|Canadian Education as an Impetus towards Fascism|
Summary – I review my more than 40 years experience with the educational system in (Ontario) Canada, from my days as student to my 2009 dismissal as a tenured physics professor at the University of Ottawa, and conclude that a transformation of the student persona has accompanied the imposed system reforms and that this persona reflects real psychological change towards an increased inability for independent thought and an inability to discern one’s own learning.
I argue that both the system reforms and the individual transformations of students are consistent with a pattern towards fascism occurring in a global disruptive and predatory economic hierarchy during rising economic power-coalescence. The nature of my political dismissal for attempting to resist the reforms – including an abrupt laboratory lockout, intimidations and firing of graduate students and a junior researcher, forceful police arrests of students and of a professor for participating in a public campus event, disregarding due process, and the recently proven hiring of a journalism student as “agent of University Legal Counsel” to perform extensive covert surveillance (from 2006 to 2008) – is also an indicator of emergent fascism.
I am 52 years old. I did high school and university, two graduate degrees, have a Ph.D., and two years of post-doctoral studies in leading scientific laboratories. I was tenured and a physics university professor for 23 years, during which I taught over 2000 students at all levels, until they fired me in 2009.  One of Canada’s most decorated scientists has said that I am one of Canada’s top research scientists.  I want to talk about my experience as a teacher.
Observing the Canadian (Ontario) educational system from the inside, both as a student and as a teacher and also as a researcher of education, I witnessed a dramatic transformation of the student persona (over the span of approximately 30 years.) I infer a deep transformation in the young person’s psychology.
FREEDOM BREEDS INDEPENDENCE. I remember grade-eight; the whole class being left the entire afternoon to figure out a math problem after the mind twister had been carefully explained. You could debate it, ask questions, test attempts, do whatever you wanted. Some just spent the whole time explaining to others what the problem was. And it didn’t really matter if you solved it, in the sense that it was not required. You did it because it was the fun way that the adult proposed an equal to equal interaction, an authentic and dedicated interaction. For others it was a personal challenge or a chance to contribute uniquely to the overall effort.
Just a regular public school with a principal who was back from professional development… This happened all the time. One retired dad would come in for “science afternoons” and tell stories about technological developments and research areas that he had been reading about in popular science magazines.
I only learned to read when I eventually found something I wanted to read (how to breed aquarium fish). I only learned math when it made sense to me because I could see that the teacher understood it, so I knew there was something there to understand. I never learned anything from repetitive mechanical busywork or from regurgitating something on a test – never.
In my working class to middle class and suburban childhood, all I did outside of school was exactly what I could organize with my friends. There was always a ditch with insects and frogs in it. There was always a fort or a go-cart or a terrarium to build from stolen materials. There was always a neighbourhood-wide game of something. There was always a place to hide to experiment with matches or cigarettes or kissing. You only had to decide and re-decide and change your mind and tell others. School homework was a ten-minute affair except when you had school projects you liked.
Yes there was bullying and meanness but you worked out how to survive it rather than be completely managed by keeper adults. And there was racism and classism (and I was a “frog” in a harsh Anglo setting) but we negotiated protection rather than be subjected to limiting controls imposed by adults.
In stark contrast, today’s 24/7 structure on young peoples’ lives, today’s institutionalization and youth management practices, do not resemble the conditions that enable independent thinking.
STUDENT TRANSFORMED. When I started teaching, students were generally self-confident and bold by today’s standards. They would challenge me on the relevance of the material and point out when I was being repetitious. It was not difficult to elicit sincere feedback from the students and the students had the expectation that their feedback would be heeded.
Fast forward to the last five years or more and the students have segregated into two in-class-behaviour groups: formless sleep walkers and cookie-cutter keeners wanting to know if I could please assign more practice problems or more reading and could they volunteer for something.
It has been like waking up to a nightmare. There are more tests, exams, and homework than ever before and the dynamic performance of reliving and sharing discovery at the blackboard or in discussion has been replaced by dead-on-delivery PowerPoint presentations. And the students now expect this linear and bulleted format and are prepared without allergic reaction to regurgitate slide content on command and in any clicking order.   
More frightening than the glare of the projector and the everything-is-on-the-screen environment, however, is what I perceive of the student soul. Barring from-privilege nonchalance, the empty eyes translate a range of states from indifference to hopelessness to powerlessness to superficial engagement based on illusory impressions of having received intellectual nourishment.
The “ah-ha” moments (actual outbursts in class) and office-hour testimonies (teary-eyed and chocked up) of having “really” understood have been replaced with “it’s obvious; I get it; I can do it”. And, of course, the good grades reward this empty charade and train the student to judge his/her understanding on the basis of externalities rather than anchor this judgement in self-generated knowledge.  
