Posted on September 21, 2018

Alberta Education Minister Apologizes for ‘Hateful’ School Resource About the ‘Positive Effect’ of Residential Schools

Janet French, Edmonton Journal, September 20, 2018

Alberta’s education minister apologized Thursday for a “hateful” social studies lesson that asked students to identify a “positive effect of residential schools.”

Education Minister David Eggen also told education ministry staff Thursday to review all material about residential schools used by the Alberta Distance Learning Centre, which created the Grade 11 social studies module containing the question.

“I was appalled to see such hurtful and offensive material given to an Alberta student,” Eggen said in a written statement, adding he will contact the student who posted a picture of the question online.

The student is enrolled at the St. Paul Alternative Education Centre in the Social Studies 20-4 course, said Glen Brodziak, superintendent of the St. Paul Education Regional Division, in a Thursday interview.

He also took responsibility for the error, saying division staff should be reviewing all material before they present it to students.

“As a Canadian, this is wrong. I can’t imagine what residential schools were like, nor would I speak on behalf of any survivor,” Brodziak said.

A picture began circulating on social media Wednesday of a multiple-choice question reading:

“A positive effect of residential schools was:

  • children were away from home
  • children learned to read
  • children were taught manners
  • children became civilized”

Overtop the picture was a comment reading, “My teacher got me all the way f — -ed up if he actually expects me to answer this s–t. F — ing disgusted.”

According to the ADLC answer key, “children learned to read” was the correct answer.

The school division contacted ADLC and will also remind all staff to review any resources they use for potentially inaccurate or outdated material.

“This was absolutely 100 per cent wrong,” Brodziak said.

The ADLC is operated by Barrhead-based Pembina Hills school division. Superintendent David Garbutt also apologized Thursday, saying he’s not sure how the document made it through both routine internal reviews and checks by external editors.

“This type of content never should have been made available,” he said, adding he found the residential schools question “offensive.”

The question appears in ADLC’s Social Studies 20-4 Module 1, “Canada’s First Nations People.”

According to the ADLC answer key, “children learned to read” was the correct answer.

Although Garbutt doesn’t know when the document was written, it lists Phil Fontaine as chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Fontaine served in the role from 1997 to 2000 and from 2003 to 2009.

Students enrolled in the course through distance learning now are not using the module, but ADLC had made it available to teachers across Alberta who teach the course, Garbutt said.

He said he has no way of knowing how many teachers downloaded it from the ADLC website or made photocopies of the document.

Another module page says, “Residential schools had a positive role in teaching students to read and write, and about ways of life other than their own. There were, however, some negative impacts from these residential schools.”

A different page says, “The education provided was generally appropriate, but the residential schools were not sensitive to the needs or lifestyles of Aboriginal students.”

Garbutt said ADLC staff will now review the content of its hundreds of courses to weed out any other problematic content.

Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Marilyn Poitras issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying the question is inappropriate and offensive.

“The experience of Indian Residential School survivors and intergenerational survivors has been documented through the extensive Truth and Reconciliation Commission process and if we use that wealth of knowledge throughout Alberta’s education system we would not have such lapses,” her statement said.

She said a new curriculum including more lessons on treaties, First Nations rights and residential schools can’t come quickly enough.

Both Edmonton Catholic and public school districts said Thursday they are ensuring the document is not used in their schools.

Eggen said education deputy minister Curtis Clarke has contacted every school authority in Alberta, asking them to remove the module from use and review other resources for potentially problematic or outdated material.

Eggen said the snafu emphasizes why a revamp of the K-12 curriculum is needed.

The education provided by residential schools was “generally appropriate,” says an ADLC resource that was used to teach social studies to high school students in St. Paul, Alberta. The question about residential schools appeared at the end of a social studies module about “Canada’s First Nations People.”

“We will remove this hateful material from our schools and we owe it to our children to give them the education they need to succeed in their futures,” Eggen’s statement said.

Federal government policy saw thousands of Indigenous children across Canada taken from their families and enrolled in schools designed to assimilate them with European culture. Survivors have shared stories of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of school staff, being chastised for speaking Indigenous languages and becoming pregnant by school priests.

The inter-generational trauma caused by the schools has prompted apologies from the Canadian and provincial governments and lawsuits saw compensation paid to survivors.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard survivor stories from across the country and made 94 recommendations for how governments and society can address the harm, including educating students about the damage caused by residential schools.

Eggen has said learning about residential schools will become mandatory in the new K-12 curriculum, which is currently under development. The government is spending $5.4 million training Alberta teachers how to deliver those sensitive lessons.