Alberta Politics
Kent Monkman’s “The Scream,” 2016 — an interpretation of Canada’s colonial history that will no longer be welcome in Alberta’s schools under the Kenney Government (Image: CanadianArt.ca).

The empire strikes back: Understanding the UCP obsession with how history is taught

Posted on August 18, 2020, 3:42 am
9 mins

Anyone who wonders what inspires the United Conservative Party Government’s peculiar obsession with how history ought to be taught, and to what end, probably needs to look no further than Christian P. Champion.

Dr. Champion, PhD, as is now well known to social media readers in Alberta, holds startling views on the topic of how to teach history to schoolchildren.

About the only picture found on the Internet of Christian Champion, who seems to be Jason Kenney’s favourite historian (Photo: Twitter, original source unknown).

For one thing, Dr. Champion wrote in a recent edition of the small but pretentious journal he founded nine years ago and still edits, learning about First Nations and the need for reconciliation in the study of Canadian history is just “an ongoing fad.”

“The plug must be pulled on the deplorable agitprop of the ‘KAIROS blanket,’ which brainwashes children into thinking of themselves as ‘settlers’ stealing the land,” Dr. Champion pontificated in the spring/summer 2019 edition of the twice-yearly Dorchester Review.

“Thematic history seems ideally suited to transmitting left-wing dogma,” he further complained to his journal’s readers. As for Alberta’s Grade 4 curriculum, he suggested it has the goal of turning nine-year-olds into little social justice warriors.

“As my old Latin teacher was fond of saying,” Dr. Champion continued in the same article, letting us know he’s better educated than the rest of us, “‘He who marries the spirit of the age will be a widower in the next.’

“If more proof were needed that educational approaches are in crisis, it is that today’s publicly-schooled (sic) millennials have negative impressions of the role of capitalism in history.”

Well, maybe. But even if my old Latin teacher hadn’t been a Marxist, I imagine I’d be inclined to think millennials’ experience of modern capitalism better explains their disaffection with it than any lack of attention by their history teachers to the memorization of long lists of dates.

Anyone who wants a more detailed examination of this precious twaddle can read the useful Twitter thread here.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney back in the day when he was Canada’s defence minister (Photo: Corporal Owen W. Budge, Royal Canadian Air Force, 8 Wing).

Some of Dr. Champion’s earlier writings, for the Byfield Clan’s less-than-esteemed Alberta Report, include such titles as “Special rights for sodomites,” “How feminists dominate the courts,” and “Who should pay for self-inflicted ailments?” The latter being a reference to the costs of AIDS treatments in the 1990s.

Dr. Champion is also an affiliate of the Canada Strong & Free Network — as the Manning Centre has recently rebranded itself. In addition, his resume includes that PhD in history from a decent Canadian university, study abroad, and a continuing stint on the parade square as a reserve member of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, apparently the closest thing that can be found in Canada to a decent guards’ regiment. (It should surprise no one, I suppose, that Conrad Black was once honorary colonel of this regiment.)

Naturally, he appears to prefer the Red Ensign, Canada’s old colonial banner, to our Canadian Maple Leaf.

All this is prologue, though. The important thing about Dr. Champion is his working relationship with Jason Kenney, with whom his views appear to be highly simpatico.

Back in the day when Alberta’s premier was minister of immigration and then minister of defence in the federal government, Dr. Champion graced his Ottawa office as a valued advisor.

Accordingly, earlier this month he was appointed to a group of eight additional “subject matter experts” trusted by the UCP Government to help revamp the province’s K-12 curriculum, an effort in which a significant number of educators are in theory already involved although no working groups have met for more than a year.

Not to get lost in the weeds here, but this is different panel from the 12 trusted “experts” tasked by the government with approving a “new vision” for school curriculum — one that Education Minister Adriana LaGrange vowed would be free from political bias.

Carla Peck, University of Alberta education professor and curriculum expert (Photo: Twitter).

Nevertheless, when former Edmonton School Board chair Angus McBeath delivered his recent rambling discourse on the flaws of modern history teaching at a news conference on the recommendations of the Curriculum Advisory Panel, he might have been channeling Dr. Champion’s views on the subject. Perhaps he was.

Whether or not the new curriculum that began to be drafted under the Progressive Conservative government and was completed under the NDP in fact encourages the teaching of political bias and left-wing ideology is of course highly controversial. Nevertheless, that’s the UCP’s story, and they’re stickin’ to it.

Mr. Kenney’s issues managers have been shouting from their bully pulpit that as a man with a PhD in history, Dr. Champion is eminently qualified for his new position.

