Opinion

Opinion: Draft Alberta curriculum concerning

I am a retired teacher and school principal who has taught various grades and subjects in my 34 year career. I have hired staff, built budgets and tried my hardest to preserve programming in a rural setting in the face of continuous funding cut-backs over the years.

Generally speaking, this curriculum shows a clear lack of understanding of age-appropriate student abilities throughout its entire length. It has no appreciation of diversity, lacks differentiation and excludes students who are not neuro-typical. First Nation perspective is insufficient. LGBTQ+ students will not see themselves in this curriculum. It’s as if they simply do not exist in this province.

This curriculum is superficial and trivial. It focuses on rote memorization of disparate facts with no follow up on actually using those facts in any meaningful application. It’s all breadth, but no depth. There is no attempt to scaffold knowledge or build new understandings on previous learnings. Students will acquire, and then likely discard, bits and pieces of discrete, unrelated information. It’s a rambling, disorganized stamp collection, not a focused body of knowledge.

The most egregious subject area is the Social Studies curriculum. It is astonishingly regressive and seems to have been time-warped from the sixties. It has an unmistakable American history-like feel to it, that is both inappropriate and irrelevant to the learnings of future Albertans.

Parts of the Grade 2 curriculum appear to have been taken from the Virginia state elementary curriculum in the U.S.

Whereas the previous Social Studies curriculum began with the study of “family” followed by “community” and eventually leading to the larger contexts of Alberta, Canada and the world, this curriculum seems to have selected topics at random, put them in a blender and dumped them onto Grades 1 to 6.

The topics are far too dense and numerous to have any hope of being adequately covered in a year and seemed to be designed for failure. There is a not-so-subtle endorsement of a White, euro-centric, Christian point of view. Was it intentional?

Many Alberta students will come to realize that they are “the other” and that this province sees them as “different” despite whatever platitudes may come from politicians at the podium stumping for votes. Muslims have been in Canada since 1871, Sikhs since 1897, Hindus since 1911; they are not “newcomers.”

Here are just some troubling bits for me:

• In comparing religions in Grade 6 under “Christianity” we read in declarative language that “Jesus is the son of God,” whereas under other religions we read the more neutral, “Hindu’s believe …” It’s admittedly difficult to keep bias out of any discussion or comparison of religions. This isn’t attempted until high school in a course called “World Religions 30,” a Grade 12 elective course. This appears to be an attempt to allow conservative-minded teachers the opportunity to a particular religion on a pedestal.

• The Grade 6 music curriculum establishes Glen Miller and the obscure Mart Kenney as an exemplar of Big Band music. No Count Basie (a Black man). No Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong (both Black men). No Tommy Banks (an Albertan of some renown). Mart Kenney is Jason Kenney’s grandfather. An obvious and flagrant pandering to the premier. Don’t believe me? Imagine if it was Rachel Notley’s grandfather and see if your head explodes.

• Several mathematics concepts are grade level inappropriate and for unknown reasons have been moved from higher grades to lower grades. Fractions are especially problematic.

• There are too many abstract concepts that are inappropriate for their grade level. There is a poor alignment of outcomes from grade to grade for students to connect and build on.

• There’s too much emphasis on memorizing only one algorithm to solve a particular problem.

Many observers have noted that this draft is being re-written “on the fly,” so to speak. We have seen textual changes from one day to the next without any acknowledgment or discussion. It demonstrates an admission of incompetence. Some of the changes seem to be in direct response to criticisms posted in the Albertans Against the New Curriculum Draft Facebook group.

Several school districts have declared that they will not be participating in piloting this curriculum. Wisely so. They justifiably have no faith in it. This curriculum will be impossible to implement successfully let alone trying to pilot it. It is a train wreck waiting to happen and no amount of sugar-coating or threats will overcome its inherent structural and pedagogical weaknesses. The lack of expertise is obvious in this clumsy, incoherent attempt.

We see that Alberta teachers and educators with both expertise and experience with children have been shut out of this curriculum draft process. If you’re not prepared to let the experts do the work that needs to be done, then may I suggest you get your next colonoscopy from your plumber?

Richard Brown is a retired teacher and school principal in Calgary.

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