That’s Urbane Politics

Keeping ideas from Karen and Kyle; or, how your Canadian Boomer and GenX textbooks lied to you

by Jeremy Tompkins

My second exposé of unacknowledged textbook censorship will be out as the new book Canadian Mockingbird, a little later than expected. I do rush, but am getting better at patience. Studying history and education has helped. During my business career, especially in mergers & acquisitions and investor relations, the work was geared toward designing the future. It went by in a flash. Being somewhat retired now, it is more challenging to affect the future.

Alternatively, an individual can learn a great deal about the past. One of the first realizations that can be reached studying history alongside history education is that those two concepts are not at all the same. What’s worth knowing likely isn’t in state-approved textbooks. Not in public or separate school history textbooks, or social studies textbooks. Or in business class. Probably not in politics or civics class either. In Ontario, where billions of annual revenue is earned from alcohol and now cannabis sales, don’t expect open and honest programming on recreational drugs, either their harms or benefits.

Public school teachers can get into trouble for sharing unauthorized information with students even when it’s true. Why? Education authorities, educational strategists inside political parties and their senior bureaucratic partners in education ministries, expect their visions to predictably cascade down. Educator leeway is looser at university but not wide open. Curriculum is more localized. Professors have more control over what books and articles are assigned. There is more personal participation in course design.

Still, university faculties, whole schools and professional associations are involved. Individual and school reputations are fretted over to a greater extent on the bigger stage. Corporate partners and non-disclosure agreements are at play. Tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars may be on the line, making that otherwise brilliant economics or chemistry PhD conflicted and unable or to deliver information, to either students or a city reporter calling in for a quote, in a wholly honest manner. And the academic may be tenured. So screw you at the same time.

The new book, like the first, is almost exclusively about Ontario, but historically Ontario has mattered more than other English-language provinces. Far more. Ontario is so comparatively populous, with 38% of the Canadian population, that it is slightly greater than the equivalent of California, Texas, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania combined to the United States. Just considering English speakers, the number of Canadians residing in Ontario rises to 46%.

When Canada supported a healthier and more diverse educational publishing industry, into the 1980s, publishers often located in the Greater Toronto Area to be close to Ontario’s Ministry of Education. Publishers are still in the GTA but there are far fewer of them now. Much more of the market is foreign controlled. American educators have written about the influence large states like California and New York have on the national textbook market, how the west coast vibe and Madison Avenue conceit leak out across country. It is completely understandable if smaller states are annoyed by the market dynamics, where distribution is national but production is clustered.

Civic debate about textbooks at the state-level is more developed in the United States than in Canadian provinces. In 2012 I was fortunate to see director Scott Thurman’s humorous and informative documentary film The Revisionaries, about Texas’ State Board of Education’s (SBOE) design of principles governing curriculum and textbook evaluation. When I saw Thurman’s film, I was still writing my first book on textbook censorship in Canada, NO SCHOOL FOR SUCKERS: Textbooks, Political Censorship and Mind Control in a Democracy. I was struck by the differences between Texas and Ontario. Canadians might also be surprised watching the open public debate at the SBOE hearings in Austin or hearing comedian Stephen Colbert describe them as the nation’s best TV.

Textbook review in Ontario was privatized around the year 2000, but even when the process was government run and decently funded, public involvement at the province was minimal. There is more parental participation at the county level. When the printed textbook was a more dominant media form, Ontario’s journalists sought out controversy in newly published volumes of Circular 14, the Ministry of Education’s textbook catalogue. But even this was after the fact. Texas holds public hearings prior to decision-making. The public is able to provide testimony. Textbook evaluations are published online. In comparison, Ontario’s textbook evaluation is a closed-door process.

Ontario’s Ministry of Education’s former media contact Gary Wheeler, who was always helpful to me, called my book title “controversial.” Sure it’s controversial, and it accurately reflects textbook evaluation for publicly funded schools in Ontario. The new subtitle, Covert Censorship in the Great White North, is toned down but the first book’s primary shocking revelation, that a significant number of textbooks were not only rejected but covertly censored following majority recommendation by the peer review panel contracted for their evaluation, is also at the core of Canadian Mockingbird. If this revelation doesn’t concern you, then feel free to stop reading right now.

