Documenting Textbook-Mediated Social Engineering in English Canada

Former Ministry of Education Curriculum Branch Director Maxwell Parnell explained that Ontario began authorizing multiple textbooks for single courses in 1951 because the former policy of a single authorized text no longer adequately provided for student needs.1 The multiple listings policy, supported by an Ontario Urban and Rural Trustee’s Association resolution in 1962, was catching on in several jurisdictions. In a response to a curious Toronto resident, Parnell quoted Lord James of Rusholme, British grammar school master and first Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, on the rationale.

The wise use of books had proved one of the principal creators of democracy, as it is among the principal benefits which a democracy confers upon its citizens. But, above all in the education process, the choice of books must be wide and free; restriction and prescription are enemies of progress no less dangerous than deprivation.2

In an opinion Parnell chose to share, it was “essential that there be continuous improvement in textbooks. When a single textbook is authorized for a number of years, there is no incentive to provide a better book during the period of authorization and the content is soon out-of-date.” He offered a boast that will be ironic to those familiar with the sorry state of Canadian publishing.3

An examination of many of the texts at present in use in Ontario will show that the present policy has resulted in the production of the finest textbooks available to students anywhere.

Competition between publishers is managed so that textbook choice is often absent. Canadian educational publishing, like newspaper publishing and mobile and landline network provision, is an oligopoly preventing democratic benefits such as a free market for ideas and continuous improvement theorized by Lord James and Director Parnell from emerging.


Markets tend to move towards concentration. A desirable market structure for sellers is the opposite of what is good for customers. Fewer market participants means that prices can be kept higher and quality lower, permitting more profit extraction. Despite the push toward consolidation, the Government of Ontario, along with its 70 plus school boards, is the largest textbook buyer in Canada, and has the ability to shape the market in unique ways.

As mentioned elsewhere Ontario is home to 47% of English-speaking Canadians,4 plays a unique role in educational publishing, just like it dominates other industry verticals. Ontario and predominantly French-speaking Quebec together form the country’s economic, cultural and political base. 38% of all Canadians live in Ontario. As a percentage of the national population, this is equivalent to the five largest American states combined. As mentioned, Ontario’s influence on English-language elementary and high school (ELHI) publishing is colossal. This influence leaks beyond the province’s own 2.6 million public and Catholic school students into the rest of Canada.

North American continentalism following WW2 saw Ontario became a keystone market, like California, New York and Texas. Marketers pay the province extra attention because of its influence on national and even North American consumer direction. Manufacturers and service providers view Ontario as a trend setter. Large corporations will often maintain a presence in the provincial capital of Toronto even if they aren’t headquartered in the city. Most of Canada’s English-language textbook publishers are located in the Greater Toronto Area. But the big ones are foreign controlled.

The troubles of having to tiptoe around such a powerful entity in textbook publishing are known to Americans. Comedian Stephen Colbert has referred to the Texas school board hearings in Austin as television’s most exciting event. The drama of Texas politicians and special interests attempting to shape the state’s politics by influencing textbook content has received attention on late night television, documentary filmmaking and academia.5 Ontario’s dilemma has been kept away from the cameras with government secrecy.

Textbook approval policy is detailed in two publicly available documents last updated in 2006 and 2008.6 But how Ontario actually approves textbooks, historically, is only loosely based on its policy. Day to day operations diverge in significant and troubling ways that most educators and parents could not appreciate unless they had applied for freedom of information access (FOIA) and spent time reviewing the textbook evaluations. Without public scrutiny, Ontario’s ministry has been free to filter books according to politically convenient, often arbitrary, rules that may be crudely summarized as “Is this textbook consistent with our party platform?” Intellectual diversity, the very thinking tools required to question authority and keep democracy going, suffered along with educational publishing. Canadian sovereignty weakened.


