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Patrick Luciani: The liberal world order isn’t dead yet

Commentary

Political realism has taken centre stage in international relations, led by political science professor John Mearsheimer at the University of Chicago. 

He claims the old liberal world order dominated by the U.S. after the fall of the Soviet Union is over. The unipolar world ended in 2019, and on the horizon is a multipolar world where the U.S. will now have to share world leadership with Russia and China. Realists believe America’s ambition to spread democracy worldwide has failed miserably, and it’s time to retrench, stop futile wars, and protect the homeland. Democracy is losing around the world as the number of democratic nations declines. Since 1989 the U.S. has been at war for 20 years with little to show for it. The new world or order will look more like pre-WW1 when a few big European countries maintained a balance of power. Mearsheimer sees a new realist international order taking shape. 

The move to retrenchment isn’t restricted to the Right. The Koch Foundation and George Soros now co-fund the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. The plan is to shift U.S. foreign policy and bring home most of America’s 180,000 troops worldwide. Only American isolationism could bring the likes of Donald Trump and Noam Chomsky together.

A realist world looked possible just a few years ago; then Russia invaded Ukraine and China’s economy stalled, putting the realist agenda on permanent hold. 

Rather than regain its lost empire, Russia looks on the verge of collapse. Putin’s disastrous war in Ukraine has exposed the country for what it is: a deeply corrupt nation on the road to political and economic disintegration. When Putin called on his people to fight in Ukraine, a million men fled. And only two former Soviet republics have come to his aid, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan—hardly the basis to form a centre of political domination in Eurasia. Even India’s Prime Minister Modi is pulling away despite the cheap oil and gas India now gets from the Kremlin.

Yet Mearsheimer keeps hammering away that NATO provoked Russia to invade, a tiresome story nobody is buying. Vladimir Putin is not the leader Machiavelli had in mind when he wrote The Prince. Putin is just a brutal thug with no talent for hiding his intentions. People will follow a ruthless leader who wins, but the end is never far away for one who loses. 

Realists also want the U.S. to pull out of Europe, arguing that NATO countries are more than capable of arming and defending themselves from Russia. Here realists have point. Freeriding has been a favourite sport for European countries since the end of Soviet communism. This is just welfare for the rich, and it must stop.

But if the U.S. had left when realists pushed their case a decade ago, can anyone doubt that Putin would have moved in earlier? Even after February 24, Europeans seemed willing to sacrifice Ukraine to buy peace with Putin. Only President Zelensky’s courage to stay and fight shamed the West into supporting his country when he said, “I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition.” With that one statement, he put a lie to the realist philosophy that only nations matter and individual action doesn’t move world history. 

China’s rise over the past four decades is a miracle of growth and prosperity without parallel in human history. Pulling hundreds of millions out of the depths of poverty is one of the extraordinary success stories in modern history. But this happened because Chinese leaders, after the cultural revolution, had the courage to abandon the failure of Marxism-Leninism. Capitalism made China rich; now, President Xi Jinping is determined to make China poor again. 

But as rich as China has become, we now know that a good part of its wealth was an illusion. We’ve always known that Beijing has been cooking the books, and now we have proof. It may take 30 years to overtake the U.S. economy, if at all. Xi’s claim that China will lead the world is reminiscent of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s boast that the Soviet Union would bury the U.S. There was a time in the ’80s when Japan would overtake the U.S. as the biggest economy. Both failed, and China is on the same path given how it has managed its real estate mess and covid outbreak. Even its grand Belt and Road program is making more enemies than friends. 

Now that Xi and Putin have sworn undying friendship to blunt the spread of liberalism, there’s no better endorsement of the values of democracy. Liberalism is hard work, but brutal authoritarianism will prove much more expensive. 

Paul W. Bennett: Are pandemic effects and progressive discipline policies turning classrooms violent?

Commentary

Two and a half years into the pandemic, schools remain unsettled places and are now disrupted spaces. Half of 850 American public school leaders, surveyed in May 2022, reported an increase in classroom disruptions from student misconduct since schools returned to mostly in-person learning. One in three of the group of mostly principals testified to rising tensions and an uptick in student fights or physical attacks. 

Higher levels of violence and disruption are complicating and impeding school initiatives aimed at rebuilding school communities and getting students back on academic track. While concerning student behaviour studies results are surfacing in the United States, Canadian K-12 education remains a “data desert” where evidence of turmoil still has to be pieced together from scattered school-level reports. 

Horrific stories of high schools in crisis capture the news headlines. Regular fights, flagrant drug use, weapons offences, and terrified staff in one troubled Toronto high school, York Memorial, are hard to ignore. Since September 2022, fights happen nearly every day, sometimes multiple fights, and have produced more than 75 health and safety complaints, prompting 15 of the 80 staff to stage a one-day walkout in protest. Merging two rival inner-city schools has created a cauldron of tension and violence, but that’s a worst-case scenario. 