Otherwise, you should know that since 1951 in Ontario, there has been the appearance of transparency and the appearance of democratic process without any real surrender of either secrecy or selection. When a majority of Ontario’s subject experts recommended the approval of a textbook that Ontario didn’t want to circulate, the province censored the book and kept its own decision-making hidden.

The Ministry of Education falsified rejection letters to publishers. Strict confidentiality of evaluation files was maintained, allegedly to protect reviewer identities. If anyone realized how easy it would be to create anonymity with a code, the idea was not implemented. Texas figured out how to safely provide textbooks evaluations to its public. In Ontario, if textbook publishers asked to see evaluation comments, the ministry selected what made their point without sharing too many compliments or the insights that books were actually majority approved.

When NO SCHOOL FOR SUCKERS was published in 2014, I’d had a number of years with thousands of evaluation files and associated memoranda. But the project didn’t stop with publication. I wasn’t completely pleased with the first book. Education faculties, I’ve heard, didn’t like their presentation as the sucker. That’s understandable I suppose. But we’re in this together. I went to school in Ontario. The first’s book title was presented as a demand.  

Canada has had other censors. Usually they were more open, as in the case of Ontario Film Review Board and CRTC, where Canadians might not have agreed with the censorship but it could be known. Alternatively, it was wartime. Canada Post has acted as a censor on behalf of the military. By comparison, Ontario’s backroom bonfire is so wicked that one of its goals appears to have been to “dumb down” the kids.1

In the oft-quoted words of American fugitive Assata Shakur, currently hiding out in Cuba, “[n]o 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.”

But there is more going on here that is dangerous for a society. If the public assumes that an expert panel has created the textbook catalogue, rather than scheming politicians and their bureaucratic handmaidens, they are more likely to embrace instructional materials. Parental suspicions are relaxed. Ontario’s program of unacknowledged textbook censorship contributed to a warped program of social engineering. Brainwashing, mind control, call it what you will. This is not a drill. It’s also not a “conspiracy theory,” as my critic, education consultant and former Upper Canada College Vice-Principal Paul Bennett, labelled NO SCHOOL FOR SUCKERS. The program is not theoretical but documented. Still, I thank Bennett for the badge of honour!

Legal protections exist outlawing this form of tyranny for good reason. You don’t have to go very far to find a conservative or liberal thinker willing to tell you that manipulating children in this way, without their parents’ knowledge (without “informed consent”), is wrong and impossible in a true democracy. Ontario’s textbook evaluation procedures have been in conflict with Canada’s obligations under the United Nations’ “milestone” Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) since 1948, Canada’s Bill of Rights since 1960 and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1982. Archived documentation makes it clear that the province itself was aware of this problem but chose not to act.

In a democratic society a ministry of government must avoid actions which might be construed as any form of censorship of the private press.2

Following majority approval by subject experts, the province deprived Baby Boomer and Generation X students of what our intellectual class (teachers and professors, clergy, museum curators, etc.) believed we should know. As a librarian, I see this ruse as damaging individually and collectively. The country’s competitiveness was harmed.

Today’s media environment is completely different. Given mobile phones and the Internet, neither printed textbooks nor the public sector dominate learning today. If interested in information control today, Law Professor Michael Geist’s publishing is a good place to start. The goals of psychological control certainly did not cease.  But in the 1960s to 1980s, where my historical investigation is focused, printed textbooks were the dominant educational media form at school. Television was taking over at home. Music is always competitive. But printed textbooks were consumed at a greater rate than they are today, and were less aided by either photography or infographics.

Since publication of NO SCHOOL FOR SUCKERS, I have estimated that eight percent of books were panel recommended and then suppressed. Or, books were not even provided a review in the first place, even though the education officer would have known the books were likely to be recommended. If 8% sounds like no big deal, into the 1980s the Ministry of Education was producing as many as 450 new listings a year for the province’s nationally distributed Circular 14.3 That’s 36 listings that weren’t available but should have been. Ontario had an adjacent problem in its approval of boring or offensive books that had been challenged in evaluation.


