Swingshift College: Popular Education?
by Mike Olszanski
L580 Term Paper
April 7, 2003
"A way ofteaching
is never innocent. Every Pedagogy is
implicated in ideology, in a set oftactic
assumptions about what is real, what is
good, what is possible, and how power
ought to be distributed. "
(Linkon, 153 from Berlin, James, "Rhetoric and
Ideology in the Writing Class," College English 50,
No.5 Sept. 1988, pp. 492, 479.)
Olszanski 1 L580 Term Paper
Swingshift College, a program for adult workers initiated 10 years
ago by Dr. Ruth Needleman at Indiana University Northwest, was inspired
by the work ofPaulo Freire, Miles Horton, Canadian popular educators and
others. What are its mission and goals, and how well does it meet those
goals? To what extent can the popular education paradigm be adapted for
use in a college-credit program? What kind of conflicts arise from the
competing interests ofpop ed and the university? How do these conflicts get
resolved? What about grades? Is Swingshift College a special case, or
can worker education generally successfully implement this kind of
This paper will explore these questions in the light ofpopular
education theory and my own experience as a student and staffassistant in
Swingshift College for the past 5 years, as well as interviews with present
students and graduates ofthe program.
First and foremost, for Needleman, education for workers needs to be
anything but neutral. She makes it crystal clear that Swingshift College,
like the Labor Studies program she has been involved with for some 30
years, aims to educate workers in order to empower and enable them to build
their own movement. Needleman aims to build a "community" ofworker
intellectuals, worker advocates and worker activists. She aims to "get people
into action." (Needleman, 3/25/03)
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Co-existent with that goal, according to its mission statement,
Swingshift College strives to "encourage workers to make a commitment
to life-long learning." and to "provide college curriculum that meets the
highest standards ofquality" (Appendix A). Swingshift provides the
opportunity to earn Associate and Bachelors degrees in both Labor Studies
and General Studies. In order to make available courses needed by students
to meet the requirements ofthese degree programs, Swingshift College
offers a wide range math, science and social science classes, in addition to
the Labor Studies classes around which the core ofthe program was
Begun by Needleman ofiUN Labor Studies, in conjunction with John
Myers, coordinator ofthe USWA Bethlehem learning Center in 1993 with a
one credit L290 offering, "Steel at the CrossRoads", Swingshift College
has been directed by Cathy Iovanella since 1996. Aimed initially at
Steelworkers, Swingshift would help them to take advantage of the
education benefit negotiated by the USWA in their 1988 contracts with
USX, Bethlehem, Inland , LTV and National/Midwest. The educational
benefits for steelworkers are administered by a national office, the Institute
for Career Development (ICD) established by the USWA and located in
Merrillville, Indiana. The infusion ofdollars to pay tuition and books for
"sponsored" steelworkers went a long way toward making Swingshift a
paying proposition for IUN. Based in the Continuing Studies department,
Swingshift is a "customized college program" employing techniques aimed
at motivating workers to take an active, pro-worker role in their unions and
community. (Needleman, 1995, page 1) In August, 1994 a Gary Post
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Tribune editorial lauded Swingshift college as part ofa new "vision for
education" (Post, August 24, 1994). It enjoyed great deal ofsupport (now
somewhat waning) from then-Chancellor Richards. But from the beginning,
Needleman acknowledged its reliance on the support ofworkers and their
organizations and institutions in order for Swingshift to grow and prosper.
"Swingshift ollege will only succeed, ifwe succeed in building a full
partnership. The program must belong to the local joint committees, the
lCD, the students, IUN and the faculty and staff." (Needleman, 1995, page
3) Total enrollments went from 89 in Fall of 19194 to a peak of320 in Fall
of 1997. (See Appendix A, Swingshift College Mission Statement)
Popular education has its roots in the theory ofAntonio Gramsci, as
adopted and expanded upon by Paulo Freire, Myles Horton and others. In
the 1920's, writing from Mussolini's prison Gramsci, leader ofthe Italian
Communist Party (PCI) elaborated a theory ofclass hegemony-"the
ideological predominance of bourgeois values and norms over the
subordinate classes"-that built on the ideas ofMarx, Engels, Lenin and
others (See appendix C, also see Olszanski, Mid-Term paper, L580).
Gramsci's theory emphasized the powerful role played by culture and
education in rationalizing, legitimizing and popularizing the status quo. In
addition to the coercive power ofthe state, Gramsci insisted that a popular
consensus was an essential element ofhegemony. He describes a process of
"covert indoctrination" through which capitalist institutions maintain this
popular consensus. Gramsci saw this hegemony as so ingrained in a society
Olszanski 4 L580 Term Paper
that it was accepted by a majority ofthe population as "common sense" or
"the only way of running a society."
