Current Problems

Education (6-12)

Alberta’s ‘Astonishingly Bad’ New K-6 Social Studies Curriculum

March 20, 2024

Pull the plug and start over pleads a panel of experts asked by the province to weigh in.

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at Follow him on X @djclimenhaga.

A lighter-skinned man with white hair and goatee, wearing a checkered, collared shirt, speaks at a podium before a small microphone.
Former Alberta Teachers Association president and curriculum designer Larry Booi shares the expert panel’s alarm. ‘Misguided, unsophisticated and actually embarrassing.’ Photo via X.

The Tyee: How bad is the social studies curriculum the United Conservative Party wants to start piloting?

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We all know it’s bad. But I mean, seriously, how bad is it really

Last Friday, the expert panel asked by the province to weigh in on the UCP government’s new kindergarten to Grade 6 social studies curriculum published an open letter to Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides unanimously urging him pull the plug on it and start over again.

The eight post-secondary educators and curriculum specialists outlined their “significant concerns” with the plan to start piloting the controversial curriculum. Among them: It has no contemporary or relevant vision for social studies education, offers limited opportunities for critical thinking, makes only token gestures toward Indigenous history and has no acknowledgement of the diversity in Alberta today. 

“We are deeply disappointed with this draft curriculum and concerned about the lack of transparency in the curriculum development process,” they wrote. 

Alas, they said, when the curriculum was released they discovered their “critical feedback and constructive advice that could inform the creation of a high-quality social studies program for Alberta students” had been “largely ignored.”

Their belief, the letter concluded: “Alberta students deserve better.”

Their advice to the minister: “We urge the government to immediately convene a meeting of the key education partners to develop a protocol to restart the curriculum rewriting process.”

They were unfailingly polite throughout.

Probably as a result, their criticism generated a little metaphorical ink in the media but will be immediately brushed off by Dr. Nicolaides and the UCP. 

After all, this is the fruit of former premier Jason Kenney’s quest to reform Alberta public education in line with his crank pedagogical notions and his replacement Danielle Smith’s ideological agenda of breaking up the public education system to bust teachers’ unions and banish critical thought from Wild Rose Country. 

I spoke with Larry Booi — the plain-spoken former president of the Alberta Teachers Association, long-time social studies teacher and experienced social studies curriculum developer and instructor — in hopes he could explain the problem with the new curriculum in terms even an old journo like your blogger could understand.

To start with, Booi told me, “it’s an astonishingly bad job, and I wasn’t expecting much!”

“It is misguided, unsophisticated and actually embarrassing.”

“This proposed curriculum has been stripped of everything but history, with a backup role for geography, some economics and ‘civics,’” he explained, adding that even the history bits seem to be “randomly and arbitrarily arranged.” 

The new curriculum, he said, “is an unrelenting look backwards… clearly based on the view that social studies must be about understanding the past, so we can somehow ‘learn from it’ — but with no sense of how that will happen.

“It’s as if we are driving into this increasingly complex and uncertain future, and the only guide we have is the rear-view mirror of our car!”

The new curriculum, he said, is “devoid of any sense of the overall goals to be systematically pursued and reflected in a person who graduates after 13 years of social studies instruction.”

The old curriculum, he explained, tried to develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions in young people that would let them become “active and engaged citizens of a democratic society.” And this, he added, “was to be worked at increasingly through the grades.”

Now? “It looks like our students will be rigidly focused on the knowledge of the past that they have accumulated. No systematic development of the skills and attributes needed for making complex decisions in public affairs, no development of discerning judgement, no sense of agency or the disposition to be engaged and involved in public affairs.”

No surprise, either, given the UCP’s American-influenced MAGA ideology and hostility to critical thinking — especially if it results in criticism of them!

This, Booi suggested, looks like “a curriculum designed for home schooling.”

It seems K-6 social studies in Alberta has received a “curriculum lobotomy,” he added, “resulting in the removal of all higher-order functions and leaving it with a narrow focus on lower-level elements.”

“There should be no piloting of this draft curriculum,” Booi concluded. “We cannot inflict it on students.”

Stick with the old one, he advised, until a better one can be written. 

The K-6 Curriculum Development Specialist Group, whose recommendations the UCP government ignored, was made up of the following people:

  • Kathryn Crawford, EdD, assistant professor, Ambrose University
  • J.C. Couture, PhD, lecturer, University of Alberta
  • Craig Harding, PhD, instructor, Mount Royal University
  • Yvonne Poitras Pratt, PhD, associate professor, University of Calgary
  • Pierre Rousseau, associate lecturer, Campus St-Jean
  • David Scott, PhD, associate professor, University of Calgary
  • Amy von Heyking, PhD, associate professor, University of Lethbridge  [Tyee]

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