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Archive for the ‘Political Correctness’ Category

Four years ago a British teacher, Ms. R. Clifford, ventured outside her specialty of religious education to tackle the subject of Racism and Sexism in the imaginary children’s world created by Walt Disney. While teaching a class of older children and teens, she produced a lesson plan seeking to alert students to the “darker side of Disney,” the depiction of young women as princesses and potential victims of domestic abuse. With the best of intentions as a Millennial Generation teacher, Ms Clifford then uploaded it to a popular resource-sharing  website, along with the 122 other lessons.

snowflakebeautybeastsnowflakerealprincessesWith 2016 winding down and the raging “Generation Snowflake” controversy very much alive in the U.K.,  Ms Clifford’s Lesson Plan generated a mainstream news and social media firestorm. “Bonkers school lesson plan claims Beauty & the Beast promotes domestic violence,”  The Sun proclaimed on November 16, 2016, warning scandalized readers that the “loony lesson plan” was now available in “thousands of classrooms” and a graphic example of ‘political correctness’ desecrating beloved Disney children’s tales. One British Tory MP, Phil Davies, went so far as to describe Clifford’s lessons as brainwashing and urged his own government to “stop this idiocy and ensure schools teach things that parents expect.”

Vocal critics of Ms. Clifford’s Racism and Sexism in Disney lesson attributed her perspective to being a member of the Snowflake Generation, those born in the 1980s and 1990s, who are regularly lampooned as protected, coddled and easily offended, or worse, labeled as ‘censorious cry babies.’  For a teacher whose lessons and resources have been downloaded over 300,000 times, it was a huge shock to be drawn-and-quartered in the national media. It also illustrated just how much resistance was building in opposition to the prevailing beliefs of a younger generation with a growing influence as teachers in the classroom.

snowflakeGenerational fragility is, of course, a real phenomenon, especially in schools and on college campuses. Many teachers and students today are made nervous and uneasy by advocates espousing strong opinions contrary to their own or by vigorous debate pushing at the boundaries of acceptable discourse. The anti-bullying industry in and around schools has mushroomed over the past two decades. Whereas once “bullying” meant having your’head kicked-in,’ your money stolen in the schoolyard, or subjection to horrible cruelties, today’s students are protected from most, if not all, ‘slings-and-arrows,’ including  relatively innocuous “teasing and name-calling,” “insensitive jokes,” and “bullying gestures.”

Outspoken British writer and founder of the Institute of Ideas  Claire Fox worries that today’s kids and teens have been socialized to be “too soft” and “aggrieved” by even the smallest of “micro-aggressions.” Banning outdoor games like tree climbing, leapfrog, marbles, or Red Rover are commonplace, and one school head changed the colour of her school’s red uniform because of obscure research connecting it with ‘increased heart and breathing rates.’ Teachers and students talk about “safe spaces” where classrooms are protected against the rough edges of the real outside world.

A healthy public debate is underway in the United Kingdom, but has yet to really surface inside most North American school systems. Back in February 2016, London teacher Tom Bennett, Student Behaviour Advisor to the U.K. Government, waded into the public debate.  The prevalence of “mollycoddled students,” he told The Daily Mail, began in school when too many children were protected from the “harsher realities of the world” and then had trouble confronting challenging and unsettling ideas in college and university.

The ‘No Platforming’ movement barring controversial speakers from uttering “offensive views,” according to Bennett and other defenders of free speech within limits, may well be a reflection of “Snowflake” sensitivities. While it’s mainly a college campus issue, there are clear signs that today’s classroom teachers are more careful than ever about steering clear of controversial social issues. It was “irresponsible” for adults, including teachers, Bennett added, to pretend that offensive views do not exist and it would be better to “create a kind of healthy space — not a safe space –for debate to appear” in our high schools and colleges.

Does “Generation Snowflake” exist or is it merely an artificial construct? To what extent has a kind of “Snowflake Generation” outlook and approach emerged in teaching and the education world? Have schools and colleges gone too far in insulating older children and teens against unpleasant encounters with life’s harsher realities?  If Walt Disney’s imaginary fantasy world is now deemed harmful to kids, what comes next? 

