War on education

Written by Brenda Schimke

The K-6 curriculum debate is as far apart as it was when first introduced. The traditionalists, who developed the new curriculum believe that the only things worth knowing are from the past, versus educators and academic experts, who believe students must move beyond rote memorization of random facts towards developing strong cognitive skills.

When the UCP won the election, there was a new K-4 curriculum completed and ready for piloting. The work had been going on for 10 years, under successive governments and involved tens of thousands of teachers from the public and separate schools and a wide range of academic expertise.

The Kenney government threw it out, hired eight men, one a known racist, and later added a couple token women. In less than five months Kenney rolled out a complete rewrite of the K-6 curriculum.

The battle lines were drawn early. Jason Kenney called the PC/NDP government draft, “an ideological social engineering” project. Former Premier Rachel Notley calls the UCP curriculum a return to rote learning of Anglo-Saxon, Judeo-Christian, American and Eurocentric facts.

So, if the 10-year curriculum re-write by two successive governments was an ‘ideological social engineering project’, it would be hard to suggest that curriculum developed in five months, and largely plagiarized, could not be seen as ‘ideological engineering’. And let’s be honest, to develop seven years of curriculum in five months is frankly far ‘too efficient’!

School boards are the local elected guardians of children’s education. Fifty-eight out of 61 school boards refused to pilot the new curriculum. Three remote school boards agreed to, representing one per cent of total Alberta teachers and less than two per cent of the total K-6 student population. Ten per cent of the student population was the government’s goal for piloting but they fell significantly short.

Over 90 per cent of teachers in the public and catholic school districts are opposed to the new curriculum, 95 per cent of school boards couldn’t in good conscience pilot the new curriculum, and poll after poll showed the vast majority of parents are opposed to the new curriculum.

Education Minister Adrian LaGrange’s argument is that voters want to “dispense with educational fads and return to tradition”. That explains why the Kenney/LaGrange curriculum speaks about First Nations in the past tense, ignores Truth and Reconciliation, doesn’t teach the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the LGBTQ2 community aren’t worthy of mention—all new fads, I guess!

Now it’s in the voter’s hands. 

Kenney will not stop his ‘vision’ of education from happening unless he is stopped. Do we want our children and future employees to win at Jeopardy (rote memorization) or win at life (critical thinking)?

It’s known as Blooms’ taxonomy—a pyramid of learning. Memorization and understanding facts are at the lowest-level of learning. Successful students progress to applying and analyzing data and facts, and hopefully reach the pinnacle where they can evaluate and create.

Kenney is always pumping high-tech jobs for Alberta, which absolutely need employees who can create—the highest level of learning—not regurgitate ancient facts—the lowest level of learning.

Ironically, Kenney recently announced that his government will be working to change immigration policies so businesses can more easily recruit high tech employees from afar. Yet he’s unprepared to give our children the educational building blocks necessary for their success in these jobs.

The UCP government has chosen to remove critical thinking from the K-6 curriculum over the cries of dismay from the majority. 

Parents, business leaders and voters must now decide between the ‘social engineering’ argument, or education that prepares children for jobs of the future. Which, ironically, is the key to bolster Alberta’s economic diversification and global competitiveness.


Brenda Schimke

ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.