His massive plan to revise the curriculum is a long-term plan to revise the people
All good school teachers keep the two worlds in which they must live quite separate. For six or more hours of their every working day, they live among little people– little, that is, if not always in physical size, then little in their experience of the world. When school’s out, the teacher must switch and join the realm of adults. Most teachers manage this duality with remarkable ease. But some fail. One such person is Alberta’s minister of education, a teacher for twenty years who persistently addresses the province’s legislators as though they were a bunch of children.
Even so, the legislators should listen more carefully to what this pedagogical gent is saying. So should the media. Example: In closing his address in reply to the Throne Speech last year, he twice referred to “my 61 school boards.” Notice the inescapable implication. He is asserting a kind of proprietorship. The school trustees may have thought they were responsible to the people who elected them. No, once in office, they report to him as minister. He will tell them what he wants done. What, one wonders, would the response be if, say, the minister of municipal affairs suddenly began referring to “my city council in Calgary?” He’d have to be either seriously deluded or possibly drunk.
But there’s a lesson here for Americans. Astoundingly, Canada’s most conservative province has elected its only sitting socialist government. That’s what can happen when an ostensibly conservative governments moves so far left that its rightwing forms a new party. The split ushered in a leftwing victory.
So now Albertans must watch their education minister repeatedly declare that “the biggest curriculum reform in the history of Alberta” is under way. “Who’s running it and how?” the public naturally wants to know. That must not be disclosed, says the minister. It’s confidential. The mind reels. He can’t be serious. It’s as though he appointed a royal commission to explore some pivotal governmental policy, but kept secret the names of the commissioners. Here we have a plan to fundamentally reconstruct what and how our children are taught, but who’s doing this is being declared a state secret.
This exhibition of incomprehensible arrogance finally ignited the seemingly dormant opposition. Why this secrecy, they asked, ever so politely. The minister gave three answers in a row: First, there are “three hundred individuals” involved in this revision. He could hardly name them all, and anyway some of them might not want to be publicly identified with it. Second, about a minute later: Actually “thousands” of people were involved in it. Third, a minute after that. “Thirty-two thousand” people were involved in the revision, says the minister.
The mystery deepens. How could thirty-two thousand people reform the school curriculum? One envisions a huge stadium, crowded to full capacity with curriculum revisers, all there secretly, possibly wearing masks on ministerial order. “That lady up in the greys, the 16th row, fourth from the middle aisle, she would like to suggest changes in the Grade 11 literature course…”
Well, it won’t be done that way. You bet it won’t. The kind of curriculum revision he envisions could only happen under heavy-handed, ultimately dictatorial leadership. Whose are those heavy hands? We have every possible right to know, and it is categorically denied us. Not so, says the minister. “This is the most transparent exercise ever conducted in the education history of this province.” Transparent, except that we’re not told who’s running it, what is it supposed to do, and why. Only that it’s stupendous and historically unprecedented.
The reason for the secrecy, however, is not mysterious.. The minister is not out to revise the curriculum. He’s intent is to revise the Albertans. The aim is to produce over time a different people, not through education, but through indoctrination. In successive columns in this space, I’ll keep tabs on how he’s progressing with this.
Two things, however, need be kept clearly in mind. Of all the myriads of people and organizations the minister tells us he is going to consult, not a single mention is made of the school systems in other countries that are consistently whipping and bypassing us on virtually every international test of academic proficiency. He doesn’t want to look at them because he already knows the answer. They are beating us by using the same educational techniques that his fellow revisionists of an earlier era threw away. Wouldn’t it be awful if that became widely known?
Second, whatever the minister might say about public input, you can be sure he will hustle this program through the Legislature as fast as he can. This haste is easily explained. A black cloud overhangs his government with two names on it: “Jason” and “Kenney. ” They identify a man with three tasks — to win the Progressive Conservative leadership, to create a single conservative party, and to drive this government from office in the next election. If Kenney succeeds in the first two, they’re out and they know it. So they must get this new curriculum so entrenched it will be difficult to remove. They know, that is, their government is a one-term wonder.
One last note. I haven’t yet named this minister of education, and for a reason. His name is David Eggen. But there’s a problem here. He wants it pronounced Eagen, not Eggen as it’s spelled. This is altogether understandable. Remember he was a teacher for many years. Children, especially boys, can be so cruel — Egghead, Eggnog, Eggen-His-Face, the possibilities are endless. So please. Eggen is Eagen, not Eggen.
Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century. a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The Christians.com, a web journal. He has recently authored two little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters and The Revolution Nobody Covered