SOS Alberta strives to put educational issues like equity into a broader context. Other educators, researchers and education commentators across the globe have also been examining issues of education, race and equity. We are publishing this op ed by Benjamin Doxtdator as he has observed a troubling trend in some recent educational research.
On Friday August 17 (today), you have Tom Bennett keynoting your Leadership Conference in Toronto and I want to make you aware of some very serious concerns that are emerging around him. For some context, I attended OISE back in 2010 and I now live and teach in Brussels. So, my concern is very much rooted in my love for Toronto, the commitment that Toronto schools and educators make to equity, and my heritage as a member of the Oneida band of First Nations peoples.
As you know, Bennett runs ResearchEd, and in the last few days, his close associate, friend, and speaker set to appear at ResearchEd in Toronto, David Didau, has made some very troubling claims about links between student performance, race, and the heritability of IQ. David Didau acknowledges that his speculation about what behavioral genetics might mean for school may face resistance because “it’s not popular to go about attributing children’s success or failure to who they are rather than what they experience.” And who are children? In What Causes Behavior?, he tells us that “the mountains of evidence that have piled up in favour of genetic causes for behaviour as opposed to environmental ones is solemnly impressive.” Thus, “it seems as if schools and teaching may matter a lot less than we would like to believe.”
In the comment section, someone asks Didau, “Why do we see certain cultures doing much better (or worse) than others within the same education system?” Didau responds, “Well, firstly there’s peer effects, and secondly - despite the unpopularity of discussing such things, there are fairly clear racial differences in IQ.”
When I and many members in the community called out the scientific racism in Didau's remarks, Tom Bennett blocked me. In none of Bennett’s frequent tweets has he condemned this statement in spite of requests to do so. Instead he has blocked the people expressing concern. When Darren Chetty challenged Tom Bennett about the lack of racial diversity at ResearchEd in the UK, Bennett blocked Chetty on Twitter, thus removing the voice of an important educator of colour from the 'grassroots movement' that Bennett purports the conference to be. Many important debates about education, and a government report on behavior which Bennett has authored, are found on Twitter.
As a first response, Didau wrote a post called “Differences and Similarities", where he cited Linda Gottfresdon as representing a "mainstream view of the research" about race and IQ, when she is in fact monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center for promoting scientific racism. He only later acknowledged that he did not investigate his source, despite people repeatedly pointing out her history to him. In another comment on his blog, he directs someone to “the evidence collected on the Human Biodiversity Website”, which features both Linda Gottfredson and the American White Supremacist Richard Spencer. The first link on the HBD website under ‘Multimedia’ is this: Are your children prepared for the global future that lies ahead? The video mocks people who celebrate diversity and features these demeaning images of Black people that present them as a danger to white neighbourhoods.
When Didau finally issued a statement entitled "On Being Called a Racist", where the only damage he acknowledges is to his own feelings, Bennett Tweeted Didau's post and referred to the concerned community as a "Twitch Hunt" and "The idea that I'm required to [speak out] is, frankly, reminiscent of The Crucible."
As some further context on Bennett, he has made light of racism on Twitter by ironically replying to people talking about Scottish food: "So racist. I feel like my lived experience is being marginalized." It's no accident that he casually mocks people who take racism and hate speech seriously. He also contributes to Spiked, an advocate of the idea that "hate speech is free speech." This kind of discourse is much closer to the “many sides” approach we have seen recently in the news than a genuine stance on social justice.
As a sample from Spiked’s education section, here are some bylines:
“The War on ‘Dead White Dudes’: The 'decolonise the curriculum' campaign is a threat to universalism”
“The Campus Rape Panic Demeans Women”
“Students’ Temper Tantrum Over Trump”
“The Tyranny of ‘Ze’: Transgender politics isn’t radical, it’s deeply conservative”
“Turning Education Into Welfare: Both Labour and the Conservatives want to turn schools into wellness retreats.”
In an interview with Spiked about 'the crisis of authority of the classroom', Bennett says there is a “chronic" "crisis of adult authority" in the broader culture and classroom, and he believes children want a restoration of adult authority because they are “waiting to be told what to do”. He is concerned that not teaching about “cultural legacy” might “endanger civilisation”. In the Telegraph, Bennett is quoted as saying, ““[With] generation snowflake, sometimes, there is an element of truth that children are a little bit inoculated perhaps against the harsher realities of the world.” The sad irony is that while Bennett is against ‘no platforming’, he effectively does just that by blocking and excluding the voices of women and people of colour.
It is not just in debates about education that Bennett practices exclusion; he also advocates for excluding students in cases: “We may not like excluding pupils, internally, externally, permanent or fixed term, but they are a necessary part of the system. The desire to reduce exclusions by simply turning off the tap ironically creates circumstances where their use is required more and more, as misbehaviour backs up the pipe and remodels the social norms of the school in the direction of incivility and belligerence.” Bennett’s suggestion to use exclusion for ‘misbehavior’ of course contradicts Ontario’s progressive discipline policy: “Exclusion is not to be used as a form of discipline.”
