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  • stephen schecter

The curtain falls

I subscribe to a daily briefing from the Canadian Institute of Jewish Research. Today I read, courtesy of the Post Millennial, that the Ontario government’s grade 9 curriculum for mathematics stipulates that “mathematics has been used to normalize racism and marginalization of non-Eurocentric mathematical knowledges, and a decolonial, anti-racist approach to mathematics education makes visible its historical roots and social constructions.” When I went on the Ontario government’s website I could not find that particular statement, but I did find this: “Research indicates that there are groups of students (for example, indigenous students, Black students, students experiencing homelessness, students living in poverty, students with LGBQT+ identities, and students with special education needs and disabilities) who continue to experience systemic barriers to accessing high-level instruction in and support with learning mathematics.” I wonder what Alan Turing would have thought if he had lived long enough to read that statement.


Alan Turing, for those who don’t know, was a British mathematician instrumental in deciphering German war messages during the Second World War and in developing the forerunner of the modern computer. He was also a homosexual, hounded by the British government after the war, which led to his suicide in 1954. Clearly, his LGBQT+ identity caused him considerable personal distress, but it did not impair his development as a mathematician and his stellar contributions to human knowledge. But nothing is too cheap for our educators to use to impose their critical race theory on unsuspecting students, which in Ontario they call Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy. Note, of course, that the groups of students deemed hampered by white imperialist mathematics constitute the usual suspects of marginalized victims in whose name our progressive elites promote their policies across the spectrum of human endeavour. I wonder how many homeless students there are studying high-level mathematics. In Vancouver, the school board has eliminated the teaching of honours math and science courses for gifted students so as not to make the students in the regular stream feel diminished in self-esteem. At this rate there will soon be nobody left to run the equipment a modern society needs to function.


Such idiocy goes hand in hand with the steps taken to whitewash – or should we say blackwash – history. In the same briefing there was a piece on how the National Archives of Canada deleted from their website an entry about Sir John A. Macdonald because it was deemed “redundant” and “offensive” and out of step with “our diverse and multicultural country.” Thus spake our archivists, airbrushing Macdonald out of Canada’s history the way the Soviets used to airbrush the johnny-come-lately enemies of the people out of their history books. Of course, the archivists were only doing a mopping up operation after rioters across the country had been permitted to topple Macdonald’s statues in Kingston, Charlottetown and Montreal. That the railroad linking Canada from east to west would have been impossible without Macdonald’s backing is apparently too offensive for the beneficiaries of his toil to be allowed to appreciate. But then high-school students no longer learn dates or names in history, only concepts like genocide, diversity, tolerance, and the proper feelings to accompany them.


The woke crowd is raising a generation of educated ignoramuses, certified but dumb, mouthing the slogans of their own demise. They are all KGB types, pushing an agenda of social problems that are not the problems a modern society needs to address, but they are ones that sanctify their position atop our social institutions and endow them with the gloss of virtue as they go about their killing business. Like Pasternak’s Strelnikov in Doctor Zhivago, they will criss-cross the world rooting out the evil of traditional belief, the faith, hope and charity that sustained society for the past 1500 years or so. Armed with Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy, which is simply Critical Race Theory renamed and sanitized, they will set about using your tax dollars to prioritize the derelicts, drug addicts, homeless and criminal classes one Marxist writer used to call the detritus of capitalist progress. The language itself is designed to guilt everyone into feeling sorry for those at the bottom of the ladder as if it were the fault of all those who are not there, and turn the so-called disadvantaged into the primary objects of our pity and concern. Not for them the admonition of Bertolt Brecht to be wary of the power of the weak. Not for them either the idea that as freedom advances so does personal responsibility for the choices we make in our lives. Better instead to place responsibility on the doorstep of society and oblige us all to pay the ever-rising costs of other people’s poor decisions. As to our own disappointments, we are simply cautioned to grin and bear it.


