Posted on July 18, 2018

In New Social Studies Curriculum, There’s No Such Things as Albertans

David Staples, Edmonton Journal, July 18, 2018

In the world according to the new social studies curriculum there is no such thing as Albertans or even Canadians.

In the many thousands of words of the new curriculum prototype document for K-4 social studies, which spells out in detail how and what things are going to be taught in Alberta schools, there’s not one explicit reference to Albertans or Canadians, let alone any notion that there’s value in teaching Alberta history or Canadian history.

That’s evidently not a priority. Nor is introducing students to the broad sweep of human history.

What is the focus? Well, there are six references to “settlers,” along with more than 30 references to First Nations, Metis and Inuit, as well as about a dozen references to francophones. A typical example is the following directive for kindergarten students to explore and discuss the notion that “stories of First Nations, Metis, Inuit, francophone and diverse groups hold meaning.”

Who are these “diverse groups?” I guess that means the rest of us.

We’re no longer Albertans. We’re Diverse Groupians.

There’s barely a mention of geography in the document and only one reference to any kind of history being taught. That particular reference tells us Grade 4 students are to engage in “analyzing various actions taken to address historical injustices.”

Of course, any reasonable social studies curriculum in Alberta must delve deeply into the often appalling treatment of Indigenous people. It’s worth noting our current curriculum already does that repeatedly. But this new and polarizing curriculum goes far beyond, essentially creating two categories of Albertans: settlers and their victims.

It has one other focus: schooling children in a set of related ethical/political values, such as the need for equity, fairness, giving, sharing, inclusion and diversity. These buzzwords of the social justice movement are mentioned repeatedly.

What about other values being taught? No, not so much.

Self-reliance and fortitude aren’t mentioned, let alone the virtues of free speech or healthy competition. Respect and responsibility do get a mention, but almost exclusively in the context of the need for students to support social justice. For example: “Individuals within communities have a responsibility to respect diversity.”

This politically-charged document wasn’t created in isolation. It is part of the powerful and ascendant social justice movement which has come to dominate universities in Canada and United States.

The takeover of the educational realm was best described and critiqued by political centrist Jonathan Haidt, the prominent New York University social psychology professor and co-founder of the Heterodox Academy, which promotes open inquiry.

Social justice advocates are quite rightly focused on racial and gender equality, Haidt said in a 2016 speech. It’s essential to have their input and advocacy, but not to the extent of them dominating other independent fields, such as education.

For hundreds of years the search for truth has been the sacred value of education but that’s now changing, Haidt said. “What is now sacred is victims. Victims become sacred, and sacred means no trade-offs, no criticisms.”

When certain ideas, such as equity and diversity, and certain groups, such as some racial minorities and the LGBTQ community, become sacred, we lose the ability to have intelligent discussions that could lead to insights that will actually address problems, Haidt said.

Flawed, imperfect or wrong-headed ideas go unchallenged, distorting the search for truth at the heart of education. Orthodox thinking abounds. A culture of grievance flourishes. Students become intellectually fragile, overreacting to small slights, demanding safe spaces and shutting down opposing viewpoints.

“What this means is that students hold their beliefs very, very strongly but they don’t know how to support them,” Haidt said. “You find this when you get into a debate with students about social justice or the concepts, they often cannot explain what they mean because they have not been challenged.”

Of course, not everyone will agree with my interpretation of this document. It has so far only been glimpsed at public meetings. But there will be a more varied and public debate on them and other curriculum documents when Alberta Education publishes them online in the fall.

I look forward to that wider debate, but for now can only suggest this curriculum needs to be completely reworked by apolitical subject experts in history and geography, or at least by experts with wide viewpoint diversity. Maybe then someone, anyone, will point out when things have gone badly off kilter.

In the end, we need a curriculum that will help produce citizens with a deep, broad knowledge and understanding of human societies and the physical world, not intolerant zealots weaponized by social justice ideals.