Conservatives, true blue or so-called red Tories, ran Ontario continuously from 1943 to 1985. A forty-two year record. Therefore the Conservatives had a long time to establish a conservative Ontario. But censorship continued with the succeeding Liberals. Before 1951 and the era of head-to-head textbook competition for each course, Ontario’s authorized textbook catalogue was even more propagandistic. In history class that meant British propaganda. Anyone who wants to go on believing that North American genocide, including Canadian cultural genocide, was Canadian conceived is either a fool or conflicted. It was a plan hatched in England’s universities, bureaus, and imperial parliament. The knowledge base grew with each conquest. The former American colonies, Ireland, Canada, Australia, the African and Asian territories. Canada and its provinces were empire’s overseas actors.

Authorized 1950 HISTORY Texts for High Schools and Collegiate Institutes

  • Britain and the Empire, (Copp Clark Co, Ltd)
  • Britain’s Story, (JM Dent & Sons, Ltd)
  • The British People, A Story of Social Development (Educational Book Co, Ltd)
  • Building the Canadian Nation, (JM Dent & Sons, Ltd)
  • Ancient & Mediaeval History, (Clarke, Irwin & Co, Ltd)
  • Modern History, (Clarke, Irwin & Co, Ltd)

These Anglophile histories were also the texts appearing in Indigenous classrooms in day and residential schools, building heroic vignettes about the genocidal maniacs destroying all that was original and functional. The Province’s inspectorate monitored its schools and the Crown’s inspectorate monitored the Province. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI), an institution more known in Scottish than in Canadian public education, was on site in some form at Ontario’s Ministry of Education at least into the 1960s even though Britain’s troops left Canada shortly after “independence” in 1867. Bureaucratic oaths are made to a foreign queen because Canada has no sovereign.

Government maintained loyalty from board and school administration by threatening to withhold funds. The peoples’ own tax monies. Instructions to boards and schools were plain.

Inspector may withhold the whole or any part of the legislative grant in respect of any High School in which any unauthorized or unprescribed book is so used.4

In 1950, Circular 14 warned that the Public Schools Act allowed for a teacher who “negligently or wilfully” permitted an unauthorized book to become a text to be suspended and have a portion of the legislated grant deducted from their salary.

Diversification was obvious ten years into the new era. For Grades 9 and 10 eight texts had become available but were grouped together as “Social Studies or History and Geography.” Textbooks for the first year of high school were still heavily British but less so in senior years.5 Five more books were available for Grades 11 and 12, on world history. Three textbooks were listed for the instruction of the “History of Trade and Commerce.” Edgar McInnis’ North America and the Modern World was available for Grade 13 along with a note about a teachers’ freedoms. It was a contrast to the warnings from 1950.

Text-books for Grade 13 subjects have not previously been listed in this Circular because it has never been considered desirable to limit the teacher’s freedom of choice in this grade…Publication of this list in this Circular should not be considered as limiting a teacher’s choice in any way, since the list is not exclusive nor is it necessarily complete.6

Schedule E books, which didn’t match a course completely but were useful to include because of their representation of curriculum sections, had another eight social studies texts for intermediate and senior divisions. Competition seemed to have had the effect proponents of Freedom of Information (FOI) desired. (The goal of a “free flow of ideas by word and image” was set internationally as early as 1945 in UNESCO’s constitution.7)  But in Ontario there was a catch unseen to outside observers.

Staged Peer Review

The Ministry of Education designed an evaluation process that included a roster of external and internal subject experts. Intellectuals were invited to provide their time evaluating publishers’ textbook submissions according to ministry-supplied guidelines. External consultants were paid for their effort. 1-2 education officers were asked to participate as part of their ongoing duties. Up to seven evaluations in all. Even more in special circumstances. The education  officer responsible for a particular subject would then collect and total the recommendations before making their own recommendation and passing the file up.

