Why you won’t hear honest discussion about Marineland and zoos on Bell Media-owned radio.
— CANADALAND (@CANADALAND) July 18, 2016
Political censorship in Ontario, 1979
Racist boycotting in Louisiana, c.1960s
AS AN ADULT and parent, you might have noticed that children are not learning much of anything significant at school. Don’t blame the teachers. Don’t even blame the school board. The real problem is a political process. This political process was formed many decades ago, but it functions today in much the same way. The process was a policy of censorship instituted by the Ontario government to prevent certain materials from ever reaching the textbooks, ever reaching the classrooms, and hence ever reaching the minds of Ontario’s children—and by extension those of its adults.
The children’s need was clear from the beginning, as it is today. Children need to know how the world around them functions. They need to know, as we all need to know, everything: the good, the bad and the ugly. The political process made sure that little of what is real and controversial will ever reach the schoolbooks and hence the children.
The censorship process — any such process — is based upon understanding the taboo subjects. You have to be in the club, to be in the right layers of the general caste system, to know what is taboo at any given time. If you were a writer or a publisher, you have to be part of the club. Without this exclusive club membership you will never know what you are not allowed to say. All you can do is guess.
The purchasing power of governmental organizations is either a blessing or a menace to the economic health of the commercial sector. Competitive bidding, the standing policy of choosing the lowest bid, can devastate an industry segment. Companies in severe financial need may underbid to gain a contract. The ‘winning’ company loses money and becomes even weaker financially. Each company within the industry sector makes the same suicidal effort to be the lowest bidder, with the final result that the entire industry is left in the hands of a few big companies.
Textbook publishers had to be low-cost bidders. In addition Jeremy’s research found that editorial judgements were being warped. It was done with good intentions to win approval from the political gatekeepers. This left the industry in a double bind. On the one hand, they were asked to pass down the story of our country. On the other hand they were unable to form independent assessments unless they were risking total rejection. A lot was at stake.
This process is unfair to writers and textbook publishers, who have to read the mind of the currently dominant political elite. Those who can tap into this exclusive store of cultural information are rewarded with the purchase of tens of thousands of their books. Those who are somewhat nonconformist, not in harmony with the ruling political philosophy of the day, are shut out. Many prominent writers and thinkers have had their books excluded from the school system. Writers such as Heather Robertson, Stanley Ryerson and even Nellie McClung.
Is it true that the history of our country should be celebratory? Is it true that we should put our best face forward? But is it not also true that serious questions have to be asked? Is it in the best interests of our nation to avoid difficult questions about the past?
Taboos are tricky. The taboos of yesterday may be very different from the taboos of tomorrow. To get an intuitive feel for this tricky subject, think back a few decades. In the 1950s and 1960s, discussion of sex was taboo. Today sex talk is so commonplace that it is almost boring. Nevertheless we can recall some prominent examples that were shocking in their day. We remember the Canada of the 1960s, where respectable owners of Toronto art galleries were thrown into jail because law enforcement officials judged the artwork they exhibited to be obscene. We can picture the policemen as art critics, but should we have to?
A minor but revealing example is Mordecai Richler’s Cocksure. The novel describes a female teacher in a school who had a superbly effective method for motivating the boys in her class. If the boys did well in spelling and arithmetic, she would reward them with blow jobs. We can imagine how shocking Richler’s idea would have been in 1968 when the book first appeared. Way back then it was downright scandalous; today it’s a curiosity piece.
Jeremy Tompkins has completed an astounding piece of research, uncovering what could not be talked about. At the Ontario Archives he managed to capture the correspondence of the textbook approval process. This means the written traces left by the participants in this political censorship process are now available to us today. The political interference it represents is absolutely outrageous. It is difficult to imagine the sexism, the racism, the political vindictiveness, the conqueror’s mentality, the abuse of females and other similar sentiments that underlay the rejection of certain books.
This censorship process was independent from what the Ministry of Education described as proper evaluation by peer review. Professional educators, writers and teachers were asked to review each proposed textbook to judge its suitability for Ontario’s classrooms. I think we can guess what took place. No matter how favourable the peer judgements, the final word rested with the political machinery. It is not just one book or two books. The censorship process had total coverage. Dear reader the word you are looking for is totalitarianism. This gentlemen’s club exercised the power of the budgetary process. Books were rejected as unsuitable simply because they did not replicate an elite and male club mentality.
In this volume, Jeremy gives you the names and specific cases. He shares with us the all-damning phrases and comments. His material is accurate, word for word, because he had access to the archives documenting this amazing period. The commentary reveals the mentality of yesterday’s politicians and education bureaucrats. They never expected their words to see the light of day. Jeremy presents their dialogues in an entertaining format exactly as they were written. His book is fascinating because he is quoting the people whose perspectives recently ruled our world.
There is no need to construct elaborate conspiracy theories. These privileged men ran the province, and much of Canada. We all understood that this was how society was run — we just didn’t know how intimate the control was. We have to think long and hard about what we are still doing today to our kids and ourselves in public schools across the country. How long can we expect to maintain the facade of Canadian democracy if we do not permit ourselves freedom of conscience?
It was a personal pleasure to work with Jeremy. Frankly, I was astounded by what he found and wrote. I expect you will be too.
Stephen B. Regoczei
Peterborough, Ontario, December 2013
INTRODUCING A NEW book by Jeremy Tompkins. No School For Suckers tells the story of how successive Conservative governments in Ontario used their control over textbook evaluation to psychologically manipulate schoolchildren. The book focuses on the Big Blue Machine era of Ontario politics, from 1943 to 1985, when Conservatives ruled the province for an unprecedented 42 years. Hundreds of submitted textbooks, approved by the province’s own evaluation process, were nonetheless rejected for political gain. Because of the province’s large population, home to almost 50 percent of Canada’s English speakers, and its dominance in educational publishing, the rest of Canada was pulled into Ontario’s fog of censorship.
The censorship program in Ontario was uncovered at the Archives of Ontario. After signing a Freedom of Information agreement with the Archives, Jeremy gathered, organized and narrated the details on how teachers were recruited and paid to review textbooks and then ignored. No School For Suckers describes how the Ministry of Education obfuscated its actions by suggesting to publishers their books were rejected when in fact they were often majority or unanimously approved. The book tells the story of how the politicians got to the children.
Some of Canada’s best known authors and historians had their work censored, including Margaret Atwood, June Callwood, Ian Adams, Heather Robertson, Daniel Drache and many others. No sex, no drugs and no criticism of establishment. No fun. Those were the rules. The censorship program ripped out the heart of Canada’s independent publishing industry and treated kids like suckers.
Advance reading copies of No School For Suckers will be made available to reviewers in the second quarter of 2014 from Regoczei Associates. DM