Notes From the Playground September 23, 2018

This series about current issues in education, Notes from the Playground gives a nod to the very early beginnings of SOS Alberta and where we first organized, as citizens talking to each other about one of the most powerful influences on our daily lives, our kids’ education. These are my thoughts on education matters this week, as always we welcome yours!

Carolyn Blasetti – Executive Director

This week in education news, light was shone upon teaching resources and materials used by the Alberta Distance Learning Centre which contained outdated and racist interpretation of Indigenous people, communities and the impact of residential schools.

We at SOS Alberta agree wholeheartedly that Alberta classrooms are long overdue for an update to all aspects of the Alberta curriculum. However, the materials used by teachers and students at ADLC were not part of the current outdated curriculum. The test was part of a supplemental RESOURCE that teachers have available to them. These resources are meant to compliment curriculum, but are not the actual curriculum. Teachers can and do choose from a wide array of materials, in this case the materials were far from the only ones available. In the same way a teacher might opt to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Hatchet for a language arts class, the choice is made by the teacher or teaching team, curriculum does not mandate the reading of a specific novel. There will be no argument from us that the the Social Studies curriculum, in particular how Indigenous history and the history of colonization in Canada is interpreted, needs a massive overhaul but the distinction between what is curriculum and what are supporting resources is an important distinction to make.

  • This incident is a clear example of how systemic racism works. Teachers have CHOSEN to use this resource for 8 years and students have taken this test year over year. Educators failing to recognize that this document was devoid of Indigenous perspective and perpetuating a narrow, oppressive view of residential schools until a student brought it forward shows how deeply systemic bias exists. If not for this student, how many more years would this document have been circulated in Alberta Education?
  • While we appreciate the minister’s response, we are disheartened by the obvious omission that this is in fact evidence of systemic racism. Calling this document hurtful and presenting it as a one off mistake as opposed to an explicit example of systemic racism does little to strengthen relationships in our community in accordance with the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Or in accordance with the Alberta Government’s own mandate that: “that current and future Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum includes student learning outcomes specific to First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives and experiences, as well as content on the significance of residential schools and treaties. “ – Alberta Education March 27, 2014
  • It highlights the devastating impact on students and communities when outdated, biased resources are used and having educators ill prepared to teach perspectives which don’t follow the traditional eurocentric interpretation of Canadian history. We know the impact because we speak with students, parents, teachers, trustees and administrators daily, about the barriers that exist for marginalised students. That systemic bias within the education system is a reality for FNMI students, students of colour, disabled students and students in poverty. We applaud the student who bravely acted as an”agent of change” in bringing this forward, and hope that Albertans recognise this is NOT a unique incident and hope they will support initiatives that are working to change this.

As part of our advocacy we always hope to provide, actionable solutions:

  1. We hope the Education minister will acknowledge this is not an isolated incident, that he will include education voices in the Anti Racism Advisory Council.
  2. We fully support the writing of new curriculum and the commitment to Education for Reconciliation initiatives by the Alberta Education but would add curriculum support resources need to be thoroughly reviewed. Educators must also be trained themselves so that they can accurately teach about residential schools, treaties and Indigenous rights.
  3. Develop a province wide policy around anti-racism at all levels of education.

Resources – A Starting Place for Teaching for Reconciliation: (Please feel free to suggest others or add in the comments)

National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation

The John Humphrey Centre – Reconciliation in Schools

Residential Schools Teacher Resources – University of Alberta

decolonized Ed – A toolkit for Canadian teaching

GUIDING VOICES A Curriculum Development Tool for Inclusion of First Nation, Métis and Inuit Perspectives Throughout Curriculum

Walking Together Project, ATA