( http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-gram.htm page 4)
Counter-posed to this bourgeois state hegemony, Gramsci envisioned
the creation ofa working-class "counter-hegemony" through the
development ofmass organizations, working-class culture, and working-
class institutions, particularly schools. Adult education was seen as an
important element in a "war ofposition" against this political, economic,
cultural and especially intellectual hegemony ofthe capitalist state (Mayo,
2). Overcoming this "popular consensus" in favor ofthe ruling ideology of
capitalism demanded the education ofthe working class, and the
development of"organic" intellectuals from and firmly planted on the side
ofthe working class. The aim was not just raising consciousness, but
transforming it, and building a new socialist consciousness and a new
popular consensus (Mayo, 5). Likewise, beyond merely seeking structural
change, developing the new ideological counter -hegemony was necessary to
win the hearts and minds ofthe populace. The purpose ofcounter-
hegemonic culture and institutions would be to facilitate resistance to and
:finally encircle and overcome the existing main-stream capitalist institutions
Thus, Gramsci saw worker education as part ofa process of
"growing" "organic" working-class intellectuals, who would form a cadre in
the creation of centers ofcounter-hegemony, to battle capitalists and their
institutions for the hearts and minds ofthe general public. Gramsci also
looked to praxis (revolutionary action) as a way to confront and overcome
bourgeois hegemony and simultaneously build the new popular consensus:
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" ...ideologies are expressions ofthe structure and are modified by
modifications ofthe structure" (Gramsci, 442). Identifying the
epistemological significance ofthe principle ofhegemony was, according to
Gramsci, Lenin's great contribution to Marxism (Gramsci, 365).
Gramsci saw the "philosophy ofpraxis" as one ofthe three "unities"
in the constituent elements ofMarxist theory ("man & matter") i.e., "the
relationship between human will (superstructure) and economic structure"
(Gramsci, 403). Gramsci acknowledges Marx and Engles as "founders of
the Philosophy ofPraxis" ( 415-416). Indeed, Gramsci's translators clearly
indicate that in the code used to fool the prison censors, by "the Philosophy
of Praxis" and "modem theory" he actually meant Marxist theory (404-407).
Paulo Freire, a radical Brazilian educator attempting to bring
empowerment through literacy and consciousness-raising to the lower
classes in his country, adopted and built on some ofthis theory. Miles
Horton, who established the Highlander Folk School to educate and mobilize
Appalachian people, discovered similar ideas in the process oflearning how
to educate poor adults. Before the Russian Revolution, Finnish Wobblies
founded Work People's College in Duluth, Minnesota to teach syndicalism
and industrial democracy. In the 1930's Brookwook Labor College in New
York, Commonwealth in Arkansas and the Bryn Mawr School for Women
Workers also used these kinds oftechniques. More recently, popular
educators in the U.S. and Canada have adopted, extended and refined these
ideas, developing a unique pedagogy aimed as much at consciousness-
raising and movement-building as it is at helping workers acquire skills. In
Canada, Bev Burke, Jojo Geronimo, D'Arcy Martin, Barb Thomas and
Carol Wall's recently published Education for Changing Unions illustrates
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popular education with a "spiral model" ofteaching/learning, which begins
with and builds on what workers already know, identifies patterns, analyzes
knowledge in light of working class interests, adds new knowledge and
expertise, and leads to a plan for action (Appendix B). Radical black
feminist Bell Hooks, in her Teaching to Transgress, describes how the very
same theory can be applied in a University setting, as in classes she teaches
at City College in New York.
We are thus the beneficiaries ofa hundred years oftheory and practice
in popular education. Acknowledging this debt to previous thinkers, as well
as students, Hooks says (62) " ...the production of...theory is complex...it is
an individual process less often than we think and usually emerges from
engagement with collective sources." While Hooks is specifically speaking
offeminist theory here, her remarks are equally applicable to the origins of
popular education theory as well.
More than simply running classes morning and evening, the program aims to
eliminate red-tape and hassles, easing the transition ofworkers to college. It
provides tutoring, writing seminars and advice and special counseling. At
the same time, it endeavors to build working class consciousness, worker
solidarity and "counter hegemony" in the classroom, even when supervisors
and management-oriented students are in it. Counseling and registration are
handled by Swingshift staff. A prospective student need merely telephone,
email or visit the Swingshift office, indicate the classes she wants to take,
and the rest is done by the staff. Even textbooks are ordered and brought to
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class for the sponsored students (steelworkers whose tuition and books are
paid for by ICD). Swingshi:ft removes most ofthe obstacles, thus freeing the
working student to apply herselfto learning. Classes are videotaped, so that
attendance-so difficult at times for already overburdened shift workers,
who are required by their employers at times to work "double" shifts-is not
so critical. In fact, it is an established principle that attendance not be
considered in grading. Likewise, students are neither graded lower nor
berated for arriving late for class. It is assumed that adults, attending classes
they choose for themselves, are neither late nor absent without good reason.
