A Curriculum We Cannot Teach

Lisa Bush
5 min readMar 30, 2021

The New Alberta Social Studies Curriculum has a seemingly random and illogical scope and sequence of learning, developmentally inappropriate material, overt emphasis on capitalism, and is based on a scarcity model. Those are the least of our worries.

Here are the things we should be deeply concerned about:

1. Revering systems of oppression and war.

In the New Alberta Social Studies Curriculum, we are teaching children — at the age of 6 — to honour systems of oppression and war.

In Grade 1, students learn about hereditary rulers. They must understand “societies had ruling elites who governed the rest of the people.” and draw a diagram of a “king or emperor in relation to the common people.”

Six-year-olds in Alberta will be learning to classify human beings into categories of elites and common people.

In Grade 2, children are to understand the feudal system and class structure including, “plebeians, knights, freedmen, slaves, nobles and vassals, lords and serfs.” Students must understand that “everyone was responsible to the king/monarch and bound by loyalty.” And that monarch had a “profound influence.” Grade 2 students about Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire which was the “largest land empire in human history.” It was able to govern “without any limits.”

Seven-year-olds are introduced to the idea of funding wars.

In the New Alberta Social Studies Curriculum, we are teaching Grade 1 and 2 students to honour domination, conquest, war, and governing without limits.

2. Embedding an us versus them mindset

In the New Alberta Social Studies Curriculum, we are intentionally, systematically and consistently establishing an us versus them narrative.

Us is White European settlers and their descendants. Them is anyone else.

And when cultures not belonging to Us are taught, they are taught through the lens of the oppressed, the marginalized, the uncivilized, and the enslaved.

Grade 1 students will explain how China is “different from,” civilizations like Canada. And, “recognize the role of protocols and customs in First Nations and Inuit communities, which were unfamiliar to the ways of early Europeans.”

Grade 3 students will have a knowledge that “towns and villages lived under fear of attack” of the Iroquois.

And Grade 6 students will know that , “The religious affiliation of most Albertans is Christian,” and “newcomers bring new and unfamiliar religious faiths and practices.”

Using concepts such as, different from, unfamiliar, fear, attack, what are we teaching our children about anyone who does not conform to the White European settler identity?

How are we teaching our children who do not conform to the White European settler identity to view themselves?

3. Promotes Dehumanization

Racism and oppression is a part of history — and our current daily reality. It is important to teach both, however, it must be taught in a framework of cultural awareness and empathy.

In Alberta’s New Social Studies Curriculum, we look at occurrences such as slavery in a way that is duhuminizing. We view organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan through an encouraging lens in a way that is deeply dangerous.

Grade 3 students learn that in Canada, “Slaves and servants were common.” In the curriculum Black individuals are referred to as, “Blacks,” and “Enslaved Blacks.” Students must have an understanding that “Slaves existed in New France.” Eight-year-olds are required to examine advertisements placed in newspapers offering rewards for the capture of a runaway slave.

In Alberta’s New Social Studies Curriculum, Black individuals did not live. They existed. In fact they are not even called people or individuals but just labeled a colour. Students are to look objectively at images and text, created by White European settlers, of runaway slaves.

Grade 6 students must learn the slogan of the Ku Klux Klan: “One Flag, One Language, One School, One Race, One Religion”

Grade six students must understand that the KKK “attracted thousands who held mass meetings, carried torches, and tormented Black people,” and that “the Ku Klux Klan appealed to Americans and Canadians who felt distracted by social changes and the advances.” “It was such a powerful organization that … politicians, policemen, and even judges were members.” We want students to examine, “ Why did it find some support in Canada?”

In Alberta’s New Social Studies Curriculum is teaching the Ku Klux Klan in the language of attraction, appeal, power, and support.

4. Trauma

Let’s circle back to the developmentally inappropriate aspect of the curriculum that I mentioned at the very start of the article. There is one area that we should be focusing on: When inappropriateness causes trauma.

In the New Alberta Social Studies Curriculum, five-year-old Kindergarteners are being forced to learn survival. As in life or death type scenarios. They must imagine that they are, “being transported on a small boat to a desert island. What three items would you need to survive?”

Many five-year-olds do not yet have a solid understanding of life and death. To ask them to pretend that they are going all alone — and could die — but they might live … just maybe … if they select the right three items … seems inhumaine.

Grade 1 student study, “famine, wars, disease, drought, floods, and fires.” They must, “explain a chart showing impact of natural disasters on populations.” (which is a euphemism for how disasters kill mass amounts of populations)

Grade 2 Students must understand, “the Black Death,” and “Compare the Black Death with later pandemics, including … COVID-19.”

Why are we inflicting trauma on 5, 6, and 7 year olds? What are we gaining as a province by hardening young children to concepts that even we as adults are very much struggling with — death, survival, famine, pandemics?

5. Who and What is being left out

Students learn what is important by what is taught through the curriculum. A great deal of learning also occurs through what is omitted.

There is a great deal omitted from this curriculum.

Collaboration. Community. Family. Interconnectedness. Any sense of cooperation or humanity. Celebrations of cultures. An insider perspective of Indiginouse ways of life. Women. (For the most part. Unless they were involved in a war.)

One academic who was interviewed yesterday in CBC called the curriculum, “Silly.” I think that is a dangerous mistake.

Don’t underestimate the significance of this curriculum. Don’t underestimate the ability of this curriculum to teach an entire generation of Albertans oppression, intolerance, hatred, and dehumanization.

Let me be very clear here — this is a curriculum that cannot see the light of day. As teachers, as principals, as superintendents, as school board trustees, this is a curriculum that we cannot allow into our schools or in our classrooms. And as parents this is a curriculum that we cannot allow our children to come into contact with.

The New Alberta Social Studies Curriculum does not need to be “modified.” It does not need “further consultations.” It needs to be thrown out altogether.

We can do so much better than this.

Our kids deserve so much better than this.

Lisa Bush is a writer, educator, and author of the book Teaching Well: How healthy, empowered teachers lead to thriving, successful classrooms. She is the creator of the Working Mom Wellness Podcast.