While proposed school curriculum changes are raising eyebrows, a provincial government spokesman says the document merely represents recommendations and will be reviewed by a group of hundreds of teachers this fall. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Critics tear down Alberta government’s leaked curriculum proposal

‘Children are framed as these empty vessels that need to be filled up with facts and dates’

A proposed kindergarten to Grade 4 curriculum for social studies and arts by the government of Alberta’s advisory panel is creating a stir in the education community.

The document, which outlines some of the topics students would be expected to know, was first revealed by the CBC.

In it, the policy writer emphasizes, among other things, the importance of memorization, including having pupils learn 36 historical dates by the end of Grade 4.

Dwayne Donald, an associate professor at the University of Alberta’s faculty of education, said the document doesn’t encapsulate modern learnings about children and how they gather knowledge.

The document can be found here in three parts:

“I think parents across the province, and anybody who has studied children and how they learn, and how they find meaning, should be quite troubled by this.

“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 said.

“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.”

Alberta Teacher’s Association president Jason Schilling said the document outlines a regressive and inappropriate approach. He added it highlights the critical problem of cutting teachers out of the curriculum process.

“Teachers are experts in curriculum; they understand the readiness of young students for different pieces of content, and they understand what it means to bring curriculum to life in the classroom,” he said.

“I am calling for the minister to unequivocally reject these proposals and to immediately bring teachers back to the table on curriculum development.”

In a statement, Colin Aitchison, press secretary for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said the document merely represents recommendations and will be reviewed by a group of hundreds of teachers this fall.

“They are not the final curriculum. The new curriculum will teach our students a full history of Canada, including First Nations, Metis and Inuit history, including residential schools,” he said.

“No final decisions have been made, and a draft version will be available to the public in the new year.”

Donald, who also specializes in Indigenous culture, said the recommendations focus on the past and don’t embrace a modern understanding of First Nations culture.

“In general, there is a racist dismissiveness that is embedded in most of what I saw for the kindergarten to Grade 4 social studies,” he said.

“There’s no recognition of the current existence of Indigenous people in Canada. It’s all kind of history coverage about how things were in the past. Any mention of Indigenous tradition is framed in dismissive ways as mysticism.”

According to Donald, the document also minimizes the impact and understanding of residential schools.

“Residential school experience is characterized as not unique to Indigenous people. The way they try to frame it is as though people all around the world struggled with Dickensian approaches to schooling,” Donald explained.

“The other thing they say is that children that young, from kindergarten to Grade 4, they’re not ready for the story of residential schools, so they don’t include it.”