More typical of the pandemic fallout is the Ontario city of London, where its elementary schools provide a barometer of what’s actually happening inside and outside of classrooms. Violent incidents in the Thames Valley District School Board’s 154 elementary schools more than doubled to 900 in October 2022, compared to some 400 in June of last year. 

What’s most troubling is that many episodes of student-on-student violence go unreported and it’s really a sign of the turmoil that runs deeper in school culture. Whole classes are evacuated to isolate and subdue angry or frustrated students acting out in school. Elementary parents complain about rampant violence in younger grades and overwhelmed staff unable to curb the violence or provide support or protection for children.  

The local teachers’ union and the odd brave teacher are speaking out of school. One Grade 8 teacher, identified only as “Tom,” blamed a board discipline policy that is not only “unclear and confusing,” but paves the way for students to re-offend. “There is zero accountability,” he told CBC News London Morning, hiding his identity out of fear of possible consequences. 

Nor is it confined to elementary schools. For the past two years, a few London city high schools have been in near-constant turmoil. Local police reported making 28 calls to one London high school, Saunders Secondary School, from October 2021 to April 22 to break up fights, respond to mental health issues, or investigate assaults, property damage, thefts, and other incidents. Two 16-year-old boys were stabbed in September near A.B. Lucas Secondary School and more recently, in late November, students described a frantic and bloody scene at H.B. Beal SS after a teen girl stabbed another over lunchtime in the cafeteria. 

School districts like Ontario’s TVDSB were unprepared for the rising incidence of violence and the near-constant problem of “low-level disruptions” besetting classrooms. The Ontario school board is typical of most of the 72 districts in the province. Faced with repeated incidents and intense media scrutiny, TVDSB Director of Education Mark Fisher has declined comment or instructed senior school officials to either defend existing ‘’progressive discipline” policy or assign blame to “what’s happening in communities” following the pandemic. 

After having implemented school-wide positive, preventive student behaviour policies over the past fifteen years or so, school principals and classroom teachers have been deprived of traditional deterrents—office reports, suspensions, and, in some extreme cases, expulsions. Integrating most students with complex needs into regular classrooms, in the midst of the turmoil and with totally inadequate resource supports, has merely compounded the problems. 

Current student behaviour policy dates back to April 2007 in Ontario when former premier, then education minister, Kathleen Wynne (2006-2010), abandoned the “zero tolerance” approach to curbing bullying. Heeding the advice and counsel of her deputy minister, Ben Levin, Wynne sought to curtail the high incidence of suspensions, which were found to be disproportionately affecting students from marginalized or disadvantaged communities. 

Positive Emotional Behaviour Supports approaches, introduced since 2007 in Ontario and elsewhere across North America, have dramatically reduced the use of suspensions and resulted in the virtual elimination of expulsions, the last resort in school discipline. Curbing the use of sanctions has meant keeping students in school is now the priority, often through the expanded use of “time-out” rooms, Individual Education Plans, restorative justice remedies, and “social promotion” to the next grade. 

The official Ontario school suspension data tell the story across the system with some 2 million students. In 2007-08, 94,386 Ontario students were listed as “suspensions” (4.32 percent of all students) and 996 were reported as “expulsions” (0.05 percent). By 2019-20, the last year reported, total suspensions were down to 46,990 (2.21 percent) and only 245 students were recorded as “expulsions” (0.01 percent). 

The reported data for TVDSB has suspensions dropping from 4,918 (5.86 percent) to 3,275 (3.91 percent) but looks totally unreliable for “expulsions.” The board reported less than 10 expulsions a year from 2007-08 to 2016-17, then slowly rising each year to 15 in 2019-20 before the pandemic. Those figures for expulsions need to be audited for accuracy. 

Speaking truth to power in K-12 education can be exceedingly frustrating because it’s usually met with a wall of silence. TVDSB Grade 8 teacher “Tom” is a brave soul who speaks for many frontline teachers with their heads down, toughing it out and left to deal with the problem on their own, day in and day out, in post-pandemic school closure times.

Progressive student behaviour approaches are now unequal to the challenge, according to classroom teachers and engaged parents. Violent, disruptive, and disrespectful students are free, in far too many schools, to erode learning and sustain the turmoil with impunity.

Student behaviour policy has swung too far along the pendulum and, in the words of local  Elementary Federation of Ontario president Craig Smith, moved from “zero tolerance” to “one of almost complete latitude.” The current approach is anything but “progressive” if it’s allowing violence and low-level disruptions to flourish in elementary and secondary schools.