Jewish Insanity in Canada: Toronto school board’s N-word ban targets white authors like Steinbeck, Twain


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[This is just crazy crap that is destroying works by great White Authors from the past. When I was at school in Rhodesia we read Of Mice and Men and I think even Huckleberry Finn. All of this nonsense comes from Jewish sources and Jewish thinking. Jan]

The new policy at the Toronto Catholic School board removes classics by non-Black authors such as Of Mice and Men and Huckleberry Finn

Author of the article:Joseph Brean

Published Jan 10, 2024

The TCDSB has banned books with the N-word

Toronto’s Catholic school board has banned from its classrooms all books by non-Black authors that contain the racist slur known as the N-word.

The new protocol also bans the word from being spoken aloud except by Black students in the amicable sense. It came into force this school year after being circulated internally last spring and approved in May.

Since September, the policy has forced the removal of familiar literary classics from high school curricula, such as Of Mice and Men. Other books that would be caught in the ban include Lord of the Flies, a common high school classic, and Gone with the Wind, less so.

It has also led to conflict between some English teachers and administrators, some of whom object to the blanket ban as a blunt tool that ignores both the historical context of the books affected and the anti-racist intentions and attitudes of some of the white authors who have used the slur in their fiction, including Mark Twain in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird, and John Steinbeck in Of Mice and Men.

The way Catherine (not her real name) tells it, she took some time away from her job teaching senior high school literature and when she returned to the classroom, the ground rules were changing.

Catherine said her first reaction to seeing the N-word memo last spring was to snicker. She imagined it had been developed without consulting English teachers like her. How could it have been?

Never mind Joseph Conrad, whose darkly psychological novella Heart of Darkness has been criticized as a controversial educational text that perpetuates racist colonial views that Africa is one of the “blank spaces” on the map, in addition to its frequent use of the N-word. Never mind To Kill a Mockingbird, with its white saviour tropes. Catherine thought, how could a school board ban a Steinbeck?

The protocol was not publicly announced, although minutes of the school board’s African Canadian Advisory Committee meeting last May indicate that Roy Fernandes, the board’s Superintendent of Education, Indigenous Education, Equity, and Community Relations, discussed the protocol with various people in the board, including principals, education council, the equity department and student groups.

Of Mice and Men censored by Toronto school board
To Catherine, it seemed like yet another policy that would end up in the background, a well-intentioned mission statement without much grip on actual classroom life, a suggestion rather than a rule, a piece of formal guidance on the way the word can sometimes be received, but practically “in the clouds.”

She was wrong.

“I thought this would be a policy that existed somewhere in the outer space of the board,” she said in an interview with the National Post.

She had read To Kill a Mockingbird in her own high school education. As a teacher, she felt the presence of the slur in the text was a “superficial” reason to dismiss it entirely, but she did not teach this particular book to her students.

She feels more strongly about Of Mice and Men, which she has taught frequently, and which is both a common standard in high school curricula across North America, and also among the most challenged of such books because of its use of vulgar language.

“It’s a call for empathy. So the fact the N-word is there is inconsequential,” Catherine said.

Its presence reflects the context of the 1930s, when the book was written, Catherine said, which she has always explained in detail to students. It fictionalizes the virtue of acceptance, she said.

“As English teachers, we teach context,” she said. She never says or reads the N-word out loud, and extensively “pre-teaches,” using discussion about racism and history as a lens through which to understand characters on the written page. She emphasizes the critical reading skills of separating an author’s identity from their written work, and of scrutinizing the power, meaning and historical context of words.

She cautions students to skip over the word when they read aloud, or write about it, and in her experience, they are able to do this. “They understand that that word holds a different weight,” Catherine said.

So, she thought she could continue as usual. But as she made teaching plans this school year, the administration made it clear this rule was to be obeyed to the letter, on pain of professional censure.

As the policy states, the N-word in literature “is only permissible when written by a Black author.”

