Knowledge rich or just fake knowledge?

Faced with massive public opposition, the Alberta government insists that their draft K-6 curriculum will be fully activated in fall 2022. Parents and grandparents, academic curriculum experts and classroom teachers, school boards and citizens all continue to protest, but the government is adamant. They claim their draft is “knowledge-rich,” but it is fake knowledge. The seven-year-old (just attaining real fluency as a reader) who mastered the incoherent jumble of hundreds of learning outcomes in the Grade Two curriculum would be equipped, at best, to be an expert at Trivial Pursuit.

UCP politicians complain about the ideological bent of the displaced curriculum draft that was nearly ready to be implemented. It was initiated by a previous Conservative government but continued to develop during the four years that the NDP were in provincial power, and that simple fact has contaminated it beyond redemption, according to Jason Kenney. The new draft, far from being non-ideological, blatantly favours white, Christian, and straight perspectives. Its omissions are even more startling. For example, it features no media literacy and pays little critical attention to the digital world.

The draft has a further paralyzing problem: it confuses teaching time with learning time. It is so overloaded with content (not true knowledge) that it really makes allowance only for “mentioning time.” It permits no room for considering and digesting this content. Leaving aside the issue that many of these facts are simply beyond children’s comprehension, wrong, and/or biased, the volume of material alone is enough to prevent children from learning. This curriculum is not knowledge rich, as the government boasts; it is learning poor.

We know that children need time to revisit challenging material. In a study of children re-reading and being re-read to, Leon observes, “the complexity of children’s thinking increased as they became more familiar with a book.” Everyone learns better with a chance to digest and reflect on new material. Very young children are capable of applying their intelligence to thought-provoking material in ever more layered ways if they are given time and occasion to revisit it.

But this draft curriculum is entirely hostile to such learning. It simply makes no space for it. Children will soon realize that school is not about real learning at all, just about memorizing pell-mell information that they are not invited (nor given any opportunity) to make meaningful to themselves.

Failure is built into the nature of such a forced high-speed recitation of facts. The government’s indifference to the nature of learning is all the crueller because children are being asked to consider some devastating topics. While the draft unilaterally violates the TRC recommendation that the history of residential schools be taught at all grade levels (the government thinks this content is too harsh), they have no compunction about requiring seven-year-olds to compare the Black Death to the COVID-19 pandemic they have all just experienced (Grade 2 Social Studies – one of hundreds of instruction points these children and their teachers will be required to whiz through in this one subject area alone). Some of these young children will have lost family members to COVID-19, but there is no time for reflection on this very dark topic; it is just another dash-through nugget to be memorized.

The government chooses to denigrate all opposition as “special interests,” but the outcry among ordinary Albertans is simply astonishing. By dismissing every considered and intelligent objection to the draft as politically motivated, and by insisting the curriculum will take effect across all seven grades in all subjects in the fall of 2022, with or without piloting, the Alberta government is ensuring that Alberta’s children will not be equipped for the twenty-first century.

Leon, L.R. (n.d.). Can we read it again…and again…and again? Why re-reading storybooks with young children matters. The Open University.