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Education: Calgary protesters call on the government to ‘ditch the draft’

Protesters in Calgary called on the Alberta government Saturday to drop any implementation of the proposed kindergarten to Grade 6 draft curriculum.

Parents, teachers, public education advocates, representatives of the Alberta Teachers Association, and an NDP opposition MLA gathered at the McDougall Centre to call on the government to meet their demands.

Krista Li, the protest’s organizer, said that those gathered at the McDougall Centre were there “to just say no.”

“Look, we’re just saying no—we are saying no thank you to a racist and inadequate curriculum. We’re saying no to the dismantling of public education, and we’re saying a hell no to an administration that consistently puts kids last,” she said.

On Dec. 13, Alberta Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange announced that only the English language arts, mathematics, and physical education and wellness sections of the curriculum would be going ahead in the fall of 2022.

Significant criticism had been leveled by teachers, education subject matter experts, and the public against all parts of the draft curriculum.

The Calgary Board of Education drafted a three-page letter made public Friday, calling on a delay past 2022.

Social studies being dropped from 2022 rollout not enough for protesters

A key advisor for the social studies portion of the draft curriculum, Chris Champion, made comments calling Canada’s reaction to the discovery of graves of Indigenous children at a former residential school in B.C. overblown.

In Champion’s 2018 publication, the Dorchester Review, it called for reduced teaching of Indigenous history in Alberta’s then revamped curriculum, writing at the time that “the ongoing fad is that we need ‘more’ First Nations ‘perspectives.'”

Champion worked as a political aide to Premier Jason Kenney while he was a federal cabinet member and member of parliament.

The government has said that they will re-seek advice from education and curriculum experts in 2022 prior to implementing the remaining portions of the draft.

LaGrange, in a written statement, said “we have listened to the valuable insights provided by parents, education stakeholders, teachers and Albertans and are making significant content and implementation changes to reflect this.”

Mike McMann, superintendent for the Fort Vermilion School Division, said that the government’s decision to go ahead with some of the draft curricula was imperative for 2022.

“The Alberta government is showing how they are listening to education partner feedback as we continue to move forward with curriculum,” said McMann.

The Fort Vermillion School Division, situated in the far north of the province, was one of only a small number of school divisions in the province that agreed to pilot the draft. A total of 56 out of the province’s 61 school boards said they would not pilot the draft.

Li said that these changes don’t go far enough for concerned parents.

“It’s a very small concession, and we deserve more than crumbs from this government—we deserve action, and we deserve to be respected,” she said.

Li had ongoing concerns about portions of the draft that will be implemented, including wellness lessons.

“It’s not about social studies, and I think that’s a very small crumb to give us and I don’t think we need to be distracted by crumbs,” she said.

Protesters mock mistakes in the draft, Minister LaGrange

Speaking to the assembled protesters, Dr. Ed Tse mocked a mistake made in the latest version of the draft curriculum. It was to make a point about how much engagement they felt was done by the Ministry of Education.

“The UCP minister could not even spare 1/60 of an hour to listen to the concerns of parents and school councils standing up for the 750,000 children in schools,” he said.

The government printed an error in the Grade 3 section of the math curriculum, stating that “one second is 1/60 of an hour.” The error has since been corrected.

Dr. Tse used the error to point out what he felt were serious issues with wellness lessons to be implemented next fall, reflecting on the current Covid pandemic and online learning.

“The minister couldn’t spare at 1/60 of an hour to listen to how the draft health curriculum does not provide our children with the tools that they need to handle trauma and the mental health challenges out today,” he said.

Minister LaGrange was also personally targeted in song by Dr. John Williamson, likening her to Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch.

A Grinch song sung at the protest.

“I’ve seen better pedagogy from a seasick crocodile Miss LaGrange, and given a choice between the two of you as ministers, nine out of 10 out Albertans chose the seasick crocodile,” he sung.

Serious consequences to long-term inter-provincial relationships

The Northwest Territories announced on Friday that they would be dropping a 40-year relationship with the Government of Alberta to use the Alberta school curriculum.

The N.W.T. Minister of Education R.J. Simpsons cited increased Indigenous education, along with a focus on literacy, and numeracy as the key factors in that decision.

“British Columbia’s redesigned curriculum aims to personalize learning, making it more student-centered and flexible,” he said.

Alberta Teachers Association president Jason Shilling said this was a wake-up call to the government.

“With the Northwest Territories rejecting this curriculum based on what they’ve seen so far, is a really big signal to them that they should be going back and looking what they’re doing here because Alberta is one of the top-performing education jurisdictions in the world,” he said.

“And for them to suddenly say, we don’t want that, we’re gonna go with another jurisdiction because it suits our needs better—it’s more progressive, that addresses Indigenous culture better—that’s a really big failure on the government’s part.”

Alberta has consistently ranked high on international scales. On the last Programme of International Assessment, published in 2019, Alberta had 82 per cent of students performing at the assessment’s Level 2 in global competence. This was higher than the Canadian average of 80 per cent, and only Singapore with 84 per cent topped Alberta.

Li had strong words for the government.

“Are we willing to go and take a curriculum that other provinces have said is grossly racist and grossly inadequate, and try to convince parents that it’s OK for their kids? This parent says no,” she said.

Irfan Sabir, NDP MLA for Calgary-McCall and critic for the Ministry of Justice, said at the rally “they are clear about it that this curriculum is not good enough for the kids in Northwest Territories.”

Calls to return to the previous draft

Sabir said that if elected they would return to the previous draft curriculum that was started under the Progressive Conservative government, continued under the NDP government, and then scrapped by the current UCP government before it was implemented.

Dr. Angela Grace, a psychologist specializing in children, also wanted a return to that curriculum.

Regarding the current draft, she said that it “does not meet children’s best practices—it throws out 20 years of education.”

“All of these subjects have significant flaws., and they cannot be the basis of education during a pandemic for children who have missed out on two years of regular school,” she said.

Protesters throw printed copies of the government’s draft curriculum into a symbolic dumpster fire at the McDougall Centre in Calgary on Saturday, December 18, 2021. The protesters called on the government to completely scrap the proposed draft curriculum. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
A woman holds up a protest sign at the McDougall Centre in Calgary on Saturday, December 18, 2021. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
Parents, teachers, public education advocates, members of the Alberta Teachers Association, and NDP MLA Irfan Sabir protested at the McDougall Centre in Calgary on Saturday, December 18, 2021. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
Parents, teachers, public education advocates, members of the Alberta Teachers Association, and NDP MLA Irfan Sabir protested at the McDougall Centre in Calgary on Saturday, December 18, 2021. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
Support Our Students Alberta executive director Medeana Moussa spoke to protestors at the McDougall Centre in Calgary on Saturday, December 18, 2021. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
Protest organizer Krista Li spoke to the assembled crowd at the McDougall Centre in Calgary on Saturday, December 18, 2021. Li has called for a complete removal of the draft curriculum. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY