Alberta's draft K-6 curriculum drawing criticism

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Last week, Alberta Education released the draft curriculum for K-6, saying the revised and strengthened K-6 curriculum is the result of more than a year of consultations with parents, teachers, and subject matter experts and is based on proven research designed to improve student outcomes across all subjects, following several years of declining and stagnant student performance, but many disagree.

Don Haywood, director of Sexual and Gender Acceptance Wetaskiwin, said he has two children in elementary school in Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools Division and he’s concerned about what he’s seen in the draft curriculum.

“I’ve read passages and it makes me shake my head.”

That’s because, in part, he doesn’t see any part of the LGBTQ2IAS+ community reflected in the document.

“There is no human rights talked about in there, which is really important.”

As a Social Studies teacher, he’s also concerned with the elementary Social curriculum, which he says is focussed on ancient cultures.

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“My son asked me a year ago when we lived in Manitoba if we were still in Canada. He was in Grade 3.”

He also noted that his daughter had a difficult enough time writing the exam for the three levels of government in Canada and now she’s being asked to take on such ideas as the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

“As a Social Studies teacher, I’m appalled at that curriculum.”

He’s also concerned with the message being sent when it appears large sections of the curriculum were copied and pasted from other sources, with no attribution.

“No educator would ever encourage such actions.”

He thinks the curriculum should not be piloted this year; that they should go back to the work begun by the previous Conservative government and the NDP and start over.

Some Alberta School Divisions have already said they will not participate in the pilot in the Fall.

WRPS board chair Lynn Ware said the topic would be on the agenda for the April 6 board meeting.

“It’s early, but it’s clear we will need to listen to what parent and teacher opinions are.”

Minister of Indigenous Relations and Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin MLA Rick Wilson said he’s proud of the work that’s been done and this will give Alberta students an opportunity to learn about Treaties, reconciliation and the legacy and impacts of residential schools — but some of the people he represents disagree.

Shortly after the draft curriculum was released, Audrey Poitras, president of the Metis Nation of Alberta was demanding the curriculum proposed be scrapped as they had “very little input”.

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“For there to be true inclusivity in the curriculum, representation from many voices must exist at every level of the curriculum-making process and that includes Métis voices,” said Poitra, “Our citizens were shocked, and we are disheartened, to see our input and collaboration reduced to nothing more than a side-note in the draft that was presented to the public. The tone of the curriculum carries a Eurocentric-American point of view that effectively eliminates the voice and history of the Métis Peoples in Alberta.”

The Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 First Nations Chiefs are also rejecting the draft curriculum, saying it was anticipated to be an opportunity for future generations of Alberta to learn about the diverse history of the province, instead, they see it as a “Eurocentric, American-focussed, Christian-dominate narrative that perpetuates, rather than addresses systemic racism.”

“A history of Alberta that does not begin with the rich and deep histories of the Treaty First nations and does not not accurately portray how we have survived and thrived to this day, is a faulty and incomplete one,” said Grand Chief Vernon Watchmaker.

“As a survivor of an Indian residential school myself, there is a lot missing in this new curriculum, we have many educated peoples who could have been a part of this work, I haven’t seen or read the word colonization, the dominant society doesn’t have a clue about us and our history and that needs to change. Change is brought on with education, our history needs to be a part of this curriculum, it needs to be inclusive so we understand one another”. Elder Richard Lightning, Ermineskin Cree Nation, Maskwacis, Treaty 6 Territory.

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While Wilson’s Facebook feed is filled with comments from those opposed, Wilson said his office has also received calls from those in favour of the draft curriculum and noted Former Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild likes what he sees.

A former member on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Littlechild said he’s delighted that Alberta was the first province to publicly declare it was launching its own initiative to develop mandatory curriculum on treaties and residential schools for all students in an age-appropriate way.

“We believed that education, in general, is the key to reconciliation,” said Littlechild. “I am honoured to be a validator of the new education curriculum and look forward to its transforming and positive change,” he said in a written statement.

Former WRPS student and teacher in the Grande Yellowhead Public School division Lisl Gunderman said she likes what she sees.

Gunderman was honoured in 2019 with one of six Governor-General’s History Awards for her innovative project, created with Mother Earth’s Children’s Charter School teacher Maxine Hildebrant, which aims to tech students about differing cultures and build deeper understandings in regards to Canadian history and how communities can strengthen those connections.

“This was put together by professionals, superintendents and teachers,” she said. “This was not done by a political basis.”

Expected to pilot in 10 per cent of Alberta schools in September 2021, Gunderman said a lot of thought has been put into the curriculum and while some people are expressing concerns over the content and the amount of content, she believes it’s an opportunity to set the bar high for students and have teachers help them achieve those outcomes.

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Working in a school where many families are struggling with poverty, and yet the school and its students are achieving or excelling in the current accountability pillars, she believes the draft curriclum can produce well-educated, well-rounded and critical thinking students.

“Our hope for kids is to have a good understanding of high level information that they can pull up, if they need to, later in life,” she said.

She also understands the concerns of those who don’t like what they’re seeing in the curriculum, but notes it is a draft document at this point.

“The curriculum being presented is a draft — a draft is by no means done — it’s presented to start a conversation,” she said. “The fact it is receiving such a heartfelt response is good. This is an invitation to have a conversation.”

Wilson agrees, saying if anyone wants to share their thoughts on the draft, they are welcome to call his office at 780-360-8003.

The draft curriculum is online at alberta.ca/curriculum, which also connects to a survey for people to provide their input on the draft.

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