 

 

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A British grassroots, teacher-led movement, known as researchED, is emerging as a new player in the rather closely-knit, education school-centred, internally-referenced world of education policy research.  It originated, almost by accident in 2013, when Tom Bennett (no relation) with assistance from  Helene O’Shea, came up with the idea of holding a conference exploring school-level and system-wide research into “what works in education.” What a revolutionary idea!

ResearchEdlogoOn the first Saturday after school opened in September 2013, over 500 British educators, policy wonks, and researchers came to Dulwich College simply to “talk, listen and learn.” With the support of former UK policy advisor Sam Freedman and The Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre, the incipient movement took-off and spread across Britain. The movement founder, Tom Bennett, who ran Soho night clubs before entering teaching, became its passionate emissary and pied piper, sponsoring follow-up events in York and Birmingham. When both were sell-outs, researchED began to develop even more expanding throughout 2014 , far beyond the wildest dreams of its pioneers.

Tom Bennett and ResearchEd have tapped into the creativity, energy and ideas of regular teachers and “ideas people’ from outside the normal cloistered world of academe and the “fad-prone” educational bureaucracy. While accepting the critical value of “educational experience,” Tom and his supporters see “huge areas” that are “amenable to scientific investigation” utilizing insights from other subject disciplines, not just psychology. “It’s time teachers started insisting upon evidence,” Tom declares, “before being expected to accept every claim and magic bullet sent their way. It’s time for a quiet revolution.”

The ResearchEd movement has not only expanded, but amassed considerable brainpower — mostly from outside the established OECD Education circles.  Surveying the ResarchEd contributors, now numbering well over 60 individuals, it’s a very eclectic, diverse group of thinkers ranging from Founder and Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust David Weston and Times Education Supplement editor Ann Mroz to Science Education specialist Mary Whitehouse and well-known Head Teacher Tom Sherrington.

The UK’s Teacher Conference success story of 2014 comes to the USA in early May of 2015.  The first North American ResearchEd conference will be on Saturday May 2, 2015 at the Riverside School in the Bronx area of New York City. One look at the line-up of speakers and you can see that it will be a ground-breaking day for teachers, academics, and anyone interested in finding out what the latest research really says about how to improve classrooms and schools. Some of America’s and the UK’s most prominent thought leaders, academics and educators will be there, very few of whom were invited to the recent ISTP2015 Conference in Banff, Alberta, dominated by education ministers, union leaders, and hand-picked ‘friendlies.’

One example of ResearchED’s iconoclastic spirit appeared in the April Issue of its online magazine.  “Only one in ten education reforms,” Gemma Ware of The Conversation reported, is ever “analyzed for their impact.” Based upon an OECD study covering 34 member countries from 2008 to 2013, that was worth reporting. So was OECD education director Andreas Schleicher’s comment that the education world needs a “more systematic and evidence-based approach to reforms.” Most significantly, Finnish education guru Pasi Sahlberg is quoted as conceding that education authorities have little appetite for spending more studying “failure.”

In today’s education world, ResearchED is a breath of fresh air with a commitment to bringing the UnConference to the neglected field of education policy research. Inspired partly by the progressive EdCamp movement. it may pose a threat to the ‘usual suspects’ like education experts Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, and Pasi Sahlberg who tend to identify trends, feed-off one another,  and tap into the educational treasure chest of  OECD Education and state education authorities. Not to mention plowing those resources into the very traditional pedantic, OISE-centred graduate student KMb (Knowledge Mobilization) research movement.  What’s appealing about Tom Bennett’s grassroots insurgency is it’s cheekiness and willingness to tilt at the windmills propelling the modern education state.

Does the ResearchED movement have the potential to challenge popular ‘fads and fetishes’ that constantly wash over public education?  Can regular teachers be engaged in assisting to develop research-based, workable solutions to the system’s chronic problems? Will Tom Bennett’s little ‘quiet revolution’ move beyond simply stirring the pot? Will the North American education establishment even notice the little disturbance in the Bronx?

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Amy Chua, the infamous Asian American “Tiger Mother,” is back with a provocative new book, The Triple Package, that started generating monsoon-high waves even before its publication. Teaming up with her spouse, fellow Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld, Chua tackles what is considered a taboo subject – why certain “cultural groups” in the United States are “astonishingly successful” and perform particularly well in school.