She said her principal made it clear that anyone who teaches a book that falls afoul of this rule will be disciplined.

A spokesperson for the Toronto Catholic District School Board would not be drawn on the question of whether this was a “ban” or whether that is in any way regrettable for a school board.

To Kill a Mockingbird censored by Toronto school board
“Teachers are encouraged to be discerning and thoughtful about selecting books with a student-centric lens. We recognize that books written by non-Black authors with the use of the N word bring harm to our community and, as such, it is suggested that educators use their professional judgment and consider a more appropriate book to use,” said Shazia Vlahos, executive chief communications officer, government relations and strategy for the board.

But it is not a suggestion. It is a strict rule to be followed to the letter. That is what Catherine said she discovered in planning to teach one of the newly banned books, as she has for many years, on a reading list that also includes fiction about the Canadian Indigenous experience of residential schools, the African American experience of Jim Crow, and long-established high school classics such as The Great Gatsby, which depicts violence against women, and The Catcher In The Rye, which depicts prostitution.

Asked whether the N-word protocol affects the presence of these books in school libraries, in addition to the classroom, and whether any books had been removed from schools under this policy, Vlahos said: “Libraries are in the constant process of updating the books in their collection.”

Asked whether the same principles in the N-word protocol apply to other slurs, targeting other groups, Vlahos said: “All derogatory slurs are inappropriate in the school system.”

For Catherine, it was “ludicrous.” A book ban, what she describes as censorship, called into question her entire job. “I’m trying to measure what it’s worth.

“Every day I’m tempted to just open it and teach it, just to be contrarian,” Catherine said.

Calls for bans from the left and right
Book bans have lately seemed mostly an exercise of the socially conservative political right.

In Manitoba, for example, a library that refused the demand of concerned citizens to remove three books on sex education for children, has seen the controversy escalate into protests and calls for library defunding.

To defuse this, the municipal council of Winkler, Man., last July appointed two members to the library board, and passed a resolution instructing them to “exert influence … to create policy whereby graphically sexually explicit books be moved from the children’s section to another section of the library as appropriate so that children will not stumble across them but they remain available to parents who wish to use them as an educational resource.”

The effort is both more prominent and more successful in the United States, where coordinated challenges to school curricula and library holdings, some with the support of prominent political leaders, have focused similarly on sex, but also on issues of race, on the theory that learning about white supremacy may be divisive and upsetting to white students.

Sometimes, the scope of the bans seems impossibly wide. In December, the Orlando Sentinel newspaper used two pages to print the list of nearly 700 books removed from classroom libraries in Orange County, Florida, following legal reforms about inappropriately sexual classroom content by Governor Ron DeSantis, also a Republican presidential candidate.

It included titles by authors from John Milton (Paradise Lost) to John Steinbeck (East of Eden) and John Grisham (The Firm), and from Candace Bushnell (The Carrie Diaries) to Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead) and Toni Morrison (Beloved).

Even Margaret Atwood, the great Canadian seer of strangely plausible dystopic futures, finds much of her own catalogue on this list, fully eight books, distinguishing her as a banned author who also has a pair of Booker Prizes (for The Blind Assassin in 2000, and jointly for The Handmaid’s Tale in 2019, both on the Florida list.)

Concern about that pattern is running high. At the Scotiabank Giller Prize gala in November, jury chair Ian Williams, a celebrated poet and author, spoke of these “serious times” as a “dystopia,” forewarned by authors such as George Orwell and Atwood. He said this about book bans: “To be ridiculously optimistic, I would say that every time a book is banned, censors are testifying to its power, and their fear of what a book can do to change minds and to change lives, especially those of children.”

To his audience, who applauded, a progressive-minded anti-racist book ban is a less familiar creature.

Carl James, professor of education and Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora at York University, said that to describe the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s N-word protocol as a book ban is unnecessarily provocative.