The people who came up with this picture are ensconced in the social sciences and humanities of western universities. They are all adherents in one form or another of classical Marxism turned into critical theory. It prides itself on its scientific basis, but it is simply theology recast in modern garb. Marx himself was a notorious anti-Semite, who claimed that atheism was the first step toward communism, but in his version of the final judgment at the end of days, a classless society would emerge once the proletariat realized they had nothing to lose but their chains. The proletariat thought otherwise and preferred patriotism, Chevrolets, a house in the suburbs and wedding marches. So along came Gramsci, an Italian Marxist who wrote in the 1930s of the need to achieve cultural hegemony if the masses were ever to follow their Marxist prophets into paradise. Conquer the cultural institutions of society, he wrote, and the battle will be won. And so the intellectuals did, working on class, race and gender as categories that had to be redefined whatever reality may have to say about them.


Fast forward eighty years later and the work was done. The champions of Critical Race Theory could turn the world upside down with the approval of someone no less than the President of the United States. The more black-skinned people in the United States climbed the socio-economic ladder the more the idea of systemic racism was entrenched in the culture and exported throughout the democratic world as emblematic of its turpitude. The Canadian Prime Minister took a knee on Parliament Hill in support of the death of a Black fentanyl user at the hands of a Minneapolis cop. In England Winston Churchill’s statue was vandalized because he was somehow associated with slavery. Gender is no longer associated with biological sex because it is after all a socially constructed category. Today in Ontario when you register the birth of a child you no longer state the name of the father or the mother, but the name of parent one and parent two. Soon mother and father will be seen as socially constructed categories and the courts will be hearing custody battles in which parents five and six are also litigants.


Of course, critical race theorists and their progressive agents everywhere entrenched in our cultural institutions are happy to blow up all the institutions inherited from the past because they are barriers to their triumph. Religion, family, history, the classics, are all reminders that the governors cannot simply have their way. That’s why the Communist Party of China hates the Falun Gong and persecutes them mercilessly. That’s why the progressives in our society hate the traditional family and are hell bent on wiping it out by destroying the very words that describe it. Their much vaunted advocacy of tolerance stops at their tolerance of anything that challenges their prescriptions. This is why history has to be airbrushed and the marginalized have to be championed. The advantage of the marginalized and the disadvantaged is that they, unlike the proletariat, do not talk back. The disadvantaged are the perfect object of progressive social policy because anything can be claimed in their name and on their behalf. It is not the denizens of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side who appear on the nightly news claiming homelessness is a problem. They are too strung out to articulate anything, including how to allocate resources in a modern society. In their name, and in the name of the countless new categories the progressives can come up with, our cultural elites can demand anything. They can also decide arbitrarily whose needs need to be addressed and who are to be admitted to the elect. In the end, of course, it is only the elites who actually gain admittance, while the people in whose name this cultural war is being conducted remain simply abstract categories, instruments with which to hammer the rest of us.


One can see it already at work in the BLM movement in the United States. Regardless of the evidence, the leaders of this organization insist that Blacks continue to be systematically discriminated against, oppressed, victimized. These leaders, on the other hand, have built themselves dachas in the middle of White country that make the privileged dwellings of the Communist Party hacks of the former Soviet Union seem like hovels. The use of race as a fluid category also means they arbitrarily decide who is black and who is not, black being synonymous with victimhood and white with privilege. In the United States this means Jews are white and privileged and therefore deserve to be treated with scorn. So, by extension, does Israel, even though the Palestinians whom BLM champions are nothing but thugs of various stripes whose murderous and tyrannical policies toward both Israel and their own population should put them beyond the pale of civilized society. But that is how the long march through the cultural institutions of modern society works. Pick the victims, turn them into categories, assign responsibility for their plight to the workings of modern society which therefore must be thoroughly overhauled, but first overthrown. The astonishing fact is that people throughout the modern world seem to be accepting this conjuring trick at face value.


