How 'anti-racism' indoctrination led to the death of Toronto educator Richard Bilkszto

His name was Richard Bilkszto, and he had a distinguished 24-year career as a school teacher, teaching in both the United States and Canada. Most recently, he worked as a principal with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), where he consistently received outstanding performance reviews, at least until he ran afoul of the woke ideology being pushed by his employer.

During a professional development session, Bilkszto, having worked in both countries (including inner-city Buffalo, New York), pushed back against the presenter’s claim that Canada was a more racist place than the United States.

Needless to say, Bilkszto’s input was not well-received. Not only did the presenter reject Bilkszto’s arguments, she made a point of using Bilkszto’s comments as a textbook example of white supremacy in subsequent sessions. This bothered Bilkszto greatly, as he had built his career on a reputation of combating discrimination in all forms.

However, instead of standing up for him, TDSB officials were quick to distance themselves from Bilkszto. They offered him no support. One of his colleagues even publicly criticized Bilkszto on Twitter and only deleted the post after Bilkszto’s lawyer threatened a libel lawsuit. Unfortunately, the enormous stress of the incident got to Bilkszto and he went on sick leave.

Importantly, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board conducted an investigation and concluded that Bilkszto had been the victim of workplace harassment and bullying. Not only did the TDSB not dispute Bilkszto’s version of events, it did not even appeal the compensation award. Thus, there’s no question that Bilkszto was the victim of wrongdoing.

Sadly, Bilkszto is no longer with us. He took his own life on July 13. In a public statement, his family directly blamed his death on how he was treated by the TDSB. It was a tragic end to the distinguished career of a fine teacher and administrator.

Bilkszto’s death serves as an example of the destructive effects of woke ideology in schools. This is what happens when school boards place an inappropriate emphasis on race and gender identity, and make it their mission to ensure everyone thinks the same way. A school board that cannot tolerate one administrator who pushes back during a professional development session has clearly lost its way.

The real mission of schools is actually quite simple. Along with ensuring students learn the academic basics, such as reading and writing, schools should help students become critical thinkers. Among other things, this includes accepting diversity—which, of course, includes diversity of thought.

Woke ideologues pay lip service to diversity but reject anyone sharing information that conflicts with their perspective. That’s why Richard Bilkszto was subjected to a barrage of harassment for challenging a consultant’s claims about the alleged systemic racism in Canada. Instead of praising Bilkszto for using his critical thinking skills, the presenter saw him as an enemy.

If it’s not safe for a long-term teacher and principal to share his opinion during a professional development session, imagine how much more difficult it must be for beginning classroom teachers in that situation. Or how students who have a different perspective must feel when they try to share their views or simply ask questions in class.

The recent cases of teachers in Edmonton and Windsor berating Muslim students for choosing not to attend Pride events are examples of the harassment perpetuated by woke ideologues who cannot countenance any disagreement. One wonders how any learning could take place in classrooms where students are treated this way.

There’s a better option. Instead of pushing staff and students to think the same way, schools should promote true diversity, especially diversity of thought. We must also focus on the core mandate of schools and take concrete steps to improve the math and reading skills of students. These are the kinds of things that everyone should agree on.

May Richard Bilkszto’s death not be in vain. His brave stand against woke ideology in schools serves as an example for us all.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute.


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