The Jenny Peto scandal shows that it’s time to clean house at OISE
By now, many people have heard of Jenny Peto — the 29-year-old anti-Israel fanatic who managed to get a Master’s Degree at OISE for a navel-gazing essay that claimed holocaust education was a tool of the Zionist war machine. Peto’s project was so offensive that she actually was rebuked in the Ontario legislature. Even ultra-politically correct diversity maven Karen Mock thinks that Peto is out to lunch. We also know that the Peto paper is littered with unsupported claims — thanks to this fine article by Robyn Urback.
But Peto is a small fish. The bigger problem here is OISE — the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, AKA UToronto’s teacher’s college — itself. For years, I’ve been hearing tales of political correctness gone amok at OISE, including radical anti-Israeli events. But it took the Peto case to really get me probing around to see what else is going on at OISE.
Someone else who’s been doing his homework is Werner Cohn, a former UBC sociology prof now living in New York. Below, reproduced with his permission, is his analysis of the 36 internet-available master’s theses that have been conducted under the auspices of OISE’s Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education department. They read like a satire of 1990s-era political correctness.
Surely, the higher-ups at UToronto know about this sort of thing. Will the Peto scandal give them the excuse they need to clean house?
Eighteen OISE Theses : A Report Submitted to President David Naylor,
University of Toronto
by Werner Cohn, Dec. 10, 2010
Introduction: The public attention that has been paid to the Peto thesis (and to a lesser extent the equally objectionable Epstein work) has raised the following question: can the principle of academic freedom override the need for objectivity in scholarship ? U. of T. pronouncements so far have used this principle – freedom – to dismiss criticisms of faulty scholarship in these theses. Obviously, political partisanship and scholarly integrity do not always and necessarily exclude one another. Nobody has ever claimed that scholarship can be neutral in any sort of absolute way. It is a matter of degree. We, the critics of OISE in this matter, have said that the political agitation that dominates Peto’s work, her complete neglect of the empirical work by others, and the imprimatur granted to all this by the University of Toronto – all these factors hurt the scholarly reputation of one of the world’s great universities.
In this Report, I suggest that the unfortunate results of the Peto thesis are related to a larger systemic problem at OISE.
The following is an analysis of all of the 36 currently internet-available theses completed at the SESE department of OISE, University of Toronto.
In half the cases, these theses appear to be so marred by political jargon and political preconceptions that they should never have been accepted into the corpus in which they are in fact found, viz. a collection of putative contributions to knowledge — theses officially certified by the University of Toronto.
The University of Toronto’s website shows thirty-five recent theses that were accepted in the Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education (SESE) of U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). To this I have added one additional thesis (thus making a total of thirty-six SESE theses), by Griffin Epstein, which was completed in a different department of OISE but which was supervised by a SESE faculty member, Sheryl Nestel.
The U of T website gives direct access to the abstract of each thesis, and also provides a facility for the downloading of each of the theses in pdf format. As a result, any reader can check for himself whether he agrees with the opinions I express here concerning these theses.
I have read the abstracts of all eighteen theses and have determined, on a prima facie basis, that eighteen of these works are so politicized that – again on a prima facie basis – I would not accept them as scholarly contributions. Obviously, had I done a more complete study of the theses themselves, it is conceivable, but not probable, that I would have reached a somewhat different conclusion.
Not only do these eighteen theses propound political agendas rather than detached scholarship, but the politics of all eighteen are of one sort and one sort only: radical leftism. I found no thesis that, for instance, urged a conservative viewpoint, or a Christian one, or, Heaven forbid, Zionism. This political uniformity of the theses contradicts the recent statements by U of T officials to the effect that OISE promotes freedom of speech and diversity of opinion. OISE, or at least SESE, does not seem to be a place where deviation from the left-wing orthodoxy is at all tolerated.
I did read the complete theses in two cases, the one by Jennifer Peto and the one by Griffin Epstein. As I explained elsewhere : a) I found neither of these to have any scholarly merit whatever, and b) I found them both to consist of hate propaganda, possibly in violation of the Criminal Code of Canada, Sections 318 – 20.
Here are extracts from the abstracts of the 18 politicized theses:
This qualitative study examines the social, spiritual and political role the Black Oneness Churches play in Black communities. It also provides an anti-colonial examination of the Afro-Caribbean Oneness ….. But 40 years later, the insidious nature of colonization has weaved through the church and “prosperity theology” as an impetus of colonialism has reshaped the social justice role of Black Churches.
….In this thesis I will explore this ruling using a methodological approach that engages practices of: self-reflexivity; tracing historical and political genealogies; and case study analysis…. Through an engagement with transnational and black feminist theorizing, anticolonial studies, and disability studies, I will suggest that “medical inadmissibility” is one of many regulatory mechanisms that work to fashion the Canadian nation-state as white, healthy, fit, and productive.
