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Social studies, religious section of proposed Alberta draft curriculum under fire

Schools cannot prepare pupils for modern life by excluding non-religious beliefs from SS religious education section

The proposed K-Grade 6 curriculum was introduced Monday, March 29th 2021by Conservative Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and is to be piloted in some schools this fall.

It overhauls study in eight core subjects to stress fundamentals and real-life skills and applications.

The social studies section has kids learning a wealth of historical detail intermixed with financial literacy.

However, experts say Alberta’s new draft is an outlier—educationally regressive and developmentally inappropriate while othering diverse people and neglecting to meaningfully engage Indigenous perspectives. This leaves many Albertans worried the curriculum would set the province's pedagogical clock backwards, and put Alberta on the wrong side of history.

 

What's missing?

Among a long list of issues two main groups of people are missing from the draft:

No mention of the Non-religious people, families, or rights.

No mention of LGBTQ+ people, families, or rights.
No mention of human rights in general.

 

Margie Patrick, an associate education professor at The King’s University in Edmonton, said religion is an important study topic, but the proposed curriculum lacks context and avoids larger discussions on the role and relevance of religion, including non-belief systems.

It's very clear that this curriculum shows a clear lack of understanding of age-appropriate student abilities throughout its entire length. The curriculum completely lacks an appreciation for diversity, lacks differentiation and completely excludes students who are non-religious. The Indigenous perspective is insufficient. LGBTQ+ students will not see themselves in this curriculum. It’s as if they simply do not exist in this province.

 

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  • Christocentric
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  • Alienating and harmful to Indigenous, Black, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized peoples
  • Completely excludes the
     non-religious

The UCP Draft Curriculum

Alberta's Non-religious Rejects

It's time non-religious voices were given a chair at the table of any future curriculum changes or drafts.

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There are many people in Alberta who organize their lives without making any reference to a supernatural being. They may or may not call themselves atheists, humanists or even label themselves non-believers. Names, labels, and taxonomies are, to some less important than the fact that they lead their lives on the basis that there is no being or entity outside of earthly life forms involved in any of their affairs. They are born, grow up,  get up, eat, work, play, mourn, love,  die and they do these things without religious worship or religious ceremony.

 

Less well known, particularly among young people, is that there is a long history of people trying to express this, and struggling for the right to be this kind of person. There is evidence for people developing non-religious and secular ideas in ancient Greece, China, and India. In the face of persecution, people in Europe have asserted a range of non-religious viewpoints from at least the 16th century onwards. In some parts of the world today, it is extremely dangerous to be a  religious or non-religious secularist, with possible fatal consequences. 

The Alberta Humanist Association (AHA) is going to battle with the Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange, to challenge the Provincial Conservative Government’s decision to exclude non-religious worldviews from the latest subject content for Alberta K-6 Draft Curriculum Social Studies (SS). 

In a democratic, pluralist society, non–religious views deserve as much respect as religious ones. Moreover, the exclusion of non–religious views from RE only serves to exceptionalise religious ones. The implicit message to young people is that non–religion is the unspoken, well–understood norm; but religious stuff needs to be studied because it is something extra, and the cause of controversy.

That said, it wouldn’t necessarily be an easy inclusion. Secular humanism could be taught readily as a relatively coherent category with beliefs and practices, alongside the idealized, doctrinal versions of religions already presented. But this would only capture a subsection of the people who describe themselves as ‘non–religious’, but who hold a huge variety of beliefs, ranging from the material to the supernatural.

Learning about worldviews helps young people to deal positively with controversial issues, to manage strongly held differences of belief, and to challenge stereotypes. In an increasingly diverse society, understanding religious and non-religious worldviews has never been more essential than it is now.”

There are many children in Alberta who have no religious affiliation whatsoever and their beliefs and ideas, whatever they are, should be taken very seriously.

Currently, the whole draft is terribly biased in favor of religion right now - it's all about encouraging identification with religion.

There are huge numbers of students who are non-religious, identifying as humanists, atheists or whose families are non-religious and who are coming into a class where their personal or family's view is not acknowledged. Students should easily be able to have a conversation about ethics that doesn't collapse into a conversation about religion.

With the student body already representing diverse religious perspectives, why isn't it explicitly addressed in the curriculum?

Religion itself is in the classroom. It is in the curricular content students engage in, it is brought into the classroom through current events, and it is represented among the diverse student body.

 

Religious and non-religious diversity in Canadian classrooms is growing, and so is the potential for thoughtful, deliberate discussion and reflection around religion and non-religion.

 

Due to a range of factors that include growing Indigenous populations, increasing immigration, and rising numbers of those who identify as non-affiliated, Canada’s contemporary (and future) classrooms include a greater range of religious and non-religious worldviews than ever before.

 

A recent study suggests that by 2036, the number of people in Canada who practice a non-Christian religion could almost double, with numbers reaching up to 16 percent of the population. This is a dramatic increase compared to 2011, where non-Christian religious practitioners represented only nine percent.

It is our commitment that we will partner with other Alberta educational organizations to help put the brakes on this draft curriculum from being piloted until satisfactory revisions or a complete inclusive rewrite takes place.