TriplePackageCoverStudying the more materialistic measures of success — income, occupational, status and test scores — Chua and Rubenfeld  claim that top performers come disproportionately from certain cultural groups, most notably Chinese Americans and Mormons.  While the controversial book focuses on American immigrant student success, it might well apply here in Canada where Asian Canadian students are now academically soaring in the major cities of Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.

The central thesis of Chua and Rubenfeld’s The Triple Package is not only plausible, but defensible, and that’s what’s driving the legion of critics crazy. According to the authors, three traits breed success: a superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control.  Only when this “Triple Package” comes together does it “generate drive, grit, and systematic disproportionate group success.”  Lost in the largely hostile initial reviews in The New York Post, The Guardian, and Salon.com is any reference to Chua’s rather forthright analysis of the downsides of “The Triple Package” –the burden of carrying a family’s high expectations, and the deep insecurities instilled in children that may exact a psychological price later in life.

Since the early 2000s, Canadian educational leaders and researchers have begun to conduct demographic studies that yielded some unexpected and perhaps unwanted results.  Driven by the Educational Equity research agenda, they have focused almost exclusively on the deficits, studying under-performing student groups and attempting to close what is known as the “learning gap.”

In the case of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Canada’s largest public school system,  the first comprehensive “demographic snapshot” released in June of 2008 was presented as a wake-up call demonstrating how “the system was failing to help students overcome roadblocks of culture, poverty and family background.”  Then Director of Education Gerry Connelly was quoted in The Toronto Star issuing a fateful pledge: “I am bringing an action plan to address the underachievement of marginalized students that will specify targets and actions to break the cycle over the next five years (2008-2013).”  Those five years are now up, and the latest TDSB Demographic Profile for 2011-12 seems to accept the dictates of “socio-economic gravity” when it comes to school success.

Leading researchers like Dr. Bruce Garnett, Research Director in BC District 36 (Surrey),  produces fine immigrant student studies, but is not entirely helpful in explaining why students from some “cultural groups” are far outperforming others.  After just completing his PhD at UBC in 2008, he seemed to rule out the potential of looking at “the minefield” of demographics and student excellence. “This isn’t some kind of horse race, ” he told The Toronto Star, and we do this kind of research in the interest of equity because we know know kids from different countries can come to school with different degrees of preparedness, depending upon the dominant values of the culture.” He then hastened to add that it was “dangerous to use this kind of data to make genetic assumptions.”

TDSBScanRacialProfileMounting evidence is accumulating that Garnett cannot afford, any longer, to avoid turning over that stone. The latest TDSB Environmental Scan for 2010-11 and particularly the Census Portraits for demographic groups has rendered such blinkered approaches almost untenable. Toronto school board research specialist, Maria Yau, and OISE Graduate student Sangeetha Navaratnam, have blown a hole in earlier research assumptions. The most recent Census Portrait of Toronto’s East Asian Students actually confirms the “Triple Package” thesis, and so do the findings of the South Asian demographic analysis.

The TDSB research findings for the East Asian and South Asian students, now representing some 40% of the TDSB student population, are impossible to ignore.  Taken together, they are now the majority group in the system, larger than the “White” population (31%), and clearly driving recent improvements academic achievement and graduation rates.  What explains their recent success?  The three East Asian sub-groups from China, Hong Kong, and Korea, according to Yau, share several “commonalities” (i.e., traits): they achieve well academically, spend far more time per week on homework and studying (14-15 hours, almost double that of”white” students); and have parents more likely to expect them to go to university.

Asian Canadian students in the TDSB are also setting the academic pace, even though they are not drawn from the most economically-favoured, high income communities. Their academic achievement levels of East Asian students are truly outstanding, especially when so many start as “E.S.L” students.  Between 85% and 89% of East Asian students achieve Levels 3 and 4 on the provincial  Grade 6 Math test, some 25 to 30 points higher than the TDSB average., and a higher percentage at Grade 10 (84% to 69%) are on track to earn a high school graduation diploma. South Asian students, originally from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Guyana, and Bangladesh, are also performing well, all (except the Guyanese) with Grade 6 Math scores 2% to 15% above the board average.