It’s only after consulting once again in the last week with my friend, first edition publisher and Trent University professor emeritus, Stephen Regoczei, that the mission sunk in with total clarity. The task at hand is to document social engineering. This investigation continues a tradition of journalistic tradition featuring the little guy standing up to authority. In this case a public school graduate (me) is looking back on the education he received equipped with the actual rationale government used to ban reviewed and reviewer-approved books from becoming a part of the classroom experience received by a majority of English-speaking Canadians. The 1950s through the 1980s.

NO SCHOOL FOR SUCKERS wasn’t called an exposé in its first edition marketing but maybe should have been. Nor did I refer to Ontario’s textbook censorship program as a conspiracy. Those labels were introduced in a November 2014 review of the book (no longer online) for the Halifax Chronicle Herald titled “Textbook exposé fails to convince: Author cites narrow, biased selection of evidence for conspiracy theory” by Paul W. Bennett. Dr. Bennett admitted to the problem but said it was only fifty books. Hundreds of books were involved. I summarized the review process for fifty books in an appendix. Bennett may have been confused.

It may sound resentful to continue focusing on Dr Bennett’s claims, but the education heavyweight deserves a fulsome rebuttal. Previously he served in administration at two of Canada’s most important, albeit private, K-12 schools, in Toronto’s Upper Canada College (UCC) and Montreal’s Lower Canada College (LCC). I attempted to provide a cogent reply in 2014, but his editor was a wall to be reckoned with. In another strange assertion, Bennett claimed

It would come as a surprise to Tompkins that certain inappropriate topics and radical theories might not be suitable for required “whole class use” with children in our public schools.

He’s partly correct. I could be surprised by books that “shouldn’t” be authorized as classroom sets. But this is a meaningless concern because I’m not a textbook reviewer. In the 1970s Ontario was using seven expert reviewers per book and regularly ignoring the consensus.  A good analogy is when city planners say a transit system should be built in a certain corridor using an appropriate technology, but the line ends up somewhere else over or under-built. But in education, we’re discussing children’s mental models not city infrastructure. 

Dr Bennett wondered why I consulted a publisher interview he’d written up in Q&A format, trashed my interactions with Desmond Morton and J.L. Granatstein, two important Canadian historians whose writing I’ve appreciated and consulted since my undergraduate studies in the 1990s. I was stunned how he was swinging the wrecking ball. He said my book was riddled with problems and unproven assertions, but failed to list anything substantial. He did nonetheless provide some marketing advice still under consideration.

Tompkins’ No School for Suckers should come with a sticker  —  “buyer beware.” 

With all of these questions addressed, I have one lingering question for Paul Bennett. Should an administrator concerned primarily with cohorts of upper class children be offering advice on public school textbooks, even if private schools in Ontario are using the same books? Or, is there a threat that such characters could be using their privileged place to harm working and middle class self-confidence, their chances for meaningful upward social mobility. What’s that Assata Shakur reference?

No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.

Quoting a wanted fugitive is risky, but Tupac’s “godmother” brings us back to a central threat of government operating beyond public scrutiny, as Ontario does when censoring textbooks.


I’m still reluctant to use the word conspiracy because in the term’s primary dictionary definition, conspiring involves the joint planning of a “crime” in secret. Government operated the textbook censorship bureau, not to mention a film censorship bureau called the Film Review Board, with the authorization of legislation passed in Ontario’s parliament. Determining whether the activity is criminal, which we’ll get to, takes some additional consideration of the civil liberties guaranteed by Canada’s 1960 Bill of Rights and 1981 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If conspiracy is being used in the secondary and more general sense, “[acting] together as if by design,”7 than yes it’s a conspiracy. But so is much of government and business planning. Potentially, the conspiracy label was used to ridicule the story, in the way the CIA has been accused of using the term to delegitimize information.8 Only Bennett and Chronicle Herald editorial staff could answer. However, given that these were the newspaper’s choice of words, I have started to call the story an exposé.

