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Opinion: New curriculum deepens old political divide in Alberta – The Globe and Mail

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A empty hallway is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver on March 23, 2020.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

When Alberta’s NDP government was still in power, the United Conservative Party campaigned on the idea that its political rival was trying to smuggle politics into Alberta classrooms. Once in office, UCP Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said her own government’s plans for a sweeping curriculum revamp would be about getting away from any “ideological bent.”

But when everyone got the first official look at the UCP’s draft kindergarten-to-Grade 6 curriculum this week, it became clear that the governing party’s political stamp is on its own strategy. In social studies, in particular, it’s a prescriptive, details-heavy document with a take on history that’s not an easy sell to many parents, or the people who teach the stuff.

The document asks Grade 3 students – kids aged 8 or 9 – to explain items many grownups struggle with, including the clauses of Magna Carta, the First Nations’ claim to land beyond the settled area of New France and “why Alberta is a leading resource-producing region.”

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There was never a chance that a large-scale blueprint that outlines the lessons that will mould young minds would be anything but political. Education is a fraught issue everywhere, but it’s especially so in the polarized landscape that is Alberta politics. Here, there’s no consensus on where the oil and gas-focused economy needs to go, and where it feels like the NDP and UCP are locked in a perpetual, election-like battle.

The government says the draft K-6 curriculum brings a renewed focus to literacy, numeracy, citizenship and practical skills. Everyone seems to agree that the addition of financial skills, computer coding and sexual consent are good things.

The government is asking for feedback from the public but intends to test the curriculum in some classrooms this fall, and all students are expected to be learning it in the 2022-23 school year. The quick turnaround for reimagining the curriculum is in step with the government’s focus on fulfilling campaign commitments, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Alberta has long had a strong, well-regarded public-education system with high student test scores in reading, math and science, compared with global peers. Ms. LaGrange, however, also notes that some parts of the curriculum are decades old, and raw scores are either flat or seeing a decline.

“This is actually very ambitious – to change all of the curriculum at one time,” said Ms. LaGrange in an interview this week with The Globe and Mail.

But already, the Métis Nation of Alberta has called for a redo. Edmonton Public Schools – which counts more than 100,000 students of all grades on its rolls – said Thursday that it will not participate in a pilot run of the draft elementary curriculum this fall. The decision is based on worries about bringing in a new program during the pandemic. But there’s also high public concern as to whether the curriculum is age-appropriate, whether it properly addresses the issues of residential schools and reconciliation, and whether an “us-versus-them mentality” is embedded in the document.

Elk Island Public Schools is also out, and Edmonton Catholic Schools has said it “will not be committing to piloting the curriculum.”

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All subjects are under intense scrutiny but social studies appears to be the major sticking point. Some parents and critics say the curriculum is far too dense for young students, mishandles issues of race and leaves out LGBTQ issues, is too American- and European-centric, or is focused on the three major Abrahamic religions.

There are seemingly gratuitous partisan jabs, like in Grade 6, where the curriculum notes that “the United States Congress, controlled by the Democratic party, ruled in the Fugitive Slave Act that escaped slaves must be returned to their owners.”

NDP critic Sarah Hoffman’s blunt assessment is “this is a mess of a curriculum.”

But the UCP is responding, in part, to broader concerns about the education system – which Ms. LaGrange notes helped her party win the 2019 election. A key part of this is what she has described as the political biases of some individual teachers.

Last year, Ms. LaGrange referred to an excerpt from an exam that she said was from a Grade 10 class in Calgary. She argued that it was an attack on the province’s responsible energy sector. A multiple-choice question asked students to identify “one of the valid arguments against oil sands development” being the destruction of tracts of forest.

“My main concern has always been to ensure that our curriculum is taught without bias,” the Education Minister said the interview. “And the fact that the new draft curriculum is really based on factual content – that will really leave little room for bias in our classrooms.”

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But the other side of this argument is that the ability of teachers to adapt to circumstances is diminished. “The new curriculum turns education into a checklist and rote memorization,” said Alberta Party Leader Jacquie Fenske.

And a second, related theme for the UCP is that current teaching now is so focused on the many errors of history, and injustices, that it fails to note the accomplishments of modern civilization, in Alberta and elsewhere. Premier Jason Kenney says it’s possible to face up to historical racism, for instance, “while also teaching how we have increasingly managed to overcome those things, and how we’ve created this incredibly diverse, pluralistic society.”

This part of the revamp is very on-brand for the UCP. Part of it, however, feels incongruous in a week when Mr. Kenney talked about “hitting our stride in diversification.”

An overly political remaking of Alberta’s now-strong school system is galvanizing parent groups who are against the changes. A big fight over the base curriculum for the youngest kids is not only bad for the province, it could make potential newcomers – and even the companies and investors Mr. Kenney’s government has spent two years trying to entice – less enthusiastic about coming to the province.

Politics will be part of any new curriculum. But Mr. Kenney’s UCP is, as often, in danger of letting politics take over.

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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