Asian Canadian students in the TDSB are beating the socio-economic odds and performing very well in school. While it is true that more East Asian parents, except those from Hong Kong, have university degrees, parents from China are actually most likely to be in the two lowest income groups  (i.e., with annual household incomes of less than $30,000 or between $30,000 and $49,000 per year).  South Asian students tend to come from larger families and their parents , except for the Guyanese, are also mostly university educated. Once again, South Asian students have parents mostly in the lowest two income groups, earning under $50,000 per year.

American immigrant student research is proving to be closer to the mark than comparable work conducted by Canadian researchers.  While Bruce Garnett and OISE researcher Jim Cummins focus on race and language as a disability affecting E.S.L. students, American scholars Grace Kao (University of Pennsylvania) and the late John Ogbu (UC Berkeley) saw great strengths in recently arrived immigrant students. Since 1995, Dr. Kao’s  “model minorities” thesis has gained wide currency. She has made a compelling case that Chinese and Korean Americans are imbued with a strong sense of cultural values attaching great importance to achieving economic success through schooling and higher education.

Nigerian American Ogbu added credence to the “model minority” explanation by documenting the radically differing academic achievement levels achieved by children of “voluntary” immigrants compared to those from refugee or involuntary minority communities.   In short, students from voluntary immigrant groups like the Chinese, Koreans, and East Asians, have higher hopes for school success and apply more effort than the so-called “colonized” and “conquered” immigrants such as Aftrican-American or First Nations children.

The ground-breaking American studies of Kao and Ogbu, buttressed by recent TDSB demographic research, strongly suggest that Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld’s controversial book The Triple Package should not be dismissed as completely off-base and might help to shed more light in the dark corner of North American education.

Why are Canadian Asian students performing so well in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal public schools?  Do East Asian and South Asian students exhibit what Amy Chua terms “The Triple Package” of a superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control?  If not, then what else explains their “academic trajectories” and pace-setting achievement levels?  And perhaps most significantly, where would Canadian schools (particularly in Toronto and Vancouver) rank in international student assessments without the presence of these high performing students?

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Bright red pencils and bold X’s used to be the preferred tools of correction in the North American classroom. Those methods came  naturally to educators with a bred-in-the-bone urge to correct others.  Today the red pencils and self-esteem destroying X’s are gone, but the underlying instincts to correct others remain. That may explain why a Toronto-based group known as Facts in Education (FiE), spearheaded by Dr. Ben Levin, has arisen to defend the education system by identifying and “outing” errors of fact and unsubstantiated opinion in the popular media.  Upset with the media, the group, claiming to be “a non-partisan panel of experts,” has set out to combat and correct the “excessively negative, sensationalistic, or just plain wrong coverage of education” in Canada.

The Facts in Education initiative is the creation of Ben Levin and actually run by two of his graduate students at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.  His panel of experts, now numbering 21 educators, reads like a Who’s Who of the Toronto-based Canadian education establishment. Most of the members are education administrators, faculty of education professors, and former school superintendents rather than academics and, with the exception of Dr. Charles Ungerleider of UBC, all are in the Toronto-OISE orbit.  Recognized scholars with a more independent bent like Kieran Egan,  Paul Axelrod, David R. Johnson, Dennis Mulcahy, and Jamie Metsala are conspicuous by their absence from that list of ‘gatekeepers.’

The Levin Group claims to be guarding the “facts” of Canadian education and functions much like a “truth squad” pouncing upon offending news reports and even objectionable opinion columns. A recent paper delivered to the American Educational Research Association (April 26-May 1, 2013) in San Francisco is almost laughable. In it Levin and two of his proteges describe how they interrogate troublesome columns by The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente and even feature articles in the Walrus Magazine.  What upsets them most is “poor framing, sensationalized or misguided opinion” known in the outside world as freedom of opinion and expression.

ReformBenLevinLRCBen Levin’s feature essay, entitled “Getting to Better Schools” Literary Review of Canada (June 2013), provides deeper insights into their outlook and peculiar “reformist” mindset.  The Canadian education system, according to Levin, is definitely not in crisis and that is presented an incontestable fact.  Indeed, “proper framing” demonstrates that Canadian education should be viewed through an Ontario lens and educational reform is the Ontario Dalton McGuinty reform program writ large.