Instructors employ various methods to ensure that students who miss classes
are kept up to speed. Generally these amount to a requirement to check out
and view the video, and submit a short paper on what was covered in the
According to a description ofSwingshift College written by
Swingshift College through its customizedformat and emphasis on
labor studies has combined different traditions ofworker education
from both the extension as well as credit models. The format creates
a collective, on-going cohort ofstudents whose education is
integrated, experienced-based and worker-friendly. With support
systems, Swingshift has enabled workers at different levels of
academic preparation to enter together.
Early on, peer mentors were also employed to "facilitate collective learning
through inter-dependence" (Needleman)
Olszanski 8 L580 Term Paper
The Praxis of Needleman
Praxis is the application oftheory to practice. So what does the
practice ofpopular education, and counter-hegemony, mean in the
classroom? How does it transform the classroom, the students and the
teacher? Or, as Needleman would put it, "That's talkin' the talk. What about
walkin' the talk?" How and where does the rubber meet the road?
Needleman's own classroom illustrates the most successful attempt
to integrate counter-hegemonic theory and practice with university
undergraduate, and recently, graduate level education here at Indiana
University, and perhaps in the nation. Beginning, in the tradition ofFreire,
Horton, and contemporary Canadian popular educators with the knowledge
already possessed by adult students who may be union activists or officers,
Needleman utilizes the "Spiral method" illustrated in appendix B .
Needleman, like Hooks, "employ[s] pedagogical strategies that create
ruptures in the established order, that promote modes of learning which
challenge bourgeois hegemony" (Hooks, 185). Needleman's Labor Studies
classroom is a good place to view the theory ofpopular education in action
or "praxis". As a student in her classes, I have been able to view her
technique from a unique perspective. While constrained by the demands of
the University in terms ofgrades, curriculum, time-tables, etc., Needleman
closely approximates popular education in college credit courses, including a
new one at the graduate level. Needleman has won more teaching awards
than anyone on the IUN campus. She takes more pride in her working-class
roots than her Harvard degree.
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Her classroom-our classroom-she would call it, is a space created
to enable trade unionists, working class intellectuals and ordinary people of
every race, background and gender to share, compare, explore, and analyze
our experiences in the light ofany and all theory we find useful. More often
than not, the classroom is "offcampus" at one ofthe USWA/Company
"Learning Centers" near the !SPAT/Inland, Bethlehem, or Midwest/National
steel mills. The location is "convenient" for workers, but also less
threatening for someone taking a first step into college. It is also less
constraining than the usual campus classroom-more adaptable to "in the
round" seating, for example.
Here, in a "safe house" ofbrothers and sisters, guided, facilitated but
not dominated by an expert in the use ofanalysis, we students begin with our
own experiences, and with what we have already learned from that
experience. Here Needleman " ...build(s] on people's own experience; it is
the basis for their [our] learning" (Horton, 137). Here we are challenged to
use new tools to understand the social causes ofwhat many ofus-isolated
and alienated as we were- had assumed were our personal problems. 1
Quickly we find common interests, and come to understand how
those vital commonalities far outweigh our differences, confronted as we are
by the hegemonic system ofcapitalism. We discover the basic conflict
between the owning class and the working class. We find ourselves
uncovering the truth ofour own identities as members ofthe largest, and
potentially most politically powerful class in history.
Professor ofSociology in the Swingshift Program Chuck Gallmeier uses a theory ofC. Wright Mills-
"The Sociologicallmagination"·-to define this new consciousness.
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In this space we are permitted, indeed encouraged to use all the tools we can
fmd from the teaching ofJesus and Shelley, as Myles Horton would have it,
to the class analysis ofMarx in our struggle to understand the forces which
oppress, repress and exploit us. Left-wing theory is given respect and weight
rather than dismissed as "dangerous" or "discredited" or "passe." This
enacts a kind ofacademic freedom often espoused but seldom found in
practice on U.S. campuses. "When you want to build a democratic society,
you have to act democratically in every way" (Horton, 227). Needleman's
method ofteaching is perhaps the most democratic one is likely to find in a
In the tradition ofHorton, the jargon or "big words" ofpopular
education, terms like "praxis" "hegemony" etc., are defined-then promptly
set aside in favor ofless formal, more familiar words. The emphasis is on
understanding. As Horton puts it, "Ifthey don't understand the process, they
may be able to go back and mouth it, but they can't live it" (137). One
seldom leaves Needleman's class without a clear explanation ofthe concepts
Counter-hegemony, in our classroom, means a space where we
students empower ourselves through collective analysis to debunk the
powerful myths projected by the institutions ofcapital. It's a space where we
realize in the process how collective action, e.g., through a progressive and
militant labor movement, women's movement, peace movement, civil rights
movement, poor people' s movement, can be our vehicle to do something
about our situation: to fight back. Counter-hegemony for us is an organizing
principle that enables us to collectively throw the hard light ofscientific
analysis on the myths and contradictions ofthe system that engulfs us- to
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understand the system but also to gather the strength in protected spaces to
begin the process ofchanging it. The epistemology happening here is the
exact antithesis ofthat employed by the old "banking system" of
conventional university educators (Hooks, 14).
