).
 
But what’s this? A sound of a key in the lock?! Feet on the stairs?!! Panic-stations!! It’s too late; that zip is too difficult to undo, that lipstick just too red to obliterate in five seconds…and that bra catch is unreachable!
 
So she (or maybe he?) finds out. And if you’re really lucky there will be mutual embarrassment, maybe a bit of scolding and a few tears. But she’ll understand. Just. You’ll purge and promise to never do it again. All those clothes that took so long (and so much sweat!) to accumulate will go into the incinerator, and your guilt will become your own personal jailer and censor. But if you’re unlucky you’ll discover what anger and betrayal really mean. She’ll savage you verbally, make you feel as small as can be, and then refuse to have anything to do with you ever again. Is your life ruined? Hard to say. Purgatory has no time- off-for-good-behaviour.
 
So should you have told your partner about your little proclivity when you first hitched-up with one another? Wouldn’t it have been more honest? Haven’t you been a complete liar for not telling her earlier?
 
Sorry. Life’s just not as simple as that.
 
Here’s the story as I’ve experienced it: You start dressing when young. You give up. You tell yourself you can control it. You find you can’t. You enjoy it, but tell yourself you shouldn’t. You get a huge sexual kick out of the clothes, the image, the persona… the whole nine-yards of being a woman. But still you tell yourself that you’re not transgender (that’s assuming you’ve even heard the word).
 
You get older. The the sex-kick abates… but still you love to dress. Or maybe you don’t love it? Maybe it loves you? Maybe it’s just something about ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’? You get hideously confused. You want to stop, but can’t. And when you do stop, you can’t wait to start again. You get depressed. is life really supposed to be this complex?
 
If you’re unlucky then you grew up in an era (or a part of the country) where the word sex was hardly mentioned in the family, and the word ‘transsexual’ was never mentioned at all. The closest you ever got to such a thing was Danny la Rue on TV (God bless him!), or the Panto Dame at Xmas (though you always envied the Principle Boy much more!). You ogle those legs… and wish it was you.
 
So, you lock yourself in the closet, label yourself a freak, a pervert, and seek out the love of a good woman to just lead a ‘normal’ life. After all, it’s what everyone else has got, and it’s what you want the most. You may be trans, but you’re a human being too with all the needs any other human being has. Then you meet someone you adore. Yes of course you should have told her!!… But when you met her (and for a long time thereafter) thoughts of dressing never crossed your mind. So it works…. Yay! Love solves all. You’re cured!
 
Until later of course.
 
Let’s not beat ourselves up. The story of wives finding their husbands neatly dressed in some very tasty smalls one evening is an old one. Were all these poor saps deviously, cold- bloodedly fooling their spouses? No. They were doing the best they could do under the circumstances, and the sad thing is, they would have avoided getting into the situation of they could.

The Logic of Gender

The logic of gender is pretty obvious when you get to think about it.

Not that TERFs do much thinking (when sloganising and reacting is sooooo much less hard work). But I’ll elaborate my earlier thoughts here just for clarity.

The use of language as a communicational construct is largely a matter of signalling. That is to say, the meaning in any signalled message (be it verbal, bodily dress-wise, etc.) is in the intent of the sender rather than in the message itself. This is pretty much a given in communication science. Consequently, one can add that the meaning of any message is in its use, rather than some externally defined ‘absolute’. I know some will argue that dictionaries give a definition of a word’s meaning, but I would argue that all a dictionary does is reflect historic/cultural use of language. All dictionaries are out of date, since by the time they are compiled and in use the language has already ‘moved on’.

Hence if I use words such as ‘gender’, sex’, ‘male’, ‘female’, ‘woman’, ‘man’, (etc) I’m not signalling some Gods-given absolute of definition (since there isn’t one), but only the current state-of-play in the dialectical battle of meaning. This is a social function; we struggle over what we mean, and in doing so come to acceptable forms of usage. These are by no means ‘closed’ issues though. One need only to think of poetic use of language to realise that a word can mean many things depending on its context and assimilation within a cultural structure.

So what about our use of ‘gender’ and ‘sex’? Well, I know these are used interchangeably by many of us. I have no objection to this. But when it comes to the use of language about myself, I require of others a modicum of polite acceptance that if you want to get my attention and have a fair exchange of views then flexibility over acceptable terminology is necessary.