Dr. Levin makes a heroic effort to dispel any public perception that the education system is in crisis.  A recent Ipsos Reid poll, released 6 September 2012, would tend to suggest otherwise.  An overwhelming majority of Canadians (86%) now express concern about public elementary school children’s performance in reading, writing, and mathematics. Furthermore, contrary to Levin and his allies, three-quarters of those surveyed (75%) agreed that “standardized testing” was “a good way” to measure and compare students’ performance against other provinces and countries.

To be fair, Levin accepts the fact that the system is not perfect, but then proceeds to identify supposed weaknesses like program supports for the poor, minorities, aboriginal people, and students with disabilities, which are actually our current strengths, compared to most other developed OECD nations. What he is really proposing is tinkering with the status quo rather than any reform agenda addressing broader public concerns.

Leading Canadian educators like Levin find it difficult to confront the system that they themselves have helped to shape and tend to have a few blind spots. More objective analysts seeking to assess the state of Canadian K-12 education would draw upon the independent research of the Canadian Council of Learning and, more importantly, from the findings of its Final Report. It might have been helpful, for example, to reference Dr. Paul Cappon’s October 2010 assessment that “Canada is slipping down the international learning curve” and that “we are not going to compete in the future unless we get our act together.”  While Levin lauds the Canadian system for “the consistent quality of our schools,” he seems to brush aside Cappon’s key finding that “we have very little information nationally about how we are doing.”

Scraping below the surface, what education reforms does Levin actually support?  More spending on public education, raising graduation rates, poverty reduction measures, investing in arts education, expanded co-op and workplace education, and presumably less emphasis on public accountability testing programs. And, of course, “mobilizing knowledge” to advance that cause.  In other words, maintenance of the Canadian education status quo.  That’s also a reasonable facsimile of the aspirational McGuinty Education Agenda from 2003 until 2011.

While purportedly addressing the perils and pitfalls of education reform, Levin seems remarkably resistant to the more popular panaceas — parental choice, standardized testing, teacher quality-evaluation reform, and alternative charter school programs. In a nutshell, he seems to be gently and diplomatically rejecting the main tenets of the current North American education reform movement. It all sounded so reasonable that his hidden message almost escaped my notice.

What is the real purpose of the Toronto-based group known as Facts in Education?  Why are the “facts” in Canadian K-12 education so closely guarded? Do we really need an educational “truth squad” to police the popular media and disseminate the conventional wisdom of the current educational establishment?  Most importantly, what are up and coming policy researchers being taught at OISE and possibly other faculties of education?

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The arrival of Nova Scotia Student Report Cards in June 2013 provoked quite a reaction from parents, particularly those with students in Atlantic Canada’s largest school board.   “Ridiculous.” “Meaningless.” “Mumbo-jumbo.”  Those were just a few of the words used by Halifax region parents to describe the computer-generated InSchool reports utilizing PowerSchool, the province’s  new $6 million student information system.   After an initial attempt by Deputy Education Minister Carole Olsen to deflect the stinging criticism, the Minister Ramona Jennex, Chair of CMEC, was compelled to intervene, promising to look into the concerns.

InSchoolBannerEducation officials in Nova Scotia were clearly taken aback by the reaction and acted like it was news to them that the canned reports were incomprehensible to most parents and virtually every student, certainly in the elementary grades.  Education Reporter Frances Willick deserves credit for unearthing the latest parental outcry, but the concerns are not new, nor will they be fixed by a few cosmetic changes on student reports.

Some twenty years ago, educators were confronted with a wave of educational reform focused on introducing Outcome Based Education (OBE) and increasing demand for standardized testing to provide more assurance of student achievement levels. Most educational administrators and consultants reacted instinctively against such intrusions and adapted by developing some rather ingenious counter measures.  Unable to stop the advance of standardized assessments, they resorted to retaining control of student reporting and turning it to different purposes.