But it seems likely, given Premier Kenney’s approach to such matters, that his former aide’s principal qualification is not so much his academic pursuits as that he holds strong views on the appropriate use of history as a tool for shaping society that are remarkably similar to Mr. Kenney’s.

In a post on her blog, Carla Peck, professor of education at the University of Alberta and an expert in social studies curricula, nicely deconstructed the approach taken to curriculum in Dr. Champion’s publication.

“While Dr. Champion does have a PhD in history, I cannot find any evidence that he has any qualifications in K-12 teaching, learning, curriculum, assessment, or pedagogy,” she noted.

Citing an unattributed article entitled “Teaching History in Schools” published in the Dorchester Review, Dr. Peck labeled it an “anti-immigrant, anti-Indigenous screed.”

“That a history magazine would publish an article with the word survivors as it relates to residential schools in scare quotes is appalling and should tell you all you need to know about the ideology that rules the founding editor’s thinking,” she said.

Dr. Peck concluded: “Throughout the election campaign and in many public statements since, both Premier Kenney and Minister LaGrange vowed to get ‘ideology’ out of the social studies curriculum. They lied. They are just replacing a liberal ideology with the conservative one they prefer.”

It looks very much as if Dr. Champion is the man who has been chosen to do that, by inserting colonialist ideology familiar to those of us who attended school in the 1950s and 1960s back into Alberta’s curriculum.

Albertans need to keep all of this in mind. After all, there is going to be a final exam, most likely in 2023.

26 Comments to: The empire strikes back: Understanding the UCP obsession with how history is taught

  1. Anonymous

    August 18th, 2020

    The UCP certainly doesn’t pick the best or the brightest to work for them, like Paul Bunner and Christian Champion. It’s very hard to deny the mistreatment of Indigenous people in Canada, let alone the world. Learning about First Nations and the need for reconciliation in the study of Canadian history is an ongoing “fad”, is as absurd as it gets, and is also a slap in the face to the First Nations peoples in Canada. We must teach our children that Canada does not have a squeaky clean background. It’s not just with our First Nations, (including the Metis and Inuit), but with others, such as the Chinese who were treated harshly, when they helped build the railway, the Ukrainians who were placed in forced labour camps, the Japanese who were taken from their homes, and interned in camps, during the Second World War, the Jews fleeing Europe, during World War 2, who were denied entry into Canada, sent back to Europe, and perished under the Nazis, among others. As many will recall, there was a (wacky) teacher in Alberta, long ago, by the name of Jim Keegstra, who was teaching his students that the Holocaust was fabricated. This is very creepy to be teaching kids this, when there is overwhelming evidence that the Holocaust happened. William Aberhart and Ernest Manning were known to have anti-Semitic views, and that may have rubbed off on Jim Keegstra. The UCP wants people with revisionist views to change the education curriculum in Alberta. We will end up seeing similar things to Jim Keegstra. This is sickening. The education minister, Adrianna LaGrange was saying that there were concerns from parents about biases in the school curriculum. When she was asked for proof, she could not provide any. It is best if the UCP get tossed out. As the time ticks on, the UCP inflicts more damage to Alberta.

    Reply
  2. Simon Renouf

    August 18th, 2020

    Thank you for this, DC. I don’t know if Dr Champion’s old Latin teacher taught him that “He who marries the spirit of the age will be a widower in the next” but this latinate-sounding aphorism was actually coined by Fulton J. Sheen, the US Catholic televangelist of the 1950s (and an arch right-winger – is there any other kind of televangelist?). Indeed on reflection there’s not much Roman in Dr Champion’s choice of words to live by. I would suggest the always pragmatic ancient Romans were principally concerned with harvesting the fruits of the day, as in “carpe diem”.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      August 18th, 2020

      Thank you for this, Simon. I regret not checking. I didn’t note, intentionally, that Dr. Champion is also a Roman Catholic of the far-to-the-right variety, like the converted Anglican who is our provincial preacher, I mean premier. My old Latin teacher, the then-young Marxist, looked down his nose at Church Latin, which he insisted was not pronounced correctly at all. Caesar would never have said veni, vidi, vici like some priest! Rather, he would have said weenie, weedie, weekie like a proper Roman. Sometimes he would mix up the order for humourous effect: Weedie, weekie, weenie. Here endeth the lesson. DJC

      Reply
        • David Climenhaga

          August 18th, 2020

          Perhaps it would be OK if everyone at the mass was a Latin speaker. Beats me, for the same reason it stumps you. DJC

          Reply
        • Lars

          August 19th, 2020

          As I recall, the Tridentine Mass was, not forbidden, exactly, but no longer the official communion of the Church after Vatican II. However, it’s still celebrated by very conservative clerics and their congregations here and there. The Inquisition doesn’t show up and take everyone involved away, but such factionalists don’t have official Vatican sanction, and they’re generally marginalized among modern Catholics.

