By Letter to the Editor on April 7, 2021.
As both a father of two young children and an educator of 17 years in this province, I am writing to express my profound disappointment with the draft K-6 curriculum released this week.
Although I, like so many others, have grave concerns with the Social Studies content in terms of its Eurocentric, colonialist slant, I am certain you have already received countless letters outlining the numerous problems with that curriculum in particular.
In fact, my fear is that so much focus is being given to the inadequacies of the Social curriculum that both you and the public in general may be tempted to look past the multitude of other problematic areas in this document.
As such, I am writing this for both you and everyone else to whom I am forwarding this letter, hoping to highlight some of the other shortfalls I have noticed in this draft.
Premier, one of your election promises was to develop a non-partisan curriculum, free of ideology.
It was already starting to become clear this would be a broken promise back in August, when Minister LaGrange held her disastrous news conference accompanied by a bumbling Angus McBeath, whom she had selected as chair of the Curriculum Advisory Panel.
His clear ineptitude was an embarrassment, but also a red flag, and it had me questioning why someone with such archaic views would be leading the charge in developing what should have been a progressive, modern, forward-thinking curriculum. It didn’t take much research to figure out that his appointment was far from non-partisan. McBeath was a financial supporter of your party’s campaign. Shocker.
My concerns continued to grow when Chris Champion, who is known to have published racist viewpoints and has described the importance of Indigenous voices in curriculum as a fad, was hired as an advisor for the development of the Social Studies curriculum.
At that time, I wrote to Minister LaGrange, expressing my concerns, and calling for his removal.
She replied to me on Orange Shirt Day of all things, outlining what she believed to be his qualifications. I replied, further explaining my disappointment with this decision, but it fell on deaf ears.
In December, your government released a “guiding framework” for the development of curriculum in Alberta.
This document was my first opportunity to see for myself a written work outlining the direction your government would be taking our new curriculum.
Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I absolutely agree there is essential knowledge that our students must learn, but for you and your party, this is clearly a monomaniacal obsession.
In a 39-page document (including title page, table of contents, and reference pages) the word “knowledge” is used a staggering 115 times!
The notion that our students must learn a prescribed list of the “great” or “greatest” works of art or literature is repeated at least 13 times.
The list of authors outlined in this document reads like a course syllabus for a post-secondary student pursuing a Master’s degree in classical works.
It is simply not appropriate for a K-12 curriculum.
Premier, don’t get me wrong. I’m an English major, and I certainly have an appreciation for Shakespeare, and can even see the value of studying a few other classics in high school.
But as a teacher who seeks to inspire middle school students to love reading, there is something to be said for modern, current literature, not to mention a bit of teacher freedom in choosing texts.
Furthermore, in Education, we often refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy, a pyramid of learning levels that reminds us to strive to have our students move beyond the mere acquisition of knowledge.
In fact, knowledge is the lowest level of learning. It moves up the pyramid as follows: Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analysing, Evaluating, Creating. In your framework, I see some of these words mentioned, but the difference in emphasis is disheartening.
You clearly value lower-level thinking and learning. In other words, rote memorization of facts. “Essential knowledge” as the Framework calls it.
Over and over. And over. And over. And over. 115 times.
Perhaps if we can churn out good, well-behaved, narrow-minded “used cars salesmen,” as Angus McBeath aspires for our province, rather than critically-thinking citizens well-prepared for 21st Century society, we’ll have less problems with pesky protestors when we want to do things like blow the tops off mountains.
Premier, when reading the front matter of the framework, it sounds all well and fine, yet there was wording that somehow sounded familiar – or maybe a little bizarre – to me.
I tell my students not to plagiarize, as they are one Google search away from being caught.
This was so beautifully demonstrated this week when your party was caught copying and pasting from Wikipedia in developing our new curriculum.
Back in December, I used this same technique to check where you were getting some of the wording for the Framework.
“[Alberta students] will gain the essential knowledge and skills to shape their future with wisdom, prudence, and hope.”
This notion is repeated again in the Vision Statement presented in the Framework: “They will become life-long learners, who will cultivate the virtues of wisdom, courage, self-control, justice, charity, and hope.”
Now, I agree these sound like worthy virtues, but I wonderedâ€¦. why those descriptors?
Google helped me figure it out!
It’s essentially the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Again, another broken promise. You can hardly claim this curriculum is free from ideology when the guiding principles are taken directly from the church in which you and Minister LaGrange worship.
Later, the document states, “Students will learn rigorous and up-to-date science while also respecting freedom of religion so as not to undermine faith and cultural traditions that are important to parents and consistent with virtue and knowledge.”
I’m curious why such a statement would need to be included, and it should certainly raise further concerns for Albertans.
Premier, I want to point out one final section of the Framework with which I take issue.
It reads, “The Guiding Framework avoids currently fashionable jargon and abstract language.
It recommends that the curriculum be written without needless technical language so that the findings of the research can be more easily accessed and used by teachers and parents alike.”
This statement is absolutely insulting to teachers as professionals – insinuating that our profession is inferior to others, that somehow terminology in our profession is needless and used simply to confuse parents. I am livid by the inclusion of such nonsense in the Guiding Framework.
Premier, the Framework document released in December had me fearing the worst, and let me assure you, your party’s draft curriculum did not disappoint.
As I already mentioned, the problems go well beyond just the Social Studies section of the document.
Your party’s obsession with Eurocentric and American history is pervasive throughout pretty much every section of this curriculum, and it is devastating.
I have spent almost my entire career focussed on middle school education, and I have studied extensively how best to inspire students in this age group to develop a passion for learning.
This curriculum will achieve the exact opposite.
I am so proud of the work my colleagues and I have done to create a school where students are eager and excited to attend each day, knowing that they will be energized and inspired as they develop as learners and discover their interests. T
his curriculum has the potential to destroy everything we have achieved as a school community.
Instead of students in a dance option class exploring movement and developing self confidence as they learn a variety of modern, exciting dance numbers, your curriculum will have our talented dance teacher crushing their spirits as she is forced to drone on about the dance forms of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and Colonial America.
Meanwhile, in drama class, rather than developing creativity with improv games, our Grade 6 students can look forward to lessons on the Greek and Roman playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Euripides, as well as the theatre of the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, and 20th Century America.
In the news this week, I’ve seen lots of stories about your grandfather’s song being included in the curriculum.
I would suggest the problem is much bigger. Rather than trusting music specialist teachers to inspire their students to love learning an instrument, your curriculum takes music education back decades, or even centuries.
Why must 11-year-olds learn big band music at all, not to mention all the other antiquated music outlined in this curriculum? Again, is the goal to make children hate music education?
And of course, this infatuation with all-things ancient carries over to the Language Arts curriculum as well.
Somehow you expect me to inspire my students to love reading while teaching them Greek epic poems, classical dramas from the same era, as well as speeches by Aristotle and Cicero.
Premier, this abhorrent curriculum is just the latest in a series of unforgivable blunders by your dishonest Party.
And so I shall close by sharing with you that although I have donated to many different charitable organizations throughout my life, I have never made a financial contribution to a political party…..until this week.
Because I refuse to sit back idly while you and your party destroy my province. And if the unthinkable happens and somehow in two years time you manage to get re-elected and this curriculum carries forward, I will plead with my wife that we do something that will break my heart.
I will ask her to join with me to pack up our family and home, say goodbye to our friends, and take our talents and training elsewhere.
Because I refuse to allow my own precious children to be subjected to this rubbish.
With sincere disrespect and absolute disgust,