Student reports cards have been filled with gibberish since at least  the early 1990s. Much of it can be traced back to a February 1993 Ontario Ministry of Education document known as The Common Curriculum, Grades 1 -9.  That document introduced teachers to the term “learning outcomes” and attempted to destream Grade 9 and replace a subject-based curriculum with more holistic cross-curricular understandings.  In the case of Language Learning Outcomes, reading was downgraded and the word “spelling” dropped from the elementary lexicon.  After parents rose up calling for “a set curriculum with specific goals,” the so-called “dumbed-down curriculum” was shelved, but a new student evaluation system based upon “meeting provincial outcomes” survived.

CouldDoBetterOCERIntended as a means of providing parents with regular communication reflecting measurable standards, OBE student report cards become quite the reverse.  School curriculum was re-written around “learning outcomes” and professional development was geared to teaching teachers the new “educratic” language.  Communicating with parents gradually morphed from providing personal, often candid comments about students, to tiny snippets reflecting the “expected outcomes.”  When Student Reports became standardized and machine-generated, the “student outcomes” jargon became entrenched and accepted, rather sadly, as a demonstration of teaching competence.

Standardizing report cards became a vehicle for implementing the new orthodoxy.  In Canada’s provincial systems, OBE was captured by educators who opposed testing and sought to undercut its influence with “assessment for learning.”  Grading and ranking students, once the staple of teaching,  became dirty words and the initial standardized reports sought to replace marks with measures of formative assessment.  Ontario’s first Standardized Report Card, eventually rejected, attempted to introduce a new set of incredibly vague measures such as “developing,” developed, and “fully developed” understandings.

Today’s standardized report cards, as bad as they are, could well have been worse. Many professional teachers, particularly in high schools, resisted the “dumbing down” of curriculum and the invasion of ‘politically-correct’ report writing.  The leading teachers’ unions, the OSSTF, BCTF, and NSTU, opposed student reporting that chipped away at teacher autonomy and consumed more and more of a teacher’s time to complete.  In Nova Scotia, for example, the Grade 9 to 12 reports may be littered with edu-babble comments, but they still provide percentage grades.  In Grades 1 to 8, the reports still retain a watered down letter grade system.

A closer look at the Nova Scotia Power School report card reveals that the grading system has also been impacted. In Grades 1 to 8, for example, the range of grades has been narrowed to reflect the goal of equality of outcomes. The highest grade possible is now “A” and it signifies “meeting learning outcomes,” and “F” has been eliminated entirely. No one, it seems, can be outstanding or “exceed expected outcomes.”

The current flap over Nova Scotia report cards is simply the latest manifestation of a much deeper problem.  Education authorities favour standardized student information systems and Nova Scotia’s 2010 full adoption of Power School was mostly driven by the need to track student attendance.  The reporting module, adapted from the template with few adaptations, was essentially an afterthought. It is quite clear now that Power School was a Trojan Horse for the advance of standardized reports and the latest wave of “canned reporting” and “robo comments.”

What can we finally secure personalized, common sense Student Report Cards?  Is it just a matter of linguistic cosmetics or part of a much deeper problem entrenched in the current educational system?   What needs to be undone, before we restore sanity to student reporting?

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You cannot get more American than George Washington, the President who adorns the One Dollar bill emblazoned with “In God We Trust.” Yet in 1992 he came under attack when the parents and staff at a New Orleans school succeeded in replacing his name with that of Dr. Charles Drew, a noted black physician. The decision stemmed from a controversial Board policy calling for the renaming of all schools named after former slave owners or others who did not respect “equal opportunity for all.” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/race_relations/july-dec97/schools_11-25.html

The renaming schools controversy spread quickly to other cities and towns. Across the United States there were then 450 schools named for George Washington, including George Washington University in D.C. Hundreds of other schools were identified because they were named after American presidents who owned slaves, such as Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and George Mason.

Renaming schools to defrock former historical notables opens up a ‘Pandora’s Box’ and has sparked controversies in many school districts. Social justice advocates and special interest groups are usually the instigators and the “sanitizers” all claim to be “correcting past wrongs.” Charges of racism, genocide, and inhuman cruelty are heaped upon the dead and are too often simply accepted without much scrutiny. Few citizens dare to object, fearing vilification at the hands of the liberal media or retaliation from what remains of the politically correct (PC) vigilantes.

The infamous American school renaming controversy came to a head in a memorable PBS Newshour Special, November 25, 1997, focusing on “Re-assessing Civic Symbols.” It all died down when leading American historians entered the fray and cooler heads finally prevailed.

