Why the Decline in Canada’s Education: A Conversation With Douglas Alderson

The University of Toronto

Why the Decline in Canada’s Education: A Conversation With Douglas Alderson

The path from education to indoctrination

This is Part 2 of our interview with Douglas Alderson. You can read Part 1 here.

Of all the problems facing Canada and the West, the failure of modern education is the deadliest. The abject failure to educate generations of citizens on history, government, civics and religion makes it easy for governments to abuse their power and violate civil liberties.

The most important part of education is not teaching knowledge but teaching how to think. Education that aims to indoctrinate does not teach critical thinking.

This education crisis inspired Douglas Alderson, a retired lawyer, to coauthor From Democracy to Judicial Dictatorship in Canada: The Untold Story of the Charter of Rights.

Alderson is a graduate of the University of Toronto, Osgoode Hall Law School and Yale Law School, with degrees in law, philosophy, international relations, medical ethics and Canadian and American government. He has practiced as an estate lawyer, clerked for two Supreme Court justices, and been an adviser to a number of government committees.

The following is the continuation of the conversation we had about modern education and the charter (edited for length and clarity).

The charter appears to have an absence of parental rights and does not even recognize the family unit. Ontario’s provincial laws weakened parental authority and the ability for parents to guide important decisions for their kids. Could you talk about the charter, parental rights and the family unit?

On one hand, the charter doesn’t talk about children; it talks about “everyone,” “every individual,” “person” or “citizen” having rights. Regardless of the charter, it is still the case that parents are legally responsible for their children. Moreover, children don’t have the legal right to vote until they’re 18: law of majority.

With social media, we’ve seen how easy it is for adults to be manipulated. It’s not going to take much for children to be manipulated these days, and of course they are. That’s why the fight in the schools is being fought right now.

The left is trying to normalize their agenda in the schools to teach values that are, I think, against our Judeo-Christian understanding of what it means to be men and women, what it means to be responsible citizens. That’s problematic.

The province, Ministry of Education or Ministry of Indoctrination as the case may be, set their policies and each school board’s policies. If parents don’t pay attention to what is going on in the classroom, then there will be huge problems. If you have to assign responsibility for the way education is right now, you can do a fair bit of assigning responsibility to school boards, to teachers’ unions in particular, to provincial legislatures and to ministries of education.

But I think the largest share of responsibility, quite frankly, rests with parents. A lot of parents are out all day earning two incomes, and education is just convenient day care for their children. Everyone comes home, and they’re tired at the end of the day. Are children going to do their homework? Do the parents even know what the homework consists of? You must have some discipline and structure to do that, which means it’s a question of how you’re brought up.

We could easily talk about a crisis of parenting skills. I’ve known some very good parents over the years. I like to think my parents were good. They weren’t perfect, but my brother, sister and I got a public school education. We had to do our homework. There were boundaries during the school night, particularly in grade school. You need these sorts of things because you need routine to thrive, particularly when you are a child. But routine is a bad word these days. Discipline is a bad word these days.

Today, when some parents show concern for what their children are learning in school and they want to be informed, all of a sudden it becomes a legal fight over what you can and can’t teach or what you have to notify parents about. Again, I don’t see fundamentally what’s wrong with parents knowing what their children are being taught. Children are not the property of the state. But again, this is through the Marxist lens of this issue because Marxism does not like the family.

The family is in opposition to the state. In the ideal world of Marx, the children are kept in state-sponsored schools, which is what our schools are now. That is state education and the state’s controlling what your children are being taught and not taught. If you hear and find out that your children are being taught values that are antithetical to your own philosophical point of view or your own religious point of view, and you object to that, then all of a sudden you’re controversial and you’re accused of being homophobic or racist or any other epithet that is thrown at you because you object to the progressive agenda. That’s a real problem.

The charter can do very little for you at one level, because when you think in terms of preventing the teaching of certain types of material and you want to challenge that legislation on charter grounds, I’ve never fully understood what section of the charter can be used to do so. Is it freedom of association? Is it freedom of conscience? Freedom of speech? On the other hand, I have never heard a realistic charter ground to suggest why school boards can’t use a curriculum that is more sensitive to what parents want their children to learn in school—a curriculum that reflects traditional Judeo-Christian values, the values that underlie the Ten Commandments, for example.

At another level, however, the charter is incredibly important, at least for those in the “separate school system.” This is an extremely important point: Both the Charter and the Constitution Act of 1867 expressly recognize and guarantee the rights and liberties of Catholics to educate their children in accordance with the tenets and values of their faith. The separate school system is constitutionally guaranteed and takes precedence over the Charter. Even the Ontario Human Rights Code expressly recognizes these guarantees. One of the values of the Catholic faith, indeed the Christian faith, includes “honoring your father and mother.”

To give a concrete example of these values, it is hard to conclude that a school board policy that prevents parental notification is consistent with the commandment to “Honor your father and mother.” Similarly, any curriculum that teaches any kind of sexual relationship outside of marriage is not consistent with the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

You see the problem here: Too many things that are taught in schools these days are a blatant contradiction of Judeo-Christian values. In the case of separate school boards, why aren’t they bearing witness to their own values and putting a stop to the woke nonsense? Their failure to do so represents a huge loss of moral and intellectual credibility, reflecting the rot that now infests so many of our institutions.

