Co-optation of Students at School Through We Day, Or School Indoctrination, Part One

I thought it appropriate to post a couple of comments on WE in light of the WE scandal. Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, supported WE, and his wife personally participated in it–and his mother was paid by WE. However, rather than looking at the scandal, it is better to look at WE itself since, from my personal observations, school bureaucrats and many school employees, including teachers, accepted the hype from WE without any critical distancing or investigation of its nature.

We Day is an event promoted in many schools in the more developed capitalist world, organized by We Charity. It is supposed to be an effort to energize students in such countries to change the world and to make it a better place through performing acts of social justice.

The website for We day has the following to say (We Day Website):

WE Day is the manifestation of the WE movement: an unparalleled celebration of young people and educators who have made a difference. Held in over 15 cities across the United States, Canada, the UK and the Caribbean, the event series features an inspiring line-up of world-renowned speakers, award-winning performers and real-world stories of change. You can’t buy a ticket —you have to earn your way. All it takes is one local and one global action through WE Schools.

Wow. Does this not sound encouraging?

There is further information about We Day for Toronto in September, 2019:

 Click here to apply for media accreditation to attend WE Day 
 WE Day Toronto is free to thousands of students and teachers thanks to partners led by National Co-Title Sponsors RBC and TELUS 

TORONTOSept. 12, 2019 /CNW/ – Today, WE Day, the greatest celebration of social good, announces the initial dynamic lineup set to hit the stage at WE Day Toronto taking place at Scotiabank Arena on September 19, 2019. Held in 15 cities across North America, the U.K. and the Caribbean, WE Day Toronto will unite 20,000 extraordinary students and teachers who have made a difference in their local and global communities. Together they will enjoy a day of unforgettable performances and motivational speeches with WE Charity co-founders Craig Kielburger and Marc KielburgerEmilio EstevezRupi KaurSarah McLachlanNoah SchnappDavid SuzukiTegan and Sara and more to be announced in the coming days.

“We can achieve so much more together than we can alone and knowing that we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves is a great feeling,” said singer-songwriter, Sarah McLachlan. “Every student and teacher at WE Day is making a difference on their own, but when they come together under one roof, you can feel the massive impact of their collective efforts. I’m proud to be a part of such a powerful movement of change.”

More than a one-day event, WE Day is connected to the free, year-long service learning program WE Schools. Designed to enhance a school or community’s existing social initiatives or spark new ones, WE Schools provides teachers with educational resources and action campaigns to encourage students to further their curricular learning and develop life skills to succeed beyond the classroom. In the 2018/2019 school year, over 6,920 schools and youth groups along with 8,125 educators across Ontario improved the world through WE Schools, creating socially innovative solutions to some of today’s most pressing issues. Through WE Schools students and teachers volunteered over 1.7 million hours creating an estimated social impact value of more than $45 million in support of global and local causes including hunger, poverty, bullying, well-being, access to education and access to clean water in communities around the globe.

“The youth at WE Day are at the forefront of change. They are committed to tackling some of the largest issues the world has ever faced; including bullying, climate change, and mental well-being, to name a few,” said WE Charity co-founder, Craig Kielburger. “WE Day demonstrates how important it is to empower our youth to be leaders of change by providing them with the tools and resources they need to chase their dreams—both in the classroom and out in their communities. We are honoured to celebrate the efforts of the next generation and we can’t wait to once again commemorate their incredible achievements at WE Day Toronto.”

The initial list of WE Day Toronto speakers, presenters and performers in alphabetical orderannounced to date, include:

  • Appearances by: Nav Bhatia, Celebrity Marauders, Jessi CruickshankMaddy DimakosTyrone EdwardsEmilio EstevezMohammed FaizyJordan FisherSarain FoxConnor FrantaReina FosterJacob Grosberg, Jade’s Hip Hop Academy, Theland KicknoswayCraig KielburgerMarc KielburgerAiden LeePenny OleksiakJames OrbinskiJenna Ortega, Dr. Pamela Palmater, Marissa Papaconstatinou, David Patchell-Evans, Regent Park School of Music, Navia RobinsonNoah SchnappWali ShahDavid SuzukiMaddison ToryAlia YoussefSpencer WestChloe Wilde

  • PerformersScott HelmanRupi KaurSarah McLachlan, SonReal, Tegan and Sara

WE Day is free of charge to teachers and students across Canada thanks to the generous support of partners led by National Co-Title Sponsors RBC and TELUS. This means students can’t buy a ticket to WE Day Toronto— educators and youth from across the province earn their way by taking action on one local and one global issue of their choice.

WE Day magic continues beyond the day through WE Day Connect, a free 60-minute interactive online event taking place on October 8, 2019.

