Alberta’s much dreaded ‘new’ curriculum looks like an amateurish educational disaster

As history largely vanishes from the schools, social ‘change’ becomes a dubious substitute

When Alberta Education Minister David Eggen announced two years ago that his government was about to launch the most sweeping changes ever undertaken in the public school curriculum, it gave rise to an altogether understandable fear. People saw the villainously conniving propagandists of the Left stealthily out to pervert and destroy the pristine purity of Alberta traditionalism. Well, we were wrong. The first version of the new social studies program came out last month, and it reads like something produced by a collection of school children.

Something else became clear, however. Besides a formidably large body of parents who will, we trust, work hard to pulverize this silly thing, common sense has yet another ally. It is in fact a newspaper reporter– David Staples of the Edmonton Journal, whose coverage of the “draft” social studies curriculum clearly portrayed it for the hollow ignorance it so wholly represents. Staples writes:

“The new Social Studies curriculum is shaping up to fail spectacularly when it comes to providing the wide breadth of knowledge about our society, our world and our history that would give real power to students. Instead, it seeks to limit their worldview, with a narrow focus on the particular issues of the modern social justice movement. The curriculum project, he concludes, “is turning into an educational travesty. The concept of teaching history is out of style, it seems. In its place is an inappropriate over-emphasis on social change and activism.”

History is not simply downplayed in the “draft” document. It is almost totally ignored. In fact the only “historic” event, the document specifically mentions is the ‘legacy of residential schools” which is to be taught in Grade 7. But why make pointed reference to this, while ignoring everything else? Such as:

•The amazing 10-year influx that settled the West after the turn of the 20h Century. The “men in the sheepskin coats” who broke the prairies to the plough, and the scientific development of new grain species, and the invention of new farm implements, all of which that made this possible. No mention of any of it.

• The great railway builders, the overcoming of the Rockies and the stirring story of the Rogers Pass, the iron guts of the Chinese labor, the only people to prove tougher than the mountains, the great gamble of the Canadian Pacific, and the fascinating story of Mackenzie and Mann who saved Edmonton from total dependence on the CPR. . No mention.

• Alberta’s role in two world wars– the famous “Loyal Eddies,” the Calgary Highlanders, the Calgary Tanks, the Southern Alberta tank corps, the early disaster of the Canadian convoys and the reform of the Canadian Navy that followed it, the thousands of fighter pilots and bomber crews tuned out at the training bases across the West, and the fact “little” Canada had five full divisions on the front lines of Europe in the second war. No mention.

• The heartbreaking calamity of the “Dirty Thirties,” the broken dreams, the hordes of unemployed, travelling the prairies in or on empty boxcars, and the astonishing rescue of the southern Alberta desert by the visionaries of massive irrigation. No mention.

• The Alberta rebellion under William Aberhart in the mid- thirties, which would see Alberta printing its own money and organizing its own bank to rescue it from the perceived extortions of the national banks, all of this under the flag of “Social Credit,” which many cherished and nobody understood. No mention.

• The great oil and gas discoveries and developments that changed us from a quaint and picturesque province to an economic engine, vitally changing the economic construct of the whole country, challenging, but not defeating the fiscal tyranny of Toronto and Montreal. No mention

Why no mention of any of this? Because, as the designers of our “most sweeping” curriculum will explain, their plan sets out the guidelines that will shape the reform. It makes no pretence to fill in the detail, But why then the specific reference to the residential schools? Presumably the planners must regard them as far more important than the mere trifles outlined above.

One other curiosity needs be mentioned. In a grade-by-grade outline of what will be covered in all the years from Grades 1 through 12, each of the years calls on the students to “engage in inquiry.” But engaging with what qualifications? Championing causes on the basis of what facts? The dominant factor in all these engagements is the historical background that led to them. And, according to the “draft,” this they are nowhere being taught. We’re back, that is, to the fundamental flaw that corrupts the Deweyist philosophy, so dominant in our whole public school system. Facts don’t matter because ultimately there are no facts. There are only “feelings.”

The entire document relies heavily on what it calls “change.” Bringing about change is the objective of education, in the view of these innovators. Sadly, however, they are themselves victims of the historical ignorance which they so fervently foster. Is all change for the good? Hitler and the Nazis wanted change. Stalin and the Soviet slave state wanted change. The militarist government of Japan had plans to change the whole structure of the Pacific nations in what they called “the Co-Prosperity Sphere.”

“Oh yes,” the curriculum planners will reply, “but these changes were bad changes. What we’re after are good changes.” Which, of course, raises the question: How are we to decide which changes are good and which are bad? And this, of course, plunges us into the very heart of morality. Who’s right, and how do we decide? Pity that the curriculum planners don’t seem to have even raised this question.

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. You can order both copies here.

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16 thoughts on “Alberta’s much dreaded ‘new’ curriculum looks like an amateurish educational disaster

  1. Are we helpless? We’ve been laughing at the ignorance displayed by college students being asked questions about current events (“congratulations North Korea”). Suddenly it’s no laughing matter. Do smarter Canadians get no input? Do we all have to home school or organize true history and social studies courses out side school? Not to mention math tutoring. Help!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Under the current Government and administration, the smart are being blocked from exposing the foolishness of this agenda. Anyone who corrects, or points out the problems is threatened, and/or attacked for doing so. It is not progress, it is purposeful regression for the sake of power. Not unlike what the Nazis, soviets, and imperial Japanese did.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a lack of respect this NDP government and Eggen has for those that built Canada as well as those who fought for and gave their lives so we could live in a democratic society. I fear we are loosing our freedom.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If Ontario is to be any example of government leaders ignoring parents rights, then protests won’t do any good. Therefore to protect your children, remove them from the public or Catholic school system and either home school or find good alternative schooling. Yes, you will have to pay, but the children’s education is sanity is worth the cost.