Critical race theory and all its attendant corollaries are wrong. For one, there is no scientific basis for dividing human beings into races, and certainly not on the basis of skin color. That was the first fact I learned in Anthropology 101. For two, what happens to people in a modern society is to a very large extent a product of talent and chance. In a 1972 study of inequality in America by Christopher Jencks et al, the gap in socio-economic attainment between brothers raised in the same family was found to be nearly as great as the gap in the society at large. Which suggests that the gap in math performance between children from the same socio-economic background would be probably as great as the gap in math performance among all schoolchildren. And that is because some people, like Alan Turing. are simply naturally gifted in math, their background notwithstanding. If we knew how to create more gifted mathematicians, I presume our educators would be doing that. But nothing in the Ontario math curriculum program speaks to that, although the writers of this curriculum seem to think making gay or homeless or indigenous students feel better about themselves in math class does.


In fact, mathematical achievement like almost everything else in modern society is a product of individual factors we do not yet understand combined with luck over which we have no control. Some people have the good fortune to be born in the right country at the right time. Some don’t. The good news is that talent is widely distributed in our society and takes for the most part the shape of a normal curve. Some people are good baseball players, some people excellent plumbers, others are really good statisticians. Some people know how to be pleasant on the telephone. Not only are talents fairly randomly distributed; so are rewards. And unlike class societies where privilege was concentrated at the top, talent can eventually find not only an outlet but also recompense. That is so because in modern society individuals have a degree of freedom unrivalled when compared to the past. To ascribe a modern individual’s life outcomes to society is therefore completely wrong. Conversely, to hold society responsible for an individual’s lack of achievement is equally misguided and skewers the way we think about the issues that ought to concern us. Homelessness is not a social problem but an urban blight. So is addiction. So is the habit people have in Vancouver of rifling through other people’s garbage for bottles and cans they can take to the recycling centers, even if they are earning their living.


Making society responsible for individual choices is a way of ensuring failure right down the line. Firstly, in removes from the individuals deemed an object of societal concern any moral agency for their lives. Secondly, it makes the rest of society morally and fiscally responsible for them even though the rest of society had no hand in their decisions. Thirdly, society does not know what to do in order to deal with those individuals it has translated into a social problem and designated a social responsibility. Society is as good at curing addiction as it is at producing gifted mathematicians. One has only to look at Vancouver’s Downtown East Side which has grown exponentially over the years, ruining the neighborhoods upon which it has encroached yet continuing to solicit and receive the indulgence of the City and its denizens. Its history is an abject lesson in the failure of a paradigm which our cultural elites would now have us extend to every nook and cranny of social life.


While they lambaste modern society for its shortcomings and denounce it for a systemic racism it does not exhibit, they ignore the issues which ought to confront us and do not address the steps we could be taking as a society to confront our future. The same day I read about Ontario grade 9 math I read in another email called Interesting Engineering that in Holland a steel bridge has been erected made by a 3D printer. I also read that the Hubble Telescope has been saved from collapse by using its back-up external computer controlled from Earth. Another day I read of work being done on concrete pavement that will power electric cars. How can we do that without proficiency in math? Without properly trained scientists and engineers? And without spending good money to ensure those outcomes occur? What about risk management? What about contingency planning for bad outcomes which may never occur? What about investing money in that and teaching people to think in those terms? But then that is asking people to think about the future and about the existential possibilities of modern life rather than about existential crises which are not crises at all. Do the people who spout critical race theory and all its variants have any idea about the marvels a modern society has produced? Are they mathematically or statistically knowledgeable, even minimally so? Have they even read Shakespeare, who knew something about blackguards and drunks and people in the grip of existential crises? For the bard, of course, the latter had nothing to do with climate change, but with murder most foul and the question of to be or not to be. But Shakespeare has been banned from the classroom along with history, so how can they know that, they who would have us ring the curtain down on the modernity whose conundrums Shakespeare heralded at its very outset? If they have their way nothing shall remain of all that glory but that wonderful phrase, exeunt omnes. All exit. Stage left.

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