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Alberta curriculum review panel lacking diversity, appropriate voices: critics

Experts are raising concerns about a lack of diversity on the Alberta UCP's new curriculum review panel.
Experts are raising concerns about a lack of diversity on the Alberta UCP's new curriculum review panel. Global News file

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that The Dorchester Review published an essay in 2013 that criticized how Indigenous issues are framed in Canada. That piece was in fact published in a different online publication. This story has been corrected. ​We regret the error.

Experts have been quick to criticize the first eight appointees to the Alberta UCP’s curriculum review panel, which currently consists of only men and doesn’t have Indigenous representation.

Read more: Alberta government new school curriculum focused on ‘evidence, numeracy & literacy’: LaGrange

The list, which was published on Twitter Thursday by Ministry of Education press secretary Colin Aitchison, names the advisers appointed to seven core curriculum subjects, who are described as “experts in their fields.” They include:

  • Dr. George Georgiou – Literacy
  • Dr. David Chorney – Wellness
  • Dr. Vladimir Troitsky – Math
  • Dr. Chris Champion – Social Studies
  • William French – Arts and literature
  • Dr. Cameron Macdonell – Science
  • Dr. Marvin Washington – Diversity and pluralism
  • Dr. Onookome Okome – Diversity and pluralism

Speaking to the media on Thursday, Women and LGBTQ2s+ Issues Opposition Critic Janis Irwin said makeup of the panel is “disappointing.”

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“The people that they’ve chosen lack the diversity and representation inherent in any student population in the province,” she said.

“For a panel that’s supposed to be overseeing the curriculum that will ultimately be taught by majority women, that is a glaring omission,” she said of the fact that no women are on the expert list.

Residential school survivor Lena Wildman also spoke Thursday to the importance of including Indigenous history and teaching about residential schools in the provincial curriculum.

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

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“In order for actual change to really happen, we have to have that knowledge within the schools. It has to be taught,” Wildman said.

“Yes, we don’t want to talk about it — it is a dark history of Canada, but children have to be made aware of what has really happened with our people.”

‘More effort needs to be made’

University of Alberta professor of social studies education Dr. Carla Peck said it was “astonishing” to see no women on the panel.

“This is yet another example that equity, diversity and inclusion does not matter to this government,” she said.

Peck said the appointments point to the government’s lack of commitment to gather expertise from not only women, but other underrepresented groups such as Indigenous and Francophone experts.

“More effort needs to be made to make sure that the people providing input into the curriculum revisions are actually representative of the students and teachers that will be learning from and using the curriculum,” she said.

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In an emailed statement, a government spokesperson said panel members are still being added, but would not say how many and on what subjects they’ll be advising.

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“We are continuing our search for qualified individuals who represent a diversity of opinions, experiences, and expertise,” Kassandra Kitz said.

“We have full confidence in the subject matter experts and the nearly 300-member curriculum working group, and their commitment to a transparent and non-partisan approach to curriculum development.”

Read more: Panel reviewing Alberta curriculum suggests schools ‘balance’ lessons about climate change, oilsands

Speaking to Global News on Thursday afternoon, Dan Scratch, a high school social studies teacher in Alberta, said he wasn’t surprised to see the appointments.

“It’s … disappointing that there’s not Indigenous representation or queer representation or folks from different groups or different subject experts, but, you know, they brought in a panel that will achieve what they believe will be an objective and neutral curriculum, which, as we know, can’t exist,” he said.

Scratch said he wants to see more information on what role the advisers will take, particularly whether they or the teachers will be guiding the writing of the new curriculum or if it will be the other way around.

NDP wants Champion removed from panel

The NDP also took issue with the appointment of Champion, who is editor and founder of the The Dorchester Review, a controversial publication which Irwin said has questioned the experiences of residential school survivors and whether those experiences should be taught in schools.

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Read more: Alberta NDP, Indigenous leaders renew calls for Kenney to fire speechwriter over 2013 essay

“He’s been given this job because of his connections, not his qualifications,” Irwin said, referencing that Champion is a longtime staffer, adviser and friend of Kenney.

Irwin said the NDP would like to see him removed from the panel.

“A man who publishes views like that cannot, cannot be the one deciding what is included in our social studies curriculum,” she said.

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange appointed a separate panel last August to review the work done by the NDP government to overhaul the province’s K-12 curriculum.

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