On Mar. 29, 2021, the United Conservative Party (UCP) released their draft school curriculum for grades K-6. An early edition of the draft leaked in October 2020 and was quickly labelled a “laughingstock” by education experts. The draft was criticized for suggesting that children aged 5-11 memorize a laundry list of name, dates, monuments, and bible verses, as well as for its complete omission of content aligned with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action for education.
Despite horrendous public reception to the leaked draft, Alberta’s Minister of Education, Adriana LaGrange, continued to claim that the UCP is taking “political bias” out of the curriculum to provide students an “objective” education in civics and world history. In 2018, Kenney accused the NDP of smuggling their “socialist ideas” into the curriculum, even falsely claiming that students would be forced to call each other “comrade” under the NDP. In their frenzy to reverse what they believe are “hard-wired” collectivist ideas indoctrinating Albertan students, the UCP has not, in fact, removed political bias from the curriculum, but instead removed any semblance of a relevant education.
Quick! Think fast! What are the origins of Common Law? Or perhaps the importance of Charlemagne’s rule during the Medieval era? Or maybe you’d rather compare and contrast systems of governance in the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic, and Imperial Rome? All three learning outcomes are considered developmentally appropriate and foundational for students in Grade 1 and 2 according to the UCP!
The content proposed for students from 5-11 years old rivals a university undergraduate history syllabus, and pays no consideration to the best practices in childhood education. The UCP’s misguided and ill-informed idea of education involves students memorizing, by rote, a “cache of knowledge.” This practice has long been considered an outdated and largely ineffective means of learning for many students, especially in younger grades.
Beyond inundating children with facts and dates which surely Jason Kenney himself does not have committed to memory, these concepts disregard basic understandings of childhood development, and have little connection to students’ own lives. The curriculum is also rife with racism and xenophobia. The draft prescribes that children in Grade 6 empathize with the Klu Klux Klan by answering the question “why did [the KKK] find some support in Canada”? Then children are to learn about where KKK membership was the highest. This is quite confusing, considering that Adriana LaGrange considers teaching children about residential schools “too sad and upsetting” for kids of that age. But of course, something is only too sad and upsetting if it’s something the UCP isn’t supportive or proud of.
The curriculum has also been criticized for its religious, particularly Christian, overtones, with several references to newcomers bringing “new and unfamiliar religious faiths and practices.” This should not come as a surprise, however, considering the additional $20 million in funding going to private schools, which are mostly Christian schools, while public ones are facing cuts of $27 million. The UCP has always picked favourites when it comes to education.
The UCP promised their curriculum would place an emphasis on financial literacy, and they’ve done so by moralizing about making “hard decisions about money,” stating that money decisions reflect one’s values, and the importance of saving for a rainy day. Perhaps Jason Kenney is hoping that the grade schoolers learning about economics, investments, and financial literacy can make up for his own government’s monumental failures and incompetence in these areas.
The juicy little cherry on top of this delusional curriculum pie is the fact that the UCP couldn’t even bother to fact check the documents that will guide an entire generation of students. Contained within the Grade 3 Mathematics draft is a reference to “Canadian units” of measurement. What is a Canadian unit of measurement, you may ask? Well, according to the UCP, and literally no one else, Canadian units are another name for Imperial units such as the inch and yard, which all originate in other countries.
Immediately following the release, outrage erupted from parents, educators, and any thinking person. Several Facebook groups have emerged, with the most prominent garnering over 30 thousand members in less than a week, where calls for protest against the proposed changes are gaining momentum.
Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 Chiefs have rejected the draft, citing that it “perpetuates rather than addresses systematic racism” and say that they were not consulted during its development. Audrey Poitras, president of The Metis Nation of Alberta, says that “the secretive approach under which this process was taken undermines the collective approach valued by our communities and it is unacceptable.” Betty Letendre, listed as an advisor of Indigenous Perspectives for the draft, has openly stated that she cannot endorse the draft, saying that there was not enough time provided to address the extensive changes that need to be made.
It seems that with each passing day, more school boards publicize their decision to not pilot the unfinished and embarrassingly incomplete curriculum, likely having no faith that in five short months, the UCP will be capable of producing a draft that is not a complete disservice to the children who will be its guinea pigs. At the time of writing, no school boards have confirmed that they will be piloting the curriculum in the fall. Conseil scolaire Centre-Nord, a board which runs Francophone schools in Alberta, had agreed to pilot the program before the draft had been released, but upon seeing the documents, quickly reversed the decision.
When it was clear that nobody wanted to touch the draft with a ten-foot pole, the UCP went to work sweeping the most offensive content under the rug through countless unannotated changes. This, in hopes of placating enough of the outrage to quietly smuggle their slimy political agenda into the final draft while being able to claim that they responded to criticism. A lack of transparency is nothing new for the UCP, as evidenced by their countless scandals throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
Instead of consulting with experts in childhood education, development, or pedagogy, the government hand-selected a panel of their rich and right-wing friends who would endorse their political agenda. As it turns out, not one person on the panel are current classroom teachers in Alberta. The panel includes folks like Chris Champion, who published an article claiming that teaching Indigenous perspectives in schools is a “fad.” Champion is also the primary architect for the leaked curriculum that was immediately torn to shreds by the public and left people questioning why one of Jason Kenney’s personal friends was chosen to advise on the curriculum, as he is clearly not competent enough, and too racist, to do so. The panel also includes capitalists and bosses like Miles Smit, who provides program management and governance for the Bank of Montreal and recently co-founded the Petrarch Institute, an online tutoring and teaching service. Koch-funded Ashley Berner, who supports private education and pushes public tax funding for private schools, also appears in the mix.
