The way Jason Kenney told the story, Alberta parents and teachers would like his United Conservative Party government to “go a bit slower” rolling out the new primary school curriculum it introduced in late March to widespread opposition.
To those who have been following the controversy created by the curriculum dreamed up by Alberta’s premier, his education minister, and a small group of handpicked and like-minded advisors who may or may not actually know much about curriculum design, that will seem like a considerable understatement.
What almost all teachers want is for the entire Kenney Curriculum to be put in the shredder and for the government to start anew on plans for an entire new K-12 curriculum rewrite along the lines of the revisions worked on for several years under past Progressive Conservative and NDP governments.
But soon after its election in 2019, the UCP trashed that work, cut teachers out of the process, and brought in its own inexpert experts to come up with a curriculum more palatable to conservative ideologues.
In the absence of polling, it’s harder to be certain what most parents think, but it’s difficult to believe many are comfortable with the Kenney government’s changes given the nearly universal condemnation by teachers and actual curriculum experts.
Of course, religious zealots and private school enthusiasts in the UCP base, for whom the curriculum appears to have been written, love it.
Regardless, in a rather episodic Global News interview covering a variety of topics, the premier tried hard to downplay the controversy and insist parents’ and teachers’ concerns with the new primary school curriculum have more to do with disruptions caused by COVID-19.
It’s worth looking closely at what Kenney had to say in the interview, which was conducted on Dec. 7 and appears to have been heavily edited to shorten the premier’s characteristically windy bloviations. It was released on YouTube by Global on New Year’s Day, almost as if they didn’t know what else to do with it.
Asked by Global provincial affairs reporter Tom Vernon why he’d pressed pause on the curriculum, and whether he still intended to push on with the unpopular project, Kenney made it clear he doesn’t intend to change much.
“COVID has kind of disrupted everything, including the school system,” the premier responded. “We’ve seen a lot of learning loss, a lot of disruption in the schools. And, we just heard from parents, teachers, school boards, and others that, given that, we should, um, go a little bit slower on rolling out the improved curriculum.”
And so, he went on, while the government will be proceeding with the “really good improvements” to math, reading and physical-education curricula, it will generously give teachers a break and not require them to introduce all of the new curriculum.
“Instead of having to change their lessons for every subject, all at once, after the challenge of COVID, (this will) give them a bit of a breather to focus on, I think, the most important subjects for student outcomes, reading and writing,” he insisted.
“Then we can pilot and have more time to make changes to the Social curriculum, an extra year for that to come out,” he said. “So it’s a more measured pace. I think that’s good for teachers, kids, parents and the whole system.”
I doubt very many Albertans believe this — especially about the Social Studies curriculum, which aroused the fiercest criticism — but you can hardly blame a politician for trying to spin an unpopular policy as something more palatable than voters think it is.
But don’t expect a meaningful rewrite, Kenney made it clear. “There will definitely be changes, but probably not a complete rewrite.”
“We want a content rich curriculum,” he said. “And there is a philosophical difference here. There are other people who just want to basically teach abstract concepts to kids rather than content. We actually think that children should know what our history is as Canadians. Good, bad and, and indifferent.”
“This requires teaching actual content, and that’s really what we’re trying to get at through the reformed Social Studies curriculum.”
One imagines, of course, that many teachers and curriculum specialists would object to the claim the current curriculum lacks actual content.
The bottom line, though? It is that there will be no significant changes to a curriculum that has been condemned as age-inappropriate, outdated, Eurocentric, jargon-riddled, inaccurate, and unconcerned with developing critical thinking skills or preparing students for the 21st Century — not to mention peppered with plagiarism.
This should surprise no one. Kenney has long pursued an ideological project to reform the education system so that it will produce more Conservative voters.
As he told his friend the far-right commentator Ezra Levant during a panel discussion at the federal Conservative Party’s 2016 national convention, Canadians under 30 are “the first generation to come through a schooling system where many of them have been hard-wired with collectivist ideas, with watching Michael Moore documentaries, with identity politics from their primary and secondary schools to universities.
“That’s kind of a cultural challenge for any conservative party, any party of the centre-right, and we’ve got to figure out how to break that nut,” he said in that telling interview.
And that’s why this project is particularly close to the heart of this son of a private school principal.