Image: Lindsay Gibson/Twitter

Anyone who wonders what inspires the United Conservative Party government’s peculiar obsession with how history ought to be taught, and to what end, probably needs to look no further than Christian P. Champion.

Dr. Champion, PhD, as is now well known to social media readers in Alberta, holds startling views on the topic of how to teach history to schoolchildren.

For one thing, Champion wrote in a recent edition of the small but pretentious journal he founded nine years ago and still edits, learning about First Nations and the need for reconciliation in the study of Canadian history is just “an ongoing fad.”

“The plug must be pulled on the deplorable agitprop of the ‘KAIROS blanket,’ which brainwashes children into thinking of themselves as ‘settlers’ stealing the land,” Champion pontificated in the spring/summer 2019 edition of the twice-yearly Dorchester Review.

“Thematic history seems ideally suited to transmitting left-wing dogma,” he further complained to his journal’s readers. As for Alberta’s grade four curriculum, he suggested it has the goal of turning nine-year-olds into little social justice warriors.

“As my old Latin teacher was fond of saying,” Champion continued in the same article, letting us know he’s better educated than the rest of us, “‘He who marries the spirit of the age will be a widower in the next.’

“If more proof were needed that educational approaches are in crisis, it is that today’s publicly-schooled (sic) millennials have negative impressions of the role of capitalism in history.”

Well, maybe. But even if my old Latin teacher hadn’t been a Marxist, I imagine I’d be inclined to think millennials’ experience of modern capitalism better explains their disaffection with it than any lack of attention by their history teachers to the memorization of long lists of dates.

Anyone who wants a more detailed examination of this precious twaddle can read the useful Twitter thread here.

Some of Champion’s earlier writings, for the Byfield Clan’s less-than-esteemed Alberta Report, include such titles as “Special rights for sodomites,” “How feminists dominate the courts,” and “Who should pay for self-inflicted ailments?” The latter being a reference to the costs of AIDS treatments in the 1990s.

Champion is also an affiliate of the Canada Strong & Free Network — as the Manning Centre has recently rebranded itself. In addition, his resume includes that PhD in history from a decent Canadian university, study abroad, and a continuing stint on the parade square as a reserve member of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, apparently the closest thing that can be found in Canada to a decent guards’ regiment. (It should surprise no one, I suppose, that Conrad Black was once honorary colonel of this regiment.)

Naturally, he appears to prefer the Red Ensign, Canada’s old colonial banner, to our Canadian Maple Leaf.

All this is prologue, though. The important thing about Champion is his working relationship with Jason Kenney, with whom his views appear to be highly simpatico.

Back in the day when Alberta’s premier was minister of immigration and then minister of defence in the federal government, Champion graced his Ottawa office as a valued advisor.

Accordingly, earlier this month he was appointed to a group of eight additional “subject matter experts” trusted by the UCP government to help revamp the province’s K-12 curriculum, an effort in which a significant number of educators are in theory already involved although no working groups have met for more than a year.

Not to get lost in the weeds here, but this is different panel from the 12 trusted “experts” tasked by the government with approving a “new vision” for school curriculum — one that Education Minister Adriana LaGrange vowed would be free from political bias.

Nevertheless, when former Edmonton School Board chair Angus McBeath delivered his recent rambling discourse on the flaws of modern history teaching at a news conference on the recommendations of the curriculum advisory panel, he might have been channeling Champion’s views on the subject. Perhaps he was.

Whether or not the new curriculum that began to be drafted under the Progressive Conservative government and was completed under the NDP in fact encourages the teaching of political bias and left-wing ideology is of course highly controversial. Nevertheless, that’s the UCP’s story, and they’re stickin’ to it.

Kenney’s issues managers have been shouting from their bully pulpit that as a man with a PhD in history, Champion is eminently qualified for his new position.

But it seems likely, given Premier Kenney’s approach to such matters, that his former aide’s principal qualification is not so much his academic pursuits as that he holds strong views on the appropriate use of history as a tool for shaping society that are remarkably similar to Kenney’s.

In a post on her blog, Carla Peck, professor of education at the University of Alberta and an expert in social studies curricula, nicely deconstructed the approach taken to curriculum in Champion’s publication.

“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,” she noted.

Citing an unattributed article entitled “Teaching History in Schools” published in the Dorchester Review, Peck labeled it an “anti-immigrant, anti-Indigenous screed.”

“That a history magazine would publish an article with the word survivors as it relates to residential schools in scare quotes is appalling and should tell you all you need to know about the ideology that rules the founding editor’s thinking,” she said.

Peck concluded: “Throughout the election campaign and in many public statements since, both Premier Kenney and Minister LaGrange vowed to get ‘ideology’ out of the social studies curriculum. They lied. They are just replacing a liberal ideology with the conservative one they prefer.”

It looks very much as if Champion is the man who has been chosen to do that, by inserting colonialist ideology familiar to those of us who attended school in the 1950s and 1960s back into Alberta’s curriculum.

Albertans need to keep all of this in mind. After all, there is going to be a final exam, most likely in 2023.

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. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Lindsay Gibson/Twitter

David J. Climenhaga

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 with the Globe...