A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part Two: The Ontario History Curriculum and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees

This post is a continuation of a previous post on the Manitoba history curriculum (see   A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees). The background to the post is provided in that previous post.

But just a reminder: the research question is: Does the history curriculum (or, if not available, the social-studies curriculum) provide much of an opportunity for students to understand how and why employers (and employees arose)?

The Ontario secondary curriculum that pertains to Canadian history consists of two documents: Canadian and World Studies, grades 9 and 10, and Canadian and World Studies, grades 11 and 12. Both include history as a separate section. No relevant hits that would answer the question came up when I used the search term “employ” for the grades 9 and 10 history curriculum. A few hits referred to employment (access of the latter for women, for example or unemployment), but nothing in the way of an exploration of the historical emergence of the employer-employees relation in Canada. The same applies when I used the search term “work.” A few topics came up (such as the impact of the decline of the manufacturing sector on workers), but no explanation of why workers need to sell their capacity to work to an employer and subordinate their will to the employer.

The grades 11 and 12 history curriculum covers more material, including Canadian, American and world history. Like other curricula, the use of the search term “employ” resulted in hits that had nothing to do with explaining why employers emerged and have the power to dictate to workers at work. Hits deal with the employment of children and women in factories, or unemployment. One reference, however, does provide some possibility for exploring the historical emergence of employers and employees. On page 399, students are asked to “analyse interrelationships between specific groups in various societies around the world during this period [1650-1789] (e.g., between slaves and masters, serfs and lords, apprentices and employers….”

Here there is real potential for students to answer the question. However, it is buried in suggestions for analysis of other class relations rather than being a focal point. To be sure, a comparative approach to class relations may help in clarifying the distinctive nature and historical conditions of the employer-employees relation, but if the study of history is to enable us to understand our current situation better, then the historical conditions for the emergence of the employer-employees relation should be the focus, and differences from other class relations could then provide a contrast to further clarify the distinctive nature of the employer-employees relation in order for students to understand how and why most workers are now employees subject to the dictatorship of employers and how this is different from other forms of class relations. The contrast could also form the point of departure for the exploration of the question of whether another form of class relation will arise if the employer-employees relation no longer exists or whether no classes will exist due to the development of substantially changed technological conditions that no longer require class relations at all.

The curriculum designers were probably quite unconscious of the implications of their inclusion of a reference to employers and to other class relations. Nonetheless, the curriculum, however slightly, does provide an opening for students to explore the issue, but that opening should be a central feature of the history curriculum since it is a central feature of modern capitalist life.

Another limitation of this reference to employers is the connection of the latter to apprentices rather than to employees. The apprenticeship system occurred in guilds at first so that subordinates were to become master artisans and not employees. As capitalist relations developed, however, apprentices saw their chances of becoming a master artisan dwindle, and they saw themselves becoming an employee (and resisted accordingly). An historical focus on the transition from apprenticeship status to the status of being an employee should have been included in order to gain a proper appreciation of the world-historical shift from apprenticeship status to the persistent subordinate status of an employee and the emergence of employers as a distinct, controlling class.

Using the search term “work,” I found little of direct relevance in answering the question although there is some indirect relevance—but insufficient to guide the teacher in developing lesson plans that would help students the modern employer-employees relation. For instance, on page 307 it is suggested to have students compare the lives of working-class children working in industrial cities to children working as slaves on a southern plantation and to compare both to the children of wealthy families. Such a comparison is certainly better than much of what is offered in other history curricula, but it remains mainly static. How and why did children become working-class children, children of slaves or children of wealthy parents? Furthermore, if, as the philosopher of education John Dewey argued, the nature of anything includes its transformation into something else, then the nature of slave society and the nature of capitalist society (which included the working class) involves a consideration of what they are changing into: “Every event as such is passing into other things, in such a way that a later occurrence is an integral part of the character or nature of present existence” (Experience and Nature, London: Allen & Unwin, 1929, p. 111). History is not just about the past but about change and the kind of change that is possible—and the kinds of possibilities that were closed as other paths were taken.

Comparative relations are also suggested on page 356 by having students compare what is called traditional, mixed, agricultural, industrialized or free-market capitalist economies. Again, such a comparative view is better than the other curricula, but what is needed is a focus on the dynamic element—from one changing into the other, and how and why that occurs. Often, the dynamic is reduced to technological change—the mass production and mass use of cars, for instance. Furthermore, as already noted, the focus is not on coming to understand the current economic relations—which is indeed what the focus should be if students are to gain an understanding of the social world around them and to gain collective control over their own lives—which forms an essential element of real education.

The implicit bias (through its lack of focus on the question posed at the beginning of this essay) becomes more explicit on page 441 when the authors write: “Why have some groups been critical of the power of unions?” It is certainly true that some groups have been critical of the power of unions—employers. Nowhere in the document can we find a reference to the following question: “Why have some groups been critical of the power of employers?”

I used the search term “capital,” but there was only the occasional reference to capitalism. On page 332 there is a reference to how capitalism was transforming early societies in the fifteenth century, so there does arise some slight possibility for exploring the question, but the nature of capitalism is left unexplored. The role of the state and violence in establishing capitalism is not mentioned, though. Vague references to capitalism, without any reference to the emergence of a class of employers and a class of workers who subordinated their will to the class of employers, leaves the teacher and students without any real guidepost to explore the reasons why and how employers emerged and why there exists a general market for workers emerged.

Using the search term “class,” I did come across the occasional reference to class differences (for example, on page 304), but the question of the modern significance of class relations and the kind of class relations is left unexplored. On page 414, there is a question concerning the significance of wage labour in China during the Ming dynasty, but the dominance of wage labour in modern capitalist relations (wage labour as the dominant mode of production and exchange implies capitalism and a class of employers), is not explored. An opening for the exploration of the existence of wage labour in Canada and throughout the world is closed by the restricted reference to China in the past.