The courage, both intellectual and physical, ofour facilitator (leader,
in the best sense ofthe term) is contagious. Freed ofthe oppressive,
limiting, stifling, hegemonic intimidation and thought-controlled milieu of
bourgeois culture, media and the educational system, we explore subversive
ideas which transform us, and empower us to transform society. As the
desirability-no the desperate need-for social change becomes obvious and
logical analysis dispels the mythology which had clouded our thinking, the
means to effect that change begin to present themselves. Here we go beyond
mere "consciousness-raising"-to action. Within this counter-hegemonic
space (the word enclave springs to mind) the early adjournment ofa class
session in order to join a picket line is recognized as a practically seamless
transition from theory to practice, from analysis to action. Here, as Hooks
puts it, "no gap exists between theory and practice...one enables the other"
The process oflearning engendered by popular education enables,
nurtures, develops us as "organic" intellectuals, in a sense a "cadre" ofclass
conscious leaders committed to social change, and clearly conscious of
which side we are on. This is a program where "people [leaders]...multiply
themselves" (Horton, 57). Bonds ofnewly discovered brotherhood and
sisterhood that extend beyond the boundaries ofthe classroom are created
and strengthened. As we pick apart the racist, sexist, anti-working class
ideas which contaminate our larger society, we strengthen those bonds.
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Whether we celebrate a happy event, mourn a loss, win a strike, ride the bus
to march on Washington, or just have a beer, a new circle offriends and
allies (dare we say comrades) has been created, based on a collective
understanding ofthe struggle we share. That, in the classroom ofpopular
educator Ruth Needleman, is what counter-hegemony in action looks like.
The fact is, the ideas ofFreire, Horton, Hooks and popular educators from
all times and places come to life in her classroom. Their (and her) ideas,
clearly subversive in the very best sense ofthe word, can enable the
oppressed peoples ofthe world, and specifically ofthis country, to grow our
own intellectuals and leaders, to organize to resist, fight back, and finally,
The plethora ofideas in the literature (I've only scratched the surface
with an internet search for sources) on methods ofevaluating student
performance in college class work include both radical and conservative
approaches. Totally ungraded systems or pass/fail grading which briefly
enjoyed a measure ofpopularity with radical educators after the 1960's,
seem to have largely faded from the scene. The conventional grade systems
in use at IU and most other universities need little explanation. The
University ofIllinois, in its guide for instructors, recognizes the "distributive
gap method, grading on the curve, percent grading, a relative grading
method using group comparisons and an absolute standard grading method"
"Group assessment & personal evaluation" and "peer and self-evaluation"
are in use in England, among other places. Many educators are
uncomfortable with grading systems that feign objectivity, whether
"criterion referenced" or "norm-referenced" (ERIC).
Olszanski 13 L580 Term Paper
Needleman appears to have adopted a system roughly similar to that
(briefly) described by Hooks (157): "I try to communicate that the grade is
something they [the students] can control by their labor in the classroom."
In her own words, Needleman tends to give mostly "A's B's and
Incompletes." Students are encouraged to refme, re-work and re-submit
required work in order to get the grade we want, encouraging persistent
effort in order to improve the quality ofour writing, and analysis. Most
importantly, students seldom work on a project alone. Stressing the building
ofcommunity, Group learning is employed wherever possible, encouraging
students to cooperate and work collectively to solve problems.
Many in academia decry the "grade inflation" supposedly rampant in
universities these days (Bush Jr's college grades are suspect). A 1995 study
found "only 10-20% ofstudents receive grades lower than B-" (ERIC).
Professors are under pressure from students and parents who demand good
grades as a quidpro quo for the high dollar costs ofa college education.
