The discussions involving Canada, the United States and Mexico through the proposed Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) are alarming because, if acted upon, they will threaten Canada’s sovereignty and way of life far more than the FTA and NAFTA have done. Those international agreements have been responsible for the massive restructuring of the Canadian economy and huge job losses. In addition, we now have as Prime Minister a cheerleader for the U.S. government’s policies and priorities.
Most Canadians, however, still seem oblivious to the dangers we face from strengthening ties with our powerful neighbour. In trying to explain this lack of public awareness, I draw on my experiences as a teacher in the public educational system for 36 years—34 years in a community college and two years as a secondary school teacher.
What I myself learned as a teacher is that Canada’s public educational system serves mainly corporate interests.
Despite the efforts of social activists such as George Martell, Bob Davis and Larry Kuehn, of many teachers and some labour organizations, our schools basically serve the needs of corporations. This can easily be confirmed by examining the curricula of most educational courses and programs. For example, you could start by looking at the calendars of colleges in Ontario, as well as the courses made available through the public education/continuous education programs of the school boards. You will find in both calendars and C/E brochures numerous courses and programs that reflect business and occupational requirements.
No matter if the students will eventually find careers in the public or private sectors, the ideology and the values invariably reflect the needs of the corporations. Programs like business administration, accounting, information technology, public relations, marketing, human resource management, communications in business, to name a few, predominate. Even programs such as early childhood education, law enforcement, social services, nursing, and international relations are based on the assumption that what is good for business (or the “bottom line”) is good for society as a whole.
Books like Teaching as a Subversive Activity or Paul Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed have long disappeared off school library shelves or never even made it there. If present at all, such quaint “old” references would at best be seen as specimens from a previous age when the “counter-culture” existed.
Similarly, the curricula of primary and secondary schools tend to give little attention to such matters as the experience of carpenters, electricians, women workers (especially those working in non-traditional occupations), public employees, or immigrant workers.
As further evidence that the public education system serves corporations and employers, you need only look at the members of college advisory committees, college and university boards of governors, and internal course and program committees. Nearly all of them have business backgrounds. The teaching qualifications at most colleges also emphasize business and industry experience as a priority. This is conducive to a pro-employer mentality that creates and reinforces a private sector approach to public sector affairs. Lean-and-mean production, doing more with less, “labour-saving” methods, privatization and contracting out--even a “union-free” bias—these private sector practices are assumed to be appropriate for the provision of public services as well.
In a few universities and colleges, courses in trade union history, the sociology of work and labour, occupational health and safety, trade agreements, and the politics of the left are still being examined or considered—but their number is small and dwindling.
The children of working-class and middle-class families seldom have the opportunity to examine and understand the daily lives of their parents. The experiences, challenges, and success stories of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations are often ignored. At the same time, through their taxes, workers and parents provide the largest portion of the money needed to fund the public educational system at all levels. Their income and property taxes help pay directly for schooling at the provincial and municipal levels, and they indirectly pay for university and college education through federal transfer payments to the provinces and territories.
Workers and their families thus fund a public educational system that is increasingly under stress, fails to reflect their struggles or history, and ignores their aspirations to build a better society—one based on true equality of treatment and opportunity, inclusiveness, social justice, and respect for others in international relations.
Is it any wonder that we end up with the kind of federal political leadership we now have in Ottawa and in most provinces? Political apathy, ineptitude, and servility to corporate interests prevail even though many public opinion polls show that a majority of Canadians want more progressive policies. They want a better funded and managed public health care system. They want more effective programs to deal with global warming. They question Canada’s military role in Afghanistan.
The time and circumstances may now be ripe for workers, environmentalists, social activists and unions to push for greater accountability in the conduct of both politics and business. The opportunity beckons to demand that the economic system be changed from the current dog-eat-dog mentality to a more egalitarian and environmentally sustainable set of priorities. These reforms would certainly entail the abandonment of the Security and Prosperity Partnership with its threat to Canadian sovereignty and values.
However, if the growing resistance to corporatism and neoliberalism is to have the desired results, a key prerequisite will be to transform our public educational system at all levels into one that is truly representative of community needs. For example, schools must develop programs and courses in labour studies that reflect the values and goals of the Canadian labour movement. This would be a vital part of any overall strategy for opposing harmful corporate initiatives such as the SPP, which, as well as being an attack on Canada’s independence, is also an attack on workers and a labour movement that fought for the establishment of public education in Canada.
But who profits most today from this vital service? Not the workers, primarily, but their employers.
The “deep integration” of North America being sought by the business élite would further weaken our public educational system. It would encourage the privatization of public educational institutions, promote American values and priorities, and erode our political independence.
That process would inevitably lead to Canada’s assimilation. Our country would virtually become a colony of the American empire. The first step in any campaign to avert such a national disaster must surely be to have a properly informed citizenry, which in turn calls for an educational system from which students emerge with minds keenly aware of political, social, and economic realities.
(Joe Grogan is a retired professor in political science, sociology and labour studies at Humber College in Toronto.)