Controversial topics come up at school all the time. This is to be expected, particularly in high school classrooms. To be truly educated, students need to grapple with difficult issues such as climate change, LGBTQ rights, abortion, international conflicts, and many other topics.
Teachers play a vital role in helping students become critical thinkers. Not only do good teachers provide students with the background knowledge they need to think critically, but they avoid turning their classrooms into indoctrination centres. This means presenting information and arguments in a relatively balanced and even-handed manner.
One of the fastest ways to lose the trust of parents, students, and community members is to let them see that you have a political agenda. For example, a student equity program adviser with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) was recently suspended after he sent out teaching material with an obvious anti-Israel bias.
Among other things, the educator’s material accused Israel of engaging in apartheid, referred to Jewish settlements as an illegal occupation, and endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. This is blatantly biased material that would undoubtedly make many Jewish (and other) students and parents uncomfortable, if not downright angry.
This educator has since been reinstated to his previous position. In a subsequent blog post, he made it clear that he intends to continue providing anti-Israel materials to his colleagues without even a modicum of balance.
“Anti-oppressive education is not about ‘balancing’ voices,” he stated. In other words, it’s OK for teachers to indoctrinate students in a particular perspective if they’re doing so in the name of “anti-oppressive” education. It’s doubtful that most students and parents would describe this type of one-sided indoctrination as anti-oppressive.
Clearly, the TDSB has a problem.
Many people hold strong views on the Israel/Palestinian conflict and believe that their side is correct. Instead of pushing one viewpoint, school districts should allow students to come to their own conclusions on issues like this. Teachers should not create one-sided teaching materials that unfairly portray one side as oppressors and the other side as the oppressed.
Compounding this problem is the fact that the TDSB and other school districts have created a plethora of non-teaching positions for many teachers. When you have teachers holding official positions such as “student equity program adviser,” it’s not surprising that they sometimes lose perspective. Teachers who spend all day creating social justice materials can easily fall into the trap of thinking that their cause is the most important mission for schools.
Helping students acquire the knowledge and skills they need to become productive members of society needs to be the primary focus. If we want to empower students from disadvantaged backgrounds, we need to make sure they receive a high-quality education.
Stoking up anger about Middle East politics (or any number of hot-button issues) isn’t going to lift families out of poverty, nor will it help students improve their reading and math skills. What it will do is sow the seeds of mistrust between parents and their schools. At some point, these parents will likely remove their kids from public schools and pursue alternative educational options.
Unfortunately, this type of indoctrination is even more prevalent in education faculties where teachers are trained. For example, OISE, at the University of Toronto, offers both master’s and Ph.D. programs in “social justice education.” Teachers who take these programs are immersed in anti-oppressive courses that focus on everything from anti-colonialism to intersectionalism. What they will not learn about are research-based reading strategies or effective math instruction, or even about handling controversial topics in a balanced way.
One of the professors in OISE’s social justice program, Terezia Zoric, also serves as the president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association. During a recent panel discussion, Zoric criticized the “entitled powerful Zionist minority.” Her comments were so cringeworthy that B’nai Brith Canada issued a public statement denouncing them.
Thus, anyone wondering where teachers are getting their anti-Israel propaganda from need look no further than institutions such as OISE.
Much of this controversy would be avoided if teachers stuck to their core mandate. It’s harder to go off the rails when you stay grounded in the classroom with real students. Thus, school districts, such as the TDSB, should immediately reassign its student equity program advisers and most other non-teaching consultants to regular teaching positions in their schools.
These full-time social justice warriors need a grounding in reality.
Teachers are supposed to teach—not indoctrinate. Provide students with balanced information and then let them make up their own minds. That’s how it should be done.
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.