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'A political football': Concern over Alberta's premier pushing U.S.-style views on school curriculum

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A professor studying social studies education in Alberta is concerned that American-style rhetoric about curriculum is creeping into what the premier is saying.

On Saturday, Premier Jason Kenney delivered a speech to the United Conservative Party as members start to receive ballots for the leadership contest.

Among making a case for why voters should choose party unity over a leadership contest that Kenney said would pave the path for an NDP victory, the premier outlined the party's achievements while in office, including on the draft curriculum.

"(The NDP) tried to put their woke left-wing dogma in the school curriculum," Kenney said. "We reversed the NDP's attack on parental authority in education."

Kenney added that the party has focused on putting "the authority of parents back in charge of our education."

"We did tread the NDP's ideological curriculum rewrite and we began carefully developing a modernized curriculum that gets back to basics in math and reading with balanced content on our history and institutions," he said.

"Instead of divisive, woke, left ideology like critical race theory, cancel culture, and age-inappropriate sex education."

'WILDLY INACCURATE'

Carla Peck, a University of Alberta professor studying social studies education, said the premier's speech accused the curriculum of doing things it actually does not include.

"His comments were wildly inaccurate," she told CTV News Edmonton.

Peck described the concept of critical race theory as a way to help understand patterns of racial discrimination, not blaming individuals for racist actions.

"(This concept has) been around for around 40 years, so this isn't something new," Peck said. "What is new is that in the last few years, in particular, Republican politicians in the U.S. have somehow glommed onto this theory and decided it's a bad thing."

"It is about racism that exists in the policies, in the institutions that are in our society," Peck added. "This isn't about saying that every single person in Alberta is racist.

"It's about helping to really look at our institutions, our laws, legal policies, or other types of policies to see are they systematically discriminating against a segment of society and if it is that based on the question of race."

'A POLITICAL FOOTBALL'

When it comes to teaching Canadian history, Peck said the concept helps explain how discrimination begins and is perpetuated, especially important when exploring how Indigenous peoples were and continue to be treated.

"I don't know how you teach about certain aspects of Canadian history without understanding issues of systemic racism," she said. So, for example the creation of residential schools, the reserve system that Indigenous peoples were forced to live in, and the practice of enslaving other people.

"These are not just the actions of one or two bad people that decided let's create a system of enslavement. This is about these actions becoming part of the system of how society worked at the time and understanding the legacy of those actions today."

Kenney's comments show Peck that the curriculum is becoming a sticking point for more Albertans.

"It's become a political football with very stark opposing sides," Peck said. "It's such a shame to see U.S.-style politics and rhetoric so overtly used in Alberta. There have been undercurrents for sure, but to see the same language used by the Republican Party in the United States, I would call it distressing."

Peck said while the provincial election is scheduled to be held by May 2023 at the latest, the curriculum is already being positioned as an election issue.

"Both parties are already putting their mark in the ground about what they believe the curriculum should be and what it should look like and what it should do," she said, adding that curriculums usually stay in place for 20 to 30 years.

"(This) will shape the way that young people in Alberta will be educated for years and years to come," Peck added. "What we want is good for the children of Alberta, and ultimately what this has turned into is very competing views of what good looks like." 

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