This is where much corruption began. Even when a majority of reviewers had recommended a book, even unanimously, the bureaucracy would reject if the text didn’t match the government’s lens. Even before the full review, the assigned officer might individually refuse a book. This other class of censorship, by a single bureaucrat, corresponds to a small restricted Archives of Ontario record group titled “Textbooks rejected as ineligible,” but again many of these books also weren’t just rejected but censored. The decision to censor would usually come from the Branch Director. During the study period, this was most often a man named J. Kelvin Crossley, who like his ultimate boss Bill Davis, has since passed on.

Excuses were many. Often the Ministry would falsify rejection letters by claiming “our reviewers” didn’t believe this was a textbook when the opposite was true. Confidentiality and publishers’ desire to maintain good relations with their largest book buyer meant that complaints could never become too effective. Books could be resubmitted down the road. If publishers could divine what the Ministry had taken issue with, sometimes shared in rejection letters or on a phone call, the next edition could be altered.

Aside from the ministry, publishers would have had the most insight into how Canadians’ textbooks and children were being manipulated. Evaluators just a glancing pass. The average teacher and student, not at all. It would have appeared that Circular 14, this highly touted textbook catalogue distributed all across Canada, listed what textbooks were worth knowing about in elementary and secondary school.

Alteration and suppression are two discrete forms of censorship. Canadian Mockingbird mostly documents suppression from the scraps that weren’t destroyed, and considers alteration tangentially. Ontario didn’t pass legislation requiring government departments to preserve documents until 1988. Before this crucial date, this now legal requirement was outside of the average citizen’s thought process. The retained record is spotty.

The 86 textbooks that I have so far discovered that were covertly censored is a sample of a much larger problem that likely won’t ever be seen in its entirety. I have begun sharing information about some of the suppressed textbooks on Facebook and Twitter ahead of the new book’s release. Please take some time to follow the links. It will help to explain the concerns librarians and other information professionals have about censorship’s effect on independent thinking.

Unacknowledged Censorship

Through two rounds of evaluation, it’s my estimate that as many as 600 books were similarly treated from the 1960s to the 1980s, majority recommended for use in Ontario’s classrooms and then covertly censored. Or, sent to the scrap heap straight away. The process was systemic. All of the above books, with the exception of Headley Tulloch’s Black Canadians which received a split (3:3) decision and then rejected for its “political position,” were majority recommended. Alteration, getting rid of this or that “controversial” fact or perspective, is an even bigger problem awaiting investigation. It’s also a more difficult problem to measure. Ontario’s Ministry of Education conceived of Canada’s private sector publishers as an arm of government. Government used its budget to whip the industry into a boring submissiveness.

Urban Politics

If 600 books seems like a lot of (mostly secondary school) educational publishing, and author royalties down the drain, it is, especially compared to today, but the estimate is still low. I could only count found evaluations, when I could review the individual recommendations and evaluation summaries with my own eyes. There was evidence for other missing evaluations in the communications between the Ministry and publishers.

The rejection letter to Maclean-Hunter Learning Materials company for Barry Riddell and John Lynch’s 1972 Urban Politics for example refers to three other texts that were likely also recommended by peer reviewer and then censored. Those were Conflict, Women in Society and Poverty, three texts from Maclean Hunter’s “Man in Society” series. Education Officer Norman Best said the “general tone” of the excerpts he had included regarding the four books would provide “an indication of the reaction we received.”8 What Officer Best didn’t convey was that, at least in the case of Urban Politics, the texts were majority recommended. Ontario’s subject experts had collectively decided that the book was a whole-class text. And then one bureaucrat decided “no,” inline with what their employer, the ruling political party of the day, expected. Six of seven reviewers recommended Urban Politics.

Before rejection, an internal memo listed some concerns. One problem was that a majority had recommended its approval. Another was the so-called bias.

