Media readers deserve the whole story about the sources reporters quote in public policy stories

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PHOTOS: The question isn’t just whether Alberta’s students are getting the information they need, but whether media is giving the rest of us all the facts we require when we read news stories about education policy. Below: Former Edmonton Public Schools curriculum director Stuart Wachowicz, a frequent source used in columns by Edmonton Journal writer David Staples (Photo: Twitter) and other journalists.

Stuart Wachowicz appears to believe the modern Canadian education curriculum is, quite possibly literally, the work of the Devil.

This is important for issues of public policy and journalistic best practice that we’ll get to in a moment, but first we need to consider Mr. Wachowicz’s beliefs, which are clearly sincerely held even though they are a little out of the mainstream, even eccentric, in the early 21st Century.

Mr. Wachowicz’s concern that the approach to education adopted in most Canadian schools could be a benefit to literal deviltry were discovered in a long online article published in 2013 on the state of Canadian education. In “The Knowledge Deficit,” the author argues ignorance is bad, a lot of Canadian students are ignorant and it’s the fault of the people who educate them and their new-fangled ideas. (This is my précis of his argument, obviously, not Mr. Wachowicz’s.)

This will lead to inferior Bible studies, Mr. Wachowicz eventually concludes.

Citing a study, Mr. Wachowicz seems to be particularly concerned in his article that Canadian students are ignorant of geography, a situation that may or may not be much different than it has been throughout recorded history.

As an aside, I am with Sherlock Holmes on matters of geography, in this world and the ones nearby: “‘What the deuce is it to me?’ he interrupted impatiently; ‘you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.’” I am, however, very big on being able to remember and quote stuff you may have read half a century ago and not looked at since, as in this case. Diff’rent strokes …

Getting back to Mr. Wachowicz’s article, it deals mainly with his criticism of the modern Canadian school curriculum, and a reader needs to be patient to get to the bit about the Devil, which appears in the final three paragraphs.

The author quotes the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy to argue that better-educated foreigners will soon surpass us. In my opinion, this is a misinterpretation of the Scripture in question, which describes Moses’ warning to the Israelites to do what he says and not pine, by implication, for another 40 years in the Wilderness.

Regardless, the nub of Mr. Wachowicz’s argument, which is obviously true enough whatever one’s take on scripture happens to be, is that if reading declines, “familiarity with the Bible will become less and less common.”

“Students lacking basic awareness of history and geography as well as literacy will be unable to comprehend the simplest messages from Scripture,” he asserts. (That said, all you really need to know in this case is that the Israelites were lost in the desert.)

Mr. Wachowicz concludes: “Scripture calls Satan the ‘ruler of this world’ and the ‘god of this age’ … He is a deceiver and makes every effort to keep mankind ignorant of its own best interests. Do not let him make you and your family victims of the ‘knowledge deficit!’”

“The Knowledge Deficit” appears on a website called Tomorrow’s World, a publication of the Living Church of God, a controversial Protestant denomination, one of several that formed after the death of Herbert W. Armstrong and the breakup of the Worldwide Church of God, which Rev. Armstrong founded.

Without going down a theological rabbit hole, suffice it to say mainstream Christian denominations consider the doctrines of these churches to be wrong and their practice troubling. Mr. Wachowicz is a minister of the Living Church of God in Edmonton.

So why is this information relevant to readers of a political blog in Alberta? We enjoy freedom of religion in this country, and Rev. Wachowicz, as we should really call him, has a fundamental right to practice his, just as we all do.

The reason is quite simple:

First, Rev. Wachowicz sits on the board of Parents for Choice in Education, a group that is vociferously opposed to many education policies of both the current NDP Government of Alberta and the recent Progressive Conservative governments that preceded it – although seemingly not with the education policies promised by the current PC leader, Jason Kenney.

Parents for Choice is frequently featured in the “balance” provided by mainstream media when covering the education policies of Alberta governments. Lately, this has meant the group has been permitted to weigh in on such issues as the law requiring gay-straight alliances to be formed in schools, and the debate over public funding of private schools and home schooling.

Because of this practice by journalists, which in this case seems to be edging into the territory of “false equivalency,” it is said here Parents for Choice has been made far more influential than a group with views as far out as those of some of its board members ought to be.

Second, it’s relevant because Postmedia’s Alberta publications consistently present Rev. Wachowicz as an authority on education, without mentioning his religious affiliation or Parents for Choice’s position on public education, which are both clearly relevant to readers considering his views about education policy.

Rev. Wachowicz was curriculum director of Edmonton Public Schools for a dozen years from 1997 to 2009. Since leaving that post, he has been highly critical of many current trends in pedagogy, including the math and social studies curricula in Alberta. He was as sharply critical of Alberta Education’s policies under recent Progressive Conservative governments as under the NDP. He is chairman of a non-profit Chinese Language institute with ties both to government agencies in the People’s Republic of China and Edmonton Public Schools.

Yet, while he is frequently quoted on education topics, these relevant factors are rarely, if ever, mentioned.

For example, in a highly tendentious piece earlier this week approvingly quoting Rev. Wachowicz’s highly critical views on changes to the Alberta social studies curriculum, Journal columnist David Staples introduces him only as “former director of curriculum in Edmonton Public Schools” and later describes him as “the curriculum expert.”

Indeed, Rev. Wachowicz has been rather a staple of Mr. Staple’s reporting, with the Journal columnist citing him as an education expert without further information on at least four other occasions since 2014.

To put Mr. Staples’s own views in context, in his most recent article quoting Rev. Wachowicz the journalist goes on to claim Alberta’s new social studies curriculum is steeped in ideology that change is always good and makes reference “righteous change-obsessed zealots in the Soviet Union, China and Cambodia.” His implication is obvious.

Mr. Staples is not alone in his reliance on Rev. Wachowicz. Another frequent critic of current education trends, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente, also quoted Rev. Wachowicz – carefully attributing the quote, however, to Mr. Staples. She likewise referenced only Rev. Wachowicz’s curriculum expertise.

A smattering of other news stories quote him as well, as far as I can see always without reference to Parents for Choice or his religious beliefs, although, quite obviously, Rev. Wachowicz makes no secret of either.

I am not challenging Rev. Wachowicz’s expertise, but clearly references to his religious views and his role with Parents for Choice are both essential to any fair news story about his opinions on curriculum.

Electoral Boundaries Commission calls for more urban, fewer rural ridings

Alberta’s Electoral Boundaries Commission issued its interim report yesterday, calling for consolidation of several rural ridings and the creation of new urban ridings in Edmonton, Calgary and the Calgary-area city of Airdrie, where population has soared since the last boundary review in 2010.

It also proposed changes to the boundaries of Fort McMurray-Conklin, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean’s constituency.

Needless to say, the commission’s sensible, population-based conclusions are sure to be hotly contested by Alberta’s conservative political parties, especially the Wildrose Party which has its power base in rural Alberta. A commission member nominated by the Wildrose Party issued a minority report opposing the proposal.

AlbertaPolitics.ca will have more to say about this in the days to come.

Categories Alberta Politics