He said he appreciates the effort of the school board in “attempting to respond to the issues and situations that students in that board face.”

Lord of the Flies censored by Toronto school board
He said he hoped that simply removing the word from classroom content would not be the end of it, but rather just one part of a more complete education about racism.

“Is it banning or is it calling into question the words that we use and also having us think critically about what something conveys to the community?” he said.

Some Black people see the use of the word, even in the most benign way possible such as in a well-moderated classroom discussion, as “re-inscribing” it in the culture, almost preserving it, he said.

“We live in a society, in a context where you have to establish balances, you have to establish ways in which ideas are taken up,” he said. “So, you’re going to construct the rules in relation to what you know is the culture in which we exist.”

If everyone understood how racism operates in the culture, and if this perspective was instilled in students from kindergarten onward, then maybe such a firm approach would be unnecessary, because children would understand the modern and historical context of racist language, he said.

“But that’s not the case,” James said. For some students, he said, English class is one of the few times they even encounter a Black person represented in their classroom literature, sometimes referred to by a vulgar slur, regardless of whatever other nobility their character might possess. Often that contrast is an important point of the story, as if Black nobility were counter intuitive.

It can be excruciating, especially in classrooms where Black students are in the minority, and everyone else looks for their reaction at this word. The Black student feels singled out, and “wants to go under the desk,” James said, tormented by the feeling that everyone looks to him as if he has some kind of answer.

James said he’s always intrigued when he talks to Black students and hears them say how the only time they are taught about Black experience is in relation to slavery. So, yes, James said, the teacher might be good at explaining, and they might be politically aware, but will the child know and understand and appreciate? Or will English class feel like humiliation, re-inscribing the ugly language of racism on the modern high school student?

“We can’t take that chance,” James said.

School boards react
There are indeed signs of insensitivity toward the N-word in Canadian schools on the part of both teachers and administrators. Many school boards have reacted in similar ways to incidents that demonstrate the problems with this word are not only historical, but part of modern life as well.

Among the most notable was the recent case of Julie Ann Riesberry, a principal in the Halton Catholic District School Board, who pleaded guilty to misconduct and accepted a 10-month licence suspension at the Ontario College of Teachers for a pattern of “racist and disrespectful comments,” including reading the N-word out loud to a Black male teacher, and instructing a teacher to say the word in full to explain to a class why the word was not permitted at the school.

In Manitoba in 2021, a white teacher similarly said the word out loud in a discussion about why it should not be used, prompting upset among students. Another Manitoba teacher prompted investigation by using the word, and being caught on video saying: “I mean, am I gonna die? I said it out loud.”

Underground to Canada censored by Toronto school board
In British Columbia last year, a teacher read aloud from Underground to Canada, the 1977 classroom classic by white American author Barbara Smucker, and spoke the N-word in full to a Grade 6 class during Black History Month.

The school board in Windsor, Ont., tried a zero-tolerance policy, with a letter to parents that students “are not allowed to say, write or read out any version of the N-word (including with the ‘a’ ending) and are not allowed to ask for a ‘pass’ from Black students to use the N-word.” This was criticized for overreach and inconsistent application.

The Toronto school board’s solution bans the use of the word entirely in school, but also offers an exception for its use by Black students in the amicable sense.

“The N Word is not to be used in TCDSB schools. This includes written or spoken form. Classroom instruction and pedagogy should help to instill this point to all members of the TCDSB community,” the protocol reads. “Progressive discipline and restorative practices will be followed in instances of the N word being used. Hateful use of the N word will not be tolerated.

“There needs to be a clear understanding that conversation with Black students will be considered differently around the use of the N word especially when it is being used by Black students around other Black students in a familiar, amicable context,” the protocol says. “It is important to not demean Black students who use the word in friendly contexts. Education around the harmful impacts and appropriateness of context should be the first actions that are taken to help all students to understand the intent of the protocol: to eliminate the use of any derogatory slurs in the school setting and make schools safe spaces for everyone.”