On PBS Newshour, Doris Kearns Goodwin spoke out strongly against the move to eradicate Washington’s name because it threatened to arouse once buried “tribalism” and failed to recognize that “history is a combination of forces.” Author Haynes Johnson declared that “to equate George Washington to Adolf Hitler is absurd…it’s political correctness run wild.” Even Cornel West, author of Restoring Hope, was uncomfortable with actions than might “demonize Washington” and warned against engaging in “a fetish of symbols.”

Since the late 1990s, school renaming controversies have erupted periodically in the United States more than in Canada. The meteoric rise of Barak Obama in 2008-09 prompted a spate of U.S. schools to appropriate his name. Student Noah Horowitz created a furor in Houston, Texas, in August and September 2009, when he when he lead a spirited campaign to remove the names of six Confederate leaders from HISD schools. http://wn.com/Noah_Horwitz A valiant attempt in January 2011 to rename Rochester High School after U.S. Army 1st Lt. Adam Malson, an Iraq War hero, was blocked because it violated school district policy.

The old controversy is back in the education news. Removing the name of Halifax’s founder, Edward Cornwallis, from the masthead of a South End junior high school is perhaps the most recent and blatant example. http://thechronicleherald.ca/Front/1249921.html The case against Cornwallis hangs on the fact that he issued a 1749 proclamation putting a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women, and children.

On that basis, the appointed Mi’kmaq Trustee, Kirk Arsenault, succeeded in convincing the elected Halifax School Board to remove Cornwallis’ name. No one spoke against the move and a jubilant Arsenault now claims that “anything that’s named after Edward Cornwallis needs to be changed.”

The HRSB’s unanimous decision has not only opened the door to renaming other public monuments and streets, but implicitly endorsed Mi’kmaq author Daniel N. Paul’s 25-year crusade to vilify Cornwallis and the so-called “European ruling classes” for “their efforts to destroy the Amerindians.” http://www.danielnpaul.com/WeWereNotTheSavages-Mi%27kmaqHistory.html

Renaming the school is not a trifling matter. Cornwallis was the British military officer credited with founding Halifax in 1749 with some 2,576 white settlers. He commanded the British forces in the midst of a period of frontier warfare where the British, French and Mi’kmaq repeatedly killed combatants, including women, children and babies. A downtown street, local park, and famous statue also bear his name.

Cornwallis did proclaim a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women, and children. What is problematic, however, is whether such an action, undertaken in a state of brutal frontier warfare, was that unusual and, indeed, whether 18th century military commanders should be judged by modern standards.

Much of the Mi’kmaq claim is presented in Paul’s 1993 book We Were Not the Savages. Paul’s book contends that the British and specifically Cornwallis were guilty of waging “genocide” and then compares Cornwallis’s actions with Adolf Hitler’s “ extermination of most of Europe’s Jews.”

Such charges certainly arouse the passions and draw much-needed attention to the larger historical context. Settling and defending Halifax was part of a European 18th century “conquest” of the Americas, but Cornwallis’s actions were not appreciably different those of other governors who offered “scalp bounties” and committed atrocities in times of colonial frontier warfare.

Paul’s analysis of Cornwallis is incredibly one-sided and enjoys little support among North American historians. Halifax’s founder has been lauded for his choice of the Citadel Hill site, organizing the first government, and setting up a courts system modelled after Virginia. http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?BioId=35941 Such achievements mean little to Arsenault, Paul and the sanitizers.

The Mi’kmaq claim is not supported in John E. Grenier’s 2008 book The Far Reaches of Empire: War in Nova Scotia, 1710-1760. In it, Cornwallis is depicted as a British colonial official who used “brutal but effective measures” to “ wrest control of Nova Scotia from French and Indian enemies who were no less ruthless.”

Basing public policy on re-writing history can only lead to further social injustices. The distinguished Canadian historian J. L. Granatstein put it best: “You can’t apply today’s standards to people in the past. That just gets silly.” http://www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=n7231269

What motivates the sanitizers in their campaigns to change school names? Why are parents and the public so inclined to accept the “demonization” of historical figures at face value? If we continue to judge past military or civic figures by present-day standards, where will it end?

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