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  4. As an experienced social studies teacher in Alberta, I have looked at the new scope and sequence and see multiple opportunities for the inclusion of history in every level. A scope and sequence document is the precursor, the outline, if you will, of the actual curricular outcomes. From what I have extensively examined and scrutinized, there are minor changes to the arrangement of topics to be covered at the high school level with really a rearrangement of themes at the 9-12 levels, not an exclusion of history. Other than changing the grade in which the concepts are taught, and with an increased inclusion of First Nations material, I see little difference in what I am currently teaching to what will be expected in the new curriculum. However, nothing will be certain until the actual outcomes are published this coming year. Again, the scope and sequence is the outline of the curriculum, not the actual curricular outcomes to be taught.

    David Staples is excellent at riling up public opinion with little knowledge or understanding, especially in the field of education. If he wants to talk about stakeholders being involved in the process, perhaps he should speak to people who understand curricular documents and not jump to conclusions about things on which he is ill informed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’d accept your defense of the status quo if I noticed that our kids had ever covered any of the topics you say you are teaching – except a very one-sided view of residential schools. Bad curriculum or bad teaching? Something’s wrong for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. It’s refreshing to read an analysis by someone who has specific knowledge and experience of education. Your distinction between outlines and expectations is sensible: Wait until you see the first year or so of implementation, and you will have a much firmer basis to evaluate the curriculum.

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      1. I trust a Union bought teacher, literal NDP lover, like I’d trust a rattle snake. You have no credibility with me, and I’m certainly not prepared to sacrifice any of a child’s life, to find we’ve been screwed.

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  5. An educated man is a free man. An indoctrinated man is a vassal of the government. The public indoctrination industry AKA public education has only one purpose and that is to make everyone dependent on the government.

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  6. I still do not understand Alberta’s incessant mandate of prescribing a course referred to as “Social Studies” in the public school system , when such a ludicrous idea is almost impossible to define , let alone develop. I taught these courses at all levels in Alberta for 35 years, and was continually challenged in terms of course content , value and purpose. There are very few secondary schools outside of Alberta that insist on a “Social Studies” program, as the specialization of of its integral parts becomes much more effective, useful and indeed interesting. Students in Ontario high schools may take options such as Politics, Economics, Geography, Psychology, Civics and of course History. The history courses are then specialized into specific areas: Canadian, The 20th Century, European, Renaissance, Oriental, Age of Imperialism, etc.
    I don’t believe a student can take a course or specialize in something at University referred to as “Social Studies”.
    My challenge at the outset of the program every year was to relay a picture of the course through a definition that would give my students an idea of what Alberta was trying to do. It went something like this: Social Studies is the study of geographical, economic, political and social events and issues and their analysis, interpretation and synthesis, based on historical fact through a high level of English comprehension. What a mouthful and what an overwhelming prescription!. I had to add the last element of ‘high level English comprehension’ because after teaching the grade 12 Departmental exams I realized the examiners on many occasions were not testing the student’s knowledge about history, geography or politics, but they were simply trying to trick them on their comprehension skills.
    Its time to eliminate “Social Studies” entirely and teach the essence of the program for what they are: History, Geography, Economics, Politics, and so on. In fact the time for change is long overdue.

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    1. Very simple question to you is, what if a school does not have the resources to offer separate social based classes? Honestly social studies exists to allow students to learn a little of all topics described by you so that they may taste what might be available in greater detail in post secondary learning. Until you fork over more money on top of what you are already paying through taxes don’t suggest that every school in Alberta can even begin separating social topics into specific classes. The comprehension portion of these classes, while agreeably vague and incomprehensible, might be the only way for many small schools to get an appropriate amount of information to provide young people with a taste of the knowledge that is available to them once they graduate. I would have loved to focus on certain topics in school, and DID complain that there were not enough options. I realize now my school did the best they could, and if a teacher felt it was appropriate to focus on any one topic for the benefit of interest, then they did that.

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  7. We can’t imagine what this educational ( social studies) “change” will create next. Pardon me, but you can’t ” change history ” and it MUST BE TAUGHT. How else do we learn? Apparently our parents and grandparents who laboured developing this province of Alberta, don’t need mentioning/recognition or count!! Please, the Education Minister needs to “change”. Yes we need help!!

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  8. As a society we cannot expect change to occur in the future if we do not know where we came from. An understanding of the past is necessary to avoid repeating the same mistakes. History is an essential part of the human story. You cannot strive for social change without understanding the human story. This is ludicrous.

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  9. As a former Christian school student from the ever deteriorating province of Ontario, I remember my high school teacher occasionally noting that our course on “Man in Society” had been relabelled by the Ministry of Education “Society: Challenge and Change.” Man, O man!–he wasn’t kidding–how our society has changed. When change is positive, then history is negative. When God is taken with a grain of salt, then He is quaint. In the civil government we now trust.

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