Is critical thinking in education one of the greatest fears of a socially conservative movement? The answer may be found in the K-6 curriculum recently announced by Alberta’s United Conservative (UCP) government. Premier Kenney has alluded to this paranoia on several occasions.
At the 2016 conservative convention, Kenney lamented millennials are “hard-wired” with anti-conservative beliefs by the education system, and young children are indoctrinated with “collectivist ideas” as early as primary school. This is political speak for critical thinking from someone who didn’t complete post-secondary education. In an interview, he said this was a nut that had to be cracked so conservative parties could succeed.
The proposed UCP curriculum with a heavy emphasis on US politics and history, downloaded from a Virginia-based program called Common Core, along with cut and paste content from Wikipedia, is clearly a knee-jerk reaction to this perceived threat. Classrooms have become the new war room in this government’s attack on perceived “social engineering”.
The draft curriculum has received widespread backlash from educators, parents, and Indigenous leaders. The efforts to defend it have been like putting water on a grease fire. Within days of the draft being published, a Facebook group, Albertans Against the New Curriculum Draft, grew to over twenty-eight thousand members.
Once referred to as the “Lake of Fire” party by one of their own MLAs, the UCP often takes heat because of racism, white supremacy, homophobia, and transphobia from within their ranks. When called out for this, little is done beyond offering lip service to placate critics, while the focus behind the scenes is now on subverting young minds with social conservatism. It seems the conservative caucus can’t acknowledge that tired ideology has no appeal to younger voters.
Against this background, it isn’t hard to trace the dots from a political agenda to a school curriculum and how it misses the mark completely on being inclusive and respectful of diversity. It does a huge disservice to Indigenous people, people of colour, and visible minorities while making racism seem justified.
The curriculum is written with a Eurocentric white lens on history. People of colour are repeatedly referred to as “blacks.” The KKK is presented as a group that drew to it disenchanted members of society vs. calling them, white supremacists. There is no mention of current-day racist groups such as Proud Boys. Racism is presented as a result of race and the unfamiliar traditions of newcomers vs. being a social construct. Religion is front and centre in social studies with misstatements such as “most Albertans are Christian,” ignoring the fact almost one-third have no religious affiliation. A discussion on sexual orientation and gender expression is glaringly absent.
This curriculum will not be a place you can locate yourself or your family unless you’re a white Christian where, as it states, “Jesus Christ is son of God.”
With public pushback and the government already trailing the opposition in the polls, this curriculum reinvention may have Kenney searching for a new nut to crack in his war with a non-existent boogeyman.
Wilbur Turner is a Canadian writer and advocate who has contributed on many levels to LGBTQ rights, both locally and internationally.