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.