It won’t come as a shock to anyone in Alberta that the Kenney government’s draft Kindergarten-to-Grade-6 curriculum is a dangerous and ideologically motivated dud, or that most professional teachers despise it.
Still, kudos to the Alberta Teachers Association for actually going to the trouble of commissioning an exhaustive professional review of the thing, conducting an online survey, soliciting written submissions from more than 6,500 teachers and inviting them to take part in focus groups.
If there was anything surprising in the ATA’s publication of the review’s findings yesterday, it was that only 91 per cent of the teachers and school administrators surveyed were unhappy with the curriculum, while three out of four were “very unhappy.”
The ATA’s news release yesterday summarized the conclusion of the teachers surveyed as, “the draft curriculum doesn’t even meet the government’s own standards.”
Of course, that’s not really a surprise either — because the government’s established standards for school curricula were set by professionals too, back in the day when politicians in Alberta paid some attention to people who knew what they’re talking about.
Under Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government, as the deadly fiasco of Alberta’s response to COVID-19 dramatically illustrates, we are governed by a group of know-nothings who pay no heed to experts, and in fact are actively hostile to knowledge and expertise.
With the UCP, it’s all about ideology and culture wars. And when knowledge and ideology are in conflict, knowledge goes out the window.
When that happens, there’s inevitably trouble ahead — whether it’s a deadly surge of the Delta variant or elimination of some of the most successful school curricula in the world to make way for a mess of right-wing and colonialist nostrums.
As ATA President Jason Schilling said in the association’s news release yesterday, “if this curriculum moves ahead, Alberta’s kids will get left behind and be set up for failure in the 21st century.”
“This curriculum is based on ideological, antiquated ideas of what children should learn, by those who seem to have no experience with teaching in Albertan, or even Canadian, classrooms,” he added, rather diplomatically considering the circumstances.
When Premier Kenney took over leadership of the province’s conservative movement, he pushed out progressive Conservatives, old-style “Red Tories” who had some respect for quality education, and made common cause with a coalition of home schoolers, private school operators, and zealots determined to use religious education to turn the clock back to the 1950s — or maybe to the 19th Century.
This was not so different from the way the premier built alliances with anti-vaxxers, science deniers, and conspiracy theorists — with deadly results in public health care when we were unexpectedly confronted by an aggressive new virus.
Premier Kenney, himself the product of a private school religious education, is also a crank with strong ideas — antiquated, ideological and mostly wrong — about pedagogy.
He quickly surrounded himself with a group of hand-picked ideologues who share his eccentric views on education and set out to “reform” the curriculum.
This is why, of course, professional teachers were largely left out of the curriculum drafting process. Only three of 19 advisors involved in the rewrite had an education degree, ATA Professional Development Coordinator Mark Swanson told the CBC. Teachers invited to review the draft were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
By definition, the UCP and Kenney don’t want to hear what professionals have to say.
But it’s said here that of all the UCP’s benighted policy ideas, this new curriculum is the one Premier Kenney has chosen as his hill to die on.
It would hardly come as a surprise, therefore, to learn the premier dabbled in writing parts of this curriculum himself. He is, in effect, Alberta’s de facto education minister. This also explains why the official education minister, Adriana LaGrange, seems so irrelevant to the entire debate about the K-6 curriculum.
Among the flaws in the K-6 curriculum identified by the ATA are inauthentic and insulting Indigenous content that looks as if it were tossed in at the last minute, inadequate material reflecting Alberta’s rich francophone history, lack of respect for diversity, absence of support for a pluralistic society, failure to address racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry — “and language that, in fact, promotes such bigotry” — and an approach to religion that infringes on the religious rights of many parents.
Taken together, this adds up to “narrowly defined content that does not reflect the development of knowledge, understanding and skills for the 21st Century,” according to the ATA.
The authors of the ATA review were too polite to mention the draft’s megalomaniacal insider joke, contained in a passing reference to jazz, about the mostly forgotten Mart Kenney (and his Western Gentlemen), our own premier’s grandfather.
None of this should surprise us either, given the colonialist, Eurocentric and culturally chauvinistic worldview of Kenney and his claque.
Other flaws identified by the study appear to be the product of simple incompetence rather than the premier’s anachronistic worldview.
These included muddled and illogical sequencing not done with teaching in mind, and “developmentally inappropriate learning outcomes that lack high academic standards and do not adequately describe what students must know and be able to do.”
In addition, of course, there are the now-well-known examples of plagiarism in the curriculum, both from the Wikipedia and a U.S. provider of curricula for home-schoolers, private religious schools and charter schools.
The ATA survey also indicates that 90 per cent of elementary school teachers feel uncomfortable about teaching the new K-6 curriculum, and 95 per cent of school principals are uncomfortable about supporting it in their school and community.
Schilling urges the government to shelve the draft curriculum and start over again, this time consulting teachers.
That’s unlikely to happen as long as Jason Kenney is premier.
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: David J. Climenhaga