Teachers or parents have probably heard about the controversy surrounding the UCP’s draft of the kindergarten to Grade 6 curricula. It’s no surprise the draft was written. One of Premier Jason Kenney’s election promises was to re-write Alberta’s school curricula. What is a surprise is what the UCP are suggesting students should be learning.
Previous Conservative governments developed the current curricula, and it was in the process of a six year redraft when the UCP won the election in 2019. The NDP’s redraft included hundreds of teacher, parent, and education professional hours. It incorporated how children learn, process information, and understand their environment and the world.
The UCP draft, released this April after one-and-a-half years of preparation, is a hastily prepared document that aims to fill students’ heads with as much information as possible. In Grade 2 social studies, children are expected to be able to map out Ancient Greece and compare its political structure to that of Rome. That same year, they would learn about Charlemagne, the Anglos, Saxons, Jutes, Joan of Arc, and then explain how England’s medieval laws were changed by the preceding 700 year’s events. To top it off, these students will then compare the Black Death and COVID-19.
Faced with this type of detail, the Internet went wild. Someone said that dinosaurs had been removed from the curriculum. I thought that was an April Fool’s joke. Alberta is a hotbed of paleontology. How can Alberta’s children not be taught about our world-famous science? Well, that’s because dinosaurs aren’t mentioned in the proposed curriculum. Additionally, the single science reference to evolution in Grade 5 gives an incorrect definition.
Alberta’s Indigenous culture is neglected. Despite our ubiquitous Treaty 6 acknowledgments, Cree people and culture are mentioned only five times, and all but one of those is in an historical context. Dene are mentioned four times, Chipewyan, Sarcee, and Saultaux not at all, Blackfoot four times, and Stoney once. In contrast, Greek culture is mentioned 24 times.
My children learned about Mi’kmaq and Anishinaabe cultures and the Haudenosaunee confederacy. The latter is still included, but only in relation to the American system of government. Students must be able to answer the question: “Did the Great Law Of Peace shape American democracy?” I’m not sure if Chief Wilton Littlechild, who endorsed the curricula, actually read it or was given a few pages to base his endorsement on. As MLA Janis Irwin says, “The UCP’s curriculum fails to support the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and has rightly been rejected by the Metis Nation of Alberta and the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations.” In addition, the curriculum is full of religious references, yet Indigenous spiritual traditions are ignored completely.
The UCP also obtained Sheldon Kennedy’s endorsement, a former hockey player who was abused by his coach. While he appeared to support the curriculum, he later clarified he only supported the concept of including consent. While the term consent is used, more detail must be included. According to the curricula, “consent is established by clearly communicating refusal and permission.” There must be more information about children who are not in a position to give consent as well as information about sexual abuse and sexual assault. A clearer link needs to be made between consent and sexual activity. Specifically, while the draft does say, “sexual activity without consent is sexual assault and is never okay,” it should also say, “you have the right to consent to sex.” Nowhere are children taught about enthusiastic consent (i.e. both parties must willingly and happily consent to an activity in order for it to happen.)
Abstinence is mentioned once, pregnancy eight times (and only in the physical education and wellness curriculum, never in science), while birth control is mentioned twice. The Grade 6 physical education and wellness curriculum reads a bit like a manual for Gilead, with its focus on understanding a healthy diet for pregnancy. LGBTQ2S+ issues are completely erased, as if not teaching children about the diversity of gender and sex experience might somehow make them disappear.
In the music curriculum, it appears that the authors are giving a nod to Jason Kenney with the inclusion of his grandfather, Mart Kenney’s When I Get Back to Calgary. This song is the one of two examples for big band music. There are no mentions of Alberta’s own Black jazz musicians, Judi Singh or Big Miller.
Also disturbing are allegations of plagiarism for some of the draft curricula. Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton, a professor specializing in plagiarism and academic misconduct, analyzed several excerpts from the curriculum and alleges, “I have identified several different sources in my brief analysis. This indicates that content has been lifted or borrowed from multiple original sources, not just one or two.”
In the UCP draft, the curricula contains such nuggets as KKK in the American context while the Canadian involvement is limited to those “who felt distracted by social changes and the advances of groups they believed were inferior.” This portion has no local history, such as how Edmonton’s KKK membership was 5,000-7,000 and they supported the election of Mayor Don Knott, and had a cross burning on his lawn in celebration when he won. They later had another cross burning party at the Edmonton Exhibition Grounds with his permission. The KKK was not just an American story.
As Irwin points out, “Its complete lack of developmental appropriateness, [is an] erasure of LGBTQ2S+ perspectives, other newcomers, and removes critical Indigenous content.”