Alberta curriculum: Where are the gaps when it comes to teaching about racism?

Educators are raising concerns about the Alberta curriculum's ability to adequately equip teachers to teach students about racism. Getty Images

Whether students attend class in person or digitally this coming fall, some Alberta educators are concerned about the lack of resources available for incorporating teaching about racism and anti-racism.

According to Gabrielle Lindstrom, member of the Kainaiwa First Nation in southern Alberta and professor of Indigenous studies at Mount Royal University, the gaps in the current curriculum are “profound.”

“I think the gaps are profound in the context of anti-racism education, in fact, that’s non existent in K-12 curriculum,” Lindstrom said.

“New teachers coming into the schools are very ill-equipped to engage with anti-racist discourses. Children are learning the history of Canada from one perspective, and that’s the Canadian perspective, which is a colonial perspective. And racism drive colonialism.”

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Click to play video: 'Petition calls for more anti-Black racism teaching in Alberta schools'
Petition calls for more anti-Black racism teaching in Alberta schools

Lindstrom said improvements need to be tangible and more than just a “pipe dream.”

“We need explicit anti-racism action plans in the curriculum with achievable outcomes,” she said.

Updating resources, shifting teaching styles

Educators in Alberta are hoping the new curriculum also features more diverse literature and includes authors and expects from various backgrounds.

“It’s also the list of suggested texts that are recommended for classroom use, those also need to be updated,” Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling said.

“We know times have changed. And we have different authors who are writing different books and being able to expose students different literature that way is important.”

Schilling said both teachers and students need to see themselves represented in the classroom.

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“It’s important that we speak with educators who are Black, Indigenous, or people of colour to give input to government about what that should look like, and the experiences that they have within the literature that they see,” he said.

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“There needs to be an explicit instruction that’s included with in the curriculum that addresses anti-racism in the histories of racism of different marginalized people in the province.”

Lindstrom said the way Alberta curriculum currently deals with inclusion and diversity “falls short” of getting to the heart of the issue.

“Diversity discourses cater to the comfort levels of settler society,” she said.

“Diversity has an external focus, and learning about different cultures without fully appreciating the inherent violence, the ideology that drives colonialism.”

Lindstrom said another problem with diversity discourse is that there is no “shared understanding of what constitutes diverse.”

“If we’re discussing diversity then there is an assumed normal, right? So if if there is a normal, a center of normalcy, then what is that center of normalcy against which every other culture is meshed?” she said.

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Equipping the teachers

According to Alberta high school teacher and anti-racism advocate with the Centre for Race and Culture Dan Scratch, while teachers have the option to incorporate instruction on racism in their lesson plans, many are afraid to.

“What I hear the most is, ‘I’m afraid to talk about social justice issues; I don’t want to bring it up. I don’t want to rock the boat. I don’t want to cause controversy,'” he said.

Scratch said for teachers to feel comfortable teaching about racism in their classrooms, they need dedicated, ongoing professional development to help uncover unconscious biases, acknowledge them and learn from the process.

“If we’re going to be real about anti-racist education, the curriculum is one piece of it, but it’s a much more systemic issue that we need to uncover,” Scratch said.

According to Lindstrom, though, it’s also about a fundamental change to the way students learn about the diverse background of the province and country.

“We also need collaboration with… members of the community, we need more oral systems, Indigenous oral systems paralleled with, with Western learning systems,” she said.

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“It’s not just about the content, it’s about the relationships and the pedagogical strategies that are incorporated into the classroom.”

Click to play video: 'Calgary teacher creates petition calling for anti-racism task force within CBE'
Calgary teacher creates petition calling for anti-racism task force within CBE

Lack of confidence in curriculum review

The public school curriculum is currently under review, but there is a lack of confidence the new teaching guidelines will go far enough in addressing racism education.

“The UCP government comes from a point of view that education should be neutral and objective, which is philosophically, realistically impossible. There’s no knowledge that’s just neutral or objective,” Scratch said.

“I’m concerned that issues like climate change, issues like anti-racism, anything to do with social justice will be clouded, completely absent or be very watered down in the curriculum.”

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Lindstrom said the UCP has a “tremendous opportunity” with the review, adding real change “requires a lot of humility and it requires collaboration, and it’s essentially a paradigm shift.”

While she’s hopeful, Lindstrom said she’s not confident the UCP will unveil a curriculum that’s sufficient to bring that shift to the way students learn and teachers teach.

“The UCP is cutting higher education, they’re doing all of these things — cut here and there,” she said.

“And so, if if I’m going to be completely honest, no, I am not confident in the UCP government to do these changes.”

In an emailed statement to Global News, press secretary for Alberta Education Colin Aitchison said “Albertans can be confident” the new K-12 curriculum will cover racism as well as Black history and perspectives.

“It will continue to address concepts, topics and issues related to anti-racism, particularly in social studies and wellness education,” he said.

“Concepts, topics and issues related to anti-racism, diversity and pluralism may also be addressed in other subject areas such as English Language Arts.”

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange met recently with people behind a petition regarding anti-racism in the curriculum, Aitchison where she heard about their experiences and suggestions on what should be included in the new teaching materials.

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Aitchison added Alberta teachers were also encouraged to participate in the Respect in School program available through the Respect Group, which “educates school system employees on their responsibilities to ensure students are safe from abusive situations, including equipping them with knowledge to help prevent racism in school.”

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