A few days ago I saw a copy of an exam given to 1oth grade high school students here. I want to offer it as an example of the high value placed in our educational system on recognition and critical interest in multiple perspectives. This was hard to explain to our Vietnamese colleagues. Students in Viet Nam sometimes asked, “What do you want us to say?” or “What do you want us to learn?” as a way of finding out what the “right answer” to a question was. This example shows what “critical interest in multiple perspectives” looks like in practice. In this example, it involves paying close attention to a different point of view, being able to summarize and explain that other point of view, and then construct an alternative to it and presenting that alternative in the form of an extended argument.
The exam was one page. Students would be expected to bring their own paper to write on. They would be given the whole class period (50 minutes) to complete the exam. It consisted of instructions (“Read the following paragraph carefully; summarize the reasoning offered by the speaker, respond with your own reasoning, agreeing or disagreeing, and write a careful argument explaining your own position.”) This was followed by a rather long paragraph, perhaps 300 words, which was a quote by a woman who had small children but also works full-time. This woman is saying why it is both necessary and good for her to work full time. She says that she doesn’t think it hurts the children, either in the sense of depriving them of her attention or of leaving them alone in the house sometimes. She talks about their competence and independence and a few other things. Because the paragraph appears to be a quote, it is written in colloquial English as if the woman was really speaking.
This would be a situation that most teenagers would be familiar with, either from their own families or from families of friends. The instructions tell students to write their essay based on their own experience, class discussions and readings for the course. I don’t know what their readings were, but it’s plural — readings.
Things about this exam that would be interesting to discuss with our colleagues at TDTU: The exam responses would turn out to be 3 or 4 pages of handwritten text. No third party or Department of Evaluation could grade them; they would have to be graded by the teacher of the class, who knew what the readings were and what the class discussions had been. Since there are only 24 hours in a day, class size would have to be no more than 30 students, preferably fewer, not 70, in order for the teacher to have time to grade them. The idea of writing from one’s own experience, not referencing an authoritative text, would be interesting. And finally, making an argument: laying out the logical steps of an argument in order to persuade the reader of something he or she might disagree with, which implies disagreeing with the teacher (the reader), would be new.
The US teacher would read these exams looking first at correctness, but not making it the most important; second at how accurately the student has read the long quote; then the skill with which the student has constructed an argument, and last at the persuasiveness of the argument. Agreeing or disagreeing with the argument would not be an important question.
Another topic that came up in our conversations about labor relations in Viet Nam: employer involvement. Under law, in Vietnam, employers pay 2% of payroll into the VGCL. This means that a substantial among of the union’s treasury comes from employers. When I first heard about this, I couldn’t believe it. In the adversarial context of US labor relations, employer involvement in internal union affairs — including and especially providing resources, which would include money — is actually a violation of law. Here is a current election that is going to have to be re-run because of that kind of violation. This is an important election because there is a strong reform movement (and I use the word “reform” knowing that it has a spectrum of meanings) within the Teamsters, which has had problems with mobs, gangs, and general bad democracy for many years:
Among the changes in Vietnamese labor law or trade union law that would be required by TPP is that there be a clear distinction between persons who have the interests of the employers at heart and persons who have the interests of workers at heart. This distinction, gently expressed, recognizes class conflict in the workplace, in opposition to the traditional socialist view that once socialism has emerged, class conflict disappears.
And Journalist Lien Hoang wrote the following for BNA.
Vietnam Labor Union ‘Happy’ to End Monopoly for TPP
Vietnam Labor Unions
Development: Vietnam General Confederation of Labor will surrender monopoly on association.
Potential Impact: Would allow new grassroots unions formed under the TPP to focus only on employment issues
By Lien Hoang
April 8 — The sole labor union in Communist Vietnam said April 8 that it is happy to surrender its monopoly on association, as required by the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
However, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor will retain its exclusive “political” functions, Vice President Mai Duc Chinh said, while new grassroots unions formed under the TPP would focus only on employment issues.
Chinh did not specify these political functions, but the union is controlled by the Communist Party that has run the country since 1975, when the Vietnam War ended.
His remarks signal an expansion of workers’ rights that an International Labor Organization official said would have been unthinkable five years ago. These rights have been the main sticking point for some U.S. politicians who have opposed Vietnam’s inclusion in the 12-nation trade deal.
Relinquishing its monopoly status would be a challenge for the labor confederation, Chinh said, but he welcomed the reforms needed to compete with new unions.
“In case they are better than our traditional trade union, then we are happy if workers join the other ones,” he said at the Vietnam Leadership Summit in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Southeast Asian country limits civil liberties, from expression to assembly, but it promised to liberalize union rights so it could join the TPP.
Some Democrats in Congress and labor organizations in Washington have cited labor concerns as a reason to kick Vietnam out of the TPP. Yet some Vietnamese policies are more worker-friendly than those in the U.S., from paid maternity leave to overtime restrictions.
“I think Vietnam does a lot to protect labor because it’s a socialist country,” Benjamin Yap, a panelist at the summit and senior partner at law firm PBC Partners, told Bloomberg BNA. “There is an inherent feeling they need to protect the worker.”
Both the employer and the employees pay union fees in Vietnam, but ILO Country Director Chang-Hee Lee said the union should represent workers, not the government or businesses. The TPP is supposed to reduce employer meddling in unions, as well as facilitate strikes and collective bargaining.
Vietnam’s TPP labor negotiator, Nguyen Manh Cuong, told Bloomberg BNA there are plenty of strikes in his country. However, Lee said, they’ve all been wildcat strikes, and Vietnam needs a legal mechanism for such union activities.
“It is the most glaring example of malfunctioning in the industrial relations system in Vietnam,” Lee said in a speech at the summit.
But he also told Bloomberg BNA that Vietnam’s great progress on labor rights has been “a surprise.” In the past, he could not even discuss the right to organize.
In his speech, Lee said the ILO’s support for equal work opportunities matches the ideals of Ho Chi Minh, the Communist revolutionary and founding father of modern Vietnam. Across the country, red-and-yellow posters implore citizens to work hard, in the example set by the leader known as Uncle Ho.
Vietnam maintains steady raises to the minimum wage and makes it hard for companies to fire workers. Unemployment is usually the lowest or second-lowest among TPP states, according to World Bank data.
The trade agreement has been signed, but not ratified, by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam.
Efforts to join the TPP would help Vietnam comply with the three remaining fundamental conventions of the ILO it has not signed, out of eight total, Lee said. They cover freedom of association, collective bargaining and forced labor.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lien Hoang in Ho Chi Minh City at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at email@example.com