Just as it would be UNACCEPTABLE (and clearly so!) to use the terms ‘wog’, ‘darkie’, ‘chinky’ or such for people of other cultures, then it is unacceptable to call me a ‘man’ when I am clearly living in the female gender. To say that no one has a right not to be offended is disingenuous, since it is clearly the case that deliberate use of offensive language to describe other cultures is a feature of racism and bigotry. It would be a category error therefore to assume a different set of linguistic criteria apply to me. Yes, it is often wrong to offend, significantly when the offence is based on a personal attribute rather than something another has said or done.

For my part, Gender and Sex are two different things. Gender is the domain in which I live. Sex is my biology. These are related, but not deterministically so. If they were, then feminism as we know it would not be possible. A woman’s cultural and social (and hence economic!) world would be always determined purely by her biology. But it clearly is not. Our society has changed for the better because women have broken free (at least in part) from the traditional over-determination of their roles in society based upon their bodily construction.

Having said that, is it not also so with transgender people? Do our sexual organs ‘determine our being’? Is my existence simply a matter of the chromosomes I was dealt at birth? Pace any references to ‘the patriarchy’, I would deny that my genetics (or what is between my legs) is what makes my identity what it is.

It is the separation of the domain of identity from deterministic (i.e. essentialist) biology that give us all (no matter how we identify) the freedom we need to lead fulfilled lives. Hence, when I use terms such as ‘transwoman’, ‘woman’, ‘female’, etc. to describe myself I am not playing some weirdly mysterious game of infiltrating traditional female privacy. I know where I am not wanted. But I am using these terms within the context of discourse to describe my experience of the world, and how my relationships with others can be best explained. To do otherwise is to read too much into my speech and actions, and closet me once again in a neat box where I can be labeled, categorised, discarded, ignored… and persecuted.

Love me or hate me, I’m more than the sum of my parts (and especially the parts between my legs). If the radical feminists can’t hack it with me, then that’s their loss: they’ve forgotten the face of their mothers and are doing to others exactly what others did to them.

I rest my case m’lud.

Labour Antisemitism?

The whole business of anti-semitism is part of an endemic range of xenophobic, homophobic and religiophobic auto-responses that are lodged deep in British society.

They are difficult to eradicate because those who suffer from them are very reluctant to engage in any rational discussion, and when they do engage (usually anonymously) they are highly defensive of possibly being ‘outed’. There is much denial, and a great deal of over-stressed nationalistic hubris. This a sublimatory response to the innate shame that comes with phobic anxiety.

The legal process in the UK has gone a very long way to eliminate the worst of explicit phobic prejudice. But laws can only do so much. They are, at best, a layer of last resort. A deterrent to the kind of harmful behaviour that used to be quite common decades ago. Instead, much overt nastiness has been driven underground; the domain where the current battle takes place. This low-level prejudice can be educated out of society, but it is a generational project and will certainly take better strategies than we currently have in place.

Consequently, if we want to point the finger at latent antisemitism we could do better than just look at the Labour Party. Yes, there will be antisemites in Labour. Just as there will be in the Tory Party, Greens, Communists, etc. And the teaching profession. It’s not that there are antisemites — that is a given. It’s what we are doing about them that matters.

International Women’s Day

I sometimes wonder about the relationship that transwomen (or let me put it another way: those women who were not born to the binary-based female role) have with events such as International Women’s Day? Do we feel solidarity with our born-to-role sisters? Do we feel welcomed? Or is there a little uncertainty about it all… a certain tentative sense of being on the fringes of things and not ‘normalised’ to the kind of discourse that such events produce.

I’m not sure. But I think not being sure is probably a healthy thing. I don’t want to wander naively through my life feeling that I’m casually welcome absolutely everywhere. I know that the law is (largely) on my side in this matter, but that’s irrelevant when it comes to the actual social interactions one experiences every day.

Yes, I am delighted to wish all my female friends, colleagues, acquaintances, students, etc. a very glorious IWD… but I know the limits imposed by my history. Yesterday does matter; I value my male past as much as my female present. Hence I am *different*, and I know that this is an inescapable fact of my life.

Good wishes to you today. And good wishes too to all my splendid transgender friends.