Proselytizing Five-Year Olds

Commentary, Education, Frontier Centre

My grandson is five years old. He came home after his second week in school and asked his father what he was doing about global warming. It is an outrage because there is no way he can understand or even question what he is being told. It is pure exploitation and borders on child abuse. It is information that exploits Ignatius Loyola’s dictum, “Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man.” The classroom is the place where such activity is most easily practiced, partly because most parents have little idea what their children are learning in school.

The classroom is also where the tabula rasa that is the students mind is exposed and vulnerable to whatever message is imprinted. A recent attempt to recruit students by a teacher is an extension of this exploitation. Ken Corley, a teacher at Vincent Massey Collegiate in Winnipeg appears to be working to involve all Manitoba students involved in lobbying through the Manitoba Power Shift Team; that’s a subset of the Manitoba Environmental Youth Network.

The Team plans seminars ending in a rally on Parliament Hill. They say they will “deliver our message of change to our elected officials and push the federal government to take bold steps in tackling climate change.” All very commendable although politically-biased–tackling a problem that doesn’t exist and they can do nothing about anyway.

However, it is not an activity a teacher should promote, especially in the classroom. It also underscores the bias of some groups and individuals who have almost direct access to the classroom and curriculum. The early 20th-century author, Clarence Day, warned “Arrogance, pedantry, and dogmatism are the occupational diseases of those who spend their lives directing the intellects of the young.” Imagine the quick and violent reaction if Corley was urging students to promote business and free enterprise.

Proselytizing is defined as an attempt to convert someone from one religion, belief, or opinion to another. It has no place in the classroom and requires a constant vigilance to ensure open minds and balanced information. Unfortunately, education has become more about proselytizing or indoctrination than education. A major cause was the growth of the social sciences at the expense of the traditional natural sciences and humanities. Social science subjects are invariably value driven or subjective and therefore vulnerable to manipulation and bias.

The public school system appropriately removed the influence of organized religion and politics from the classroom. Now, in a reflection of the trend in Western society, they are being replaced by the new religion and politics of environmentalism. It is a new paradigm encompassing science, politics and religion in a way that challenge the objectivity of a public education system.

Education about climate change is a good example. It is invariably taught in social studies yet it is a scientific subject, something true of most environmental issues. My experience is that most people teaching the subject have little or no knowledge or understanding of the science. As a result, lessons are exercises in bias and ignorance vulnerable to the teachers personal bias. It is presented as a moral pseudo-religious issue that for young people fills the void left by the collapse of formal religions. The bias includes curricula about it in Canadian provinces and U.S. states; educational children’s books available on the subject but rife with serious scientific errors–I visited a bookstore for teachers and students recently where every book had this problem; and reports from students and parents.

I receive a steady flow of emails from both. A few years back, a United Kingdom court ruled Al Gore’s movie was politically-biased with nine serious errors and ordered the government to provide information for teachers to warn students if the movie was used. Who brought the charge? A parent whose son reported what was happening in the classroom.

The fact the government had to inform teachers about the errors and how to warn the students is troubling and confirms their lack of knowledge. Equally important the government prepared three different information booklets, one for the science teachers, the second for social science teachers and the third for civics teachers.

At the very least, teachers and students should be taught the scientific fundamentals before any discussion of the implications for society are undertaken. Too often this is not possible because of rigid division of subjects and vigorous defense of teaching areas.

Can the students participate in the Manitoba Power Shift Team? Of course, it is important to encourage political participation. Can teachers participate outside of school hours? Of course, we are all entitled to our personal activities and political views. The problem is teachers using the classroom or the school system to promote bias and personal political views.. As A.B.Alcott said, “The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence.” We need to be vigilant of those who don’t.