Most parents have little idea of what their children are learning. "How was school? Fine. What did you learn today? Nothing" is a refrain that has been passed from child to parent for generations.
But the guiding ideology that Freire founded which has taken hold of our educational system would alarm most parents if they knew its implications.
Not all of this is the fault of Freire, but rests largely with those who have taken up the mantle of Critical Pedagogy. One has only to look at the website of Peter McLaren, a UCLA professor who is described as "one of the architects of Critical Pedagogy" to realize its influences. After getting past the "Che Lives" welcome screen, the visitor is inundated with Marxist, pro-Castro, anti-Capitalist propaganda.
The goals of Critical Pedagogy, as its advocates see it, are to make the classroom more egalitarian, to understand that all students have the ability to share knowledge and teach, just as teachers need to learn form their students, and that the world is fraught with oppression which schools have a duty to advocate against. In theory, these goals don't seem unreasonable. So what is it about Critical Pedagogy that makes it so destructive?
The approach taken by educators who see themselves as Friere's followers is to divide the world into a binary, Manichean equation, where societies, individuals, racial groups and cultures all are either oppressor or oppressed. Once categorized you are, if an oppressor, always wrong, and if oppressed, then always justified in what you do. What makes that facile equation particularly pernicious in education is that it classifies Canada and other Western democracies as oppressor states that are inherently racist, wrong and in need of radical re-invention.
In essence, that translates into our country, culture and civilization being denigrated in the public school system. Children in our elementary schools being taught that we live in a grossly inequitable society and highlights racial and class difference, and by practicing bigotry in the cause of reform, attributes blame to oppressor classes and races. This manifests itself in the Toronto District School Board in ways such as documents that allege that only while people can be racist. It also accounts for TDSB schools allowing only Muslim prayer during school time, since Muslims fall into the oppressed class in the macrocosm of Critical Pedagogy.
An example of a subtle way these ideas are being communicated to our children is the way that Middle Schools approach the issue of the domestic internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War 2.
Children in Grade 7 learn about the discriminatory, racist policy of the Canadian governments to place all citizens of Japanese ancestry into internment camps when Japan was at war with the Allies including Canada. This policy was applied to all Canadians of Japanese ancestry, but relatively few German and Italian Canadians, with whose ancestral countries of origin Canada was also at war. Clearly the singling out of Japanese Canadians was based on racism and deserves condemnation.
But Grade 7 students are taught about this before they are taught about the practices in the rest of the world at the time. There were few if any countries in the world then that did not practice similarly racist policies. What Canada did to its Japanese citizens pales in comparison to Japanese treatment of non-Japanese in countries they invaded like China where massive murders, rapes and extermination occurred, or in The Philippines, or in Korea, where the Imperial Army abducted tens of thousands of women to be used as brothel slaves for Emperor Hirohito's soldiers.
Canadian school children are now first taught about Natives as a monolithic group. Whereas the reality was that there were many tribes, many of whom practiced warfare against each other long before the arrival of European settlers. Native tribes frequently allied themselves with one group of Europeans to attempt to conquer different tribes that had formed treaties with other Europeans. It is only after the British (and Americans) had effectively taken control of North America that they exploited former enemy and ally alike. Though Europeans are presented as singularly culpable, different Native tribes participated in each other's defeat, and it was only in the last 150 years that they eventually succumbed to an enemy whose technological advantages made them better at warfare.
It is appropriate that schools teach about Britain's and Canada's abhorrent treatment of the Native population. But they also learn that at first with virtually no context. The message that these and other examples provides is that Canada's history and the culture that was built upon it is inherently unjust and is something of which to be ashamed.
It is not as if all of the teachers in our public education system are neo-Marxist ideologues. Very few are; most are unionized professionals who are doing a job and are provided a curriculum with which to do it, for which they receive a regular paycheck and summers off.
But the people who design the curriculum and the policies employed by the TDSB seem to have an agenda, but one they don't seem very willing to talk about in public. The Dean of the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) refused an interview request to discuss the applications of Critical Pedagogy in their teaching approach. When asked by email, "Do you support or oppose the use of school facilities for religious services during school hours in TDSB schools?" TDSB Chair Chris Bolton responded, “Siddiqui said it all in The Star.” When asked to clarify if he takes the same position that Haroon Siddiqui takes in his column, he answered, “yes.” In his Star column, Siddiqui expresses support for Islamic prayer in TDSB schools that requires gender apartheid and segregation of menstruating girls.
Ward 21 Trustee Shaun Chen took a different position when he said, "I believe we need to have a second look at what is appropriate and ensure clear guidelines for all schools across the system to follow."
How and what our children are taught has a tremendous effect on the way that Canadian society and culture will be shaped. We all have an interest in public education, we all pay for it and we all all have the right to know about it. In addition to clear guidelines, Canadians deserve transparency in a critical component of a system that determines the future of our nation.
Updated Aug 22