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Canadian Education as an Impetus towards Fascism - Canadian Education as an Impetus towards Fascism

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Canadian Education as an Impetus towards Fascism
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MAKING CHANGE. Next is what I tried to do about it on my watch. The dominant mythology was that I had “academic freedom” and that academic freedom was absolute protection for authentic pedagogical developments based on research and experience – that academic freedom was the safeguard that made the system work and that allowed for advancement and corrections.

My first response was to try to improve my classes more of less within mainstream practice. This led only to different degrees of self-deception and was ultimately unbearably frustrating. Students were receptive and pleased but learning remained superficial. Students did not own the material and could not project it creatively. They were happier bluffers. (The stuff good managers are made of.)

In parallel, I lashed out with letters calling for reform, to my bosses, and to committees and commissions charged with evaluating programs and education. These fell in a vacuum. There were no responses. I must have appeared crazy.

Finally, after much study and discussion with experts and an international group of physics teachers practicing critical pedagogy, I decided to break with half measures and to implement the full deal, without compromise.

In 2005 I practiced what became known as academic squatting and occupied a course as a critical pedagogue, giving the course to the co-occupiers, to the students and community members. It was dubbed the activism course. [13] The Dean of the Faculty of Science tried to kill it. The students rebelled and won. I was disciplined. I won the arbitration and a legal analysis journal summarized the award in a review entitled “Teaching Science through Social Activism is Protected by Academic Freedom, Arbitrator Rules.” [14]

The course was a sensation among students and community members. One student concluded: “Everything else is the same. This is different.” The following year (2006), thanks to unprecedented student demand and protest, it was given under a new official name in the largest auditorium on campus. That year some students sued the university for not providing enough teacher assistants for the course while two other students sued for being deregistered by the university on the basis of age discrimination, all creative political initiatives that I celebrated. Both cases made media headlines. The activism course was never allowed again. [15]

I then expanded these methods into all my courses, while being subjected to a broad disciplinary campaign of repression. The method, adapted as needed, applied to a traditional first-year physics course gave outstanding results throughout the semester and in the final examination. It was the most rewarding first-year traditional physics teaching experience I have ever had. One enthusiastic teacher assistant who came to all the classes on her own time chose to short-circuit her graduate physics degree to start an education program. (I was disciplined for supervisor deficiency as “evidenced” by the fact that she did not finish her physics graduate degree.) The course was removed from me the following year. [16]

Such was the fervour of my dedication to uncompromised education from 2005 on. I also exposed the University’s treatment of me and others in a detailed blog and the administration’s questionable politics, including all the examples of executive malfeasance that I could document. [17]

And I lectured to encourage others to occupy their classes, and promoted anarchism as a pedagogical development tool. The University hired a student journalist spy to covertly voice-record and transcribe my radical talks given on other campuses. The student reported directly to University Legal Counsel who, in turn, forwarded the recordings and transcripts to the VP-Academic. [18a] [18b]

Legal Counsel Michelle Flaherty abruptly left the University at approximately the same time that a covert voice recording was lost from the record that I have obtained via access to information law. [18b] She is now a vice-Chair (judge) with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

To make a long story short, I was fired in 2009, following the arrival of former federal politician and former Minister of Justice Allan Rock as incoming president, after his verbal abuse of a student activist was exposed during a local television interview of me. [19][go to Nov.12 2008 video]

I was instantly and without warning locked out of my laboratory and office; accompanied off campus by university police. My research associate was fired without warning or explanation. My graduate students were removed and intimidated into choosing new supervisors. I was barred from my weekly documentary film and discussion series and from my weekly campus radio show. When I returned for a discussion night event I was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to Ottawa Police headquarters. [1] [19] [20]

Mr. Rock has repeatedly stated that all proper procedures were followed in my dismissal.

It appears that former Minister of Justice Allan Rock is of the opinion that, among other things, hiring a student journalist as “agent of University Legal Counsel” to practice extensive covert surveillance of me and students, from 2006 to 2008 and using such methods as a false Facebook identity to infiltrate student activist groups, constitutes simply “following procedure.”

On the contrary, I read the Rock administration’s actions as additional signs of emerging fascism. [21]

Hopefully, the arbitrator of my dismissal case will be a true independent thinker, if my union lets it get that far. (I want my classroom back so I can give it to the students.)


. My “progressive” colleagues have suggested that I had good ideas and good intensions but that my methods or my timing were ill-chosen. One colleague stated that you can study activism and you can teach activism but you cannot practice activism within academe. Several other colleagues commented that everything would have been fine if I had been quiet about it all. These reactions from the professoriate arise from the now age-old question of “separation between inquiry and reform” which has been at the heart of the debate about academic freedom since the nineteenth century. [22]

I have examined the work of my progressive colleagues and interviewed hundreds of students and dozens of experts about education and societal change and I am at a loss to find anything in what mainstream progressive pedagogues have done that slows the march towards fascism or creates cracks that allow some light to shine out from the hearts of students or shine in from the real world outside. [23] [24]

All of the transformations of North American mainstream education in recent decades have come from above and none have been effectively resisted by teachers or parents or students. There have been no grassroots initiatives affecting the mainstream classroom, no discoveries, no rebellion, nothing that has caught on. There has been only regression since 1968; the crest of the last period of momentary enlightenment when it was understood that teaching is impossible and that learning can only be stopped by suppression.

