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Jason Kenney's handpicked advisors call for mention of residential schools to be erased from primary grades curriculum

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Premier Jason Kenney at the opening of the Mazak Edmonton Technical Centre on October 21, 2020. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

A recommendation by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's handpicked curriculum advisors to strip all mention of residential schools from the province's kindergarten-to-grade 4 curriculum "will perpetuate systemic racism through whitewashing," says Melissa Purcell, the Alberta Teachers Association's staff officer for Indigenous education.

'The Indian Residential School system was created to erase the cultures, histories, languages, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples within Canada, and these recommendations perpetuate that erasure," Purcell said in a statement from the ATA yesterday. "These recommendations cannot be taken seriously and must be rejected outright."

It's no wonder Kenney and his education minister, Adriana LaGrange, pulled the plug on their agreement with the ATA to work together on changes to the curriculum. As ATA president Jason Schilling said in the same news release, "Teachers would not support this direction for curriculum."

Kenney's United Conservative Party is surely the most ideologically dogmatic government in Canadian history since Social Credit was elected in Alberta in 1935. As such, like the Trump administration in the United States the UCP admires and imitates, it wants to keep real experts as far as possible from its ideological decisions.

It is ironic but hardly surprising that the UCP, vowing to deliver "objective understanding" and information "without bias," falsely accused the previous NDP government of planning to sneak ideology into the curriculum review that began when the Progressive Conservatives were still in power.

So when the ATA complains the recommendations leaked to the CBC and published yesterday morning are "regressive and inappropriate, and highlight the critical problem of cutting teachers out of the curriculum process," it needs to be understood that from the government's perspective this is a feature, not a bug.

When it comes to devising and revising curriculum, the last people Kenney and LaGrange want involved are genuine experts who know what they're talking about. As Schilling observed, "teachers are experts in curriculum; they understand the readiness of young students for different pieces of content and they understand what it means to bring curriculum to life in the classroom."

Schilling noted in the release that he has requested a meeting with the minister on the government's current curriculum review but has been rebuffed.

"I am calling for the minister to unequivocally reject these proposals and to immediately bring teachers back to the table on curriculum development," Schilling said.

Actual experts interviewed by the CBC's Janet French were appalled, calling the changes "regressive, racist, unsupported by research," "embarrassing," and likely to make Alberta's education system "a laughingstock."

In her exposé of the latest development in the UCP's plan to drag public elementary education back into the 1950s, French noted that the eight male "subject matter experts" thrust into the review last summer included controversial historian Christian Champion, a former member of the premier's staff when Kenney was a member of Stephen Harper's federal cabinet.

Champion holds views that it would be fair to describe as eccentric in the early 21st century, dismissing First Nations history as "an ongoing fad," and calling reconciliation training "agitprop."

While LaGrange, her press secretary, and even the opinionated Champion refused to be interviewed by the CBC, it is hard to believe given his past pronouncements that the author of numerous screeds in right-wing publications didn't play a significant role in the recommendations including requiring young children to memorize long lists of names and dates, not to mention Bible verses about the creation story.

Alberta's grade 4 curriculum, Champion has claimed, has the goal of "turning nine-year-olds into little SJWs" -- the initials that signify social justice warriors, a term almost exclusively used sarcastically and pejoratively in alt-right circles.

When Champion's views came to light in August, UCP issues managers were soon tweeting that he has a PhD in history, and therefore was a curriculum expert.

However, as noted by Carla Peck, who studies social studies curriculum at the University of Alberta, "while Dr. Champion does have a PhD in history, I cannot find any evidence that he has any qualifications in K-12 teaching, learning, curriculum, assessment, or pedagogy."

According to the ATA, neither Champion nor William French, another of the 11th hour advisory appointments by the Kenney government who are behind the recommendations exposed by French's report, are experts in curriculum. "Their backgrounds don’t make them suitable for this work."

The ATA has previously called for the dismissal of Champion "based on his controversial views about curriculum and residential schools."

This afternoon, apparently stung by the backlash prompted by the CBC report, LaGrange's press secretary Colin Aitchison was insisting via Twitter "this is solely advice for consideration."

This seems unlikely, however. Kenney is the premier and everything he has done on the education file since seeking the leadership of Alberta's conservatives suggests he is determined to return primary education to the standards of the 1950s.

On a personal note, I entered public school in Western Canada in 1958. The proposals revealed yesterday by the CBC seem remarkably like the Eurocentric and often racist claptrap I was taught as fact in social studies.

Times have changed, whether the UCP likes it or not. There is no excuse for this to continue in the 21st century.

COVID-19 touches down in Alberta legislature

COVID-19 has touched down in the Alberta legislature.

Newly appointed Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard, UCP MLA for Grande Prairie, has tested positive for the virus and was reported yesterday to be at home in self-isolation.

At least five other UCP MLAs who were in contact with Allard last week, the most prominent being Premier Kenney, are said to be in self-imposed isolation. The others are Transportation Minister Ric McIver, Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt, Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie and Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorff.

This doesn't yet count as an official outbreak. It will take another positive test from among Allard's cohort at the ;egislature for that status to be achieved.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

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