          This suggests that Dr. Champion takes his conservatism very seriously.

          Reply
  3. Abs

    August 18th, 2020

    Well, my old Latin teacher taught us her motto, “Latin Lives!” We were taught to find Latin roots in modern language, and made posters for the school. Thank you, Mrs. C. (She was only in her early 40s when she taught me, so not really “old”.)

    It was Latin’s perfection and perfect inflexibility that doomed it to become a “dead” language. It could not adapt, and had no possibility of change. The languages that could survive and adapt are what we have now. Change is what keeps a language living, just as life itself is all about change. Those who cannot change will not survive in a changing world. Time only moves in one direction: forward.

    Reply
    • Murphy

      August 18th, 2020

      Couldn’t quite adapt to become French, Italian, Spanish, Portugese, Romansh, Moldovan, etc.?

      Reply
  4. Murphy

    August 18th, 2020

    I think that this is a tremendous development, in terms of providing entertainment to disinterested observers. The full-blown fascist fantasy concept of history will finally replace the nutty-as-fruitcake version sold since WW2 in Canadian schools. It’s particularly appealing here in Calgary, as I have long appreciated the shared vision of Stampede-related regalia and the parades of imaginary teutonic knights draped in swastika vestures of a by-gone era.
    But as ye sew, so shall ye reap. Progessive “educators” have only themselves to blame for this. Well, that and the relentless corporate propaganda machine that has engulfed all before it for the last hundred years. You can’t sell people cognitive dissonance for seventy-five years and not generate a backlash, in our case disaffected consumers in one class, and reactionary freaks in the other.
    Love that Musical Ride!
    “Over the years, authorities had vandalized the tombstone, removing “R.C.M.P.” It was always repainted.”
    https://www.bienfait.ca/galleries/show_photo/392459

    Reply
    • Bret Larson

      August 27th, 2020

      I just found, our kids are going to supplant is!
      (in the fullness of time)

      Others are going to be using all of our stuff!
      (as it should be)

      Somebody should do something about it!
      (no they shouldn’t, situation normal everything is copacetic)

      Reply
  5. Just Me

    August 18th, 2020

    The obsession with historical revisionism was a big deal for Harper and his gang.

    Remember the celebrations surrounding the War of 1812. Yeah, that war. The one where…no one cared?

    If one followed Harpo’s interpretation of this conflict was the most momentous event, where tiny, tiny Canada took on and *defeated* the American giant.

    Well…that’s a lot of crazy to unpack. But once one plows their way through the myriad of b.s. Harpo’s gang weaved around this boondoggle, one discovers that there was a ton of revisionist reinterpretations of the War of 1812.

    The Battle of Queenston Heights was a latter day Battle of Thermopylae.
    The alliance between Gen. Issac Brock and Tecumseh was the first and best proof that white men have always defended FNs’ interests.
    The bravery of Laura Secord makes her the first feminist.
    And the only reason that the Americans gained advantage in 1813 to 1814 was because they cheated.

    If the Kenney and the UCP are about to ramp up to the level of crazy that followed Harpo’s War of 1812, this is going to get really good.

    Popcorn time.

    Reply
    • tom in ontario

      August 18th, 2020

      We in Southern Ontario suffered through Harpo’s War of 1812 hyped up fake nationalism. Only his local followers gave it much attention, some dressing up in British Army redcoat to get their picture taken. To relieve boredom we’d head to Lake Erie to see Perry’s Monument which commemorated the American thrashing of British warships in the Battle of Lake Erie. This was not played up in the celebrations whereby “…tiny, tiny Canada took on and *defeated* the American giant.” As we know there was no tiny, tiny anything. The War of 1812 was a standoff between the United States and Great Britain.

      Reply
      • Just Me

        August 20th, 2020

        It should be noted that the British army’s sacking of Washington D.C. is often presented without its proper context.

        The British decided to march on Washington because Baltimore, MD was too well defended, at the bombardment of Fort McHenry and sudden withdrawal of British forces documents. It should also be noted that even the Americans didn’t consider Washington to be worth defending, hence, their hasty abandonment of the city. While some public buildings in Washington were damaged when the British attempted to torch them, it should be noted that a torrential rain prevented further burnings. However the Smithsonian was unharmed because the British command considered it barbaric to harm the building and its contents.

        Reply
    • Bret Larson

      August 31st, 2020

      You would probably care alot more about the war of 1812 if the US would have won.

