The Radical Subversion Of Canadian Education
How Critical Social Justice Entered The School System
By James Pew, for the series The Great Illiberal Subversion: How Radical Activists Ru(i)n Western Democracies.
“Illiberal subversion, as it regards this series, refers to the “work” of radical activists and social agitators who force their will on society through a long on-going web of processes involving incremental efforts that chip away at the pillars of western democracies. Attacking and undermining public institutions as Gramsci had it - “a revolution from within” - through a drawn-out complex of affairs perhaps best viewed as death by a thousand cuts, the radical activists entrench in individual departments until they colonize an entire organization and effectively wield enough power to shape its directives. Once this happens to enough of the institutions (or pillars) of society (and it already has), the radical subverters effectively wield power over everyone, the power to shape social right and social wrong.” - The Ontology of the Great Illiberal Subversion (substack.com)
How, in a practical way, do you create an institutional culture? This was the question answered in 1988 by members of the Ontario Institute for Scholarship Education (OISE) - a “global leader in graduate programs in teaching and learning, continuing teacher education, and education research” - who had identified what they called a turning point - “for the first time, a large and enthusiastic group of students and faculty established the Critical Pedagogy and Cultural Studies Forum (CPSC).” As the reader will see, the CPCS, and their bulletin publications from the early 1990s, offers a unique historical lens into the development of Critical Social Justice Theory, aka wokeism, in Canada.
Postmodern deconstruction, aka pomo-speak, may be common now, but it wasn’t back then. You would most likely need to be a member of something like the CPCS Forum, where you would of course be an avid reader of their bulletin publication, and would encounter articles featuring bizarre pomo-speak of fictional settings like the CPCS Bulletin example I chose regarding Gilligan’s Island. It contained insights like - “Under the male gaze of Gilligan, Ginger becomes the feminine-as-other, the interiorization of a “self” that is wholly constituted by the linguistic conventions of phallocratic desire.” We will return to the CPCS in future posts.
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Today’s post marks the beginning of a new series of writing called The Great Illiberal Subversion that aims to explore the general undermining of western traditions of enlightenment rationality, by subversive radical politics. Through detailed descriptions of how things like Critical Pedagogy and Antiracism entered both Ontario and the greater Canadian school systems, this series will illustrate the mechanisms of radical subversion. This writing will largely be based on the research of Lighthouse Think Tank (LTT) - this is a small spinoff group founded initially by myself and other members of Lighthouse. The goal of LTT is to understand and combat the radical subversion of Canadian education.
A chronology of events, media reports, political actions, and the development of legislation and education policy are being assembled by LTT, but these writings will not tell the greater story in any specific order. Also, we plan on publishing most of it on Woke Watch Canada, but eventually adapt articles for publications like True North, The Western Standard, and The Frontier Center for Public Policy (three publications who continue to consider and sometimes publish the things I send them), and whoever else may agree to publish this work and help disseminate the very important message it holds. Gentle reader, may I remind you that your retweets are essential.
This upcoming cannon focused on the radical subversion of Canadian education (and the illiberal subversion of Western democracies in general) will be produced with my co-writer Mr. M (the lead researcher of the Lighthouse Think Tank). It is a complicated issue with a sordid history revealing clearly a course of development spanning over four decades culminating into the situation today where, to the shock of many parents, Canadian schools have incorporated radical gender theory and critical race theory.
As outlined in my post Great Illiberal Subversion: My Approach - Read. Write. Organize., there is a movement subverting democratic and liberal norms across society. Education is a key sight of this “revolution,” and it is where both Critical Pedagogy and Antiracism education are practiced. Although these two strains are related and mutually supportive of much of the same ideological axioms, we will trace their historical origins and illustrate how they evolved as separate entities.
The Great Illiberal Subversion is a “long march through the institutions.” By offering analysis of both the subject matter of the material published in education journals, and the types of scholarship practiced around the time of education policy’s turn into Critical Theory, we aim to clearly reveal the historical processes that led to the predicating of radical ideologies in Canadian education today. We seek to answer questions such as - What were the events and policies that led to the adoption of radical ideology in Canadian schools, including perhaps most consequentially, teacher training schools? Who were the key players most responsible?
Mr. M, the lead researcher of LTT, And Catherine Kronas, the founder of Lighthouse and contributing LTT researcher, have paid considerable attention to the 1980 - 1990’s era. The 1992 Amendment of the Education Act and a 1993 document on antiracism and ethnocultural equity marks the entry point for ministry mandated Critical Theory in Ontario education. David Cooke was the NDP minister of education at the time, his opening remarks in the 1993 Antiracism document mentioned seem like they belong in 2022:
It is important to understand that antiracism and ethnocultural equity are an integral part of all aspects of the school system. These principles must apply to and have the full support of students, teachers, support staff, school board trustees, administrators, and the community.
All aspects? And it must apply and be supported by the community too? Just like today, why must these principles apply everywhere, and have the full support of those who don’t themselves attend, or have children who attend, an Ontario school? I wonder if anyone back in 1993 caught this not-so-subtle hinting of totalitarianism. I suspect not, because the authoritarian aspect of nice sounding words like equity and antiracism ended up, two decades later, forming a framework that rationalized the illiberal cancellations of thought criminals - those who questioned the methods of equity, diversity or antiracism initiatives.
