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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Peto's hate thesis: Let's not lose sight of the real issue

An error-riddled, poorly researched, polemical essay that maligns the Canadian Jewish community  and accuses Holocaust education programs of being racist has received a lot of focus in the last three weeks.

It first came to national attention in a post in this blog, which was picked up by The National Post and the thesis itself received even more attention when it was the subject of a print article in yesterday's Toronto Star.

The subject of the controversy is a thesis written by an anti-Israel activist named Jenny Peto. Titled, “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education.”  it makes bizarre, unsubstantiated allegations of Holocaust education programs being designed to perpetuate racism ["They are taught on the MOL that their whiteness can only be maintained through racism, both in supporting Israel and also perpetuating or, at minimum, benefiting from racism and imperialism in their home countries."]  and of the Jewish community in general being racists who benefit from "white privilege." ["a mainstream Jewish community that is dominated by racist and Zionist ideologies" ].

The thesis itself has been described by prominent academics as being "devoid of scholarship" and "full of untruths and distortions and held together by fatuous and very flabby analysis. It borders on anti-Semitism."

Today The Toronto Star reported that the thesis was condemned in the Ontario legislature by Citizenship and Immigration minister Eric Hoskins who, echoing statements by Conservative MPP Steve Clark, said he was "disgusted" by the thesis, and by MPP Peter Shurman, who described it as a hateful, poorly researched “piece of garbage.”

While these are apt descriptions of Peto's work, University of Toronto Provost Cheryl Misak makes a valid point, while ignoring the most relevant aspect of this matter, when she commented to The Star that she is “a little alarmed at the kinds of things being said about a piece of student work... It would be a good idea for us all to remember that it’s a student paper.”

In that, Ms Misak is correct. Ms Peto is a person of no real consequence whose writing suggests a less-than formidable intellect. But the issue at hand is how the Sociology and Equity Studies in Education program of the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE) at U of T approved of and accepted a thesis of such questionable academic validity and substandard scholarship.

The outstanding issue is not about an individual, but of how teaching is conducted in certain departments at OISE. While OISE is a world-leader in early childhood education studies, programs like their Sociology and Equity Studies appear to have become so biased and politicized that scholarship may have become secondary to ideology. And in that, ideology of a single perspective.

Julia O'Sullivan is the new dean at OISE and so is not responsible for the situation there up until now. How she deals with what is occurring will be critical in determining the future of the validity of education at OISE.

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