When Marlisse Visser, a veteran Alberta teacher, saw a draft of the province’s K-6 social studies syllabus last year, she cried.
“It was totally unexpected,” she said. “I was so shocked.”
Visser was one of over 100 teachers across Alberta who made up the province’s district Curriculum working groups. They were given two days of virtual meetings last December to provide feedback on proposed amendments to the draft K-6 syllabus before it was publicly revealed in March.
Education Minister Adriana Lagrange was not available for an interview, but in a statement from her office, the department said the role of the members of the Curriculum Working Group is to provide advice and recommendations during the curriculum formulation step.
“We are grateful to every teacher who participated and provided valuable feedback,” Press Secretary Nicole Sparrow said.
When Rachel Notley’s NDP government was in power in Alberta from 2015 to 2019, it initiated a comprehensive reform of the public school curriculum, saying the current curriculum is between eight and 30 years old. The renewal, based on a process begun under previous conservative governments, was to include all grades and all fields of study, and take six years.
The Alberta Education School was field-testing Phase 1, a new Kindergarten through Grade 4 curriculum, when the National Party lost the 2019 election to the Conservative United Party, which immediately put the K-4 field test on hold.
She did her own extensive rewriting while claiming that the NDP’s changes were based on ideology. However, critics have lined up to popularize the UCP’s changes, including accusations of plagiarism, inaccuracies, and flaws in how it covers race, colonialism, and indigenous people.
Concerns were raised immediately
Teachers participating in the Curriculum Working Groups have not been able to share their experiences and ideas about the process yet because they were forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement that expired earlier this fall.
Visser, who has more than 20 years of experience and works in the Paliser School department, says she and other teachers have been asked to share their thoughts on the social studies curriculum with a department employee, and the general feeling from the group is one of sadness.
She said, “I was concerned that, ‘Oh my God, my name is out now…and now I have a responsibility to criticize this curriculum, which was in dire need of getting back to the drawing board and rebuilding it.'”
“It wasn’t developmentally appropriate. It wasn’t age appropriate. It certainly didn’t include ways we could have a comprehensive education, like differentiated learning and so on.”
We tried to find the positives
Annie Greeno, a teacher in the Holy Spirit Catholic School department, was also part of the Social Studies Working Group.
“Give us a pile of [excrement] Then he told us to look through [excrement] Easy to digest corn. To search the trash and find something that can be salvaged.”
“That’s how I felt when looking at the Social Studies curriculum. It’s nowhere near as developmentally appropriate. It’s nowhere near as racially appropriate, and I wouldn’t serve that to anyone, least of all those kids that I love and care about.” .”
Sam Livingston, who no longer works in Alberta, was a teacher in the Fort McMurray School Division last year. She was part of the English Language Arts Curriculum Working Group.
Livingston raised similar concerns at that meeting.
“We tried to find the positives – we were asked to find the positives – but I found it difficult to find the positives because I saw so many negatives,” she said.
Livingston said she was teaching kindergarten at the time, said she focused on some of the big issues in that draft, and directed them to the ministry.
“The big concern with that was that there are reading expectations, but nursery school is not required in Alberta,” she said.
“If you set up reading expectations in kindergarten, if the student doesn’t go to kindergarten, they will face a greater challenge.”
Comments are ignored
When the draft syllabus was released, Livingston said, she did not see meaningful changes.
“I have not seen [the feedback] executed “.
“I asked clarifying questions about specific things in the syllabus that stayed in the syllabus, but I didn’t get answers to the clarifying questions when I asked them in the group as well.”
Sparrow said the draft syllabus released in March 2021 is “very different” from the draft submitted to the working group in December 2020.
“The draft syllabus will continue to be improved, based on feedback we hear from Albertans during the year-round open and transparent review process.”
Visser said that what bothered her most about this process was Lagrange’s repeated assurances to teachers “I participated and will continue to be involved every step of the way.”
“We weren’t part of every step of the way,” she said. “We were there to look at a curriculum that was already established and it didn’t change at all. It was a joke.”
Greeno said she felt a strange sense of relief when the draft syllabus was released last spring. And the community’s response was exactly what I expected.
“[I felt] The relief that others might see and feel as disgusted as we are. I knew they weren’t going to listen to us — I mean, maybe there was a glimmer of hope for them,” she said.
But when they asked me what my observations were, I even said, ‘Write this: My name is Annie Greeneau and I do not endorse this draft syllabus in this form. It must be completely rewritten. start again. Otherwise we need to go back to the current curriculum we are currently teaching. “