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

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

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)?

When I used the search term “employ,” I did not find any relevant material in the Quebec History and Citizenship Education secondary cycle one (for grades 9 and 10) does not contain any relevant material. The same applies to the search terms “work” and “class.” Social class is mentioned in the context of industrialization on page 320, so there is some possibility for exploring the question, but there is little guidance for the teacher in how to do this. Using the search terms “capital” yields nothing of relevance.

The Quebec secondary cycle two History and Citizenship Education provides few hits concerning employers and employees. Using the search term “employ” resulted in a reference (p. 79) to employers as a group (among many others) that influences government. Other than that, there is nothing to indicate that working for an employer constitutes the daily experience of most Canadian workers; it is as if the history of how the employers and employees emerged was expunged from consideration. They may not be born one or the other, but that is their general fate—but without any historical explanation of how that occurred. Human beings are, on such a view, either employers or employees or, alternatively, the existence of people as employers or employees has little relevance for the daily experiences of working people. The silence over such an issue is evidence of a lack of critical thinking on the part of those who constructed the curriculum.

Using the search term “work” results in a few relevant hits. On page 51, there is a reference to the harsh working conditions in the second half of the 19th-century “Canada,” (not yet a nation for part of that period), especially among children. On page 52, there is the claim that, until the 1930s, Canadian workers lived in relative prosperity. Such a view probably refers to the level of income and does not take into account the economically dependent condition of employees on employers. Why and how workers increasingly have become employees is nowhere explained. The authors of the curriculum assume without inquiring why and how workers came to be employees. Having to depend on being employed by an employer, for the authors of the curriculum, has no history.

Using the search term “capital” did yield a reference to capitalism in the nineteenth century; however, reference is mainly to harsh working conditions of children at the time. Interestingly, the authors on page 51 refer to the exploitation of natural resources—while refraining from referring to the exploitation of human workers by employers. Furthermore, industrialization forms the center of research whereas capitalism forms merely one of its spokes—rather than vice versa. There is, therefore, some room for answering the question, but it is hardly a focal point. Students are unlikely to gain a clear appreciation of why most workers are now employees working for employers and why employers exist at all.

On page 47, I found a reference to the business class when using the search term “class,” but this reference is in the context of the Anglophone business class wanting to focus on canal construction in the 19th century in order to realize their own interests.

The Quebec curriculum on the history of the twentieth century yielded no relevant hits when I used the search term “employ.” When I used the search term “work,” on page 19 a brief reference to the support of trade unions and the working-class movement for socialism came up, but there is no other elaboration. The search term “capital” yielded only passing reference to the concept of capitalism. Using the search term “class,” on page 19, it is noted that the European working class in the early twentieth century was linked to socialism as opposed to liberalism and conservatism, but there is little in the way of elaboration. There is no reference to why the working class would support socialism, and how socialism would express the interests of the working class as opposed to the capitalist class; there is also no reference to why and how liberalism and conservatism would support capitalist relations of production and exchange in opposition to the interests of the working class and in favour of the interests of the capitalist class. Admittedly, there is the vague possibility that a politically astute teacher could expand on this sole reference to class, but it is highly unlikely.

The curriculum provides little real guidance in answering the question of how and why employers have come to dominate our economic lives and, in many ways, our personal lives (via control over what is produced and what is not produced). Quebec students are unlikely to understand how and why they are most likely going to work for an employer in their immediate future and what they could do to remedy this situation. Is this a coincidence?

Is the left doing anything to remedy this situation? Are teachers’ unions? Are they addressing this indoctrination of students? Are teachers? Are Canadian leftist educational journals, such as Our Schools/Our Selves, publishing any articles that critically analyze this situation? If not, why not?


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.