From: Mary-Frances Lapthorne Sent: Wednesday, April 7, 2021 12:51 PM To: Calgary-Fish Creek <Calgary.FishCreek@assembly.ab.ca> Cc: email@example.com; Edmonton-Glenora <Edmonton.Glenora@assembly.ab.ca> Subject: Deeply upset by curriculum work
Dear MLA Gotfried,
As a teacher and parent, it is not an exaggeration for me to say that I am deeply disturbed by the possibility that the curriculum released last week by the Minister of Education and Premier, may ever become a curriculum taught in any Alberta schools! It is quite simply unacceptable to consider using this poorly conceived and haphazardly written series of documents in a modern educational context!
To begin with, Alberta’s existing curriculum is currently and has been (for decades) recognized for its world-class quality, with our students scoring “third in the world in science, third in reading and eighth in math” in the most recent 2018 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test scores; also of note, these scores compare quite favourably to “second in the world in science, third in reading and 14th in math in 2015.”[i] Additionally, Alberta’s curriculum is used in international private schools across Asia, the Middle East, and in Mexico.[ii] It was the Progressive Conservative government, beginning in 2014, that recognized that certain subjects’ had curriculum that was becoming out of date and initiated a full-scale re-design of all subject areas from kindergarten through Grade 12.[iii] When the NDP took over provincial leadership in 2015, they sustained and strengthened the process, increasing the Education Ministry’s outreach efforts engaging over 90 000 groups and individuals through public consultations, online surveys, and workshops organized by the Alberta Regional Professional Development Consortia.[iv] During the 2018-19 provincial election campaign, Jason Kenney, leader of the newly-formed United Conservative Party politicized the curriculum design process (which had been largely a non-partisan process between the PCs and NDs) suggesting that, if elected, the UCP would “put that curriculum through the shredder and go right back to the drawing board.”[v] Once elected, hundreds of Alberta’s front-line educators were largely cut out of the creation process and replaced by mainly non-teachers, non-Albertan, friends of the UCP like Ashley Berner and Chris Champion.[vi] Apparently 100 elementary school teachers were asked to review and give feedback about the draft over just two days in December 2020 and were required to sign non-disclosure agreements forbidding outside discussion of the work. The education minister, Adrianna LaGrange alongside Premier Jason Kenney released the new curriculum drafts for Kindergarten through Grade 6 during the 2021 Spring Break.
In collaboration with other educators, I’ve combined a short-list of main objections to the curriculum, but I’ve also included links to three documents[vii] which go into far greater detail (and have my full support):
The fact that the content is developmentally inappropriate for young children. Much of the Social Studies, Math, and Science curricula read like high school and university level syllabi rather than a document to guide the learning of elementary-aged children. They do not take into account literacy levels (for example, grade one students being asked to look up information online or in libraries), or intellectual abilities (grade one students comparing the origin of the first set of laws with today's laws).
To watch a video of an Albertan teacher of Grade 2s deconstruct the proposed Social Studies curriculum for many examples of its age inappropriateness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtqfEMgZKDY
Another video of an Alberta math teacher demonstrating and defending the current approach to math curriculum and pedagogy: https://www.facebook.com/groups/353881362641844/permalink/364667584896555
The overwhelming and confusing journey through different geographic locations and eras in history. For example, grade two alone covers ancient Greece, Rome, monotheistic religions, Greek, Chinese and African myths, classic architecture, the medieval world in Europe, the Silk Road, the Black Death, the Spanish Flu, historical forms of governance (democracy, monarchy, feudalism, etc.), the Mongol empire, the Magna Carta, migrations of Germanic and other peoples, European exploration and more. Elementary-age students have no foundational knowledge to support this sort of broad, summary coverage of world history. If students retain anything, it will be trivia rather than historical understanding. Other elements of the curriculum are seemingly intended to directly teach students trivia. For example, there is very little that is relevant about students learning and practicing the skill of distinguishing between onion domes and cupolas in grade four.
