Two surveys, one in Canada and one south of the border, found that millennials tend to hold a positive view of socialism and socialist policies, with the U.S. poll showing that 70 percent of millennials say they are likely to vote for a socialist candidate.
If these findings come as a surprise, you might not have been paying close enough attention in school. In fact, this viewpoint is a direct result of a half-century of Marxist-inspired history and humanities courses.
In the early 1960s, debates over educational policy were mostly about classroom methods. Traditional teachers liked direct instruction and Socratic discourse. Progressive educators sought to develop more “cooperative learning experiences” and “student centred” schools.
By the late Sixties, education became more political. Teachers’ unions became more partisan. They aligned with more radical political parties. Teachers, myself included, earned graduate degrees from progressive education faculties, qualifying us for significant pay raises and influential positions in the educational establishment.
By the late 1970s, teaching had been transformed from a low-paid but prestigious “vocation” to a well-paid “revolutionary mission.”
Traditional Narratives Dismissed
Manipulating the lessons of history became a common strategy for ideologically motivated educators. Traditional narratives about North American colonies advancing toward free, open, and democratic nations were dismissed as patently absurd. Patriotic feelings were washed away by radical politics.
Ironically, this progressive disposition first emerged from the prosperous democratic-capitalist U.S. heartland. By the late 19th century, the classical curriculum of the British grammar school imported in the early years of colonial North America gave way to the ideas of European social revolutionaries. By the early 20th century, the European influence was complemented by the theories of American philosopher John Dewey.
Dewey launched a fierce assault on the traditional school beginning with the publication of his persuasive dual treatise “The School and Society” and “The Child and the Curriculum” in 1899 and 1902. Dewey’s major 1916 work “Democracy and Education” had a Promethean effect on educational theory throughout the world.
The progressive movement was woven around a common socialist philosophy with roots in the radical intellectual life of 19th century Europe. Dewey was a Marxist and to this day his influence has had a profound effect on educational practice. Dewey’s “pragmatism” and “activity methods” captured the imagination of educational theorists who removed a weakened traditional establishment and ultimately formed a new one.
In a 2015 speech, former Republican senator and conservative presidential hopeful Rick Santorum asked an audience: “Do you know the most popular textbook that’s taught in our high schools in America is written by a man named Howard Zinn, who is an anti-American Marxist, and that is the most common textbook?”
The book Santorum referred to was “A People’s History of the United States,” an enormously popular Marxist interpretation that continues to receive splendid endorsements from progressive trend-setters as the only history that every American student should read.
Over the years, progressives produced millions of so-called “critical thinkers” who became uncritical opponents of democratic capitalism and western civilization. Among well-schooled young people, our history became a shameful record of heartless oppression and moral inferiority.
The Canadian Experience
In Canada, we were enormously influenced by progressive intellectual trends from the United States.
Evidence of the new school movement became increasingly apparent in my part of the country by the 1970s. In 1979, a newly elected Quebec government introduced a “state-of-the-art” pedagogical regime which encouraged progressive practices across the board.
Among the landmark initiatives of the new regime was a compulsory Quebec history course. The new program was developed by the Quebec Ministry of Education, but an English-speaking professional organization called the Quebec Association of Teachers of History was invited to evaluate the syllabus. Myself and a colleague served as the evaluators.
Our findings came as a shock to local educators. We said the new course gave little or no attention to the contribution of European culture, religion, customs, laws, or ideas on the development of Quebec and Canada. In fact, we reported, the emergence of the social democratic Parti Quebecois between 1968 and 1979 was given more attention than the entire 350-year history of the Roman Catholic Church in North America.
The course, we concluded, focused on dark relationships between “oppressors” and “oppressed.” Canada’s French–English discord was linked to class conflict. An inspiring story of “Colony to Nation” had been dismantled in favour of a smokescreen for the development of a Marxist, liberationist, political agenda.
The fallout from our report was swift. The board of our history teachers’ association voted not to circulate it to our membership and we felt obliged to resign from the organization. The report attracted some local press coverage but was generally considered too “provocative” to be taken seriously.
Marx Alive and Well in the 21st Century
Last year, some 40 years later, it came to my attention that Quebec had implemented a revised compulsory history course, and this time the English Montreal School Board commissioned an independent “History Experts Committee” to evaluate the new program.
At least one of the contributing experts remarked that the program presented economic and social developments through “a Marxist lens” using Marxist terminology, without any contextualizing or defining of terms. The reviewer went on to point out that: “As the ideology is not presented or examined, the views expressed which reflect this worldview can easily be taken by the reader to be correct, rather than one way of making sense of social, economic and political events.”
That was exactly what we had said in 1979. But it would appear that, once again, policy-makers concluded that an unexamined Marxist worldview should be a compulsory requirement for graduation in a democratic-capitalist society.
The Schizophrenic Relationship Between School and Society
The present dominance of Marxist socio-economic analysis in the study of history and the humanities is certainly not unique to the Province of Quebec. In fact, this schizophrenic relationship between school and society is ubiquitous throughout North America. The progressive movement has produced a profound disconnect between the values of modern educators and the foundational principles of free nations.
Outside radical intellectual circles, most ordinary folk have been conditioned by the progressive movement to evaluate schools solely on the basis of how well students learn.