It creates the impression that the elected representatives are a separate (and antagonistic) group to the whole body of citizens is a denial and a misreading of the democratic process. For example, on page 97, “As people have found out, many politicians have close ties to developers, who are telling politicians what to do”…

It must also be noted that there are pointed references through the text to the St. James Town situation, Parkdale (page 37) and on page 38 to the Ben Grys case. On page 56 there are pointed comments to the effect that developers are getting around the anti-combines legislation.

On page 63 we have the statement “Power comes from the neighbourhood and the municipal governments should do what these people wish”. On page 66, comments by an Irishman (who supports the IRA) that the mayor has unfair advantages.9

The officer didn’t like the included artwork, often depicting questioning or protesting citizens, or a photo of then future Toronto Mayor John Sewell. Riddell and Lynch’s examples resembled Toronto but were fictional. The IRA supporting “Tim Regan” who wants to “go down to those bunch of crooks at City Hall and sit in their offices until they do something” was concocted.

Given the censorship so far observed, I have created a panorama of the ruling Conservatives’ suppression filters. Keep in mind though this was a qualitative exercise. Back in the day these filters would have also been labelled “normal and sane.” Canadian Mockingbird pays more attention to special interests than its predecessor, although the featured groups won’t please everyone.10 The focus is usually on cabinet (i.e. the “Ontario Executive Council”), bureaucracy and publishers rather than teachers. Teachers formed the largest group of peer reviewers, so are well represented by the evaluations and disrespected by the censorship. That said, I’m always learning new information about textbook evaluation. Teachers act as individuals and through their unions both.

Following rejection of Wayne Sproule’s Women in Society, a history teacher at Scarborough’s Winston Churchill Collegiate Institute used it in class despite the ban. In his words, the book was a resource for a segment of the class rather than a text. The difference between a text, resource and reference baffled education officers and reviewers alike, and was another convenient excuse to censor books. The amount that one book had to ape curriculum, called “congruence” and yet another control mechanism, grew overtime. It is now 85%. The Textbook Branch had discovered the wayward teacher because in 1976 a Toronto Dominion bank employee called  the ministry to complain. He “objected very strongly to the fact that his 13-year old son” had to suffer the textbook. The local superintendent let the Ministry know that “Scarborough” agreed. Churchill Collegiate’s head of history was going to receive a chat from the school principal.

Canadian Mockingbird will provide more analysis of how textbook evaluation happened in Ontario, rather than how it was theoretically supposed to happen, than is available from any other source. That is my guarantee to you. 💯  Average citizens and globalists can both “build back better.” Each has more to gain from collaborating. If the public isn’t invited in, Canadians will need to protest. Canucks would have a better grasp of protest and talking back to power if it wasn’t for the work of Ontario’s Textbook Branch.



  1. Through the years also known as the Curriculum and Textbooks Branch, the Curriculum Branch, the Learning Materials Unit and the Curriculum Policy Branch.
  2. Ontario Ministry of Education. “Bias in Textbooks, Progress Report.” 1973. B285118, RG 2-243-4, Archives of Ontario.
  3. A single book could be cross-listed for multiple courses.
  4. Ontario Department of Education, 1950. TEXT-BOOKS: Authorized, Approved, and Recommended and Instructions Regarding Text-Books for Public Separate, Continuation and High Schools and Collegiate Institutes for the school year 1950-51, The Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, Toronto, 7.
  5. Ontario Department of Education, 1960. TEXT-BOOKS: Approved or Recommended for use in Elementary and Secondary Schools.
  6. Ibid, 28.
  7. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
  8. EO N Best to T Holland, Manager of Product Development, Maclean Hunter Learning Materials. May 9, 1973, B145052, RG 2-243-4, Archives of Ontario.
  9. EO J Doris to EO L Hendershot, re Comments to Urban Politics by Riddell & Lynch, December 15, 1972, B145052, RG 2-243-4, Archives of Ontario.
  10. Full disclosure. In the 1990s I was employed by a public affairs organization (i.e. lobbying) that represented waste management “stakeholder” interests within retail, consumer products, packaging, newspapers and pharma in their dealings with provincial and municipal governments. One basic underlying motive was to procure legislation consistent with members’ interests. Briefly, I was involved in the production of secondary materials for public education.