Saturday, 7 October 2017

Albertans: You are being lied to

About me: I began teaching in rural Alberta in 1980 . I taught in the NWT for a year before taking several years off to raise my children. I returned to work with Alberta Distance Learning Centre where I have worked for the past 17 years. I am currently the Social Studies Department Head.

Alberta's Social Studies curriculum is being politicized.

The UCP's Jason Kenney and Brian Jean would have Albertans believe that the current curriculum review committee is stacked with NDP activists and ideologues who are dead set on promoting "politically correct" themes in order to brainwash today's youth. They are lying.

A little history.

The current Social Studies curriculum was revised from 2000-2007 under the Progressive Conservative government with Ralph Klein as premier. At that time, I was asked to sit on the K-12 Provincial Advisory Committee for Social Studies. That committee was  primarily composed of employees of Alberta Education, including several Social Studies teachers who were seconded from their teaching positions. Also present on the committee was the President of the Alberta Home and School Association, a First Nations representative, a representative of the Métis, a Francophone representative, a representative of the College of Alberta School Superintendents, three members of the Alberta Teachers Association, two university professors, a representative of the Northwest Territories Department of Education (which at the time followed Alberta curriculum) and me, as a representative of ADLC, Alberta's largest distance education provider. 

There were no public consultations. There was little government interference. There was no expectation that committee members provide their political credentials or personal views in order to sit on the committee.  Alberta Education employees came up with an overarching structure and topics and concepts in each grade level. These were then workshopped by "curriculum circles" in which practicing teachers looked at the scope and sequence of the programme of studies and the outcomes which were broken down into "values and attitudes", "knowledge and understanding" and "skills and processes".  These teachers made suggestions which were then incorporated into the programme of studies.

During the years I sat on this committee, I only remember two incidents. One was when Peter Lougheed, long retired from politics, suggested that Canadian History be taught as a separate discipline. The committee discussed this idea but decided that the interdisciplinary approach to Social Studies education, which has been in place in Alberta for decades, was the most effective approach. The second incident involved the ATA. Some members felt a section of  Social Studies 10-1:Perspectives on Globalization needed revision which necessitated some additional curricular work. I recall no newspaper articles, no outcry from the public, nor any political posturing from the official opposition or any other political party.

Shortly after the new Social Studies curriculum came out, Alberta Education moved forward with intensive public consultations about the direction of the future of public education. "Inspiring Education" -under the leadership of Education Minister Dave Hancock- included surveys and public meetings alongside research. Innovative ideas were discussed such as competency based education, credits for real-world learning, and an end to mandated "hours of instruction"and credit based funding. I- along with hundreds of educators, parents, community members, members of the business community and the post secondary world- took part in these deep and lively conversations that looked at the challenging world in which today's young people find themselves. A world where the simple memorization of facts and formulas is not enough. Where the old "factory model" of education does not meet the needs of our students or today's society. Instead, critical thinking, learning how to learn, creativity and the ability to adapt in the ever-changing workplace are of increasing significance.  The one theme that emerged was that we need to do better in our education system to prepare kids for an uncertain and unknowable future.

Following on the heels of "Inspiring Education" came curriculum redesign and curriculum prototyping where Alberta Education employees completed significant research and built new software to develop systems whereby the entire programme of studies K-12 could be overhauled effectively.

In May of 2015, the NDP was elected in Alberta. Just four weeks later the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report and issued a call to action which was endorsed by Canada’s premiers. The Alberta government indicated that future curricula would ensure that all Albertan students would learn about the culture, history, perspectives and contributions of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

Alberta Education, largely staffed by the same employees as it was under the PC government, proceeded with the work of curriculum development, following up on the work of "Inspiring Education" and including its promise regarding the TRC. However, instead of just using a handful of employees and community representatives, their new approach was to include a great deal of input. In the fall of 2016, it launched a survey to Albertans. More than 30,000 Albertans responded, the largest survey of its kind in Alberta. School divisions were asked to nominate experienced educators to be a part of "expert working groups" in each core subject area as well as the arts.  

My principal asked if I was willing to let my name stand. I submitted a resume that included my education and experience, including the curriculum development I participated in previously and my current work regarding treaty education and Aboriginal Studies. I was invited to participate and I agreed.  At no point was my ideology discussed. I live in Slave Lake, my principal lives in Calgary and my superintendent lives in Barrhead, I don't believe either of them know what my political beliefs are, nor do they care.

In our Social Studies group of about 60 people, including teachers, professors, historians, and archivists, we began by discussing the core concepts and skills we believe a Social Studies student should acquire over the course of their K-12 education. We were not told
what should be included or what should be left out, although we were tasked with considering how literacy, numeracy, inclusive education and competencies would be reflected in our subject area. 

As our work progressed, we reviewed the results of the initial survey and incorporated the thoughts of Albertans in our work, recognizing some of the shortcomings and gaps in the current programme. We listened to presentations from numerous organizations about the kinds of things they believe Albertans should learn. In smaller groups, we then grouped and sequenced and refined these outcomes which were then provided to Albertans in the form of another survey. 

The curriculum working groups are diverse. Although at my table we have never shared our own political leanings, as evidenced by the heated dialogue, there is a great diversity of views about politics. Our discussions are deep. They are lively. They are passionate. As all conversations about things that matter should be. 

Neither Kenney or Jean attended public high school yet they are of the view that all Social Studies teachers are socialists. They are mistaken. Many Alberta teachers are conservative. My son's high school teacher was a conservative who invited Brian Jean to speak to the school. A few years ago a grade 8 teacher in our town took her grade eight class to attend a rally in support of our provincial PC candidate Pearl Calahasen. In my federal riding, the first candidate to seek the Conservative nomination was a teacher from Peace River.  I've marked diploma exams numerous times and there are many conservatives who teach Social Studies, and some of them sit on the curriculum review committee. 

The curriculum review committee is not part of a socialist agenda to support a particular ideology. Neither the government nor the New Democratic Party has interfered with the development of the curriculum in any way. If Mr. Kenney and Mr. Jean think otherwise, they are at best ignorant or at worst, lying for their own political gain.

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