Editorial: Social studies gripes dripping in irony

June 13, 2017
Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

The next big curriculum crisis is emerging in Alberta. And as a former mathematics teacher, I am pleased that for once it is not an ­attack on my beloved subject.

Ahem, social studies folks … incoming!

The direction the rifle is pointed has shifted, but the people at the trigger have not changed much.

Take, for example, a recent piece by Edmonton Journal columnist and self-appointed back-to-basics math warrior David Staples.

In a column titled, “New Social Studies curriculum pushes social change, not history,” Staples charges that the draft scope and sequence document used the word “history” only once, yet used the word “change” 24 times. He used this “research” to argue that the new social curriculum would lack a “sequential, systematic, thorough and ongoing study of ­human history as a whole.” In the analysis, Staples ignored acknowledging the 46 mentions of words like historic and historical.

I was left wondering: what is history if not the study of social change?

In his column, he uses one of the draft Grade 4 guiding questions as an example for his argument that the curriculum will be lacking in history. Yet, to me, and I would think most sensible readers, the question “In what ways have individuals and groups in what is now Canada taken action to effect change?” is clearly an effort to explore historically significant moments such as the Riel rebellion or the women’s suffrage movement.

The references to history are clearly included, so I’m at a loss as to why Staples would miss it or ignore it. Unless, of course, he’s being intentionally ironic by flagging stuff that clearly suggests history in his argument to say that history is missing.

Then I came across a series of tweets in which Staples charged that the process is closed and secretive. You see, Staples wants a list of the people participating on the working group. He wants to smoke out the inquiry-based learning supporters or anyone who might have an affinity for teaching things like social justice (how awful?!?).

I was puzzled. Why would you need to critique the writers when the product of the writing is splayed out for public review? But, moreover, why would you charge that a process is closed and secretive at the exact same time as the products of the process are clearly being opened up for public critique?

Surely Staples, as an accomplished and experienced journalist, is not misrepresenting the reality of the situation in order to grandstand on this issue.

Or is this just another example of using irony to point out the folly of some other critics? Hmm …

That’s when I came across this statement in a Staples tweet: “Helluva debate raging on curriculum. Too bad it’s drenched in politics.”

Staples’s column — published just days earlier — swallowed hard on the narrative being advanced by PC leader Jason Kenney and the Wildrose: that this NDP curriculum review is about social engineering the next generation of Alberta kids to be good NDP loving socialists. Staples quotes a Parents for Choice in Education board member who charges that the curriculum is not about teaching knowledge, “it’s teaching the opinion of the extreme left, an opinion of ­radical socialism.” Staples agrees and says that the right kinds of change will be cherry picked for the new curriculum and that the study of oppression by socialist regimes would be ignored.

Yes, David, too bad it’s drenched in politics.

And then it became clear.

Because Staples is such a brilliant writer, he is fully capable of using irony subtly but with profound effect, so I realized that he is actually making fun of those who are attempting to politicize the curriculum review by pointing at references to social change as evidence of a lack of history. And it occurred to me that he is mocking people who would suggest that the process is closed when tens of thousands of Albertans are currently participating in feedback mechanisms.

I know that he is trapping gullible readers when he writes a column politicizing the entire process, and then follows up with a tweet that says it is too bad the curriculum debate is so drenched in politics.

Bravo, Mr. Staples! Your use of irony is a fine representation of your masterful work as a professional writer. ❚

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