To sum up: There is some openings for an exploration of the nature and origins of employers and employees in Canada, but in general it is unlikely that most teachers are provided sufficiently strong guidelines to make the topic an integral part of the Canadian history curriculum in Ontario.

In other words, Ontario schools provide limited scope for enlightening students on the nature and origin of employers and employees. Hence, they contribute to the indoctrination of students by largely excluding the topic from explicit consideration.

A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees

I submitted a longer essay to the popular Canadian educational journal Our Schools Our Selves for publication. It was never published.

The idea for the following has a personal basis: when my daughter was studying grade 11 Canadian history in Manitoba (Manitoba is one of 10 provinces in Canada, with three additional territories), I decided to look at the history curriculum in case I could provide some supports for her studies. In the process, it became evident to me that the entire curriculum left a gaping hole that failed to address my experiences in this world. Thus, I have generally worked for an employer in order to obtain money, which in turn enabled me to buy the things that I needed to live. The Manitoba Canadian history curriculum is devoid of any historical explanation of such an experience.

My experience is hardly unique. How many of those who now are reading this have worked for an employer or are now working for an employer? Is it not a little odd that a course on history fails to explain how and why employers—and their counterpart employees (employers cannot exist without economically dependent employees)–arose?

This is my research question.

Manitoba has a curriculum that does not answer the question of why employers and employees exist. Using the term “employ,” there was a reference to the super-exploitation of Chinese workers by employers. On page I-20 concerning possible inequities in employment. There is no reference to having students inquire about the possible inequity of the employer-employees relationship as such, that is to say, whether that relation necessarily involves inequities that cannot be resolved within the terms of that relation. When using the search term “work” some relevant hits for the history of the working class came up, such as the On-to-Ottawa trek (1935) or the Regina riot (1935), the trade union movement or the Workers’ Unity League, but the reason why employers and employees exist is nowhere to be found.

Using the search term “work,” I came upon a reference on pages II—28 and IV-5 to a possible exploration of the significance of the life of a worker in 1918 Winnipeg in terms of a wider concern about workers’ struggles, economic development or post Second World War events and discontents. There is a—very slight—chance that students would be able to explore the issue of why employers and employees exist, but inquiry could just as easily be carried out without determining why and how they exist.

Using the search term “class,” on page I-8 I found a reference to exclusion of citizenship was partially based on class. (On the same page, using the search term “capital,” I found the only reference to capitalism—that the Canadian economy, though a mixed economy, was mainly a capitalist economy.) On page I-9, it is argued that Canadian citizens continue to face fighting inequality based on class. Does this mean that the authors are referring to the capitalist class and the working class and are arguing that Canadian citizens are fighting to eliminate the employer-employees relation? Not at all. On page II-10, it is noted that trade unionists and socialists rejected the single narrative approach to Canadian history, but so far there is a decided singular attitude towards the employer—employees relation—it is presumed rather than being a subject of inquiry for students of Canadian history. On page II-46, there is a reference to socio-economic class, but what that means is never developed. Social democrats frequently use such a term to refer to level of income, and define the “middle class” as the socio-economic class that is above the poverty line (however defined). This way of defining class does not address the power of employees in relation to the situation of employees. Nothing else of relevance was found using this search term. The results of using the various search term show that students would not be capable of answering the question of why employers and employees exist. The document is a document in indoctrination—a document that implicitly has students accept the employer-employee as natural rather than an historical creation (and that, therefore, has an end).

According to the grade 11 Manitoba history curriculum, then, the issue of how and why employers emerged and how and why employees subordinate their will to employers is irrelevant. Is this silence an expression of social justice? On page II-31 33, there is reference to Chinese workers in 1887 and the fact that they were paid a substantially lower wage than other workers.

Again, the issue of why the wage relation exists on a large scale nowhere is to form a focus for inquiry within the curriculum. Wage work is assumed to be ahistorical through such an omission. That means, implicitly, that some people are born to be employees and some are born to be employers; it is not of course stated, but the assumption is there through the omission of any exploration of the wage relation. Or did workers freely become wage workers? Do not wage workers as a class require that another class control access to the means for them to produce their own lives? Did you freely choose to work for a wage or salary? When did you make this choice?

The reformist left share the same assumptions as the designers of this curriculum. On a listserve for the Toronto Labour Committee (to which I belonged), for example,  here in Toronto (the largest city in Canada), the regional coordinator for OPSEU (Ontario Provincial Service Employees Union) and president of GTAC (Greater Toronto Area Council), called for other workers to support striking brewery workers because, according to her, the brewery workers wanted a fair wage and decent work. I responded by agreeing that we should support them. However, when I questioned especially the idea of decent work, , a representative from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902 eventually called me a condescending prick. A member of the Toronto Labour Committee responded that both the representative of CUPE 3902 and I were right and wrong. It is nice to be able to eat your cake and eat it too. The practical head of the Toronto Labour Committee then intervened, but the issue of decent work never got addressed.

The idea that working for an employer is somehow decent work is indoctrination–and the radical left is afraid to challenge such indoctrination.

The head of the Toronto Labour Committee stated that there should be a “discussion” about what decent work means. I doubt that there ever will be such a discussion that will emerge from the so-called radical left since the so-called radical left in Toronto (and probably elsewhere) is too afraid of upsetting its union contacts. It is too close to reformist unions to see that what is needed is a much more critical stance towards unions than what the Toronto Labour Committee displayed if the indoctrination characteristic in schools, in the economy, by unions (see an example of my critique of a management rights clause in collective agreements in   Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia , in courts, and in social services (see my critique of the position of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty:  Basic Income: A Critique of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Stance )  is to be challenged.