The following was sent on April 4, 2021 to the Honorable Leela Aheer, MLA for Chestermere-Strathmore, and Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women:
Dear Minister Aheer:
My name is Grace McKenna and I am a constituent in the Chestermere-Strathmore provincial riding. I live in this riding with my husband and two children, ages 3 and 6. While my education and work experience in advanced education contribute to my understanding of the depth and breadth of the proposed K-6 curriculum, it is primarily through my role as mother to children in the very early stages of their formal educational journey that I write to you today.
I have never before written to an elected official. I have voted in every election for which I have been qualified since I was 18 (save one municipal where I had moved the same week as the election and found myself ill-informed about the candidates in my new riding), but have never addressed a piece of mail to a public representative in any level of government. That’s not to say I have agreed with the decisions of various governments at all times, but rather a reflection of my general apathy and lack of prioritization of political engagement over other aspects of my personal and professional life. That changes today as, with the release of the proposed new K-6 curriculum for Alberta, I cannot look my children in the eye without knowing I have made clear, not only privately but also publicly, the vast and varied concerns I have with these materials.
Having spent several hours reviewing the materials provided on the Government of Alberta website, I will highlight here a handful of the things that jumped out at me. To be clear, this is but a sample of the more egregious or otherwise prominent early impressions. To summarize, it is my perspective the K-6 curriculum as a whole is in desperate need of retraction, review, and deeper consultation with teachers and subject matter experts prior to even piloting within the province.
- Within the Physical education and wellness curriculum, I am deeply troubled by the framing of consent as almost exclusively placing responsibility on the person giving or refusing consent. The obligation of the other party to respect boundaries, accept a person’s decision to give or refuse consent, and how to recognize whether consent has been given (it must be explicit and enthusiastic) are not even vaguely touched upon until Grade 4. I would hope that, as Minister for the Status of Women, this glaring omission would be alarming to you as well.
- I have seen far more articulate responses to the pervasive flaws in the Social studies curriculum than I am capable of providing today. This is clearly the most fundamentally flawed area within the curriculum. Suffice to say, I agree with much of the criticism, including: (1) the breadth of content and emphasis on rote memorization of so many materials so far removed from the present Alberta context is in many cases age-inappropriate and their inclusion ranges from misguided to outright bizarre, (2) children will not develop foundational knowledge about themselves and their communities necessary to even begin to understand these abstract historical topics, much less contribute any amount of critical thinking to them, (3), the tone throughout the content is Euro-centric to the detriment of Alberta’s diverse population, and (4) certain components like a suggestion Grade 3 students “consider why advertisements would be placed in newspapers offering rewards for the capture of a runaway slave” are, to be blunt, disgusting. How it makes sense that the Black Death can be taught in an age-appropriate way for Grade 2, but residential schools must wait until Grade 5 (despite people being alive today who have been directly impacted by the latter subject) is utterly confounding. I strongly advocate not that this curriculum be tweaked, but rather that it be abandoned and rebuilt from the ground up with deeper input from experts in social studies, history, and specifically elementary education, with emphasis placed on a diversity of people contributing meaningfully to the studies of their own cultures.
- Similar to within social studies, within the Fine arts curriculum, I do not understand the logic of teaching in what appears to be a chronological order, beginning with the most ancient in Grade 1 and working up to the most (relatively) modern in Grade 6. I recognize this order makes organizational sense as an adult reading a list of topics, but it seems illogical as a way for young children to “develop foundational knowledge and discover their artistic sides” (Fine Arts Overview).
- Briefly touching upon the Mathematics curriculum, I see no egregious flaws, though the flow should be revisited to ensure there is adequate time to cover the topics at the described depth, as pulling certain subjects like fractions back into earlier years will certainly require greater investments of time for such young children to master the concepts than what is currently allocated. Additionally, referring to imperial as “Canadian units” is strange, at best.
- The English language arts and literature component appears to show age-appropriate requirements at each level and there is a clear progression that has students building upon the knowledge and skills gained in prior grades. While I have few specific concerns with content of this section, I do find the lack of certain details concerning (like what constitutes “great literary works”, where students will learn the purpose of writing in addition to the mechanics of it, and a missed opportunity to include an expectation of work from a diversity of cultures and people). I would still advocate for a broader review of this curriculum too, as this underwent the same development process that resulted in so many follies in other areas, I believe a comprehensive audit is necessary for Albertans like myself to have any semblance of faith even in this portion. Similarly, I quite frankly ran out of time and ambition to analyze the science area of study in depth, but trust that if the above input were to be taken seriously, it would warrant an audit of all materials, not merely these specific examples.
Ultimately, I consider this curriculum and its heavy reliance on memorization of facts, lists, and names, to be a grave misstep that would put Alberta behind our counterparts in Canada and abroad, resulting in little depth of understanding of most topics, and inadequate development of critical thinking, creativity, and resilience skills – the core competencies that are fundamental to future success in not only advanced education but also almost any career or industry. Furthermore, I am deeply troubled by the lack of meaningful consultation with teachers on the creation of this curriculum (aside from brief consultation with seemingly 2% of Alberta’s teacher population, under the cloak of NDAs, in mid-2020 prior to when the actual drafting started).
I have heard it suggested that teachers can and should fill in the contextual gaps left by this curriculum, but I argue the gaps and failures are so vast that to leave it at that individual level to correct is inadequate and would put teachers in a vulnerable position to be sanctioned for failing to adhere closely enough to what is provided by the Ministry of Education, even if I, as an individual parent, supported the choices they made to adapt what was written to be more age-appropriate and holistic. Not to mention the sheer volume of materials and topics leaves little-to-no space for anything but a cursory overview in order for teachers to fulfill their obligations to meet the curriculum as outlined. Similarly, while my husband and I certainly play a key role in supporting and building upon our children’s education within our home, I have neither the expertise nor the capacity to continuously audit their studies on a weekly basis so that I may contextualize or contradict what they have learned at school. I do not think it is unreasonable that I should be able to trust that their teachers are largely adhering to the curriculum outlined by the Ministry and that this curriculum is age-appropriate and supportive of their critical thinking, creativity, empathy, and general readiness to contribute back to society as informed and caring humans.
To close, when my husband and I bought our house in Chestermere in 2013, I fully expected we would be raising our children here and calling this city and province “home” for several decades. However, implementation of this new curriculum and the impact it would have on my children’s education would leave us no other choice than to very seriously reconsider whether Alberta is the best place for them to grow up. I sincerely hope the concerns of myself and countless other parents will be taken seriously and that this curriculum will not move forward in anything close to its current form so that I may continue to proudly call Alberta home.
I ask that you give careful consideration to all input provided by your constituents and advocate on our behalf as appropriate. I have completed the survey provided on the Alberta government website and welcome any other opportunities through you or the Ministry of Education to provide meaningful input as a parent. I can be reached through the contact information at the bottom of this message.
cc: Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education
Shali Baziuk, Rocky View Schools Board of Trustees
Sarah Hoffman, Opposition Deputy Leader and Education Critic