thumb-2023-05-08-alberta-education-curriculum This article is more than 1 year old

Changes to Alberta’s Education Curriculum Driven By American ‘Culture War’ Politics and the Religious Right, Experts Say

Changes to the provincial curriculum are contributing to a decline in quality of education in Alberta

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Public education in Alberta is being eroded, and changes to the school curriculum are one of the key pieces contributing to the decline in quality of education in the province.

Education advocates suggest elements of American-style culture wars and “religious exceptionalism” are driving changes in the most recent version of the UCP’s school curriculum, rather than learning outcomes for students.

“There’s a lot of political hostility towards public education,” Wing Li, Communications Director of Support Our Students Alberta told PressProgress.

“The curriculum is part of that because the current draft that came out in 2021 and is being implemented now, is so partisan and so influenced by right-wing thoughts and ideology, that we see it as a way to undermine the quality of public education and as well as to push certain ideas that are not modern—that are regressive.”

Jason Kenney used education as a key issue in his fight to maintain leadership of the UCP in 2021. The curriculum that is now being implemented is reflective of a similar trend down south where right-wing buzzwords like “wokeness” and “critical race theory” are being used to advance a political agenda.

“The parallels are actually uncanny in how aggressively the ideas of Eurocentric white supremacist, colonial ideas are being pushed in this curriculum,” said Li.

“The parallels of the culture wars that we are seeing played out, especially in the red states, or the Republican states in the US are coming here. It’s certainly part of the same playbook in terms of removing equity, removing ideas of tolerance or accepting people for wherever they are on the spectrum, these are all ideas that are being pushed as hatred and bigotry in the undertones of the current Alberta curriculum that’s being pushed.”

One of the key authors of the curriculum is a residential school denialist, a foreign, Koch-funded scholar and other parts of the curriculum were said to have been plagiarized without credit.

In addition to content that is “regressive” and omits Indigenous history, Li says the curriculum’s content is also age inappropriate, including teaching students things that do not align with their developmental stages.

“They’re getting grade one students to memorize and write up to 1,000, when they are learning to count to 10,” said Li.

Li adds this is part of the push to turn education into a commodity.

“It’s part of the same agenda to commodify education, the gaps that they’re creating or pushing into the curriculum are things that can be bought,” said Li.

“The curriculum (is) a way to erode the quality of education and what students are learning in Alberta.”

This includes adding finance and entrepreneurship to the physical education curriculum and bringing in experts to teach students about business.

“Alberta education will contract these private teaching groups to come into schools, and these are like education consultants that come in and teach people about budgeting and developing businesses, but they’re not actual teachers per se,” said Li.

“They’re like a traveling group of people that just put on training seminars, but this is a form of privatizing some of the curriculum to benefit those that run education commodities.”

Li adds that there is a need to halt the curriculum currently being implemented and reassess it altogether.

“We need to return experts to curriculum development to make it modern and equitable so students can see themselves in it.”

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Alexandre Da Costa, Associate Professor of Social Justice at the University of Alberta says that the quality of the curriculum is just another layer of the erosion of public education by the UCP.

“What they’re trying to do is remove discussions of written histories of racism of colonialism in a quest to sort of cleanse the critical nature of the curriculum,” Da Costa told PressProgress.

“They don’t want to see teachers talking about critical perspectives and having students figure out how to be critical thinkers. They see that as teaching wokeness, or teaching critical race theory.”

Da Costa says this is all a part of a larger effort to justify the expansion of private education in the province.

“What happens with neoliberal capitalism is you defund the public services to the point that they get bad and people are like, well we need private because private can serve our needs better,” Da Costa added.

“The austerity project of the UCP is to underfund public education, in order to support more exclusive forms of education in the long run.”

Da Costa says this will have detrimental effects for public education in the long run.

“You shore up the privatization of education by making public education worse and worse.”


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Rumneek Johal
Rumneek Johal is PressProgress' BC Reporter. Her reporting focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism.

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