Needleman's grading system is anything but grade inflation. Her use of
Incompletes is similar to the use ofthe "R" in graduate courses ofthe IU
School ofEducation. Assigned in "thesis and dissertation courses, internship
courses, and...other selected courses where work is expected to take longer
than one year to complete," the "R" indicates a deferred grade
(http://www.indiana.edu/-educate/grdpolicy.html ). This use ofthe "I" (IU does not
allow the use of"R" for undergraduate courses) can remove the time
pressure, the pressure ofcompetition, the fear offailure, as well as allow for
multiple revisions ofa paper. By allowing or even encouraging students to
resubmit a paper multiple times until they have achieved the fmal grade they
want, this employment ofthe "Incomplete" looks a bit like "Mastery
Olszanski 14 L580 Term Paper
Learning" as advocated by educator Benjamin Bloom (Appendix B). It
empowers students, and encourages a great deal more thought and work than
might take place iftime were ofthe essence in submitting the work. Yet, as
Needleman herselfinsists, there is an important difference: Ruth's approach
focuses less on the individual, more on collective or group learning. She
does agree with Bloom, however, in placing responsibility for students'
success on the teacher: "Bad grades mean the teacher failed" (Needleman,
class 3/11/03). Incompletes might also be viewed as a kind of"safety valve,"
allowing for a face-saving, non-embarrassing exit from academic studies-
whether merely temporary or permanent-for those who can't, or aren't yet
ready to commit the time and effort necessary to "make the grade" at a
certain point in their lives, without being labeled with the stigma of
"failure." Critics ofa "personal best" conception ofevaluation can and do
argue that it is not fair to award the same "A" grade to one whose
achievement required extra time, even though tremendous personal growth
and work was involved. One who's previous educational experience or
"ability" enables her to master the course's subject matter more completely,
in less time and with less effort tends to get the better grade in conventional
Evaluations which weigh more heavily the content ofstudent papers
and verbal presentations, rather than the quality ofwriting or speaking do
not abound in the thinking ofmost conventionally oriented academics. Once
again for Ruth, the quality of analysis and thought are always placed ahead
ofmechanical writing and/or verbal communication skills. "you don't write
well?" she says, "Ifit's not a writing course, it shouldn't matter"
(Needleman, Class, 3/11/03). In fairness, Needleman does not teach basic
skills competencies like composition, speech or math, but her copious
Olszanski 15 L580 Term Paper
feedback on papers and presentations does in fact help students hone these
skills. In assessing student achievement, she urges students to ask
themselves, "Have I learned things I can apply?" and "Have I applied the
things I've learned?" (Class, 3/11/03)
Needleman's grading system is somewhat unique and different from
that employed by other professors ofLabor Studies or those who teach
Sociology, Anthropology, History or other subjects for Swingshift
College. In fact there is no standard grading system used by our teachers.
There is at present no consensus--even between Swingshift Coordinator
Iovanella and Needleman-on precisely how to evaluate student
performance. Iovanella has expressed concerns for maintaining a degree of
rigor, and standards, in order to equip students for future challenges. In
addition, while most Swingshift instructors conform to the ideal of NOT
using attendance as any part oftheir grading system, in all other criteria they
vary greatly in their approaches to this difficult issue. The democratic, non-
hierarchical methods employed in the classroom are clearly in evidence in
Needleman's and Iovanellas's approach to the faculty as well. Therefore,
faculty are in no way compelled to conform to any standard ofgrading. Thus
a student in the Swingshift College program would, in completing the
requirements needed for a certificate or degree, necessarily be exposed to
instructors whose methods ofevaluating her varied quite a lot. Students'
overall GPA then, could hardly be said to reflect merely Needleman's
measure oftheir achievement. The success rate of Swingshift College
students-in conventional classes as well as Needleman's-suggests that
another factor is at work here. It seems to me that, whether because ofhigh
levels ofmotivation, an accumulation ofknowledge that comes with
Olszanski 16 L580 Term Paper
expenence, and/or other unseen qualities, Swingshift's adult learners
simply do better than their traditional (generally younger) counterparts.
The disproportionately high percentage ofhonors graduates and high GPA's
among Swingshift students bears this out. As Needleman puts it, "I
couldn't have gotten away with it [her grading system] ifit didn't work"
Conflicts: College Credit V. Movement Building
Is Swingshift's primary mission to build movements? Or to enable
workers to get College Degrees? Can we do movement-building in a
university setting? Does the administration ofthe university want us to?
In the face of administrators whose expressed preference is to build
coalitions with business interests, and a University faculty many ofwhom
assign worker and adult education ofany kind a low priority, building
Swingshift College has been at best an up-hill battle. The handful of
professors who teach in Labor Studies and Swingshift College classes are
clearly some ofthe most visionary teachers I've had the pleasure of
knowing. Several have bee recognized with teaching awards. But there is
anything but unanimity concerning pedagogy. The sacrifices involved,
including working double shifts on class days, submitting to student
participation in the design oflesson plans, student midterm evaluations
which make demands on teachers in terms ofrapid feedback, justification of
reading and writing assignments, questioning oftesting and grading
methods-all these demand a special kind ofteacher, willing to sacrifice
Olszanski 17 L580 Term Paper
total authority in order to achieve a deeper learning experience. We are
fortunate to have a number ofsuch teachers in the program. What has yet to
be achieved is full consensus on goals and methods. More needs to be done,
in my opinion, to clearly define our mission and priorities, and achieve
better collective understanding of, agreement on and commitment to the
methods needed to accomplish that mission.
Laying claim to a degree ofsuccess for her vision, Needleman says,
The networks among students and teachers have created a community
that transcends the classroom, so that the learning process extends to
union and community events and brings those events into the
classroom for reflection and more learning. In fact, organizations
separatefrom Swingshift have benefited directly through the
contributions ofstudents, both on the level ofanalysis as well as
This is demonstrably true. As a participant, graduate and observer of
Swingshift classes over a five year period, I have witnessed tremendous
personal growth, attitudinal change, and increased consciousness in myself
and many students. Yet when interviewed, a number ofgraduates
emphasized the role of Swingshift College as a vehicle enabling students
to achieve personal academic success and college diplomas, and only
secondarily as "creating community" or "building a movement." One in
particular stated he always knew he was intelligent, but others did not take
him seriously, treating him "like a dumb steelworker'' until he got his
degree. This desire to secure recognition oftheir intellect and sagacity, in the
form ofa college degree, was echoed by a number ofstudent interviewees.
