In a nation united by shared values and divided by conflicting ones, a debate over the curriculum in public education simmers on the stovetop. It’s a reminder that the boiling point is near for parents who feel as if they’re losing control of the content their kids are being introduced to in schools. Acting as a vanguard for parents’ rights in the province, the Alberta Parents’ Union (APU) is making a case that while the core of the official Alberta curriculum is largely uncontroversial, the rest of the material is open to various interpretations of the truth. Their point being this: content that’s driven by personal agendas can be and is reason to sound the fire alarm.
The APU issued a news release on Nov. 6 that likely raised the temperature of concerned parents.
“Do you know what your kids are learning in school?” it asked. “You might think you do – especially if you’ve looked at the official Alberta Curriculum, which is publicly available to all parents. But did you know that the Alberta Curriculum is just a small part of what is taught in schools, and that the rest of what’s taught doesn’t have to be made available to parents at all? This is because school boards, principals, and even individual teachers are allowed to bring in all sorts of extra content into classrooms that fall outside of the official curriculum.”
The APU went on to say that most complaints from parents about problematic content being taught in their kids’ classroom isn’t actually curriculum content at all. The assertion that the APU made was a little startling, namely that “teachers import full, pre-built lesson plans” into their classrooms, but don’t have to have the content disclosed to or approved by parents at all.
The APU gave the following examples:
The Alberta Teachers’ Association’s library has a wide range of resources for teachers that are informed by Critical Race Theory.
Saint Albert Public Schools quietly introduced a “2SLGBTQIA+ course” without consulting parents.
LesPlan – a company that sells pre-built lesson plans – provides material that tells Alberta kids that there are health and environmental benefits of eating crickets and that puts an ideological spin on the events at the United States Capitol Building on January 6th, 2021.
The ATA also developed the PRISM toolkit, which gives specific lesson plans to teach about human sexuality while evading the requirement to inform parents under Alberta law.
Many principals require teachers to include a climate action emphasis week for all classes in their school, sometimes without the parents ever being aware.
The APU stated, “None of the above classroom content is approved to be in the Alberta Curriculum, but none of it is explicitly banned either. Rather, it’s left to individual school boards, principals, and teachers to decide what to teach. And, crucially, this type of content almost always comes into classrooms without the parents’ knowledge. We think this is a problem. We think parents are the real experts in their own kids. We think parents have the best sense of what is age-appropriate for their kids. So, we think parents need to know what their kids are learning in class.”
On the face of it, the APU’s stance doesn’t seem unreasonable or too much to ask. Asking for transparency, accountability, and compromise isn’t an overreach. Parents have every right to know how their kids’ values are being shaped, and by whom.
“The Alberta Curriculum will probably never contain a list of every single piece of content that is approved to be taught in schools, and maybe it shouldn’t – that would be incredibly bureaucratic,” the release said. “But at an absolute minimum, school boards should be required to disclose all supplementary materials being used in their schools above and beyond the curriculum.”
It makes sense that parents have access to the information that will define their kids’ worldview as they mature into independent thinkers. After all parents are the personal guardians of their own family values. They’re the guardians of their childrens’ safety, security, health, morality and personal development. At the same, it’s worth admitting that there is also value in exposing kids to a range of ideas and experiences that will attune their minds and senses to what’s different in the world–in contrast to the little reality bubble that is their home life. Finding that balance is a tricky task.
In and outside of the classroom, a thousand individual voices can offer a thousand different perspectives, and arguments will ensue. It’s inevitable. But both sides of the coin are valuable here. Should parents passively submit to educational content that conflicts wildly with their beliefs and values? Not necessarily. On the flip side, should school boards hover over every teacher’s shoulder, vetting every keystroke, spoken word, and creative activity? Again, not necessarily.
Standardized curriculums solve a large part of the problem, and maybe schools should just stick to basic forms of ‘knowledge education.’ But inclusivity and social sensitivity matter, too. Kids and young people need a safe and nurturing place to learn and become well-socialized. Presumably, school boards and teachers know this, and the APU does too. The APU’s point seems to be that education and ‘wokeism’ don’t mingle well under the same roof or in the same schoolyard. Maybe controversial social issues belong on a university campus and not in a grade school classroom.
So where’s the middle ground? Compromise comes to mind as the peacemaker in any battle of values, but it’s often hard to settle on one, and it’s downright impossible if neither is willing to flinch or give an inch. Do it for the kids.