Among the goals of the protocol, according to board records, is the “first transparent reporting of the statistics, incidents and swift response by TCDSB … We need to rigorously establish data patterns to build a baseline to work towards setting reduction targets and meeting them.”

Board spokesperson Vlahos said data collection on disciplinary responses to use of the N-word has begun this year, but could not provide any numbers. Vlahos also said “we are committed to identify and remove barriers to student success and to embed and strengthen culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy and curriculum in student learning. We acknowledge the prevalence of anti-Black racism in our school communities and recognize our collective responsibility to address and dismantle all forms of racism.”

Reading the word vs. saying it
James L. Turk sees this new protocol as misguided for the way it applies to books that include the word. A longtime expert in academic freedom, including as former head of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, he is now a visiting scholar at Toronto Metropolitan University and director of its Centre For Free Expression.

He said the board is correct in its starting point, that the N-word is rooted in hatred and oppression, and is deeply offensive. It’s where they go from there that gets troublesome.

“One thing that’s generally being lost is the distinction between reading the word and using the word. There’s never an excuse to use the word as an epithet,” Turk said. “I assume that when the board wrote this, they didn’t consider the possibility of a reactionary Black author that uses it as an expletive in a way that is totally unacceptable.

“On the other hand, I think it’s a mistake to say we can’t assign Huckleberry Finn to students,” he said.

Huckleberry Finn censored by Toronto school board
“When you’re assessing what to do with a book, you want to look at the author, what he was, and you also want to look at what the book is doing,” Turk said.

Under the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s protocol, Twain’s anti-racist intentions do not justify his fictional use of the word. (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn contains more than 200 instances of the N-word.)

“I guess my feeling is that language counts,” Turk said. Twain wanted that word in the book. “It’s the vitriol and unacceptable nature of it that he wanted to capture.

“It’s a word that I would never say, as a white person, and I wouldn’t comment on how the Black community is using it in these various ways to reclaim it,” Turk said.

“If I were teaching American lit, Huck Finn, I would still approach it mindful of the age of my students and the complexity of the feelings around that word,” Turk said. “But the point is that it’s possible. The very discussion we’re having, you can have with 15-year-olds.

“I think adults systematically demean and infantilize teenagers, assuming they’re unsophisticated and need to be protected in a variety of ways,” Turk said. It comes from the political right, with a focus on sex, and from the left, with a focus on race.

“Behind that is a notion that when someone wants to read a book, that you know why they want to read it,” Turk said. “The assumption behind the demand for book bans is that if you read a book that includes the N-word, it’s going to make you a racist. That’s not how the world works. I believe that systemic racism is deeply embedded in our society. So, Black students are having to deal with racism all the time. It’s not as if reading Huck Finn is going to bring racism into their life when it otherwise wouldn’t be there … If you think you’re sanitizing the language to help people deal with racism, then you’re fooling yourself.

‘Anti-educational’ policy
“Fundamentally, what’s wrong with this policy is it totally decontextualizes language,” Turk said. He called it an “anti-educational policy.”

“Their intentions seem good, but they’re dealing with it in an unfortunate manner. I praise them for being aware of how sensitive this is, and in a time when we’re increasingly aware of racism. It’s just they’re handling it the wrong way, in my view,” he said.

Sulaimon Giwa agrees, but for different reasons. He is a professor of social work at Memorial University, and an expert in institutional anti-racist policy.

He described a ban on books that include the word as a knee-jerk reaction, and said banning the word won’t eliminate it.

“I’m not sure that’s the best way forward,” he said. Rather, he thinks the primary educational goal should be a safe place to discuss the context of that word, to recognize the danger of some uses of language, and to examine that within “communities of care.”

“We have to take a long view of students moving from one educational space to another,” Giwa said. He used the metaphor of a foundation and building blocks. “When we think about it that way, it beckons us that how we treat the N-word should follow in similar fashion.”