Some spoke ofan "interest in learning" for learning sake. Most took classes
to learn or enhance specific skills, like grievance handling, and found them
Olszanski 18 L580 Term Paper
effective. One took classes "because they sounded interesting" and surprised
herselfas her credits began to add up to an Associate's and later a
Bachelor's degree. One (already a Union rep and activist) said "I got into to
the program...because I wanted to do other things after I get out ofthe milL"
This desire to retrain in order to prepare for new careers after retirement (or
in case ofjob loss) was also a common theme.(Interviews).
On the other hand, a 1999 blind survey ofBethlehem students by
university ofIllinois Professor Robert Bruno found that while most reported
"increased job satisfaction" and learning "useful vocational skills," 86.6%
ofrespondents either agreed or did not disagree that their participation in
ICD classes "increased awareness of[the] union role in bargaining benefits"
Another 79.7o/o agreed or did not disagree that classes "increased my
involvement in union matters" and 87.2o/o agreed or did not disagree that
classes "increased my support for the union's efforts and goals." Most also
would make continued contractual support for ICD programs a high priority
in negotiations. It should be noted that only a fraction ofthe ICD students
surveyed took Swingshift Classes, some taking only non-university skills
classes ofvarious kinds. In spite ofthis Bruno notes, a strong and positive
overall "union eftect" is in evidence in the survey results (Bruno, 26,27).
Olszanski 19 L580 Term Paper
Funding and Support
The General Studies division under Bob Lovely had assumed the
major fmancial responsibility for Swingshift College, but budget
constraints there have forced us to return to the Department ofLabor Studies
for money. The constant struggle for funding by Swingshift advocates over
the years reflects both the low priority assigned to worker education by the
University administration here and in Bloomington and the general cut-
backs in educational programs being experienced nation-wide. Swingshift
staffroutinely bring office and video equipment and supplies from home, or
"borrow" it from other departments. An illustrative anecdote is one I am
personally fond ofrepeating concerning how we finally got our office printer
replaced, after over a year without one, by appealing to the advisory
committee. For a number ofmonths, any printing that needed to be done for
Swingshift was sent from the second to the first floor to be done on a Labor
Studies printer. This found one ofthe two ofus in the office constantly
running up and down the stairs, only to find, as often as not, that a computer
glitch had prevented the job being transmitted to the printer. I will admit I
weighed twenty pounds less during those months. What I had hoped was to
embarrass someone in the administration into finding the needed $150 out of
a desire to silence my constant whining, ifnot for the recognition ofthe
absurdity ofthe situation. This tactic failed completely. Instead, a
steelworker student and advisory board member finally donated a printer.
We were very grateful.
Olszanski 20 L580 Term Paper
The so-called "Shared Vision" program initiated by Chancellor
Bergland seems to have no real place in it for Swingshift College, even
though on balance, we have demonstrated that fiscally as well as
educationally, the program contributes more to the campus than it costs.
Since the reason for the low priority we suffer can hardly be financial, I can
only assume that it is politicaL
Nearly every semester, word gets back to Needleman that a student or
associate ofa student or local union officer or someone has commented
negatively (always behind the backs ofthe faculty and staff) on the leftward
slant ofLabor Studies classes offered through Swingshift College. Is this
symptomatic of a larger, more insidious bias against the program, fueled by
latent anti-communism? The inevitable involvement of Swingshift
College with Local, District and International leadership ofthe USWA as
well as management of the steel companies, means that the rabid anti-
communism infecting some ofthese officials in the past has reflected itself
in conflict with much ofthe mission expressed by Needleman and others in
the program. It should come as no surprise that many ofthese former cold
warriors find the theories ofMyles Horton, Paulo Freire, and certainly those
ofGramsci "socialistic" or "communistic." Pleasantly surprising is how far
a frank discussion ofthe principles ofworker education, the inherent conflict
between labor and management, and the need for solidarity within the labor
movement that Swingshift College attempts to employ can dispel myths
and paranoia among reasonably open-minded students.