WE Day is supported in Toronto by Co-Chairs Kris Depencier, Regional President, Greater Toronto, & Vice President, Personal Lending and Client Strategies, RBC; Sarah Davis, President, Loblaws Companies Limited; and Jon Levy, Chief Executive Officer, Mastermind Toys. WE Day is supported nationally by Co-Chairs, Darren Entwistle, President & Chief Executive Officer, TELUS; Jennifer Tory, Chief Administrative Officer, RBC; Chief Perry Bellegarde, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations; Mark Dervishian, Chief Operating Officer, Ardene; Nelly Furtado, Canadian Singer/Songwriter; Jeffrey Latimer, President, Jeffrey Latimer Entertainment; Elio Luongo, Chief Executive Officer, KPMG Canada; The Honourable David C. Onley, Former Lieutenant Governor of OntarioBill Thomas, Chairman Elect, KPMG International & Chair, KPMG’s Americas Region, KPMG; James Villeneuve, Former Consul General of Canada to Los Angeles; and Andrew Williams, Chief Executive Officer, DHL Express Canada. WE Day is supported globally by Co-Chairs David Aisenstat, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer & President, Keg Restaurants Ltd.; Hartley Richardson, President & Chief Executive Officer, James Richardson & Sons Ltd.; Dave I. McKay, President & Chief Executive Officer, RBC; and Craig Burkinshaw, Co-Founder, Audley Travel.

School districts or divisions support We Day in various ways. For example, the Toronto District School Board (the largest school board in Canada), has the following on its website on Social Justice:

Social Justice

The TDSB is strongly committed to principles of fairness, equity and human rights. We believe we all have a shared responsibility to contribute to positive social change both locally and globally. Learning about and engaging in social justice issues (such as equity, diversity, abuse against women, poverty reduction and environmentalism) empowers everyone as 21st century global citizens.

The goal of our Social Justice Action Plan that every school will participate and report on one local action and one global action each as part of school plans.

Ways to get involved:

We Day

Unfortunately, We Day is really school rhetoric that fails to address the real issues facing students, employees and many others throughout the world. It is a controlled movement to indoctrinate students into believing that they really change the world through micro changes in the present social system.

Fortunately, some teachers’ organizations, such as the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS) (in 2017) have seen through some of the rhetoric (though the inclusion of the last sentence weakens the criticism):

MTS Bows Out of We Day

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society will no longer be involved in promoting or participating in We Day events.

Delegates to annual meeting agreed with a recommendation from the organization’s Equity and Social Justice Committee and provincial executive.

“The Manitoba Teachers’ Society model of social justice is not reflected in We Day,” the resolution said. “We Day doesn’t promote, support or include a model of social justice that the Society identifies as effective in advancing social change. We Day is more of a charity model that doesn’t address the roots for systemic inequity.”

We Day is a yearly concert and speaker series attended by tens of thousands of students in Canada, the U.S. and Britain.

In recent years it has attracted controversy because of the number of corporate sponsors involved in the events. Some of those sponsors have been accused of actions in other countries that run counter to the messages on which We Day is based.

The decision by delegates does not extend to the involvement of schools and students. In the past, both MTS staff and elected officials have promoted and been participants in We Day.

The rhetoric of We Day can be seen in various ways. Consider the following statement by Craig Kielburger, one of the founders of We Day:

The urgent need for more stable funding eventually led to the creation of Me to We, a for-profit social enterprise that sells ethically produced goods and services, and funnels half its earnings to Free the Children.

What is “ethically produced goods?” In the book written by Craig Kielburger, entitled Free the Children, there are many references to child labour and opposition to it–and child labour usually takes the form of being an employee of some sort or other (including domestic servants)–but no opposition to the employment of adults. Opposition to children being employed by employers does not therefore go hand in hand with opposition to adults being employed by employers. Why the double standard? Why is it ethically unjust to employ children but ethically just to employ adults? Why is it ethically just to use adults as means for employers’ ends and ethically unjust to use children for the same end? (See The Money Circuit of Capital). Mr. Kielburger has no answer to this question since it does not even come up in his book. This silence reflects the typical silent indoctrination characteristic of schools concerning the power of employers to dictate to employees what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how fast to do it, and how much to produce (see, for example, A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees). For educators, such a lack of critical distancing from the social world is anything but educative.

Let us listen to the founders of We Day and Me to We, in their book Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World, Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger, page 128:

Today, employees want more than a paycheck—they’re looking for meaning. Many successful companies are empowering their employees to reach out to others and supporting their efforts in a host of different ways. Direct Energy bases its charitable giving on the number of volunteer hours put in by its employees. Xerox allows social service sabbaticals. Wells Fargo gives personal growth leaves. LensCrafters empowers its employees with challenging service projects all over the world. The list goes on. From Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to Paul Newman’s salad dressings to the Body Shop, businesses and social entrepreneurs are hearing the call of Me to We and are revolutionizing business practices in a colossal way.

