Editorial: Curriculum: the political whipping boy

September 12, 2017
Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief


The Alberta government’s plans to overhaul much of our K–12 curriculum has become fodder for a fair amount of public and political discourse. Thus, I feel it is important to use this space to weigh in. But I’m also reluctant.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association is, by policy, non-partisan. This means that the organization does not endorse or denounce specific candidates or parties. However, we are not apolitical. We do take stands on education matters, but we try to do so in a way that focuses on the issues and not the people.

Given this fine line, I am having difficulty figuring out how to cover this topic without appearing to attack one candidate in particular. However, I will try.

United Conservative Party leadership hopeful Jason Kenney has regularly attempted to make political hay out of the curriculum review. I would like to discuss the merits of his arguments, but I can’t ignore how he is clearly misrepresenting the fine work of teachers in order to score points. While there is plenty of room for legitimate policy debate over what should be included or left out of curriculum, I am bothered when the political gamesmanship so blatantly blurs reality.

Take, for example, a video he recently posted to Facebook. Kenney, who often characterizes this process as social engineering, refers to the curriculum rewrite as the “biggest scandal of the NDP government since they came into office.”

He describes the process as being done “in secret” and then immediately refers to a document from the rewrite that he “managed to get a hold of.” The choice of language is intentional. Suggesting that they broke the secret by obtaining this document.

Ironically, the document in question — the draft scope and sequence for the social studies K–12 program — was specifically published by government in order to get feedback from Albertans. It is from the second such public consultation on the curriculum, and tens of thousands of Albertans have responded. Some secret.

Kenney then knowingly misrepresents the content of the draft.

“Thirteen pages of content, not one single reference to or allusion to Canadian military history or any of the other subjects that I discussed,” says Kenney in his video.

Stop. Let’s look at just a bit of the language in the draft.

“To what extent do contending ideologies influence relationships within and among nations and countries?”

“To what extent have different ideologies influenced systemic forms of discrimination and oppression?”

“To what extent can the imposition of one ideology over another lead to intended and unintended consequences?”

“To what extent have historical forces shaped worldviews?”

“To what extent have the legacies of historical interactions among nations and countries shaped worldviews today?”

I am not a social studies teacher, but it seems to me these questions clearly allude to the teaching of history — in particular, important parts of military history when Canada has fought for freedom and against oppression around the globe.

Again, let’s discuss what should be included in curriculum, which certainly needs updating, but let’s have a constructive, informed and intelligent public discourse. It is not to the benefit of Alberta students to mislead the public just to rile up and motivate one’s political base. In fact, it is quite harmful.

Interestingly, every single page of this document also states, “We are in the early stages of framing what students will learn (scope) and when they will learn it (sequence). Learning outcomes will be developed once this draft is validated.”

The attack makes it seem like Kenney is more interested in embarrassing the current government than actually improving Alberta’s curriculum.

The premier seems more than happy to battle with Kenney on the topic of education.

“It’s ironic we’re engaging in fear-mongering about history and education on the basis of a complete absence of facts,” Rachel Notley jabbed at a press conference in front of a group of assembled Grade 6 students.

No party is completely innocent. The back and forth will continue.

The fact is, curriculum has been written and rewritten for years without significant political interference, and it should continue that way.

The current state of affairs prompted the Calgary Herald to chastise the politicization in its Aug. 24 editorial.

“It’s bad enough that roads, bridges, schools and hospitals are built in Alberta with the heavy hand of political interference. But when politicians start talking about manipulating school curriculum to suit whatever purposes they have in mind, then we have to draw a line on the blackboard,” the editorial states.

“Let’s let the professionals do their jobs, and stop using the educational system as a political whipping boy.”

I couldn’t agree more. ❚

I welcome your comments—contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.