Are schools really brainwashing our kids?

MACLEANS has an article out this week by Cynthia Reynolds entitled: “Why are schools brainwashing our kids?” (H/T Jack’s Newswatch) It is quite a good article in that it will no doubt provoke debate. However, I believe there is an incorrect assumption in her question.Specifically, she seems to be assuming that teacher educators and school teachers somehow, unilaterally, decide what to teach and how to teach it and are therefore brainwashing kids.

In fact, it is the other way around. The reality is that schools and curriculum reflect the general social consensus. In other words, neither teacher educators, bureaucrats or schools decide to what to teach out of a vacuum.

They read research reports about what is being done in Canada and abroad. They conduct research on what is current at the moment. They attend conferences and give reports and listen to the research results of what other educators are doing. And every year those topics change, little bit by little bit, because every year social issues change.

For example:

During the 1970s, parents fought a long uphill battle in all of Canada’s provinces, the United States, the UK and Australia, to have children with disabilities declared exceptional and placed in an appropriate program. In Ontario, that battle culminated with Bill 82 in 1980 and subsequent amendments to the Ontario Education Act. In effect, the parents had won!

In Canada and the U.K.,  the most appropriate placement was usually in a segregated classroom. In the U.S., it was in the regular classroom with a teaching assistant — still referred to as mainstreamed.

So, I knew it was just a matter of time before Canadian school boards would find a way to take on the American model — no, not to be inclusive as they claim today, but to save money. I know that period only too well because I had several scholarly articles published on the topic.

In fact, no sooner was the ink dry on amended Education Acts in the late 1980s and early 1990s before Canadian parents started to lobby and advocate that their children with special needs be integrated into their neighbourhood schools. With the result, that nowadays, it is hard for a parent to find a segregated classroom, even if that is what their child actually needs.

So, why the across the curriculum emphasis on social justice today? Because that is what we listen to and read about day in and day out. In newspapers. On TV. On the Internet. Everywhere it seems we hear about:

  • Gay, lesbian and transgender rights;
  • Globalization and capitalism;
  • Anti-oil sands and anti-pipelines campaigns;
  • Global warming and climate change;
  • Alternative energy sources; and
  • Environmental activism.

Look, to some, the above issues are important and my point is not to second guess what is or isn’t relevant. My point is that I believe the problem today is that society is split down the middle. Those who agree with the above topics will be delighted if their children are learning about them. However, those who disagree will be outraged and see the teaching as social engineering at best or brainwashing at worst.

In any event, it is my hope that, in spite of its incorrect assumption, the Macleans article will be read far and wide if for no other reason than to get a debate started — that curriculum is decided, indirectly and whether we agree with the topics and techniques or not, through majority social consensus. If, however, some of us don’t like the majority social consensus, it is up to us to vote and lobby accordingly.

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Update November 5th, 2012: Please note that the concluding paragraph has been revised slightly. And, while comments on this blog are now are closed, they are open at JNW where this post is cross-published.

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