Alberta’s New Curriculum Should Be Revised, Not Rejected

December 16, 2021 Updated: December 16, 2021

Commentary

Alberta’s new K-12 curriculum has been under heavy fire for months. Critics claim that the new curriculum is developmentally inappropriate, culturally insensitive, and is being implemented too quickly.

Fortunately, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has addressed some of these concerns. Not only is Alberta delaying implementation of this new curriculum for junior and senior high students, but it is also sending the entire social studies draft back to the drawing board.

Only the new K-6 English language arts, math, and physical education curriculum will go ahead next fall.

These changes were both wise and necessary. Expecting teachers to implement a brand-new curriculum in all subjects at the same time is unrealistic—particularly during a global pandemic. Teachers have only a limited amount of time available each day and they would have found it incredibly difficult to make major changes in all subjects simultaneously.

In addition, serious concerns were raised about the draft social studies curriculum, and this warranted a closer examination. While some of these concerns appear exaggerated, it’s important to ensure that any new social studies curriculum has maximum buy-in from teachers and parents. It makes sense to spend more time reviewing this curriculum before mandating it in schools.

However, critics are still not satisfied. They want the entire curriculum thrown out and for the government to start from scratch.

Before acquiescing to this demand, it’s important to understand that many of these critics have a vested interest in derailing the new curriculum. That’s because this new curriculum is a threat to their progressive education philosophy. This philosophy, which dates back to more than a century ago, holds that students, rather than teachers, should direct the learning process.

Progressives view curriculum content as far less important than the so-called process of learning. They argue that the vast increase in the amount of information available to us makes it impractical to identify a core knowledge base with which all students should be familiar. They claim that we need to teach students how to access information rather than identifying what information they should receive.

Of course, this argument overlooks the fact that the widespread availability of information makes it even more imperative for students to receive a common grounding in core skills and knowledge, something the new Alberta curriculum proposes to do. Allowing students to learn only what they are personally interested in is a recipe for an even more fragmented society than what we have today.

Some critics assert that the new curriculum puts too much emphasis on “non-diverse” texts. This is fancy way of saying that students should spend less time reading classical authors such as William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens. Instead, critics argue, students should read texts written by contemporary authors who are more relevant to students’ lives today.

However, there is no reason why a curriculum cannot become more diverse while still retaining a healthy emphasis on classical authors and ideas. It’s important to remember that a key reason for reading these authors is to better understand our society today.

Contemporary references to people and events such as Romeo and Juliet, Ebeneezer Scrooge, and the American Gilded Age, for example, make sense only if one has at least some familiarity with the writings of these authors.

Besides, if we want students to be ready for the workforce when they graduate, they need to be knowledgeable and skillful. While this means students need to master the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy, it also means much more. They should understand key scientific concepts and possess a broad knowledge of our country’s history and system of government.

Albertans should be glad that Minister LaGrange remains committed to developing and implementing a knowledge-based curriculum. Far from being irrelevant pieces of trivia, factual knowledge provides students with the essential building blocks that make higher-level learning possible.

Students cannot think critically about a major historical event if they know nothing about the event in question. Nor can they solve multi-step algebraic equations without knowing the correct order of operations. Simply put, a broad knowledge base is essential to the development of critical thinking skills.

Let’s hope the Alberta government doesn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. A knowledge-based curriculum is exactly what all students deserve.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of “A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.”