Perhaps it should not be a shock that a government initiative ostensibly aimed at “removing political bias” actually includes a whole lot of bias, but the curriculum advisory panel struck by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange appears to be doing just that.
According to draft copies leaked to CBC reporter Janet French, all references to residential schools will be removed from kindergarten to Grade 4 Social Studies curriculum if recommendations from an advisory panel appointed by the United Conservative Party government are accepted.
The authors of the draft copies have deemed residential schools to be “too sad” for younger students, but lighter topics like feudal societies, the Roman Empire and Chinese dynasties were considered appropriate by the panel.
The draft, which appears to be written partially in first-person, is also filled with strange Anglophilia like teaching students to memorize a Gilbert and Sullivan song and recognize the chimes of the Big Ben clock tower in London. It oddly describes Queen Elizabeth II as “Canada’s ruler” and claims that the monarchy represents “unity in diversity,” seemingly sugarcoating the legacy of British colonialism (this does not sound like the model of a modern major education system).
CBC reported the curriculum advisory panel also recommended the removal of all references to “equity” (which was deemed too politically partisan and charged), and that first grade students should learn Bible verses about creation as poetry and fourth grade students should learn that most non-white Albertans are Christians. It is not clear how the injection of a pseudo-religious curriculum would fit into the role of secular public schools, which the vast majority of Alberta students attend.
The handpicked advisory panel includes former political staffer Chris Champion as the Social Studies advisor. Champion was a senior advisor to Jason Kenney during his time in Ottawa from 2007 to 2015 and has been criticized for a 2019 article in which he described First Nations perspectives in school lessons as a fad.
“The Indian Residential School system was created to erase the cultures, histories, languages, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples within Canada, and these recommendations perpetuate that erasure,” said Alberta Teachers’ Association Staff Officer for Indigenous Education Melissa Purcell in a press release this afternoon.
“The recommendations perpetuate systemic racism through whitewashing of the draft curriculum. These recommendations cannot be taken seriously and must be rejected outright,” said Purcell.
This is not the first time someone with close ties to Kenney has been criticized for comments about residential schools. Paul Bunner, who worked as Kenney’s speechwriter from 2019 until this fall once wrote an article dismissing the “bogus genocide story” of Canada’s residential school system.
Both Bunner and Champion are former employees of the now-defunct Alberta Report magazine.
Between the early 1880’s and 1996, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools operated by church organizations and the Government of Canada.
The children were strictly forbidden from practicing their culture and speaking their language and were forced to assimilate into ‘white Canada.’ The number of school-related deaths is estimated to range from 3,200 to more than 6,000.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which was organized by the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and held its final hearing in Edmonton in 2015, recommended that provincial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Residential School survivors, Indigenous peoples, and educators create “age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students” and implement “Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools” (Calls to Action 62 and 63).
The TRC final report described the residential school system as cultural genocide, a description that was adopted by the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in 2019.
Grande Prairie and District Catholic School Board Chair Michael Ouellette told MyGrandePrairieNow that leaving out residential schools from learning plans is a terrible idea.
“It’s concerning where it’s going, it’s concerning where they’re going with education in this province,” Ouellette said.” “Other provinces are so much further ahead of us with the curriculum.”
Education experts interviewed by CBC described the recommendations included in the draft as “utter nonsense,” “a laughingstock” and out of touch with the past 30 to 40 years of research.
In 2016, Historica Canada released a Heritage Minute about the heart-breaking story of 12-year old Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, whose death sparked the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools.
COVID hits UCP cabinet
It was announced today that Kenney is in self-isolation after Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard contracted COVID-19. Allard was appointed to cabinet last month. Also self-isolating are Transportation Minister Ric McIver, Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie and Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf.
Kenney tested negative for COVID-19 but a statement released by his office says he plans to remain in self-isolation until October 29, 2020.
The total number of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta announced today hit 406, a record daily high since the pandemic began.
Despite the emergence of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced last week that the UCP government plans to lay-0ff 11,000 health support workers and Alberta Health Services reiterated its plans to layoff 650 Registered Nurses.