      Reply
  6. Dave

    August 18th, 2020

    I suppose Mr. Brunner was not available – perhaps to busy writing speeches for Kenney, or maybe even the our premier realizes Brunner has been too discredited, so a new messenger had to be found – enter Mr. Champion. However, new messenger, but basically the same old message.

    As someone who takes history seriously, I don’t have a problem with having more of a focus on it, but I think the debate here is more on context, not quantity. Much like the war room, the UCP now has the power of public spending to back up the revisionist messages it wants to present, but that does not make people take the messages more seriously or make those messages better, although they do now have the power to force it on us and others.

    I don’t know if Mr. Brunner would have come up with quotes from Latin teachers to support his position, it sure doesn’t seem to mesh with the populist style of the UCP. However, that quote about the spirit of the age does go both ways, doesn’t it? On the topic of political fads, I sense a distinct wane in Reaganism these days and I could easily imagine in a few years Trumpism being regarded like McCarthyism. Equality and rights, I sense are more long term things and not so much political fads. I suspect for many years, Mr. Kenney and his gang considered gay rights a “fad” too and perhaps to his discomfort this doesn’t seem to have gone away.

    Mr. Kenney sure does have a carefully curated selection of advisors, both paid and unpaid, who I suspect tell him what basically what he wants to hear. Its unfortunate he does not appreciate diversity of opinion more, as I believe the UCP government has a very bad case of group think going on. For such a new party and government, they have quickly become rigid and impervious to ideas outside of their comfort zone. If you can learn anything from history, it is that approach often does not end well.

    Reply
  7. Lars

    August 18th, 2020

    Surely “Christian Champion” isn’t a real name.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      August 18th, 2020

      It appears to be, Lars. DJC

      Reply
      • Lars

        August 18th, 2020

        Thank you. But it sounds like something from The Turner Diaries.

        Reply
  8. Expat Albertan

    August 18th, 2020

    “For one thing, Dr. Champion wrote…learning about First Nations and the need for reconciliation in the study of Canadian history is just “an ongoing fad.”

    If something is ‘ongoing’, can it really be a ‘fad’?

    Reply
  9. Murphy

    August 18th, 2020

    Last post on this topic, I promise.
    If the goal was to actually present kids with documented information in social studies, Yves Engler’s work would be ubiquitous in Canadian pedagogy:
    “The day before their first visit to my house two RCMP officers physically removed me from a press conference when I asked Transportation Minister Marc Garneau about Canadian arm sales to Saudi Arabia. When I sat down at an event that was already underway an officer took the seat next to me. When I began to ask a question at the end of the press conference he used the cover of private property to try to block me. On this video one can see the RCMP agent asking the building security twice if I’m welcome in the space. Deferring to police, the security guard tells him I’m not welcome. The RCMP agent, who doesn’t have the right to remove me from the room without a directive, then uses the authority derived from a representative of the building to physically eject me and threaten arrest.”
    https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/09/13/rcmp-attempt-to-silence-critics-of-trudeau-foreign-policy/

    Reply
    • Caron

      August 18th, 2020

      We are moving very quickly into a lawless police state in Canada and especially in Alberta. Here is a sample of what you city people can expect from Jason’s police force:
      https://www.producer.com/2020/08/young-farmer-beaten-by-police-while-working/?module=carousel&pgtype=homepage&i=1

      Remember you city people were given fair warning about this when the wholesale theft of farmland and First Nations territories by the oil sector was reinforced by the Cons, the NDP, and now the UCP. Oh, and farmers are less than two-percent of the population even in rural Alberta, so get stuffed with the argument “you voted for it.”

      Reply
      • Bret Larson

        August 24th, 2020

        Every law on the books will hurt somebody “innocent”. Its just whether they help more than they hurt.

        Reply
  10. Adam Whyte

    August 18th, 2020

    I got some ideas if anyone will listen

    Reply
  11. Bret Larson

    August 24th, 2020

    One of my foundational memories is when I read in the back of the Journal in 1989 that the Soviet Union was recalling their history books and rewriting them because the history in them was not strictly historical. I actually chopped it out of the paper and pinned it to my fridge.

    This was an era that saw the fall of the Berlin wall and Tienanmen square, still and all, the rewrite of the history books in the CCCP was game changing. Colouring the past is the manner political parties try to divide and conquer the population and the Soviets were masters at it.

    Personally I would rather people unite in the goals that are beneficial for all rather than hold onto past “injustices”.

    Bad things happened in the past, to every ethnic group nation and individual. However, good things also.

    Evaluating past injustices through the lens of today and with the absence of free speech, as political correctness doesnt allow it, is the path to further injustice.

    History is a fun concept, as its happening right now. One has to wonder how the current social security net will be judged by future Canadians.

    Reply

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