The UCP’s curriculum recommendations for K-4 social studies and fine arts in Alberta have recently been leaked to the public. Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange says the aim of this new curriculum is to “remove political bias” from schools and offer students an “objective” understanding of Canadian history. LaGrange is right about one thing—students do face bias in the classroom. The education system consistently upholds the ruling class, their ideas, and the system of capitalism. But the UCP has no interest in eliminating this bias; they only want to double down on it and present it as objective.
The most disturbing recommendation suggests removing all references to residential schools until Grade 9 or high school, where students would learn about them alongside other examples of “harsh schooling.” If taught in this way, the significance of residential schools as a form of cultural and literal genocide would be deeply diminished. Writers of the document claim this content is “too sad” for students to encounter, while at the same time suggesting that second graders study Roman slavery. The UCP doesn’t care about children’s emotional well-being; they are only using this as a cover to brush aside the atrocities of Canadian capitalism.
The document contains several other recommendations which gloss over issues of oppression, including removing all references to the word “equity” and teaching fourth graders that most non-white Albertans are Christians. The UCP isn’t taking an “objective” approach when they act as if racism and other forms of oppression don’t exist; they are only telling us that they stand on the side of the oppressors. If that wasn’t already clear, the document also contains numerous points on the value of entrepreneurship. Of course, the entrepreneurship of Canadian capitalists who profited off the forced labour of Indigenous people in residential schools is not mentioned. The UCP has not eliminated bias, they have simply suppressed all information not convenient for the capitalists whose pockets they are constantly lining.
Both LaGrange and Premier Jason Kenney have already demonstrated that their concern for “objectivity” is really a deep fear of any ideas which are critical towards capitalism. When pressed for an example of which biases apparently exist in the classroom, LaGrange could not produce one. The one example she has cited includes two Grade 10 test questions which ask students to identify environmentalist arguments against oil sand development. While the questions in no way ask students to agree with the arguments, LaGrange seems to think that teaching basic critical thinking skills constitutes political bias. This may explain many of the UCP’s own political positions.
Kenney, at least, is more frank about his paranoia. He accused the NDP of smuggling a socialist agenda into their suggested curriculum reforms, and falsely claimed that students were being forced to address one another as “comrades”. But like LaGrange, Kenney is disingenuous when he promises to replace the NDP’s “ideological approach” with a “balanced” one. Even the panel which wrote the curriculum is anything but balanced. It was hand-selected by the UCP and includes right-wing academic Chris Champion, who last year published an article claiming that teaching Indigenous perspectives in school is a “fad”. The UCP also excluded the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) from the process, likely anticipating that teachers would not have approved the changes. The UCP is desperate to exterminate all progressive ideas from the classroom, and yet they claim their efforts have nothing to do with ideology.
Improving education with cuts and outdated methods
Aside from promising to get politics out of the classroom, Kenney has also claimed that he wants to address students’ underperformance in numeracy and literacy. However, education experts don’t agree that his solutions will work. The curriculum takes a “core knowledge” approach, in which students must memorize long lists of names, dates, and places. Education Prof. Carla Peck says that this approach has been “widely discredited”, and Prof. Keith Barton says it would make Alberta a “laughingstock”. Teachers also oppose Kenney’s argument that students need more standardized testing. Former ATA president Greg Jefferey says standardized tests only provide a snapshot in time of student learning, and that Kenney is just diverting attention from the real problems: growing class sizes and a lack of support for students with special needs.
Addressing these problems requires money, but Kenney has already gifted that to the bosses. In 2019, corporate taxes were slashed by $4.5 billion, and public education was forced to help make up the difference. Last October, the UCP froze funding for K-12 and scrapped grants for class size reduction, staff-to-student ratio improvement, and school fees reduction. With classes already overcrowded and still growing, this is not truly a freeze but a cut—it means less funding for more students. Not content to stop there, the UCP sapped another $128 million from education in March and redirected it to COVID-19 funds. The funding taken was previously allocated to substitute teachers and educational assistants, the latter of whom are essential to special needs students. This resulted in 25,000 layoffs. There is no reason this money had to come from education while bosses enjoy tax cuts and soaring profits.
These cuts have serious repercussions for students and teachers. Edmonton Public Schools took in about 2,400 more students this fall, and has cut 178 teachers and 434 support staff so far. Educators like Heather Quinn, president of Edmonton Public Teachers, Local 37 of ATA, say this will have substantial effects on students’ education. As the capitalist crisis deepens and the UCP continues to make the working class pay for it with vicious austerity, the public education system will only become more strained. These are the genuinely objective facts Kenney and LaGrange are not wringing their hands over, because they refuse to take a dime from corporate profits.
Not the UCP’s problem—yet
But Kenney and LaGrange don’t care about the average child attending public school. In fact, LaGrange has not stepped foot in a school since the onset of the pandemic—though she assures us she would be willing to, if they invited her. Kenney, too, is a stranger to public schools. He attended a private religious boarding school run by his own father, and has long had it in the works to begin privatizing Alberta education. Private schools were not subjected to any of the cuts public schools faced, and even enjoyed increased funding.
It seems the UCP has forgotten to cleanse their budgets of bias, as well as their minds. But this is no surprise. The UCP is a group of businesspeople who deal in human lives like a broker deals in stocks. To them, public education is an inconvenient strain on the funding they’d rather use for corporate handouts. If they can’t scrap it entirely just yet, they will at least use it as a mouthpiece for their own reactionary ideology. Health-care workers have started to fight back and the Alberta Federation of Labour is organizing to “Stand up to Kenney.” The ATA and the labour movement as a whole must join the fight to take Kenney down and put a decisive stop to austerity and these attacks on public education.