Bennett is part of a larger trend that focuses on ‘evidence-based’ methods, where science is very narrowly construed and too often supplants debates about the broader purposes of education. Ultimately, statistical data about standardized subjects replaces the need for conversations about culturally relevant pedagogy. And rather than construct tables of heritability scores, we need to construct images that help us understand what Gloria Ladson-Billings calls the education debt we owe to those who have been oppressed:
“The images should remind us that the cumulative effect of poor education, poor housing, poor health care, and poor government services create a bifurcated society that leaves more than its children behind. The images should compel us to deploy our knowledge, skills, and expertise to alleviate the suffering of the least of these.”
While I believe firmly in fair and robust debate, it surprises me and others that someone whose own values stand counter to those I proudly believe to be Canadian - those of acceptance, inclusion and compassion - is to be welcomed uncritically into our community.
To be clear, I am not asking you to cancel Bennett's keynote. Nor am I accusing Bennett of being a racist. But his habit of dismissing and excluding dissenting voices is very troubling to many educators, and it would be reassuring to the wider community without Bennett’s platform to see that acknowledged and challenged at your conference.
Thank you for your time,
This September 3, 2017 SOS Alberta will be participating in the Calgary PRIDE parade. We have been very vocal of our support for Gay Straight Alliances in Alberta and feel strongly all children must feel supported and safe at school. With the help of a very talented Calgary student graphic designer (SKDesigns) we have created a limited edition OK WITH GSA T-shirt. You can wear one to show your support of both SOS Alberta and GSAs with a minimum $50 donation. The T-shirt has a $30 value. Your donation will go along way to helping us advocate for a safe, accessible and equitable education system.
Thank you for your ongoing support!
Order form can be found on the right hand side bar.
Recently, on social media, SOS Alberta was asked “Who are you? You know my name. I don’t know yours…” by a member of the Provincial Legislature, and a staff member of another politician accusing us further of being a 'front group for the NDP', (not the party they belong to). Full threads can be found here and here - but what this is really about is our questioning of public dollars going to private schools and how this diverts resources from the public education system. Although our executive’s biographies are on our website and there are plenty of methods to get in touch and meet with us, we were still questioned about who we are. Here is our answer.
We are Support Our Students Alberta, a public education advocacy group which advocates for the right of all children to an equitable and accessible public education system.
We are volunteers.
We are non-profit.
We are community builders.
We are engineers, psychologists, teachers, doctors, lawyers, custodians, speech language pathologists, scientists, dental hygienists, chiropractors, butchers, landscapers, accountants, homemakers, cashiers -- hard workers, contributing to all aspects of Alberta society.
We are mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and children.
We are cis, trans, bi, questioning.
We are Muslim, Christian, atheists.
We are public school graduates, private school graduates, we are urban, we are rural.
We are immigrants, refugees, 4th generation Canadians, FNMI.
We are disabled, gifted, special needs, able-bodied.
Most importantly, we are Albertans who believe in the promise of public education to build community across all these beautiful differences.
What we believe:
We believe public education is a child’s human right.
Every child regardless of income should have a barrier free public education.
We believe there is room for improvement, but also that public education is worth fighting for.
We know children go to school with trauma, mental health needs, food insecurity, poverty-related issues that can create barriers to their learning, something no PISA or standardized test score can measure.
We know children go undiagnosed and unsupported for learning disabilities, and early intervention could greatly affect their future.
We know some parents and families are unable to pay for the testing required to properly diagnose and treat their children.
We know some children feel unsafe at school, because of the colour of their skin, their religion or their gender identity.
We believe GSAs save lives.
We believe institutionalized and systemic racism exists throughout our education system.
We believe an unsupported, alienated and marginalized student becomes an alienated and marginalized citizen.
We believe competition has no place in education. Inherent in competition are winners and losers and no child should lose when it comes to education. Especially when the competition is tilted in favour of the privileged.
We believe choice is a euphemism for segregation.
We believe public funds should be for public schools.
What we have done:
We have conducted a province wide survey researching how education resources manifest on the frontlines for Alberta children.
We have met with representatives of all provincial parties, including the Wildrose, Liberal Party, Alberta Party, Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta and the New Democratic Party.
We have met with elected officials at the municipal and school board levels.
We have collaborated with public education advocacy groups across Alberta and in other provinces and internationally.
We travelled to 4 cities across Alberta to screen the enlightening documentary Backpack Full of Cash, a cautionary tale of the privatization of education.
We engage with anyone and everyone who wants to work in the best interests of children. Our door has always been and remains open for these discussions.
We are a non-partisan group. Above all else, what we do, the countless nights we volunteer to write, to plan, to work, to collaborate, we do because, we believe that when we meet the needs of the most vulnerable children, we elevate the quality of life for all children. We do not volunteer our time and energy for our own children; we do it because we believe in the institution of public education. We do not think education should be political, but the moment public funds were provided to private institutions, it became a political issue. We won't pretend that 250 million dollars a year is not diverted from the public system to private hands. We won't pretend competition does not hurt the most vulnerable of our population. We won't pretend outing LGBTQ2+ children is not religious infiltration of a public service.
We also will not be intimidated, demeaned, or condescended to, when a politician or anyone else asks “Who are you”?
We are Albertans, we are proud, engaged citizens, who will continue to advocate, not because we need you to know who we are, but because our children are watching.