By Medicine Hat News Opinion on February 4, 2020.
It should go without saying that education is more than a mere commodity, but not in in the UCP’s Alberta.
The K-12 curriculum review panel convened by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, in which any teachers are conspicuously absent, released its recommendations for the future of education in this province.
On the one hand, most of its report consists of pablum that suggests the NDP draft curriculum that Premier Jason Kenney slammed as “ideological” indoctrination on the campaign trail isn’t so bad after all.
The New Democrats, namely education critic Sarah Hoffman, were quick to declare victory on that front.
However, where its recommendations are more specific, freethinking Albertans have cause for concern, particularly when combined with the rhetoric of the UCP – not least the education minister herself – and its allies in the press.
There’s repeated references throughout the recommendations to incorporating “the needs of Alberta’s employers into the curriculum development process,” treating education as simply a means to the end of students growing into well-behaved, obedient workers, preferably in the oilsands.
True, industry has long been involved in the education system, but this ought to be something that’s kept to a minimum, not actively promoted.
The 25th recommendation in particular, that the curriculum must guarantee “a balance of perspectives with respect to the importance of Alberta’s resource-rich economic base in relation to the impact on the economy, families, service and government” – strikes a particularly ominous tone by explicitly injecting petro politics into K-12 education.
In her press conference announcing the recommendations and consultation phase, LaGrange acknowledged the reality of climate change, although she didn’t specify whether it’s anthropogenic or simply caused by the sun, as the laughably-named Friends of Science contend.
But, she insists, it must be taught in a “balanced” fashion, presumably by giving equal weight to the scientific consensus and industry-funded conspiracy theories.
Responding to questions from the press, she elaborated in a way that provides a clear indication of her motives – we must put a stop to “extremist views” being taught in schools, such as the notion that ours is the final generation to combat climate change. Never mind that this is precisely what the scientific consensus tells us.
This message was then relayed by the UCP’s dutiful mouthpiece at the Edmonton Journal, David Staples, attacking the “extremist indoctrination” occurring in public schools, due to the City Hall School Program having the audacity to invite Edmonton climate justice campaigner Chris Gusen to share his perspective with Grade 6 students.
Staples didn’t bother reaching out to Gusen for his perspective, so I did.
His appearances at the regular event is just one selection in a “menu” of various perspectives the students hear regarding the value of civic engagement, he explained.
“I have a really positive message for them. It’s about the fact that climate change is real, it’s serious, we need adults to step up and do something, but we can actually create a really great world – a more just world, a more beautiful world, and better, greener cities in the process,” Gusen said.
When the oilsands come up, he says he’s sure to speak about it in a nuanced manner that emphasizes respect for those whose livelihoods depend on extraction, which is particularly crucial since many of the students’ parents work in the industry, many of whom have received his talks with enthusiasm.
“I’m not there to demonize oil and gas,” said Gusen. “I think it’s important that when we talk about this in Alberta, we differentiate between oil and gas workers, and the CEOs of those companies and politicians who are delaying climate action.”
So Gusen is being demonized for encouraging students to think about the long-term interests of society at large and be responsible citizens, which is precisely education’s intrinsic value. He should be applauded.
But the government is hell bent on politicizing education in the name of short-term economic gain, which doesn’t at all bode well for our collective future.
(Jeremy Appel is a News reporter. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org)