As an Alberta teacher, I’ve had some time to reflect over the holidays and while there is a lot I am thankful for, there is also a lot I could be angry about. I could be upset that the UCP has significantly reduced the overall per-student budget allocation despite their commitment to maintain funding. I could be upset that they laid off most of our EAs during a pandemic and that students have far fewer supports this year. I could be upset about class sizes. I could even selfishly be upset about my increased workload and my 2% raise over the last 8 years while the UCP signals a 7% public sector wage cut. But what honestly keeps me up at night is the UCP’s hypocritical and unnecessary re-write of our draft program of studies.
With everything going on, it is understandable if the re-write of the province’s K-12 curriculum is not in the forefront of people’s minds and maybe that is exactly the way this government wants it. Less than a month ago, amid this pandemic, the UCP dismissed the 358 teachers that comprised the curriculum review working groups. For the past few years, these working groups had been providing expert feedback on the development of the new draft and yet they were unceremoniously replaced in a rushed and clumsy effort. Sure, some of the teachers had since retired and others had moved on, but these issues could have been addressed with a few new appointments. Instead, they were all replaced with new appointees who did not necessarily have the background information and/or time to review the draft effectively. More recently, on Christmas Eve, our Premier demonstrated his ignorance about the curriculum review by retweeting a seriously uninformed piece by Edmonton Journal columnist David Staples.
So how did we get to this point, where are we headed, and why should we be concerned?
It all started with the UCP’s determination to replace the “NDP’s ideological curriculum” with their own ideological agenda. And it’s not like we didn’t see it coming. When the NDP released their draft K-4 program in October 2018, Jason Kenney, then leader of the Official Opposition, bristled at progressive changes to the health and social studies programs. During the campaign, Kenney told us he would put the curriculum through the shredder. Then, in August, Minister LaGrange made their intentions crystal clear when she appointed Chris Champion to lead the curriculum review: Indigenous voices and Reconciliation have no part in a UCP Program of Studies. Champion is on the record as calling certain lessons about Indigenous history “fads” and has accused residential school survivors of playing the victim card. Given that, it should come as little surprise that documents uncovered by CBC’s Janet French show the panel has recommended the references to residential schools and concepts of “equity” be excluded from the new program in favour of concepts such as feudalism and Chinese dynasties. Why tackle the tough legacies of Imperialism when you could literally gloss over them with artwork by Monet and Picasso instead?
This is deeply troubling on many levels. For starters, the curriculum review process started under the PC government with the Inspiring Education initiative of 2009. If the PC’s dropped the ball by not completing the curriculum review, the NDP simply punted it five years down the road only for it to be picked up again by the UCP. Millions of dollars and the work of thousands of people were wasted while I still teach a Science program that was written before smartphones were invented.
Secondly, we are watching the erosion of integrity in politics before our very eyes. Some would argue that that ship sailed long ago but it wasn’t until 2017 that Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway introduced us to the world of “alternative facts.” I couldn’t help but think of that phrase when UCP Education minister Adriana LaGrange stood before reporters in August of this year, unable to cite a single example of bias in the curriculum, yet using it as the reason for the entire review. To date, the only evidence that has ever been given is a grossly misinterpreted Social 10 test item that reveals more about the minister’s own reading comprehension ability than it does about an alleged anti-oil bias.
Lastly, and most importantly in my opinion, is the actual content of what is being developed. To the NDP’s credit, they involved thousands of teachers, stakeholders, and experts in an open and transparent review. This current rendition, however, has been undertaken by yet another UCP panel handpicked to give them exactly the recommendations they want. They have clearly approached the review with a white-washed, fossil fuel promoting, Christian lens that is anything but unbiased. How are we supposed to move forward on a path of Reconciliation when our own government is clearly uncomfortable with it being taught in schools? How are we supposed to tackle the real environmental issues associated with oil and gas extraction if our government doesn’t does not even want to acknowledge it?
What’s more, the recommendations by the new panel ignore modern pedagogical research and, instead, push an antiquated strategy known as “Core Knowledge Foundation.” If this panel and this Education Minister get their way, we’ll see a return to the old “drill & kill” method of teaching which is all about rote memorization instead of applying and connecting experiences in meaningful lessons.
My hope is that the 300 teachers that were given two days to review these sweeping changes can have some meaningful input. However, that is a pretty lofty expectation considering they were only appointed one week earlier. Unfortunately, I think it is an exercise in lip service rather than meaningful consultation, as the results of this review have, for all intents and purposes, been predetermined.
At the end of the day, this boils down to a question of values. Do we value truth, compassion, and equality as we seek to understand the systematic racism that exists in our country? Do we value the Science and the multiple perspectives that are required to have a robust conversation about the future of Energy in Alberta? Do we value our front-line Education experts and heed their advice when it comes to writing curriculum? And finally, do we value honesty and integrity in our political representatives? These are the values I want to see in my provincial government. The Party I will be supporting in the next provincial election shares these values, which is more than I can say about the UCP.