The schools have gobbled feminism and anti-oppression whole and spit out victims asking for a fairer society with better “protections.” The fire of rebellion has been replaced with “education” to train the oppressor to not oppress. Solidarity has come to mean being “like-minded.” Lifestyle choices have been re-invented as power politics. Modern medical practice is generally believed to contribute positively to public health, whereas one brave leading researcher suggests that it is the third leading cause of death, after everything cancer and everything cardio-vascular. [25] The “right to not be disturbed” has emerged alongside the rights to life and freedom. CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has been “scientifically discovered” to be the main threat to humankind … Widespread First World middle class stupidity you say?

In physics there has emerged an area of research called “physics education research” (PER) and its only significant achievement has been to somewhat convincingly demonstrate that traditional physics education does not work, something every physics instructor who has ever graded a final examination with real questions knows.

And now the PER community moves on, to find better methods to teach physics concepts, within the confines of the vacuum that is a single discipline, in a world where “personal initiative” means dedication to accomplishing prescribed tasks and where “critical thinking” means finding better ways to support the corporate or institutional ideology of the day, and without a radical examination of the central question of intrinsic motivation. [26]

No. Now is the time to fight back and fighting back is the only real method. Now is the time for teachers and students and parents to take back the classroom. Classroom squatting is the most effective and radical (i.e., “to the root”) thing that teachers and students and parents can do. It is the most that teachers and students can do and it is the only thing that teachers and students can do that will help. And we must do it publicly so that we may join forces and to inspire others to do the same. [13]

In the words of Paulo Freire, arguably the greatest pedagogue, “You can only fight your own oppression.” He added that we were all oppressed by hierarchy and that the oppressed young person could only find liberation (growth, learning) if she managed to find “authentic rebellion.” [8] ●


In the last course that I was allowed to teach (winter 2008) I was able to make a striking demonstration of the latter point, that student can no longer discern their own learning. It was a combined final (4th) year and graduate course in solid state physics, with 24 students in the class. At the start of the semester I needed to open up the possibility that maybe the students did not know when they understood a physics concept, in order to encourage deeper self-examination about the individual learning process.

I said “let’s look at Newton’s action-reaction law from first-year physics”. Eyes rolled. I drew a student on the green board, standing on a floor, and I drew an arrow pointing down to represent the force of the earth’s gravity on the stick-figure student. I said “OK, that is the action, what is the reaction?” “Forces come in pairs according to Newton’s action-reaction law.” “So what is the correct force to complete this pair?”

One student did not want to give a public answer and abstained. A few students said it would be the gravitational force exerted on the earth due to the mass of the stick-figure student. All the other students said that the reaction was the force that the floor exerted on the student to keep the stick-figure from being drawn to the centre of the earth.

I explained the question again in a different way to make certain that I had been understood, answered some questions of clarification, and asked if the students wanted to change their answers.

Some of these students were teaching or had taught this material as teacher assistants and all had used it extensively in their school work. The majority answer was wrong and I explained why it was wrong. I explained that this wrong answer demonstrates that the central concept could not possibly have been understood.

The students were shocked. It was a jaw dropper. One student said I had tricked them in the way I had asked the question. Several students (who had given the wrong answer) came to my defence and said no, that I had been very clear and that I had stated the question clearly in several ways.

Newton’s action-reaction law expresses a fundamental property of nature: Forces cannot exist on their own. Forces arise from interactions between bodies. The earth cannot act on the student via gravity without the student acting via gravity and in the same magnitude on the earth. Both forces (in this example) arise from the gravitational interaction between the two bodies. All pair-wise interactions (gravitational, electric, etc.) must affect both bodies equally. The action-reaction force-pair is an interaction-pair… a very deep and subtle concept about the nature of all interactions and all forces – a true discovery.

To be fair, many professors, including my former Physics Department Chairman, Dr. Bela Joos, have told their first-year students that the reaction is the force from the floor, and have gone into detailed explanations, year after year, as to how this arises; until I asked the doctor to explain it to me at coffee one day, having quizzed his former students in a second-semester course.

In the end, all the students in my winter-2008 solid state course (except one who dropped the course) progressed exceptionally well and all received A+ as a final grade. Dr. Joos probably also had many A+ grades in his student career but my findings suggest that he may not have deserved them?


Unlinked References:

[4] “The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing” by Alfie Kohn
[5] “Teaching By Numbers - Deconstructing the Discourse of Standards and Accountability in Education” by Peter M. Taubman
[8] “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire
[9] “Compulsory Mis-education and The Community of Scholars” by Paul Goodman
[10] “The Fear of Freedom” (UK edition) / “Escape from Freedom” (US edition) by Erich Fromm
[22] “No Ivory Tower” by Ellen Schrecker
[25] Starfield, Barbara (2000, July 26). Is US health really the best in the world? Journal of the American Medical Association, 284(4), 483-485.

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