Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Send in the Clowns

Mr. Jean blames the NDP for something that hasn't happened
Not going to lie. Clowns aren't all that funny. At best they try to frighten you with loud noises or mock others for their stupidity. At worse, they are creepy and dangerous. Who likes clowns? 

Certainly not the superintendent of Fort McMurray schools who banned clown costumes from all schools this Hallowe'en.

Perhaps superintendent Doug Nicholls was thinking about the clowns Edmonton Journal cartoonist Malcolm Mayes portrayed in his recent cartoon. The clowns who are bringing "Modern Learning Ideology" (whatever that is) into our schools.

Could it be the "ideology" Mayes was mocking was inspired by Unite-the-Right hopeful Jason Kenney? Kenney, the man who spoke about "social engineering" which he claims the Alberta NDP government will implement because of their "ideology," oddly ignoring the fact that every political party has an ideology, including his own? His party that once suggested all educated Albertans should have an "entrepreneurial spirit"? 

Jumping into the fray of the misinformed, Wildrose opposition leader Brian Jean cleverly mixed his metaphors when he sent out a tweet suggesting Alberta's NDP government is irresponsibly experimenting with the children of this province, despite the fact no changes to curriculum or pedagogy have been implemented since the government took power in May of 2015.

Mr. Kenney seemed to enjoy the clown cartoon as well, tweeting the following:

"We need curriculum reform that focuses on numeracy, literacy, knowledge and skills; not on the NDP's ideological agenda & pedagogical fads."

All of this kerfuffle is based on the far right's made-up ideas about the future of our schools. IF any of these gentlemen had taken just a very few moments to review what is happening with curriculum redesign, they would know that foundational knowledge, numeracy, literacy, skills and competencies will still be taught in the future. They would also know that pedagogy will still be determined by teachers using their professional expertise.

Yes, there will be change. There must be change. Society has changed since Mr. Kenney and Mr. Jean attended school. Our demographics have changed. Jobs have changed. The way we communicate has changed. And some of the things we learned were just plain wrong. So the current government is working on curriculum change- change that has been long in the making. Some courses in Alberta's Programme of Study date back to the mid 1980s. Even the newer ones are close to ten years old.

While the PC government (the party Mr. Kenney wants to lead) was in power, there was a great deal of work done on redesigning the curriculum. Inspiring Education proposed an extensive transformation of the education system. Curriculum prototyping was designed to modernize the curriculum and streamline how we design it, based on a common language and framework and sound instructional design principles.
From "Inspiring Education" 2010
Under the current government, this work continues.  Far from being based on any experimental model or political ideology, the process uses extensive research from around the world to consider what foundational knowledge students should master, what skills they should possess and what competencies they should obtain in order to thrive today and in the future.  Hundreds of experts including university professors, teachers, and others are part of this process. A province wide survey is under way.  No politicians. No "ideological" goals. Just a plan to equip our students with the skills to thrive in an ever-changing world.

Maybe Jean, Kenney and co. are opposed to the development of students' critical thinking skills, essential in our increasingly complicated world. Skills that would help students analyze the messages they are bombarded with every day. Or maybe they believe there is no new knowledge in a world where, according to some researchers, human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. Maybe they thinking learning is sitting in a desk, reading a textbook and writing a test.

In the field of social studies, my colleagues and I describe the nature of our subject as "learning how to live well together". But perhaps Jean and Kenney have other ideas. Perhaps their version of the future does not include everyone. Maybe they all share the vision of old-stock former Social Studies teacher Wildrose MLA Mark Smith who recently boasted about how he and his neighbours successfully prevented a group home from being established on their street. 

The world today's children live in is complex. It is diverse. It is competitive.The jobs children will hold may not exist right now, whereas many of the jobs that exist now are disappearing. The future will require citizens who are flexible and hopeful and knowledgeable and empathetic. We live in a world where simple memorization of facts and figures is not enough- people will need to know how to learn, how to separate truth from fiction, and how to collaborate and communicate with others of different ethnicities, religions, orientations, political leanings and capabilities. A world where sexism and xenophobia and isolationism must not be encouraged

We cannot prepare our children for tomorrow by giving them yesterday's tools. 

The clowns who frighten us and mock us are not the forward-thinking educators of Alberta, who are helping students to thrive in an uncertain world. They are the politicians who deny change is needed.