Chris Pecora

Curriculum Wars

Bonus: Lightbulb jokes!

By Fred Stenson

Alberta is test-driving a new curriculum and a new advisory panel for education. It boils down to a controversy over values. Whose values will the system represent? The UCP government says it rejected the NDP curriculum to safeguard children from political and ideological interference in the development of their budding minds, which sounds very high-road-ish. But then the UCP proceeded to remove from the curriculum everything the premier is politically and ideologically against. Maybe I’m missing something—but isn’t that an ideological thing to do?

The Social Studies adviser on Kenney’s expert panel is rather forcefully on record about Indigenous content in the curriculum. He calls the teaching of Indigenous history, especially anything about how badly First Nations and Metis people have been treated in Canada, “a fad.” He doesn’t like victim stories. Since almost the entire history of the Indigenous people of the Americas is a series of events where they were victimized by well-armed invaders, removing victimization pretty much eliminates the subject—which seems to suit the UCP and its Social Studies adviser just fine. Get rid of all mention of Indigenous knowledge and history, and that will be fairer.

I do have a problem with “fad” in this context. Fifteen thousand years (plus) is a pretty lengthy fad—compared to, say, Beatlemania or the United Conservative Party.

Thinking about how the Social Studies curriculum will change, I’m assuming that the story of how John A. Macdonald invented the Canadian mounted police in 1873 and sent it to future-Alberta to end the lawless whisky trade—which was victimizing Indigenous people—will have to go. It seems it should be eliminated, having more than one factor that the Social Studies adviser doesn’t like: the faddish Indigenous side of the story and also the victimization aspect. Too bad, really, since it will be sort of hard to explain how progressive conservative politics first affected future-Alberta without the mounted police–whisky trade–Indigenous story.

As a subject, the whisky trade has to go. It has factors Kenney’s adviser won’t like: the faddish Indigenous side of the story, the victimization aspect.

With that gone from the curriculum, Alberta schoolchildren won’t easily get why policemen dress up in fiery red suits on special occasions such as Canada Day—but perhaps that’s why Premier Kenney has decided to replace the RCMP with a provincial police force (and why he would like to replace Canada Day with Dominion Day). I assume the Social Studies adviser would also favour a brand new provincial police force, since it has no history whatsoever. Thus, the new police force’s story can’t be used to support one political party over another.

I suppose one could argue that the new provincial police should be left out of the Social Studies curriculum too, because there’s just no getting around its invention by one party and one ideology.

The UCP might like to have the year of their party’s founding in the Social Studies curriculum, but of course they can’t, any more than the NDP’s changes to LGBTQ recognition can be there. Hell’s bells, what can be there? The Ten Commandments? Hardly. That’s for the private schools, which is probably why Premier Kenney supports them so. The charter schools too get a bye on many of the Social Studies adviser’s concerns. If they like, those schools can present a view that the seven-day creation of Earth 6,000 years ago and the 165-million-year existence of dinosaurs are not at odds. You’d have a hard time finding that kind of generosity and flexibility in Science and Social Studies during the harsh four-year rule of Alberta’s NDP.

To take some of the tension out of this debate, I have a suggestion. It’s impossible, really, not to include the teaching of values in our schools, so let’s just admit that and get on with it. But why teach values in such a sneaky and dull way? Why not teach UCP political, social and moral values through jokes?


How many UCP supporters does it take to screw in a light bulb?

None. They like the old one better.

(Alternative answer: None. The UCP would rather sit in the dark.)


How many scientists does it take to disprove global warming?

3 per cent.


Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Tyler Shandro. Quick! Turn out the lights. Don’t go near the door.


How does a UCP free-market economist screw in a light bulb?

Leave it alone and eventually it will screw itself in.


How does the UCP government screw in a light bulb?

Cut corporate taxes by $9-billion and eventually, somehow, sometime, it’ll be in a company’s interest to change that bulb. 

Fred Stenson’s most recent novel is Who By Fire (Doubleday).Other books include The Trade, Lightning and The Great Karoo.


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