If students learn about the harms of racism early in their education, they can appreciate them more fully as they move higher into more delicate contexts. They already hear the N-word in music and in movies from a young age, so it should be discussed as early as possible, but he does not think Canadian education is currently doing this.

Most high school students in Newfoundland where Giwa works are white, and for many their first encounters with the word are in music, without any discussion or guidance by teachers.

Heart of Darkness censored by Toronto school board
“I think if we begin to help them appreciate the danger of that word, it would have created less of an issue,” Giwa said.

There should be early classroom conversations, he thinks, and the onus is on the instructor to make those happen properly in safer environments, Giwa said, but it is at least possible. “I think it’s a dereliction of responsibility if it doesn’t happen.”

No student benefits from the hapless introduction of racist slurs into the classroom by a teacher who does not realize the power of words. White students are harmed, too. Everyone is. This policy dodges that challenge, though, Giwa said. It takes the simple way out.

“Just because something is controversial, the prudent response is not to write it off,” Giwa said. “We sidestep that responsibility when we avoid exposing our students to controversial themes happening in our societies. I’m not interested in cancelling things or banning things.”

Giwa also sees the exception for amicable use by Black students as misguided. He thinks that permitting some students to use the word while prohibiting others “may actually reinforce a double standard or preferential treatment. This doesn’t create a sense of community.”

“What’s being presupposed with this policy is that Black students and Black people are all the same, a homogeneity,” he said. He sees potential conflict between the goals of a safe environment and condoned use of the word, because there are Black students with differing levels of comfort with the word, even in it most benign usages.

“This idea of amicable friendly use, that can quickly become sour,” Giwa said. He compares it to sexual consent, in that something acceptable can sometimes flip on a dime to unacceptable, and a blunt rule cannot capture that important subtlety.

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“There’s a lot of policing that would need to happen to meet this threshold of amicable that this protocol is talking about,” Giwa said.

The idea of canonical literature weighs especially heavy in high school. Generation after generation reads the same books, taught in similar ways. To miss them is to miss out on common culture. One concern with this impression of the canon as timeless and beyond reproach is that, in reality, much of the canon that exists today reflects the cultural attitudes of a generation that came of age after the Second World War, pursuing civil rights and laws that technically enshrine equality, even as inequality persists in practice. Many of the canonical high school books reflect a generational attitude that the old problems are solved. Much of the fiction describes racism as a problem of history, not of the present.

“When these things were constructed as classics, it was a different time,” Carl James said. “Do we necessarily think they convey and have the same meaning now that we have other information to work with, other kinds of ideas, other historical documents? It invites us to constantly be doing the critical analysis.”

We have to be creating critical thinkers, and we have to create the conditions for that critical thinking to emerge. If we eliminate books because they are controversial, we are failing in that.

Giwa acknowledges that some aspects of tradition are nostalgic, and an important way to pass along cultural knowledge and values. But he also recognizes the harmful potential of tradition as “ostracizing and isolating.”

Some teachers think they should keep teaching the same books they always have and, in general, Giwa said, he has no trouble with that. “But for me, the prudent response is not to cancel things out, but to create more space for understanding, to supplement these canons with other perspectives, rather than simply replace them,” he said. “We have plenty of ways to read about the N-word that’s not Harper Lee.

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“We have to be creating critical thinkers, and we have to create the conditions for that critical thinking to emerge.

If we eliminate books because they are controversial, we are failing in that,” Giwa said.

Turk, likewise, said a good teacher is always evaluating and re-evaluating, even familiar books. “If you want to teach the same way for 30 years, you’re a bad teacher,” he said.

Back in the classroom, life goes on. There are books to read and classes to teach. Catherine struck the book in question, one of the classics mentioned above, from her English class’s reading list this year, and she wants people to know it. As she put it, running an English class under a protocol that bans the literature she used to teach is “a daily moral dilemma.”


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