Shred it: ATA calls on minister to reject curriculum advice 

Leaked proposals suggest removing study of residential schools in early grades

October 27, 2020 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

On Oct. 21, CBC News reported on leaked documents that outline recommendations on the draft K–4 social studies and arts education curriculum. Among other recommendations, the documents call for eliminating all references to residential schools and equity, and advocate for more memorization of facts related to ancient history.

ATA president Jason Schilling said teachers have lost trust in the current government’s curriculum redesign efforts.

“It is much more clear now why the government ended the agreement with the ATA last summer to work together on curriculum: teachers would not support this direction for curriculum,” he said. “Minister, put these recommendations through the shredder.”

The prior drafts of curriculum, developed by hundreds of teachers with input from thousands of Albertans, focused on understanding multiple perspectives and included age-appropriate understandings of the history of colonization in Canada, including residential schools.

In 2016, the Government of Alberta, along with the Alberta Teachers’ Association and other educational stakeholder organizations, signed the Joint Commitment to Action in response to this call to action. It reads, in part, “Through our collaborative efforts, and commitment to work with First Nations, Métis and Inuit partners, the true and complete shared history of Canada’s First Peoples will be embedded within the educational experience of all students.” The Joint Commitment to Action responded to call to action 62 from the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

ATA executive staff officer Melissa Purcell is the Association’s expert on Indigenous education. She says the recommendations cannot be taken seriously and agrees they should be rejected.

“The Indian Residential School system was created to erase the cultures, histories, languages and perspectives of Indigenous peoples within Canada, and these recommendations perpetuate that erasure,” Purcell said. “The recommendations in these documents perpetuate systemic racism through whitewashing of the draft curriculum.”

The recommendations were made in part by UCP government appointee Chris Champion. The ATA has previously called for Champion’s dismissal from this work based on his controversial views about curriculum and residential schools.

Recommendations to be reviewed

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said the inclusion of teaching about residential schools is nonnegotiable.

“We are absolutely committed to facing reconciliation and to ensuring that the truth about residential schools, about that content, is in our K–6 curriculum,” she told reporters in the legislature on the day the leak was reported.

A statement from LaGrange’s press secretary, Colin Aitchison, says the recommendations will be reviewed by curriculum working groups.

“They are not the final curriculum,” says Aitchison’s statement. “The new curriculum will teach our students a full history of Canada, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit history, including residential schools.”

“No final decisions have been made, and a draft version will be available to the public in the new year.”

Schilling says curriculum work needs to be led by teachers and that neither Champion nor another advisor, William French, are experts in curriculum, and their backgrounds don’t make them suitable for this work.

“Teachers are experts in curriculum; they understand the readiness of young students for different pieces of content, and they understand what it means to bring curriculum to life in the classroom,” said Schilling.

Schilling has written to the minister asking for a meeting to specifically discuss the curriculum work, but that request has been rebuffed. Instead the minister says the Association will be invited to attend an upcoming meeting with “all of the education partners” to discuss curriculum progress.

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