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William Brooks

William Brooks taught history, economics and political science at Lower Canada College in Montreal

The Left’s long march through our classrooms: can it ever be reversed?

When I started teaching in the late 1960s there were still unresolved issues between “traditional teachers” and “progressive educators”. Traditional teachers usually held academic degrees in particular disciplines; like history, literature, math or chemistry. Progressives typically held degrees in “education”.   With regard to the curriculum, the two camps differed over the relative importance of “what to teach” and “how to teach.” The traditionalists focused on the content of the lesson. Progressives professed to be interested in how students learn. Traditionalists commonly used direct instruction and Socratic discourse. Progressives sought to organize “cooperative learning experiences” that were to produce “critical thinking” skills.   Over the years, serious academics on both sides of the political spectrum, claimed that progressive teaching practices dumbed down the curriculum and emptied the content of the humanities. For whatever reason, academic standards over the last half century tumbled faster than a Soviet gymnast on steroids and the spirit of open-ended, rational inquiry sunk to an all time low. Over the same period political consciousness among students rose to 18th century revolutionary levels. Teachers' unions became more radical and more partisan. We aligned with left-wing political parties from which we won higher salaries. We sought graduate degrees from progressive education faculties; which qualified us for even higher salaries and influential positions in the educational establishment. By the end of the 1970s we had transformed teaching from a low-paying, rather prestigious, “vocation” to a relatively well-paid, adversarial “mission”.   The 20th century progressive education movement was inspired by the thinking of American philosopher, John Dewey. Dewey was, in large measure, a disciple of Marx, and his own disciples co-opted our schools throughout the radical decades of the last century. His so-called “pragmatism” and “activity methods” captured the imagination of educational theorists at Columbia University; and throughout my own… Read More

A cautionary tale for American Republicans

  On the eve of a House vote on the Trump Administration's first major Bill, The American Health Care Act, it was business as usual for Washington Democrats and their fellow travelers.   Maxine Waters was still calling for impeachment, young anarchists were still beating up senior citizens at “March 4 Trump” rallies, Chuck Schumer was still blocking Trump appointments in the Senate and Adam Schiff was still hot on the trail of a phantasmagoric Trump plot to hand the USA over to the Russians. Liberal media outlets were still hammering home the President's negatives and much of America's top drawer meritocracy remained opposed to a man they regard as a populist buffoon who won the Presidency with voters from the bottom end of American society.   Trump's detractors maintain that he is socially clumsy and inarticulate. His principles are murky. He is inconsistent. He stretches the truth. He is coarse. He is vulgar. He has a towering ego. He is a puppet of Vladimir Putin. He can be a bully and, what's more, his hairstyle is inappropriate for a seventy year old man. Some go so far as to call him a racist, a bigot, a fascist, even a Nazi. More measured critics see him as a knuckle-dragging, ultra-nationalist who is embarrassing America on the world stage.   Of course, much of this opinion is validated by the unconventional behaviour of the new man in the Oval Office. Trump has assertively contributed to his own low standing; especially among educated professionals and the occupants of some of the wealthiest and smuggest zip codes in the Nation. Like Hillary Clinton, many seasoned politicians and pundits saw Trump people as “a basket of deplorables.” But legions of working class voters admired Trump in a way that many “upstairs people” didn't. My… Read More

Is it really all about Harper?

  The audacity of Canadians who have elected Stephen Harper throughout the entire Obama era appears to be as troubling for east coast American liberals as it is for the overwhelming majority in Canada’s media and cultural establishment. This became evident early in our current election campaign when the legendary New York Times, newspaper of record for the American left, enlisted a young Toronto journalist to pen a stern warning for Canadians who might consider re-electing a Conservative government. Reading “The Closing of the Canadian Mind” the NYT piece by Stephen Marche, one might have expected some tough-minded analysis of Canadian foreign policy and the Conservative Party’s record. But, what the Huffington Post described as a “scathing” attack amounted to nothing more than the predictable laundry list of anti-Harper allegations put forward by his ideological opponents since he began winning elections in 2006. As political attacks go, it didn’t rise to any higher standard of credibility than the daily outbreaks of Harper derangement syndrome appearing across the country. “Closing of the Canadian mind”? In fact: “The Closing of the Canadian Mind,” a somewhat disconnected play on Allan Bloom’s landmark examination of relativism in post-modern America, amounted to little more than 17 paragraphs of Facebook-style gossip. References to a “culture of secrecy - know-nothing conservatism – our country in ignorance - and a subtle darkening of Canadian life” stirred up the same familiar illusions shared daily in the faculty rooms, coffee houses and newsrooms of Canada’s central-eastern liberal establishment. As so often happens with anti-Harper invective,” said David Frum, a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, “the accusation combines intense outrage against the man with gaseous vagueness about the man’s offences. “You are supposed to just know. If you don’t know already, it won’t be explained to you.” Real source of antipathy… Read More