Curricula in classrooms facilitate a national amnesia of colonialism that renders inconceivable the possibility of Aboriginal heritage or mixed-blood presence in national subjects. …. I argue that this facilitates ongoing Canadian colonialism that continues to circumvent the possibility of particular mixed-blood Aboriginal identities within the confines of national belonging…
In recent years, there has been a significant amount of new attention to white dominance and privilege (or whiteness) as the often unmarked inverse of racial oppression. This interest has spawned the academic domain called Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS). While the critical investigation of whiteness is not new, and has been pioneered by Black scholars beginning at least since the early 1900s in the work of W. E. B. Du Bois, what is notable about this new interest in whiteness is its advancement almost exclusively by white scholars … It outlines the importance of Black embodied knowledge to racial equity work …
…. By using African centered paradigms, Afrocentricity and juxtaposing robust anti-colonial and Black feminist thoughts, the thesis investigates and recreates systematic narratives
Framed within an Anishnaabe method and an anti-colonial discursive framework, this thesis explores how Aboriginal students confront narratives of colonial violence in the postsecondary …. I trace how education for Aboriginal peoples has always been and continues to be part of the colonial regime—one that is marked by violence, abuse and a regime that has had devastating consequences for Aboriginal peoples….
This body of work endeavours to interrogate mainstream media and popular culture [mis]representations of racialized persons, in addition to the negative impact such imageries have on identity formation processes….The ultimate goal of this project is to propel racialized students to move away from the [mis]educative effects of the media, toward beginning to define themselves on their own terms.
This thesis presents a case study of Canada’s first Black owned radio station, FLOW 93.5 FM, to demonstrate how official multiculturalism, in its formulation and implementation, negates Canada’s history of slavery and racial inequality…. As a result, multiculturalism poses serious consequences for imagining and engaging with Blackness as a politics that may address the needs of Black communities in Canada.
…. Analyses of these topics are taken up from an anti-racist and critical mixed race studies perspective.
… First, I examine how the media socially constructed the Somali identity through a colonial gaze in a Toronto Life article. ….Finally, I stress the importance of and the need for Somali youth to engage in de-colonizing/ de-racialization processes that encompasses their re-discovery of their indigenous Somaliness.
…This thesis builds on the work of critical researchers who locate the Chilean authoritarian regime in the transnational politics of the Cold War and their effect in implementing neo-liberalism in Chile. This literature demonstrates that terror was a constitutive, rather than an incidental, element of neo-liberal governmentality: governmentality that inscribed itself on Chilean bodies through terror practices and that remains unscathed through the transition to democracy …. I propose that human rights constitute a biopolitical governmental regime that in a manner comparable to the authoritarian terror captures human life within the realm of state power. As a regime, human rights submit experiences of terror to specific power-knowledge technologies that render terror intelligible, manageable and governable. Rather than promoting essential values of truth and justice, the human rights regime produces specific discourses of truth and justice as well as specific discourses of subjectivity and nation. In concrete terms, this thesis explores how the post-authoritarian nation and it subjects use the human rights regime to discursively construct a national truth in order to promote and protect specific governmental arrangements.
… Working from an anti-racist framework, this research interviews two teachers who have used the novel in their classrooms, and considers the value and limitations of the book as an anti-racist teaching tool. … I also examine the ways that Bifocal – and young adult literature in general – can be read in order to encourage more critical discussions about systems of racism and privilege.
…. My background in feminism, queer studies, anti-racism, critical theory and social justice, as well as my interest in consciousness and psychedelics, led me to conduct a literature review and analyze it with a critical framework. The literature showed an overwhelming gap in the field in regards to inclusion and analysis of issues pertaining to race, gender and class. This gap needs to be addressed ….
This paper focuses on issues of Jewish identity, whiteness and victimhood within hegemonic Holocaust education. I argue that today, Jewish people of European descent enjoy white privilege and are among the most socio-economically advantaged groups in the West…
In A White Wedding? The Racial Politics of Same-Sex Marriage, I examine the inter-locking relations of power that constitute the lesbian/gay subject recognized by the Canadian nation-state as deserving of access to civil marriage. … By centring a critical race/queer conceptual framework, this research project follows the discursive practices of respectability, freedom and civility that circulate both widely and deeply in this legal struggle. I contend that in order to successfully shed its historical markers of degeneracy, the lesbian/gay subject must be constituted not as a sexed citizen but rather as a neoliberal citizen, one who is intimately tied to notions of privacy, property, autonomy and freedom of choice, and hence one who is racialized as white. …. The conclusion of this thesis provides reflections for developing an ethics of activism that dislodges and resists the (re)production of racialized relations of power in lesbian and gay equality rights activism. In so doing, I seek to provoke, question and re-draw the landscape of our thinking, not only about same-sex marriage but also about the terms with which we conceive, articulate and practice racial and sexual justice.
…Using an anti-colonial and post-colonial theoretical framework, the study situates the education system of Bangladesh within its histories of colonial domination and argues that the discourses present in these textbooks reflect colonial forms of racism and oppression, and reproduce class and ethnic hierarchies characteristic of the larger Bangladeshi society. …
… My research problem emerges from earlier feminist research addressing the low numbers of women in university Computer Science programs, particularly at the graduate level. After over twenty years of active feminist representation of this problem, mostly through large survey-based studies, there has been little change. …, I demonstrate how they variously endorse, subvert and exploit the contradictory subject positions produced for them. I illustrate how a North American-based institutional feminist representation of ‘women in computing’ ignores the everyday experiences of ethnoculturally diverse female student participants in graduate Computer Science studies. I argue that rather than accepting the organization of universal characteristics which reproduce conditions of exclusion, North American feminist scholars need to consider the specificity of social relations and forms of knowledge transnationally..
note: this thesis, under the supervision of SESE faculty member Sheryl Nestel, was completed in OISE’s Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning
Can we be accountable to privilege? Can we find a space for coherent anti-racist secular Ashkenazi Jewish identity in North America, where Jews have been deeply implicated in structural violence? Can we be agents of both complicity and change?