Teaching with Eyes Closed


It would be difficult to find a more staunchly left-leaning profession than teaching -- at both the public-school and university levels. Although individual instructors may hold conservative views, teachers as a group are firmly progressivist, committed to “social improvement” through state intervention. Solidarity with the putatively oppressed has led schools to embrace a variety of ameliorative causes, most recently, in Canada, a gay-oriented anti-bullying campaign that is at times stridently anti-Christian (though also, ironically enough, pro-Muslim) and a zealous environmentalist philosophy that teaches children to condemn oil and gas production.

Perhaps the most notable and pervasive form of teacher progressivism is egalitarianism, the commitment not only to equality of opportunity but also to equality of outcome as a social goal. This is a form of utopian thinking that radically minimizes or outright denies innate differences in human ability and intelligence, ascribing to social factors such as class privilege and “ableism” all significant variations in student performance.

According to this ideology, young people are held back from achieving their potential by factors not of their own making: by poverty, social prejudice, or pedagogical obtuseness -- factors seen as ingrained and pervasive in contemporary North America. Official affirmation, cultural sensitivity, and institutional support are necessary to combat these conditions. Thus a document produced by the Ontario Ministry of Education (2009) finds it necessary to devote close to 100 pages to stressing how Ontario schools should work to reduce “bias and barriers” in the classroom so that “all students feel engaged in and empowered by what they are learning.”

Throughout this document and in North American schools at large, the overwhelming emphasis on “bias and barriers” means not only that poor performance is almost never understood to be a student’s fault and that responsibility for failure is social and systemic, but also that individual achievement, the result (as the worldview holds) of unmerited privilege, cannot in good conscience be admired or applauded -- must even, in fact, be minimized. The only exception to the attitude of downplaying both achievement and failure is the case of the oppressed person who achieves success; his (or more often her) achievement can and must be celebrated, even beyond its worth. Only those deemed shackled by poverty or prejudice can be applauded.

As a result of this philosophy, schools are now dedicated not to recognizing and promoting individual merit but instead to hiding the fact of individual differences from both the achievers and from those who struggle or fail. Schools also seek to devise systems to accommodate and overcome difference in order to produce the equality they believe to have been distorted and denied. Such pedagogical practices as group projects and alternative means of evaluation (”Service learning” is the latest example, whereby students earn part of a course grade for volunteer work) are measures towards this end.