This lack of critical distancing from the power of employers as a class is characteristic of these founders of such a hyped-up employer ideology:

Increasingly, companies are finding that corporate social responsibility has rewards that extend beyond employee morale. In recent studies, socially responsible and community-oriented companies have been shown to do better than their competitors. In 2001, Business Ethics Best Citizen companies did significantly better than the remaining companies in the S&P 500. The ranking was based on eight statistical criteria, including total return, sales growth, and profit growth over one-year and three-year periods, as well as net profit margins and return on equity.10

In other words, indoctrination via the concept of “corporate and social responsibility” leads to greater net profits. It pays for employers to link to the ideology of corporate social responsibility–an ideology that the founders of We Day and Me to We obviously promote.

“Ethically produced goods” includes, then, using adult workers as a means to obtain more and more money. This is indoctrination–not education.

Me to We also promotes “ethics” via consumer choices. On the Me to We website, we read (Welcome Me to We):

ME to WE is an innovative social enterprise that provides products that make an impact, empowering people to change the world with their everyday consumer choices.

One way in which indoctrination occurs is through shifting the focus from defining social problems and their solution in relation production to solutions relating to consumption. As David Jefferess writes, in his article, “The “Me to We” social enterprise: Global education as lifestyle brand,” page 18:

“Me to We” “transforms consumers into world changers, one transaction at a time” (Me to We 2011a); it promotes a way of being good in the world as a consumer identity: “Every trip, t-shirt, song, book, speech, thought and choice adds up to a fun, dynamic lifestyle that’s part of the worldwide movement of we,” (Me to We, 2011b).

We Day and its associated organizations (WE Charity, for example) also set up a dichotomy between the First World children and adolescents and those who live in the so-called Third World. First-World children and adolescents are supposed to be the fortunate ones who are to tend the hands of their fortunate lives to the unfortunate lives of children and adolescents in the Third World. As Jefferess writes (page 20):

Kielburger characterizes Canadians as “some of the luckiest people in the world” (2009). As global citizens, he asserts, Canadians need to “recognize what we have to share in this world” (2009): “As we learn to feel gratitude and act on our good feelings through reaching out to others, we begin to live the “Me to We” philosophy” (Kielburger & Kielburger 2006, p. 146). The solution to the problem of poverty is presented in terms of benevolent obligation: What can we, the fortunate, do to help the unfortunate?

For Kielburger and company, we Canadians are not exploited and oppressed by employers and the associated power structures (such as the police and the courts). We are not dictated to by employers at work; we are not treated as things while we are working. Students are not treated as “learning machines,” with grades (marks) as a weapon in keeping students in line–as well as the administrative structure of schools (the bureaucracy) and the Department of Education.

This exclusion of Canadians (and Americans,  British, French, German, Italian, Japanese and so forth) from the exploited and oppressed is characteristic of a particular kind of nationalism.

To be sure, workers, children and adolescents are relatively better off (with some exceptions, such as many indigenous children and adolescents) than their counterparts in the so-called Third World, but the We Day ideology ignores the forces in the more industrialized capitalist countries that have prevented the so-called Third World countries from resolving their social problems.

Thus, in from 1944 to 1954, in Guatemala (a country just south of Mexico), there were political, social and economic changes that were abolished when the CIA-supported military overthrew the elected president of Guatemala–Jacobo Arbenz. Land that was distributed to over 100,000 Guatemalan families for cultivation were taken back and returned to the powerful and rich land owners. Under such conditions, is there any wonder that many Guatemalan children remain poor, and child labour is common? (See Thomas Offit, Conquistadores de la Calle: Child Street Labor in Guatemala City).

Furthermore, many Guatemalans’ experiences of torture, disappearance, assassination and genocide since the installation of the 1954 military dictatorship also illustrate how the “fortunate” capitalists in the industrialized countries (especially the United States, but also other countries, such as Canada, which fail to oppose the foreign policy of the United States) have contributed to the continued exploitation and oppression of children, adolescents and adults in the so-called Third World.

In addition, it was the United States government that trained many of the Guatemalan military responsible for torture and other atrocities by training them in counterinsurgency techniques. The Guatemalan military  became an efficient killing machine (the extent to which the Guatemalan was organized into an effective killing machine is described, for example, in Guatemala: Nunca Mas).

We Day and its supporting organizations, far from educating youth on the realities of the world in which we live, hides such a reality. Problems that cannot be solved by the methods of its advocates are simply not addressed. The pseudo-solutions which it proposes reflects a world dominated by a class of employers.

The popularity of We Day among Canadian school administrators and school teachers and employees expresses the lack of critical thinking characteristic of such administrators, teachers and employees.

In a future post, I will address how the Left has addressed We Day and its supporting organizations.

 

 

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