Parents ask sensible, material questions about school performance. Are students acquiring academic competencies? Do they have adequate facilities, resources, and technical equipment? Are young people becoming literate and more accomplished in math and science? These are all reasonable and important concerns.
But the progressive focus across North America on “how” students learn has become a useful deception for drawing public attention away from “what” is being taught. Practical men and women don’t pay much attention to the content of their kids’ lessons; they just want to know that they are doing well on their exams.
Unimpeded by any meaningful oversight or public concern about what schools teach, the progressive movement has literally captured the academic culture in North America.
Assessing the Reasoning of Marxist Ideology
Assessing the impact of Marxist influence since the publication of “The Communist Manifesto” in 1848 and “Das Kapital” in 1867 requires a critical understanding of Marxist analysis.
American scholar Robert L. Heilbroner went a long way toward demystifying Marxism for the average reader and providing a clear description of the essential elements of Marxist thought. For Heilbroner, Marxism contains a common set of premises; the dialectical approach to knowledge, a materialist approach to history, a consciousness-raising deconstruction of capitalism, and a commitment to socialism.
Dialectical reasoning points to dynamic, adversarial relationships, originally between proletarians and capitalists but presently extended to black vs. white, women vs. men, secular vs. religious, gay vs. straight, energy consumers vs. environmentalists, and so on down the line. The imperative to resolve contradictory attributes always vindicates the Marxist commitment to some form of social action.
Basic dialectical reasoning asserts that change is the essence of being. It also posits the Hegelian notion of “contradiction,” meaning that reality consists of the unstable coexistence between inherently incompatible forces.
Old-school Marxists located the principal motive for historical change in the struggle between economically determined social classes. This led to the adversarial view of history prominent in Howard Zinn’s progressive textbook and Quebec’s history program.
The fusion of materialist and dialectical reasoning gave Marxism a distinctive combative character that appeals naturally to intellectual idealists. Marxist history promises a double victory for mankind—a victory over capitalist class domination and the elimination of all forms of discrimination.
More recently, progressives have gone all in on a myriad of post-modern dialectical crusades, from Indigenous land claims to radical environmentalism and the mandatory acknowledgement of transgender entitlements. Victimology always plays well in the theatres of the left.
Socialism’s Unkept Promises
To predispose public sentiment in favour of “progressive change” Marxist intellectuals seek to influence formative institutions like schools and universities.
But socialism has never lived up to its promises. Revolutionary parties like the Russian Bolsheviks and Chinese Maoists seized power in the wake of national catastrophes and unleashed decades of terror and deprivation on their citizens. Western Marxists, such as British Fabians, Euro-communists, and American progressives, rejected violent revolution and have sought to achieve socialism through democratic elections. Where they succeeded, economies were hobbled by over-regulation and high taxes.
The latest revolution at the ballot box took place in the once prosperous central American country of Venezuela. In 1998, Hugo Chavez got himself elected under the banner of democratic socialism. When world oil prices fell and the money supply from capitalist market transactions began dwindling it became evident that the country was headed down “the road to serfdom.” By 2018, under Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro, 80 percent of the population was living below the poverty line.
Nevertheless, liberal-left parties in Canada and the United States are seldom shy to use a crisis to increase the power of the bureaucratic state. In the midst of the current public health and economic dilemma created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal Liberals sought to seize powers to raise taxes or create brand new ones without parliamentary approval. American Democrats sought to load relief legislation with billions of dollars in support of progressive causes that had nothing to do with the economic crisis.
Grabbing more power in difficult times is part of the progressive DNA.
A Modest Proposal
In 1967, German student movement leader Rudi Dutschke reformulated the strategy of “capturing the culture” put forward in the 1930s by Italian communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci. Dutschke proposed a “long march” through the institutions. That march has been in progress through North American schools since the 1970s.
So far, when free nations experimented with crippling socialist economic policies, they have pulled back by electing strong liberal-conservative leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Brian Mulroney, Stephen Harper, Boris Johnson, and Donald Trump. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee this will continue.
In the January 1989 edition of the New Yorker, Robert L. Heilbroner wrote: “[T]he contest between capitalism and socialism is over: capitalism has won.” We know now that rumours of socialism’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, socialist doctrines are gaining in popularity, especially among young people.
An October 2019 YouGov poll showed increased support for socialism (36 percent) among American millennials compared to 2018. Only 57 percent believe the Declaration of Independence better guarantees freedom and equality than “The Communist Manifesto.” According to an October 2018 Canadian Millennials Report, those aged 18 to 34 are more comfortable with socialist polices like the redistribution of wealth and government interventionist measures. Fifty-four percent thought a more socialist system would be beneficial to Canada.
Here’s a modest proposal for educational reform: put a little less focus on ruminating about “how students learn” and pay a little more attention to the equally important issue of “what is being taught.”
The left’s long march through our classrooms has not produced graduates with a great deal of common sense and understanding. Our culture is broken, and well-educated young people have been conditioned to loathe the foundational values of their own society.
In fact, the only citizens who appear capable of forming reality-based, independent judgements are blue collar workers and tradespeople with minimal exposure to formal academic influence. For now, they may be our last best hope to secure liberty and overcome the enormous challenges that lie ahead as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
William Brooks is a Montreal writer and educator. He currently serves as editor of “The civil Conversation” for Canada’s Civitas Society and is an Epoch Times contributor.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.