By Jeremy Appel
(AJNews) – A series of proposals for Alberta’s K-4 social studies curriculum leaked last month to the CBC have been roundly criticized by experts for downplaying the horrors of residential schools while emphasizing tenets of Christianity, in addition to relying on outdated educational philosophies.
Keith Barton, an education professor at Indiana University, said adopting the new proposals would make Alberta a “laughingstock”, while University of Alberta education professor Carla Peck said “it would be embarrassing.”
During last year’s election, the UCP vowed to order a re-do of the updated K-12 curriculum that was in the process of being piloted, which they claimed was riddled with political bias.
The proposals suggest deferring teaching students about residential schools until the kids are “more mature and are less emotionally vulnerable to traumatic material.” However, the document proposes teaching residential schools as one example of “harsh schooling” in Grade 9.
In Grade 1, kids will learn about the “three great religions that worship one G-d” — Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
“All three are built on the idea that G-d revealed himself to humans (‘revelation’) who have the capacity to discover the truth about Him,” the draft reads.
The draft was written by a 17-member panel appointed by the government and includes controversial history writer, and former staffer to Premier Jason Kenney when he was a minister in Ottawa, Chris Champion. Champion once called the push to incorporate more Indigenous perspectives in curriculum an “ongoing fad”.
In the Grade 3 section, the draft says it has removed references to ‘equity’, because it’s “probably a politically partisan and charged buzzword.”
University of Alberta education professor Dwayne Donald, who’s from the Papachase Cree Nation, says it’s troubling that “these kinds of experts” were consulted on the curriculum, the contents of which he described as “racist.”
Donald was also harsh in his criticism of what he says is the draft’s antiquated approach to learning, with its emphasis on memorization, which he said should be of concern to anyone with children in the public education system.
“Really, what it does, is it takes the complexity of human experience and everything we’ve learned about teaching and learning, and flattens it,” he told the Red Deer Advocate.
“Children are framed as these empty vessels that need to be filled up with facts and dates. There’s no allowance for understanding children as being pretty intelligent and able to express themselves in multiple ways. None of that is there.”
As early as Grade 1, students would learn about Creation, reading biblical verses as poetry, while teaching Grade 4 students that most non-white Albertans, which it identifies as those from China, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, are Christian.
In a section on teaching Grade 3 students about the Judeo-Christian, First Nations, Métis and Inuit traditions, it says FNMI cultures “are often themselves influenced by Christian social teaching.”
For Grade 4, the draft proposes teaching “how Christian marriage differed from Roman marriage; e.g. women kept their maiden name in the Middle Ages (sic).”
A section on teaching Grade 1 kids about land has a segment that is crossed out on using oral history, stories and agriculture, in addition to teaching about sustainability and different ways of using land. Whoever crossed it out writes that it “sounds like mysticism.”
“One could equally say ‘water sustains everything’, or ‘the fire of the Sun’, or ‘Oxygen’, or ‘the Holy Ghost’,” they wrote. “All would be true in their way.”
Although the Indigenous community criticized the leaked proposals, there were no public comments expressing concern from any members of the non-Christian community in Alberta.
“I’m surprised that there has not been an outcry from the Alberta Jewish community regarding the proposed infusion of religious teachings into the Alberta curriculum,” says AJNews publisher Deborah Shatz.
“It seems sadly ironic that while the curricular proposals are minimizing the education of Alberta’s students about the horrors of Indian Residential Schools, they are at the same introducing more religious dogma.”
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said the draft merely contains recommendations, not all of which will be ultimately adopted, emphasizing that teaching about residential schools is “non-negotiable.”
“Advice is advice — it’s not final,” said LaGrange, who also acknowledged some of the proposals “aren’t even realistic.”
Leader of Opposition Rachel Notley called on the government to disband the panel that wrote the draft.
“Whether it’s blending church and state or forcing children into rigid, outdated memorizing rituals, this government has selected advisers who want to take our education system backwards,” said Notley.
Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Alberta Jewish News.