As a result, the majority of students have never developed the ability to discern when they do and do not understand something and they do not develop this ability in their undergraduate degrees. [ENDNOTE-1]
Students don’t know when they don’t know or when they do. Now how did that happen?
Partly the observed change was because more of the students were from the working and lower-middle classes and from the CEGEP system of Quebec, before the tuition fees were made to skyrocket. Partly it was because the students were a year older before Ontario’s “Harris revolution” arbitrarily cut one year from high school. Partly it was because the Harris revolution turned high school teachers into hurried and overworked (but well paid) delivery machines rather than respected professionals entitled to professional development and independence.
Partly the change accompanied a broader societal transformation from the relative economic freedom and middle-class workplace spiritual coolness of the sixties to the constraining obsession for “efficiency” brought on by manufactured crises used to justify redesigning the tax structure (from progressive to fascist) and crushing the workforce into submitting to the new regime. The new paradigms became “competitiveness” and prostitution to venture capitalists – a government-led campaign to mortgage both our natural resources and our labour futures and to attract the most ruthless global occupiers to practice extortion by debt.
The message to grade-school students went from “you can do anything you choose” to “you need to prepare for a competitive environment”.
As parents were put through the ringer, there were few adults at home and kids needed to be farmed out. So started the era of every freaking kid sports and extra classes and music and dance lessons and club and volunteer activity until you die driving them. According to the same “news” media that explained the virtues of attracting investors, the world became a dangerous place filled with child molesters and kidnappers on every corner and no kid could simply play outside.
At the present stage of the transformation in student psychology, my fourth-year physics students were initially telling me things like:
“I won’t learn if you don’t force me to.”
“Grades are what motivate me to learn.”
They were quite sincere. Frightening. The only way for such utterances to be compatible with a sustainable self-image is to have never experienced (or have no memory of) learning. Such is the present state of education. Canada’s developing military economy has no need for independent thinkers or learners. Do what we show you when we say. Period.
MARCH TOWARDS FASCISM. This means that we are expected to give up two components that are generally believed to be needed for human development and fulfilment: meaningful creative work and a true political influence.   And what is love between individuals that cannot uniquely contribute to and transform community? What is love outside of community? It is difficult to mate caged animals.
Further, this is a change to the type of personality, socio-psychologists tell us, which is the defining prerequisite among individuals for fascism to take hold.  Fascism is not a distant historical anomaly. It is an optimum end-state towards which large-scale disruptive and predatory economic hierarchies tend. It is the state of total and unchallenged control of every facet of life by corporate masters of the economy, achieved by an optimized balance of force and a designed mental and social environment. Independent thought is eliminated and the possibility of even contemplating individual influence is rendered foreign. Fascism cannot be fully achieved by control of the mental (media) environment alone. The key institutions of education, organized leisure, and work must be aligned with the fascist project.
Several analysts have pointed out that the US plutocracy is already in an advanced stage of fascism.  This is relevant to Canada which has now integrated the US military economy to an unprecedented degree, from mythical peace-keeper to geopolitical architect and occupier. 
At the same time that globalization gave us bigger bosses who controlled more of our lives; professionals within public institutions went along with every evermore far reaching paradigm of social engineering and every evermore extreme application of the religion of the boss-controlled financial markets as the ultimate social remedy. At the same time that national economies were transformed into jurisdictions of foreign and mega-capital exploitation-by-investment and at the same time that markets for untested pharmaceuticals and agri-food practices were opened by putting the bosses in charge of public safety; the schools were being fitted with “standards and accountability” and after-school free time was being made “dangerous and wasteful.”   Working parents were told to “rise to the challenge” of global market competition which in turn was used to legitimize losses of entire regional economic sectors as mega-capital prospected the globe for maximum returns.
That’s a lot of change; facilitated by always increasingly inhumane global monetary policy and expanding “free trade” zones. Acceptance, or rather compliance, by the First World middle class is carefully monitored and engineered at every step. A pivotal component is to prevent the development of independent thought and intellectual discernment so that fabricated concerns and their solutions can be received and adopted, so that superficial political oppositions can occupy all the space of allowed political “debate.”
How else can the present degree of widespread First World middle class stupidity be explained? The same psycho-socio-economic pattern from rising economic power-coalescence has been described to explain Italian and Nazi fascism.  The main difference today is a relative absence of imposed school uniforms but the same institutional drives to impose monochromaticity of thought and reactions are apparent; indeed too obvious to be seen. Radical elements are most expeditiously either “educated” or culled.
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|William A. Cook|