We live in an age of equality. You can’t discriminate, and if you’re not teaching children homosexual technique, you’re discriminating against them, and all the gender nonsense gets added into the mix. Gender is a grammatic construct. There are two sexes: male and female. People can get in a lot of trouble if they say that now, but that’s the biological reality. Someone once observed that archaeologists digging up graves 10,000 years from now are only going to find two types of skeletons: male and female. There’s no such thing as a trans skeleton. There’s no such thing as a homosexual skeleton or a lesbian skeleton. There’s male and female: That’s what you are, yet that is very controversial and will earn you a black mark.

It seems education is at the forefront of the culture wars, not just in Canada but in many Western nations. Could you speak about some of your experiences with education, the things universities and schools used to do well, and some of the issues you see with modern education?

I can remember in public grade school having some Bible scripture study for half an hour once a week. It was just looking at an Old Testament or gospel story or a parable. It wasn’t creedal indoctrination, but it was making you aware of what the Bible was. Of course, having some familiarity with the Bible is an important first step in understanding Western civilization at a number of levels, whether you are a religious believer or not.

They don’t do that now for a variety of reasons. But if I were to step back and look at the biggest failing of the educational system, or what’s really changed, it is that we no longer teach people how to think critically.

Instead of teaching children how to think critically, I think education has evolved into indoctrination: You’re teaching children not how to think but what to think. You’re teaching them not to question why things are the way they are.

For example, when the charter is taught in school, the nice little poster comes out with all the charter rights on them, and teacher says, “OK, well these are your rights children, the right to liberty and security of person, free speech, etc.” There’s no further discussion because to have that kind of discussion is to become aware of more theological concerns or topics such as you have these rights not because government gives them to you but because you’re a human being, because that’s the way you were created. They are inalienable, which means they can’t be bought or sold. Freedoms such as assembly, speech and conscience are fundamental to you as a human being; they are part and parcel of human flourishing, because you are by nature a social, reasoning and ethical being.

When I was in high school, there was a great Latin teacher and when he passed away, they never replaced him. It wasn’t that long ago that in school you had the ability to learn Latin, French, German, other languages and history. That curriculum has been watered down because the leaders of modern education don’t understand why children should learn Latin. You’re not just learning Latin, you’re not learning a vocabulary; you’re learning about a civilization. You’re learning about different ways of thinking, about how grammar is put together, and that has implications on how you understand English, which makes you more proficient in writing English, as well as thinking. Understanding Roman civilization is important, just as understanding the Old and New Testaments is important, because our civilization is founded on Rome, Jerusalem and Athens: the three great founding cultures of Western civilization.

How far have we progressed in 2,000 years? Well, certainly we’re more scientifically advanced. There’s no denying that we’ve made great strides technically. But in terms of the fundamental things that really matter, in terms of the arts, in terms of philosophy, in terms of politics, the same things we complain about today, we were complaining about 2,000 years ago. And that’s why it’s still important to read people like Cicero, because we can learn from them. But none of that is taught now.

Unfortunately the younger generation may be smarter with an iPad, but if you don’t know how to do the actual math calculation of dividing and you just put it into your calculator, you’re missing a huge step in your educational formation, including the possibility of learning how to use a slide rule. I remember back in high school when pocket calculators were becoming the rage, I had a math teacher who banned the use of these new devices in his classroom. Instead, he told us we could use slide rules, and he taught us how to use slide rules. At least using a slide rule you had a mechanical interface with the numbers and gained a better appreciation for what mathematics is; it’s just not a language but also a mechanical structure. That certainly isn’t taught nowadays, and I don’t think people understand what math is and how exciting and interesting it can be because it’s not taught that way. That’s a pity because numbers and math is a way of explaining reality. It’s not the only explanation of reality, but it certainly is a very interesting and cogent one.

This goes back to the idea of human flourishing. Going through life dumb and stupid is not the way to go through life. If you want to do that, that’s your choice. But there’s so much more to life. The brain is the most important organ in the human body, certainly the most powerful. But if you don’t exercise that brain, if you don’t try to educate it a bit and become a better person, in effect you’ve wasted your life. A wasted life is very sad.

Here’s the kicker: To learn is hardwired into us. We’re naturally curious about the world around us. All the sciences exist because, essentially, human beings want to understand the world around them. We want to understand not just each other and ourselves but the world around us.

Humans have the ability to ask why. Why is this so? How can I prove that? Our very understanding of science is a direct result of our Judeo-Christian inheritance because science was developed by medieval scholastics and others who believed God made the universe knowable.

Once you start from the premise that the universe was made to be knowable because God revealed Himself, the idea of a mystery or the veil overhanging all of reality went out the window. The Judeo-Christian tradition does have its mysteries, but it also has its knowledge. Part of that is a recognition that the God of Sinai is a God that lets Himself be known, that manifests Himself in a variety of ways. But we have to exercise our brain.

This is where critical thinking comes in. Critical thinking is important because the direct result of critical thinking is being able to look at something—like listen to a politician, listen to a public health official, listen to someone else, a so-called expert—and be able to decide whether or not they’re speaking the truth. That’s what an education should enable you to have. That’s the sign that you have been well educated, and unfortunately, there are far too many people who can’t do that. They’ll believe anything. They’ll believe anything that the media or a politician tells them.

If anyone purports to have moral authority or purports to tell you what to do or what you should do, you need to have the ability to discern whether they speak the truth. That’s what education provides. Unfortunately, children are not taught that basic skill, and these days, it’s an essential skill for survival. They don’t get that from their education. Some find that skill elsewhere for a variety of reasons, but the vast majority don’t.

The Trumpet has been warning about modern education for decades. Read our free booklet Education With Vision.