Wherever one may fall on the question of traditional arithmetic versus the kinds of new math that frustrate many parents or the value of phonetics over other ways to learn to read, there’s not much chance many Albertans will be pleased with the changes to the kindergarten to Grade 6 social studies curriculum introduced by the Kenney government yesterday.
Well, that’s not quite true. A tiny cohort of European cultural chauvinists, residential school deniers, and Christian Dominionists may be happy with the highly politicized document tabled by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
And one or two right-wing columnists may be prepared to abase themselves in the service of Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party by praising the draft, which appears to have been heavily influenced by textbooks written in the United States and the colonialist nostalgia of the premier’s favourite historian, the aptly named Christian P. Champion.
But few other Albertans are likely to be pleased to see grade school curricula that makes our province out to be the sort of cultural backwater that reminds startled readers of Arkansas — a comparison almost certainly unfair to the Natural State.
Those displeased won’t just be parents who would like to see their children educated for the present century, patriotic Canadians shocked that all references to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms have been deleted in favour of potted U.S. history, and secular citizens unenthusiastic about patronizing Christian triumphalism that would seem out of place even in contemporary Catholic schools.
“The religious affiliation of most Albertans is Christian,” the document piously intones. And while “there is growing ethnic and religious diversity in the population” and “freedom of religious practice is encouraged … acceptance comes less easily — in part, because newcomers bring new and unfamiliar religious faiths and practices.” (Emphasis added.)
Any Albertan who doesn’t want to be mocked as one of the embarrassing cousins of Confederation outside the province is going to be humiliated every time this nonsense comes up.
The draft is so far over the top in places and so obviously at variance with prevailing thinking among professional educators that one has to wonder if it’s evidence of someone’s pathological urge to get away with something monumentally outrageous just so they could say they did.
Notwithstanding LaGrange’s claim in the government’s press release the document is “the result of more than a year of consultations with parents, teachers, and subject matter experts,” no curriculum experts appear to have been consulted.
Those subject matter experts will be the group of eight men added at the 11th hour by the UCP to help change the revisions to the province’s curriculum that were almost complete when the Kenney government was elected. Kenney had accused the NDP of imposing its ideology on the curriculum, a baseless claim that ignored the curriculum review’s Progressive Conservative roots, and vowed to put it “through the shredder.”
The draft even has a megalomaniacal insider joke, in a passing mention of jazz, when the Canadian musician emphasized was the mostly forgotten Mart Kenney (and his Western Gentlemen), our own premier’s grandfather. Sadly, I didn’t make that up.
Well, maybe the curriculum’s heavy emphasis on 18th- and 19th-century American history is intended to prepare the citizens of the Republic of Alberta, the dream of some UCP MLAs, for their transition to U.S. citizenship in the aftermath of the great post-independence petro-bankruptcy.
Who can tell? Certainly some of Champion’s best-known hobbyhorses appear to have influenced the draft: his dismissal of First Nations history as “an ongoing fad” and “agitprop,” for example, his determination not to allow children to be turned into “little SJWs,” and his preference for colonial flags and symbols over those of modern Canada.
Having attacked the NDP for the review, Kenney may have felt he had to come up with something demonstrably different. This, at least, should meet that criterion!
Since the simple explanation is usually the right one, the draft’s emphasis on U.S. over Canadian history mostly likely suggests lazy reliance on American textbooks as the government rushed to complete its rewrite of the previous more thoughtful draft.
There remains a lot of material to go through.
As Edmonton Public Schools Trustee Bridget Stirling observed, “I need to sit down with the full draft, but it looks to me like the K-6 curriculum is more out of date than if we’d just re-implemented the one I learned under in the 1980s. Our province is becoming a backwards laughingstock.”
Some of Grande Prairie’s Catholic teachers were not so diplomatic, calling the social studies curriculum “jaw-droppingly, wildly misguided” on Facebook, not to mention “batshit crazy.”
And we haven’t even discussed the science curriculum, which advises telling Grade 3 students that “the Earth is warming up due to a range of causes.”
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: Screenshot of Alberta Government video