Thursday, December 27, 2012

An Open Letter to Toronto District School Board Chair Bolton and Director Spence regarding the Board's Strategy Consultations

I've re-posted the open letter below from the Eye on a Crazy Planet blog:

Dear Trustee Bolton and Director Spence:

I am the Co-Chair of the Parents’/School Council at Central Technical School in Toronto, which as you know is one of the largest high schools in the city with a student population of over 1900.

Regarding the current consultations conducted by the TDSB for the K-12 Strategy for the coming years, there is an issue of very serious concern about which I would like to offer my comments.

The so-called social justice aspects of the curriculum frequently reflect a subjective and highly politicized interpretation of the word “justice”. As such, the way it is approached needs a very serious review, and in my opinion a complete overhaul. 

There are inappropriate attempts in the TDSB to integrate so-called social justice aspects into subjects like Math, where questions such as “Calculate how 5 global social issues could be solved if the US military budget were applied to them” are posed to children in their mid-teens. The obvious implication is that military budgets and the military in democratic countries like the US and Canada somehow detract from the resolution of social problems.

What are not addressed are the catastrophic results that would occur if democracies did not have the means to protect themselves. Anyone who is familiar with European history between the World Wars understands the horrendous consequences of Britain and France’s decision to decommission most of its naval capabilities after WW1.

One can have reasonable debates about such matters, but the clear purpose of questions of the nature in the example provided is to indoctrinate to a particular type of thinking. And frankly, the people at OISE (The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) who have designed such questions have nowhere near the knowledge in geo-political affairs or history required to understand them thoroughly.

That is reflected further in the way the TDSB teaches about such issues as the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War 2. It is right and proper this be taught.  But it is taught in middle school to students who are not instructed about the causes and history of the Second World War. Nor are they yet provided with reasonable context, such as the treatment of minorities by Imperial Japan prior to and during the war. The result is an implication that Canada is and was a particularly and unusually racist country for its time when that is historically untrue.

In fact, the TDSB’s providing politicized indoctrination under the guise of social justice is becoming pervasive through the system. I was at the TDSB Futures conference earlier this year where Director Spence delivered an address. One of the keynote speakers was Tim Wise, who blamed the inequities in the education system on “white privilege.” (More on Tim Wise here.)

That fatuous reasoning left absent the fact that inequities in education in Canada transcend racial divisions and far more often than not are independent of them. More alarming, Mr. Wise, with the apparent approbation of the TDSB, said that education needs to focus less on the individual and more on the collective, including collective racial identities.
This flouts everything opponents of racism have been fighting for many years. As a society, we have been working towards achieving a color-blind world that deals with individuals as individuals and not as part of collectives differentiated by ‘race’ or ‘color.’

It is deeply disturbing that, while with the best of motives, the TDSB, has been working to counter such progress through its use of ill-advised trends put forward by politicized activists in the education system and in politicized programs in institutions like OISE.

These are but a very few of many examples currently occurring within the TDSB.

These questions are designed through programs at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, which has programs that specifically teach teachers to be activists against neo-liberalism (i.e. free-market, liberal democracies) in schools. These same people frequently advocate for solidarity with Communist Cuba.

It should not be necessary to point out how disturbing it is that our children’s’ curriculum are in many instances designed by people who advocate against a system that has produced the freest, most prosperous societies in the world’s history in favor of a repressive, totalitarian society that imprisons dissenters. Yet because of its recurrence in the TDSB, such admonitions are regrettably necessary and will be for the foreseeable future.

Honest people can disagree about ideas and we should always strive for improvement. People have a right to hold different opinions on how to approach the matters discussed above. Unfortunately, the term “critical thinking” which is so often used by TDSB personnel in describing the approach they want to instil actually means trying to create a “group think.” Specifically, “critical thinking” is a doctrine that criticizes of our democratic foundations while promoting ideologies that are antithetical to them.

Social justice for someone who admires Che Guevara has a very different meaning for those of us who believe in free speech and parliamentary democracy.  People have the right to share their views with their children on their own time, but not to attempt to indoctrinate the children in Toronto’s public school system with them. 

Some of the fault for the concerns I have delineated rests squarely with the Ontario Ministry of Education, which is responsible for the Province’s curriculum. But much of it also rests with the TDSB.

With the challenges facing our children, who will grow up in a world undergoing a technological revolution, the limited time they spend in schools should focus on giving them the tools they need for success in such a world. This is the focus on which I hope the TDSB will concentrate going forward.

Richard Klagsbrun

Read another excellent piece on the meaning of "social justice" in our kids' schools here.

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