The excessive amount of knowledge-based content that emphasizes names, facts, and rote memorization over deeper understanding. This is at odds with best practices in education and is particularly difficult for the many students with learning challenges. It de-emphasizes critical thinking, problem solving, and learning about one’s role in their local community, and instead emphasizes rote learning and memorization about historical facts that cannot be properly understood or appreciated by young children. This approach to curriculum design has the effect of turning pedagogy away from teaching processes so that kids become good learners (no matter the topic) and towards amassing knowledge with little to no purpose. The emphasis on prescribed content also hinders teachers’ ability to localize and individualize learning for their specific groups of students.
The heavily Eurocentric and colonial nature of the curriculum as well as the excessive focus on American history. American history takes significant precedence over Canadian history in grade six. One example: why would the curriculum focus on American residential schools rather than Canadian ones? The us/them, "othering" mentality present in the curriculum. "Us" is seemingly anyone whose ancestors were white, Christian, and European. "Them" means newcomers with unfamiliar religious faiths and practices who are not easy to accept. Framing the cultural make-up of Alberta this way is harmful and unproductive. The presence of religious content that is presented in a way that is inappropriate for public education (undue emphasis on Christianity) and developmentally inappropriate. Further, impact of religious content can be seen to be contesting certain evidence-based scientific teaching, as in this example from the Science draft, “Students will learn rigorous and up-to-date science while also respecting freedom of religion so as not to undermine faith and cultural traditions that are important to parents and consistent with virtue and knowledge.”
The examples of plagiarized work used throughout the new curricular documents. In her analysis of the K-6 draft curriculum, plagiarism expert Dr Sarah Eaton writes, “In this draft curriculum, there is little to no indication of acknowledgement of those whose ideas and words contributed to its development. It appears as though the draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum is rife with plagiarism.” This is extremely problematic, not only because it’s unethical and embarrassing, but because it’s crucial that Albertans know from whence the “inspiration” (ideologically) for this curriculum is coming! This is especially true given that Kenney and LaGrange scrapped a curriculum developed by hundreds of stakeholders over 5+ years for millions of dollars for being too “ideologically-driven”! It’s absurd and frustrating that this gov’t would waste our efforts, time, and money throwing out a thoughtful and rigorous new curriculum on the basis of it being “too leftist or liberal-leaning”, and then replace it with an inappropriate, poorly-designed, and hastily thrown together curriculum draft and think it could HIDE its provenance, thereby claiming some kind of “neutrality”.
The work is so flawed that if the Ministry decides it will use this curriculum (after “tweaking” it, as has been suggested by Ms LaGrange), I fear that many educators and parents would not feel comfortable teaching or sending their children to school in Alberta. As my representative in the legislature, please bring this position (which I suspect is the overwhelmingly widely held response) to the government’s attention on my behalf.
Mary-Frances ‘maxx’ Lapthorne
Sundance community member, Calgary - Fish-Creek
Calgary Board of Education, Ward 12/14
[iii] For a thorough accounting of the curriculum re-writing process in Alberta, see: https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/hitting-the-books-how-alberta-education-is-rewriting-curriculum-for-the-next-generation-of-students
[vii] (1) U of A professor Carla Peck: https://carlapeck.wordpress.com/blog/. Her draft curriculum media round-ups: https://www.ualberta.ca/elementary-education/about-us/elementary-news/2021/march/curriculum-media-round-up.html?fbclid=IwAR38mHC7b3y4YoS7ZTyRw-26b8KFxvPUi1fn6E9QGR4yWnEEsnDE67XJyYE and https://www.ualberta.ca/secondary-education/about-us/secondary-news/2021/march/curriculum-media-round-up.html?fbclid=IwAR0rw1u39bMgGV4cW0TbUzORo9jWyNSgbUJUiLadYTqw8MQla4QBtghwSEA
(2) Join the Albertans Against the New Curriculum Draft Facebook Group . Albertan citizens keeping their voices raised in an attempt to improve the curriculum for students and teachers - the sheer number of people in the group is noteworthy (40.5K as of 9/15/2021)!
(3) Support Our Students: https://www.supportourstudents.ca/our-philosophy.html (Note: this organization has full coverage of the issue and a list of protests that are planned in response at: https://www.studentsdeservebetter.ca