Skip to content

Open Letter to Premier Kenney and Minister LaGrange

November 17, 2020

On November 13th, 2020, the following letter was sent to Premier Jason Kenney and Minister of Education, Adriana LaGrange. Over 300 academics, history professionals, and others signed it in support. A version of this letter was published as an Op-Ed in the Edmonton Journal on November 14th, 2020.


13 November 2020

Dear Premier Kenney and Minister LaGrange,

In our roles as History professors, Social Studies educators, Education professors, and professionals in public history fields, we write to express our serious concerns about the proposed changes to the Alberta K-4 Social Studies curriculum. Specifically, we take issue with the political interference with the curriculum content as well as the call for outdated and ineffective history education. Materials circulated in the press on October 21, 2020 have only served to redouble our dismay.

The envisioned overhaul of the Social Studies curriculum reflects a hard-right ideological perspective rooted in a White European story of progress that ignores, purposefully, any people, groups, or developments that get in the way of the march of progress such as women’s history, working class histories, and histories of racism and its intersections with other forms of structural violence. The current Social Studies Program of Studies, which was created in 2005 by the Conservative government at the time, calls for the teaching of multiple perspectives. Dialogue across differences is a hallmark of democracy, which is why Social Studies curricula call for an exploration of many sides of an issue. No human being is unbiased or neutral. We all have beliefs, experiences, and commitments. It is not inherently bad to have biases; however, if we fail to recognize our biases/standpoint, then we have a problem. No curriculum can be neutral, but the curriculum needs to balance a variety of perspectives (except hateful ones). The UCP claims of creating an “unbiased” curriculum is impossible, and they are foreclosing the possibilities of a balanced one.

The proposed changes also signal a return to an outdated and ineffective method of teaching History. On August 6, 2020, Chair of the Curriculum Review Panel Angus McBeath called for a “sensible approach to learning history” that requires a “sequential curriculum that allows students to understand one thing after another.” While we have no objection to students thinking chronologically, Mr. McBeath’s vision suggests that the study of history is tantamount to memorizing lists of names and dates. He is sorely mistaken. On October 21, 2020, a leaked document has now revealed that the recommendations put forward by C.P. (Chris) Champion’s, the social studies “subject matter expert” hand-picked by the current government, reinforce Mr. McBeath’s statements and promote the inclusion of troubling content.

The recommendations clearly state that students should be conditioned to memorize content during their foundational years of schooling – a recommendation that is not supported by more than forty years of research in Social Studies curriculum and pedagogy and that is sure to make students hate Social Studies. Information that, these days, can be readily accessed through an Internet search is insufficient on its own. What students need are the skills to search for, evaluate, and learn how to use sources to support and challenge their thinking. History is the study of past worlds and how they have changed over time. It is a way of thinking about how and why past environments, societies, governments, and beliefs were different from and similar to our own. History is not about rote memorization of one darn thing after another; it is instead about finding clues about the past and following those clues to craft true stories about ourselves and others.

What students need are the skills to search for, evaluate, and learn how to use sources to support and challenge their thinking.

The proposed changes to the K-4 Social Studies curriculum reduce Social Studies to a list of dates, names, and other facts to be memorized and neglect to address key aspects of the history of this land, particularly Indigenous histories and perspectives. We are alarmed by the fact that Dr. Champion is dismissive of Indigenous Knowledges and perspectives, a view that puts him at odds with the weight of contemporary expert opinion among practicing historians of Canada. Further, while subject matter experts engaged with up-to-date scholarship should be part of the overall curriculum revision process, priority should be given to curriculum experts and teachers.

Given the above, we ask that you:

  • Immediately remove Chris P. Champion from his role providing recommendations on Social Studies curriculum revisions to the Minister of Education.
  • Reinstate, as quickly as possible, the Curriculum Writing Groups and Teacher and Educator Focus Groups that were established in 2017 and ensure they reflect the diversity of the province they serve, including appropriate representation from Indigenous peoples, racialized peoples, women, Francophone and LGBTQ2S+ communities.
  • Renew the previous government’s commitment to work in partnership with classroom teachers and the Alberta Teachers’ Association to ensure the curriculum review processes reflect the realities of the contemporary classroom.

Sincerely,

Dr. Carla Peck, Professor, Social Studies Education, University of Alberta

Dr. Jaymie Heilman, Professor, History, University of Alberta

Dr. Cathryn van Kessel, Assistant Professor, Social Studies Education, University of Alberta

Dr. Shannon Stunden Bower, Associate Professor, History, University of Alberta

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: