Getting Ready 21

Getting Ready 21

I had sent an email to VInh, asking her as clearly as I could about how the assigned textbooks (the ones listed on their week-by-week curriculum) are going to be used.  Would the students each get a copy of the book to read? Or a photocopy? Or a translation? Or should we teach about the book, critically, situating it (who publishes this kind of book, who buys it, who reads it, what’s it for? For whom, by whom, and for what purpose? etc.)? Or are we supposed to “teach the book” itself, replacing students actually reading the book itself by reproducing it for them?

Originally, the only book in English on my class’s reading list was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and I wrote up a critique of it (it’s about how to sell things to people) and sent the critique, along with a some other ideas about how to teach leadership, to Vinh. It would have been hard for me to teach Dale Carnegie without critiquing it. For example, there was a whole section in which John D Rockefeller tries to placate a committee of workers following the Ludlow Massacre by talking sweetly to them, and according to Carnegie, he succeeds. It’s supposedly an example of winning people over.

Then we received a revised curriculum with different books on it.  When she first sent this replacement curriculum I got the two books listed for my class, one by Peter Northouse book and one by Robert Palestini,  via the Link system of the Berkeley public library.

I  read both of the books. The Robert Palestini book is not a good book for a college class. It is not a good book at all, in fact. I think it might have been his dissertation, but it would not have been a good dissertation. It has the aura of a quickie job for an online EDD program, something from University of Phoenix. I’ve read a few of these recently. They look like dissertations, with all the bells and whistles, but they have crummy research questions and don’t produce any new knowledge.  Palestini 10 interviews with football coaches, both college football and professional football. He sets up four “models” of leadership and then tells us which model matches the behavior of each coach. But football coaches are not good examples of leaders, especially not for students who are trying to learn how to take responsibility in a workplace and advocate for workers. Coaches have coercive power over their team members, can threaten them with loss of funding for school, and are famous for abusing students, including sexual abuse in at least one case, Joe Paterno from Penn State, who made headlines last year. Paterno is included in Palestini’s book. To me, college football is a kind of violent show business that is irrelevant to getting an education, and the coaches are simply the managers or bosses of those programs. This has nothing to do with leadership.

The other book, Introduction to Leadership: Concepts and Practice, by Peter Northouse (Sage), was better. However, what I got from the library is the 2009 edition, not the 2015 edition. It was a kind of workbook with exercises in each of the ten chapters which help the student evaluate and assess their own leadership qualities. These exercises looked like fun. It would provoke some good discussions in a freshman communications class. However, all the examples or leaders are from the US (except Nelson Mandela). The biographies are too short to really give an idea of why the person is considered a leader. For example, the bio of Mandela tell us that he endured prison with a good spirit, but never explains why he was in prison in the first place. Third, as usual, the author seems to think that “leader” is synonymous with “manager” or “employer.” Northouse says things like, “The leader’s employees…” or “As a leader, you will want your employees …” If you are an HR manager, you may think of what you are doing as leadership, but you are really managing them, not leading. Leading, in a union context, cannot be ultimately coercive. Union members are not employees. This is an entirely different relationship.

So I read both books and returned them to the library, thinking, “There has been a mistake here.” Then we got an email from VInh today, reinforcing that we are to teach the books listed on the revised curriculum and explaining how to do it. Specifically, I am to teach Northouse’s Leadership Theory and Practice (a 2015, not the 2009 edition) and Joe is to teach Gass and Seiten’s Social Influence and Compliance Gaining. We are to “teach the book”, meaning follow the text chapter by chapter. We are to create powerpoints and send them to Vinh a few sessions in advance and she will translate them. Yes, they want us to use these books.

So I now am ordering  the 2015 edition from the publisher, for about $99, including shipping. When it arrives, I will work up a set of powerpoints that follow the book. Joe is trying to order the Gass and Seiten book. There is a mix-up there because the vendor won’t send to a PO box, and here in rural Vermont, people who live in the village all use PO boxes. You only get RFD if you live out in the mountains. His book also costs about $100.

Well, from one point of view, it’s a lot less work than writing my own class, which was what I thought I was supposed to do. I had actually drafted 9 sessions of a class and sent it to Vinh last May. I probably wasn’t clear about what I wanted her to do, and come to think of it, it probably isn’t her job to do what I wanted her to do.

However, what this probably means is that we do an enormous amount of informal interacting of one sort or another, which is fine and may be more important anyway.

As soon as I get a chance I’ll summarize what I’ve read of the Angie Ngoc Tran book (I’m on page 99) which tells me, basically, that the Vietnamese have a vast amount of history and experience doing organizing under very harsh conditions. The closest I can imagine from US history is the CIO organizing during the 1930s, or maybe the IWW. So it’s not as if they don’t already know what goes on.

We are in Vermont now, settled into the house on Factory Street, walking around the town and saying hello to people. We were last here in April, when we came up from NYC on the train after the AAUP conference. Areas around the house that were cleared down to the dirt, and left bare then, are now waist-high in ferns, Queen Anne’s Lace and raspberry stalks.

Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

2 thoughts on “Getting Ready 21

  1. Hi, Helena,

    Rick Exner here, whom you met with spouse Sue Jarnagin at the Grinnell reunion. I am very much enjoying your blog postings. But I just wanted to mention that Sue and I will be attending weddings in Thailand in late December and January. We are thinking of a brief visit to Vietnam in January. Would you guys still be there then? If so – I know you have no idea what your situation there will be – but I wonder if we could get travel suggestions from you.

    Thanks much,


    1. Hi, Rick — Our semester is over in mid-December. I think we will be staying on past that, because there are plans to bring a delegation of labor educators, but we have to arrange it with our hosts, who follow the university calendar. We would love to see you no matter what. Multiple weddings? Hello to Sue!

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