Conspicuously excluded from the process of developing the UCP’s curriculum were teachers, unions, and parents. The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) have been asking for months to be involved in the process, but only received a cold shoulder. Kenney has made it clear that he does not want and does not believe he needs feedback from any of the people who aren’t in the pockets of the ruling class.
Moreover, the UCP has been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, that is, if the cookie jar was the intellectual property and copyrighted material from unattributed sources that litter the draft. In a word, the curriculum is plagiarized. While there is almost no public information regarding the final costs of this new curriculum, surely their panel of advisors were paid enough to come up with their own material. Perhaps a lesson on academic integrity is in order for the inner circle of idiots. Lucky for them, they can learn the important skill of citing “references as part of research” from the current Grade 4 and 5 social studies curriculums.
In classic UCP fashion, they are burying their heads in the sand, only popping up when the tiniest crumb of praise or endorsement is thrown their way. Perhaps the most alarming of which comes from Jordan Peterson, a professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, who praised the documents as an “important Alberta-led initiative.” Not only is Peterson a very easy punchline to endless jokes, he gained infamy through refusing to refer to his students by their correct pronouns, opposing the addition of gender and sexuality protections in Canada’s Human Rights Act, and doxxing student activists who spoke out against his right-wing rhetoric.
The UCP has opened a public review survey where Albertans can share their opinions on the curriculum, although it requires respondents to provide demographic information about their gender, age, level of education, region, and most important to the UCP, their income level. It’s admittedly much easier to pick and choose which criticism to read when the UCP can easily discard Albertans that don’t fit within their voter demographics. Listening to constituents must be the fabled “red tape” Kenney and his cronies are determined to fight against!
It is very easy to believe that the UCP is simply stupid, lazy, and refused to put the work into genuine consultation, but the motivations behind this dumpster fire of a curriculum are far more political and sinister. They’ve repeatedly claimed that they are taking the political bias out of education, but what they’ve really done is eliminate any perspective that may go against their right-wing, pro-capitalist agenda.
Kenney is a long-time supporter of private schooling. He frequently uses veiled euphemisms like “choice in education,” to advocate cuts to the public system, and is a product of private schooling himself. The UCP’s Choice in Education Act received Royal Assent on June 26, 2020, and claims to provide more choice to parents sending their children to private and charter schools, homeschool their children, and also supported the creation of new charter and vocational schools in Alberta. In reality, this amendment to the Education Act is another step in the UCP’s plan to funnel even more taxpayer money into private schools, at the expense of public education.
In the 2021 provincial budget, K-12 education funding is slated to be maintained until 2023. This clever play on words attempts to disguise the fact that “maintaining funding” is, in reality, a cut, seeing as enrollment in schools and inflation will rise during this time. The UCP plans to give $27 million less for instruction, the amount of money per student each board receives. So, while public school boards are forced to rely on vending machines and cash reserves for funding, private schools can look forward to a $20 million gift from the UCP, despite already receiving the highest level of public funding in Canada: 70 per cent per student!
There has been no additional funding earmarked for school boards to provide professional development or resource creation for educators, despite the roll-out of this new curriculum being set for fall 2022. ATA president, Jason Schilling, said that he is unable to gain clarity as to where the funding for curriculum implementation will come from, if not from school board reserves and instructional allocations. The UCP is demanding that teachers build Rome on a shoestring budget.
The curriculum relies heavily on prescribed materials, such as textbooks, literature, and music, all of which cost schools money. Among the prescribed resources, we can find Jason Kenney’s own grandfather, Mart Kenney, who the premier describes as “Canada’s most famous musician in the 30s and 40s.” Aside from this being simply incorrect, Jason Kenney is blatantly attempting to turn a profit from public education. Mart Kenney died in 2006, meaning that the Kenney estate likely holds copyright and stands to collect royalties from his music’s prescribed use in all music classrooms across the province.
What the UCP is doing is haphazardly crafting a public education system that is so insufferable, so unjust, so inadequate that parents are forced to choose between sending their children to underfunded and unsupported public schools, or paying exorbitant tuition fees at private and charter schools, which are only financially accessible to Alberta’s elite.
In the November 1993 issue of the Alberta Report, a now defunct right-wing rag, Kenney commented that “education will be the toughest area to cut, but it will also be the most important. If the government backs down on this one, then the Klein revolution will fail. The other public sector unions will become more confident and more militant.” For once, we have to agree with Kenney’s analysis, and it may be even more correct today. Klein’s “revolution” against teachers and other public sector employees led to the single largest labour disruption in Alberta’s history, when teachers across the province went on strike in February 2002. The Klein government reacted by legislating teachers back to work within the month. When no union leadership argued to disregard the draconian, undemocratic law and pushed instead to continue the strike, teachers were forced back into the classroom in defeat, and the Klein counter-revolution continued.
Today, the situation is the same, but the stakes have been raised. If teachers fight Kenney’s cuts, especially if they disregard Kenney’s anti-strike and anti-protest legislation, they can inspire the entire public sector—and the working class as a whole—to mobilize and bring down Jason Kenney. The UCP are polling at an all time low, and there has never been more hatred for this government. A movement against this curriculum, or any other cuts or attacks would have the broadest possible base of support. Now is the time to go on the offensive.