In the introduction, after making clear that - “In accordance with a 1992 amendment to the Education Act, school boards are required to develop and implement antiracism and ethnocultural equity policies.” - it is explained that the rationale for such policies is so that students can feel “confidence in their cultural and racial identities.” If I had to guess, I would situate the above language as rooted in the identity politics of 2022, not the seemingly benign political correctness of 1993. Even more surprising just a few paragraphs down is the following:
“Antiracism and ethnocultural equity school board policies reflect a commitment to the elimination of racism within schools and in society at large. Such policies are based on the recognition that some existing policies, procedures, and practices in the school system are racist in their impact, if not their intent, and that they limit the opportunity of students and staff belonging to Aboriginal and racial and ethnocultural minority groups…
Antiracism, equity, the assumption that racism exists to such a proportion that it requires solemn commitments to its elimination, things being racist in their impact regardless of intent, and although the term BIPOC isn’t used, “aboriginal and racial ethnocultural minority groups” was just a clumsy 1990s way of excluding/othering white people. The use of all these terms may not have been as well recognized as they are today, but it is surprising none-the-less that the ideology was so fully formed and already being implemented by the ministry of education in the early 1990s. And again, that the above paragraph includes “elimination of racism within schools and in society at large,” which subsumes the anti-racism work of the greater society into the mandate of Ontario schools. This movement away from the core principles of education and focus on academics, towards a social vision where education becomes re-education for the sake of social equity, gained momentum over the decades that followed, thoroughly priming Canadian society for the George Floyd reckoning south of the border on May 25, 2020.
It seems as though a commitment to postmodern identity politics, where relativism prioritizes lived experience and the subjective qualities of identity over the principles of liberal universalism, was fully entrenched before Nirvana had their first hit.
The policies of the Bob Rae NDP government (1990 -1995), aimed at placating an early iteration of a riotous Black Lives Matter-type group called the Black Action Defense Committee, are part of a Canadian tradition involving government acquiescence to activist demands. Bob Rae may have won political points for his antiracism and equity directives at the time, but his support of grievance-based activism and the entrenching of public policy based on the politics of identity is an unfortunate part of his legacy.
Thank you for reading. Here is the next essay in the series - Importing the Perception of Systemic Racism into Canada
For a complete index (with summaries) of The Great Illiberal Subversion series of essay’s, check out The Ontology of the Great Illiberal Subversion.
There is a lot more to come. We will go much deeper into what so far has merely been introduced!
Reach out to me through Twitter or Facebook if you would like to organize with other Canadians and become part of the pushback against the great illiberal subversion.
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The Critical Pedagogy & Cultural Studies Bulletin Vol 4 No. 1 Oct. 8, 1991. An Introduction to the Critical Pedagogy & Cultural Studies (CPSC) Forum by Roger Simon. Pg. 2.
The Critical Pedagogy & Cultural Studies Bulletin Vol 3 No. 4 Jan. 25, 1991. L’isle De Gilligan by Brian Morton.
Antiracism and Ethnocultural Equity in School Boards Guidelines for Policy Development and Implementation 1993 - Ontario Ministry Of Education. Preface by Dave Cooke
Antiracism and Ethnocultural Equity in School Boards Guidelines for Policy Development and Implementation 1993 - Ontario Ministry Of Education. Pg - 5
I appreciate your efforts here and can see how the legislative change you describe led to CRT-like pedagogy in Ontario schools, but as a high school English teacher and then department head in downtown Toronto from 1987-2013, I can't recall very much if any of what we now call woke policy being discussed, let alone implemented, in TDSB schools. Sure, there was always talk of how to better address racism in society, and I modified my approach in related lessons to show more sensitivity, but I don't recall the oppressor-oppressed narrative becoming noticeable until about 2008-2010. And when I retired in 2013, while various teachers had become pomo advocates, institutional pressure to adopt this philosophy was minimal. Related workshops may have been offered on PD days, but I never went to any of them. The self-righteous overtones would have repelled me. Gender issues never came up; this conflict is entirely due to trans activism and I can't recall it ever being discussed when I was a teacher.
Clearly, that has all changed dramatically since then. The first Board initiative I recall responding to was in about 2010 when, as a "Curriculum Leader", I was required to identify a "racialized" community in my school, an alternative school with about 120 students, about 80% white. Given that racialized in this context meant disadvantaged, and given that no group in my school was clearly disadvantaged, I identified students with excessive anxiety as the most disadvantaged in our community. I was surprised that the Board accepted this, but to their credit, they acknowledged this group as notably disadvantaged, and that was that. And given that excessive anxiety is at the root of a lot of woke thinking, this all made sense. No doubt, identifying anxiety as a symptom of being racialized would not be accepted today.
By 2010 woke advocates became more prominent and strident at staff meetings, yet I could still speak my mind freely with no fear of censure in the classroom, at staff meetings and in social situations. That said, newer teachers by that time were conversant in IP and brought it into the classroom.
Trusting unions to fight for members was always a 50/50 proposition, but now, from what I've heard and read, they will not support members who voice any opposition to the woke orthodoxy. Similarly, school superintendents will not support dissenting teachers and won't engage with parents on related issues either. A sad state of affairs in a Board, which, before amalgamation, was a model for upholding Enlightenment ideals.
What I noticed, as my children went through the English Catholic system was a trend toward mindless environmentalism.
No. There was the time when the school principal gave my 11 or 12yo daughter (@2004) a novel to read. It was award-winning (Silver Birch?). Not a bad book until the end, when the mum of one student fell in love and moved in with the female RCMP officer...
I called the principal out on that