It’s crucial to treat all students in mixed-race classrooms with equal dignity, regardless of their race or social class

Jim McMurtry: Race, class, and education using The War Between the ClassesOne of my first assignments as a teacher was English 9. A popular American novel at the time was The War Between the Classes, in which the fictional teacher plays a Color Game with his students to deepen their understanding of class struggle. The novel was an 80s riff on the book and play West Side Story and its truths about the immigrant experience for Puerto Rican immigrants in the late 50s.

The book is based on a true story of a teacher who was later sued by the parents of one high school student who claimed her experience as a ‘lower-class’ Color Game participant had gotten out of hand and traumatized her.

The fictional principal rigs the game so that poorer, hard-luck students of colour are assigned to the upper class, and many of the affluent white kids end up in the lowest class. In each colour class the female players are of a higher status than the male players. Players must bow and otherwise curry favour with higher-status players.

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In addition, “Inferior colours may not speak with or socialize with superior colours. A superior colour may address an inferior one, but not vice versa.” A lower colour, such as an “Orange” student, can be fined, harassed, humiliated and demoted, as well as forced to run errands, sit at the back of the class, or go to the end of the cafeteria lineup. If they object, they get punished further. In contrast, students at the top are never punished because they are “Blues.”

I played this game with my grade 9 students for years and graded them on their performance. Inevitably, a student would break from the herd and come to me with a complaint about the activity, at which point I would immediately stop the game and tell the student that they had won. The academic point, and the moral of the story, is not to conform to societal evil but to work against it.

The novel ends with a stereotypically talented Asian student of the highest “Blue” class leading a rebellion, with all the students eventually embracing and left convinced of the iniquity of a caste system. Oddly, if my employer or regulatory body were to find out that I had played the Color Game with my students in recent years, what’s left of my credibility would smash against the shoals of the woke teaching world. I, too, would be accused of traumatizing students.

What made school authorities of another era choose The War Between the Classes as a class novel was not its literary form or effect but its moral: it is imperative, in mixed-race classes, that students treat each other with equal dignity and not in accordance with their race or social class or any other externality.

The eight Professional Standards for British Columbia teachers are rather mundane, but in 2022 a ninth standard was added:

Educators respect and value the history of First Nations, Inuit and Métis in Canada and the impact of the past on the present and the future. Educators contribute towards truth, reconciliation and healing … [and] integrate First Nations, Inuit and Métis worldviews and perspectives into learning environments.

There is nothing said about directing a critical eye to Indigenous “worldviews and perspectives,” which is relevant to me as I was led out of classroom and career in 2021 for questioning the claim of the Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, British Columbia that Christian teachers murdered 215 students at a long-ago-shuttered Indian Residential School in their community. As troubling for me about Professional Standard 9 is the special attention given in a multicultural school setting to one group of students distinguished by race alone.

As a teacher under investigation for much of the past four years, generally for not proselytizing for the woke cult in schools, I have been given a handout of these standards on many occasions and can boast of a deep collection. The first eight are not polemical, but the ninth is about one class of citizens, the new Blues. In reality, there are many groups of students across Canada in the K-12 system who are now labelled intersectional or oppressed or placed highly on the Olympic podium of victimhood. The rest are Greens or Oranges.

Did school authorities read The War Between the Classes? I guess not.

Jim McMurtry earned a Master’s degree at the University of Alberta. He later obtained a Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Education from the University of Toronto. Dr. McMurtry has been teaching for four decades, most recently French Immersion History in Abbotsford. He has also served as a college lecturer and was the Principal of Neuchâtel Junior College in Switzerland. His father, Roy, was a chief justice and politician who advocated for equal rights.

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