To press the seriousness of this investigation’s subject matter, I want to relate what has happened to Canada’s public school textbooks with a series of other dramatic exposés. The first whistle was blown by biochemist Jeffrey Wigand who appeared on CBS news show 60 Minutes in February 1996 to describe how his former employer, tobacco company Brown & Williamson, used chemical agents to increase the addictiveness of its cigarettes. The second and third leaks occurred in 2015 and 2018 with reports by independent news organization Inside Climate News that oil companies Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell had forecast runaway global warming and climate catastrophe as early as the 1980s but had concealed the science.


In those other cases Canadian and American prosecutors sought multi-billion dollar judgements against big business for criminal activity. But I’ve just told you government didn’t necessarily break the law, just policy. So how is censorship connected? People familiar with corporate management may be bothered by the behaviour of tobacco and oil companies, concealing information that could harm profits, but they won’t be surprised. The preference for money over public safety is germane. How government censorship rationale relates to corporate malfeasance is in how it prepares the student to be misled. There’s the appearance, upon reflection of the evidence herein, that a reason for the compulsory character of public school attendance is to ensure a majority of people are sufficiently infantilized to be suckered, “dumbed down” in the educational vernacular, to respond to suggestion. After reflecting on the ongoing attempt to suppress critical literature, it is difficult to ignore the implication that Ontario government and big business are working in legion to keep the populace dumbed down.

Before going on, I need to admit that this writing project is challenging for me. It bothers me emotionally to read and write about children being manipulated in this way, including myself, family and friends. I’m somebody that shuns the spotlight and am still developing as a writer. But social engineering is real. There are loads of well paid professionals involved. Sometimes their activities are called public relations or public affairs. Sometimes it is corporate communications or investor relations. But now we know it’s also called textbook approval and textbook authorization. The activity is not made up or imagined. It’s not a conspiracy theory but may qualify as a conspiracy depending on how you use the language. There are hundreds of examples available, many in the first edition of my book if you can still find a copy. If you can’t, contact me and we might be able to work something out. I continue toward re-launching my book, with better story writing and the new subtitle Public School Textbooks and Social Engineering in English Canada, but still have much work to accomplish and am not committing to a publication date yet. Professor Regoczei suggested that if I take “Mind Control” out of the title, I’ll sound less like somebody who needs “a file” or warrants government surveillance. Helping not hurting! But given the unwanted attention Jeffrey Wigand received prior to stepping forward, if I disappear or turn up dead on the side of the road, this research may have played a role. We’re moving forward nonetheless.

*Updated July 14, 2020 to expand on Dr Paul Bennett’s concerns about NO SCHOOL FOR SUCKERS.


  1. M.B. Parnell letter to [restricted], June 10 1965. RG 2-243-1, AO.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Canada’s disappearing literary identity has been the subject of thorough reporting by academics and journalists. For more on the long term trend, please see Elaine Dewar (2017) The Handover: How Bigwigs and Bureaucrats Transferred Canada’s Best Publisher and the Best Part of Our Literary Heritage to a Foreign Multinational. Windsor, Biblioasis; Laura Elizabeth Pinto (2007) “Textbook publishing, textbooks, and democracy: A case study.” Journal of Thought, 40 (3), 99-121 and (2005) “Ontario’s incredible shrinking textbook supply chain.” Our Schools/Our Selves, 14 (4) (80), 61-74.

  4. Statistics Canada. “Table A.3.6, Population with English as the Language Spoken Most Often at Home, by Different Projection Scenarios, Provinces and Territories, Canada Outside Quebec and Canada, 2011 and 2036.” 2011 to 2036 Language Projections for Canada. Ottawa: Government of Canada, 2017.

  5. Thurman, Scott. “The Revisionaries.” Kino Lorber, 2012;, Michael W. Apple and Linda K. Christian-Smith. “The Politics of the Textbook.” Chap. 1 In The Politics of the Textbook, edited by Michael W. Apple and Linda K. Christian-Smith, 1-21. New York: Routledge, 1991.

  6. and

  7. 2011 edition of Collins Canadian English Dictionary & Thesaurus. HarperCollins Publishers, Toronto.

  8. Unz, Ron. “American Pravda: How the CIA Invented ‘Conspiracy Theories’.” The Unz Review (2016). September 5, 2016.