To comment on the new school curriculum proposed by Alberta’s Department of Education, I’ll do something it apparently didn’t. I’ll rely on experts. Specifically, four professors who teach in the Curriculum and Learning specialization at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education.
Earlier this week they wrote an op-ed for the CBC trashing the new K-6 curriculum the Department has proposed for Alberta’s schools. The article was aptly titled “By forgetting about thinking, Alberta’s curriculum draft misses the mark.”
The curriculum had already come under heavy criticism for plagiarism, inaccuracies and its coverage of history. The academics focussed on “its developmental inappropriateness and its lack of attention to critical thinking and higher-level skills.” They pointed out its heavy dependence on rote learning as opposed to material that would assist students in learning how to think, accusing the designers of ignoring curricular initiatives “that have been shown to effectively build content knowledge alongside deeper conceptual understandings and student motivation.”
“Even in the upper elementary grades,” they state, “the lack of serious attention to critical thinking is evident,” adding, “Students are rarely asked to justify, analyze or critique.” They conclude by suggesting the government scrap the whole exercise and start from scratch, seeking input from “educators who can provide the kind of meaningful expertise about children’s development and higher order thinking that is needed to produce a contemporary curriculum that will engage and benefit all children.”
It’s a harsh critique. But it isn’t surprising. Conservatives are, well … conservative. University of Toronto philosopher Joseph Heath once wrote that, “Hostility to expertise in all of its forms is the closest thing that Canadian conservatives have to a unifying ideology.” The old ways and the old values are best, and best not challenged too seriously, the very thing young people trained to think critically are liable to do. A curriculum designed more to immerse students in remembering the past rather than analyzing it critically is what we should expect from a government as conservative as the UCP.
Conservatives are often particularly uncomfortable with science, which often undoes conservative dogma. We see this displayed in regard to climate change. Dealing with it effectively challenges the sacred cows of both the free market and the oil industry. The science is solid, conservatives are not. Positions range from Erin O’Toole, who recognizes the science but flounders in creating a policy to certain members of the UCP who deny that it’s a problem at all. And we can hardly see Jason Kenney looking forward to a younger generation thinking critically about the tar sands.
The NDP has promised, if elected, to trash the curriculum. Considering some school boards have already declined the honour of participating in the volunteer pilot, it seems it may face some serious hurdles well before the next election.