Olszanski 21 L580 Term Paper
Most Labor Studies classes, especially those Ruth teaches, address the
political philosophy ofunions, and the importance ofthe difference between
"business unionism" and "social unionism." A class I took on the history of
the CIO explored the role ofCommunists and other leftists in building the
movement, as well as some ofthe deleterious effects ofthe purges ofthe
40's and 50's on the labor movement. Specific references to the destructive
effects ofanti-communism-like racism, sexism and nationalism--on the
solidarity ofthe labor movement, along with the general identification ofthe
two sides as labor v. capital (and by implication our opponents as the
capitalists not the communists) are educational antidotes to the toxin ofred-
baiting. Several long-time students have testified in class to their changed
ideas concerning the left, anti-communism, re-baiting, and business v. social
unionism. It is possible to see real political growth among some ofthese
On the other hand, a recent incident reminds one that old habits die
hard. Union elections often bring out the competitive side ofthose involved,
and red-baiting is a "cheap shot" which is all too easy to take at an opponent.
A top student, one I was convinced had developed a thorough understanding
ofeverything popular education is trying to build, has been red-baiting a
union brother wh'O is an opponent in the up-coming election. This kind of
thing makes it hard to trust the effectiveness ofpopular education in
overcoming lon:g held biases and misconceptions--especially ofthe political
Olszanski 22 L580 Term Paper
As Swingshift College struggles for survival, continued funding and
expansion, as well as recognition, the future is in doubt. Now in its tenth
year, Swingshift has long since successfully completed its pilot-project
phase, and is straining to grow. It needs additional staff, faculty and students
to expand. If it does not expand soon, and begin to fulfill its larger potential
at Indiana University, it will either wither and die, or continue to soldier on
for a time at far less than potential effectiveness. Financial support in terms
ofiCD money for books and tuition is waning, and further cuts are possible.
Steelworkers at some area mills are going on new twelve hour per day shifts,
which will require a different kind ofclass schedule to meet their needs.
With the possible exception of medium level administration
"friends" in Continuing Studies and Labor Studies, University support has
been little and late. But perhaps it is unrealistic to expect the kind ofsupport
needed from the university, which at bottom is an institution ofcapitalist
hegemony. Accepting the Gramscian concept of "civil society as a site for
struggle" the university is viewed as a "rampart ofthe state" which popular
educators should recognize as an opponent in a "war ofposition." The task
then, for proponents ofworker education, becomes one of"infiltration,
persuasion, provoking and managing change, subversion even." (Spencer,
It has been suggested that what has been achieved at Swingshift
College might serve as a model for educational programs throughout the
country. Certainly there is much here that advocates ofworker education can
Olszanski 23 L580 Term Paper
learn from and adopt. But without the active support ofthe working class
itself: through its unions or other collective institutions, it is unlikely that
those few educators seeking to adopt popular education techniques within
the university would be able to secure the necessary funding and other
requirements to duplicate or emulate a Swingshift College program.
And here we come to the crux ofthe problem. Labor's own
institutions have shown a reluctance, even under newer more "progressive"
leadership, to coalesce with the left in order to build a united front in the
struggle against capital. In addition to ideology, parochialism interferes with
any union collaboration with academia. The AFL's own George Meany
Center, for example, offers degree programs which tend to compete, rather
than cooperate with, efforts like Swingshift College.
Unlike the left-wing unions ofthe old CIO, or those still extant in
Europe, Canada and Australia, most AFL-CIO unions are still at best
uncomfortable dealing with ideology. For example, having been burned by
their involvement with "partnerships" with management, U.S. unions like
the USWA now train their representatives- not to avoid partnerships-but
how to survive them hopefully without giving up too much. Some, like
Charlie Richardson, still insist that local unions can outsmart their
management counterparts in a partnership, thus turning it to the advantage of
the union. The fable ofthe cowboy and the snake seems not to have gotten
through to some union educators as yet.
A refreshing exception is the United Electrical, Radio and Machine
Workers Union (UE) which took a strong stand in opposition to any
cooperation with management in so-called "partnership" agreements at the
Olszanski 24 L580 Term Paper
outset in the early 1980's. Today UE maintains a class-conscious
opposition to "Management Schemes." Through its website it warns its
members in "What Does Management REALLY Want?" that the basic
conflict between the interests ofcapital and those oflabor is still alive and
well in our so-called "post-industrial" society:
In the case of ''for profit" employers it is always safest
to assume that management wants to increase profits.
[ThisJ... usually involves having workers work harder
andproducing more with fewer people.
So-called "non-profit" employer, on the other hand want "fewer
employees doing more work." "Partnerships, Quality Circles, Team
Concept and Kaizen" try to get workers to "think like a boss" and find
"ideas on how to cut other workers, speed up production and ways to do
more work." These schemes "undermine the union," according to UE.
( http://www.ranknf-..le-ue.org/stwd mgtsch.html)
Unfortunately, most AFL-CIO unions tend to ignore basic class
theory, philosophy or political theory, choosing to focus on skills training-
training stewards and union reps to handle grievance, bargain contracts etc.
Even the new concentration on organizing lacks a serious political
component- unless by political you mean U.S.-style electoral politics.
In addition to a natural desire to closely control the education oftheir own
members, a distrust ofand rivalry with left wing educators divides "Labor's
own" program from other worker-education programs like Swingshift.
Remnants ofthe old cold war anti-communist (and usually also anti-left)
Olszanski 25 L580 Term Paper
element continue to hold considerable sway over most union education
Red-baiting, although now more often done covertly, continues to
divide and weaken the labor movement and any coalitions it might build
with other social movements. Until the labor movement itselfis thoroughly
revitalized, democratized, and rebuilt from below, the prospects for a new
left-labor coalition, and with it the expansion ofpopular education programs
like Swingshift College, remain an unfulfilled dreaiiL
Bibliography Works Cited
Altenbaugh, Richard J. Educationfor Struggle, The American Labor
Colleges ofthe 1920's and 1930's. Philadelphia: Temple University Press,
Arnold, Rick, et al., Educatingfor a Change. Toronto: Between the Lines,
Bruno, Robert, A Steelworker Vision ofLifelong Learning: Evaluating
Career Development at Burns Harbor: Institute for career Development
1999 Participant Survey.
ERIC: Citations for Grading in Higher Education.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy ofthe Oppressed. New York: Seabury Press.
Glen, John M., Highlander, No Ordinary School, 1932-1962. Lexington,
KY: The University Press ofKentucky, 1988.
Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York:
International Publishers, 1971.
Hooks, Bell. Teaching to Transgress. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Horton, Aimee Isgrig. The Highlander Folk School, A History ofits Major
Programs, 1932-1961. Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, Inc., 1989
Horton, Myles. The Long Haul, an Autobiography. New York:
Teacher's College Press, 1998.
Horton, Myles and Freire, Paulo. We Make the Road by Walking.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
Iovanella, Cathy, Interview by Mike Olszanski, April2, 2003.
Mayo, Peter. "The Turn to Gramsci in Adult Education: A Review"
International Gramsci Newsletter Number 4 (April, 1995): 2-9.
Needleman, Ruth. Class, IA80/L580 Spring, 2003.
Needleman, Ruth. Report to the Advisory Board [Swingshift College]
October 12, 1995
Spencer, Bruce, ed. Unions and Learning in a Global Economy. Toronto:
Thompson Educational Publishing, 2002.
Taylor, Jeffery. Union Learning: Canadian Labour Education in the
Twentieth Century. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing, 2001.
Interviews ofSwingshift College Alumni by Mike Olszanski:
Ray Jackson, Pat Lane, Craig Johnson, John Moberg, Pete Fuller.
July 26, 2002
• To provide an exciting and challenging educational experience for adult learners
• To provide college programs based on an appreciation for the unique life and wort:?
experience of each steelworl:?er or adult Ieamer.
• To offer relevant courses to women at convenient times and locations.
• To provide opportunities for worl:?ers to build confidence in themselves and in their
• To provide college curriculum that meets the highest standards of quality.
• To provide a support system for participating worl:?ers which will ensure a high level
of success and positive learning experience.
• To enable worl:?ers to play leadership roles in their worl:?places, organizations, and
• To encourage womers to mal:?e a commitment to life-long learning.
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Olszanski L580 Term Paper
Mastery learning comes from ideas put forward by John B. Carroll
and Bejamin Bloom. In 1963, educator John B Carroll introduced a new
learning concept, suggesting that "student aptitudes are reflective ofan
individuals learning rate". Carroll argued for a focus on the time different
students need to learn the same material, rather than the old model, which
stressed the ability to learn in a fixed time period. Carroll invented the
"learning rate" (LR) to represent the degree oflearning. This is indicated in
LR = f (time spent learning I time needed to learn)
The learning rate is therefore a function ofthe time a learner has to learn
to compared to the time she actually needs to learn a certain unit of
information. The new theory assumes that all learners have the ability to
learn any instruction given, but require different amounts oftime to learn.
Using Carroll's theory, students become "fast or slow" rather than "good or
bad" learners (Guskey, 1997). Two factors that affect the learning rate of
an individual learner, according to Carroll, are: perseverance (ofthe
Student) and opportunity (to learn). The first is controlled by the student,
that is, how much time they spend on learning, the second is the time
allotted to learn by the classroom, or access to materials, etc.
In 1968 Bloom expanded on the idea now known as Mastery
Learning. In the 1960s, he was researching individual differences as applied
to learning. Bloom utilized Carroll's ideas, concluding further that it
(1) aptitude couldpredict a learner's learning rate, then he
believed that it should be able to set the degree oflearning
expected ofa student to some level ofmasteryperformance.
Then, (2) see to the instructional variables under an instructor's
control, such as the opportunity to learn and the quality of the
instruction. Thus, (3) the instructor should be able to ensure
that each learner can attain the specified objective.
In other words, Bloom argued that "given sufficient time and quality
instruction, nearly all students could learn."
With Mastery Learning, emphasis is placed, rather than on the "ability" of
students, on the quality ofinstruction. Teachers therefore assume the
responsibility for finding ways to enable all students to achieve "the same
level oflearning." (Levine,l985; Bloom, 1981).