Alberta Politics
University of Calgary education professor Sarah Eaton, who studies academic accountability and ethics (Photo: Screenshot of Youtube video).

What happens now to Alberta’s ethically tainted K-6 social studies curriculum, found to be ‘rife with plagiarism’?

Posted on April 06, 2021, 12:51 am
8 mins

What happens now that everyone knows the authors of the Kenney Government’s hurriedly revised kindergarten-to-Grade-6 social studies curriculum plagiarized significant sections of the document from a variety of sources?

In business or the academy, such a revelation would certainly result in the delay and modification the document, if not its swift withdrawal, and raise the possibility of serious discipline for the cheats who failed to attribute the sources of their publication. 

Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In such circles it is understood that even beyond the potential claims of the owners of the stolen intellectual property for financial compensation, theft taints the entire legitimacy of the entire work, hence it must be taken seriously. 

As Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt told me recently, “if a student had done this in a paper, I would fail them and report them to the Office of Student Conduct.” 

But do the same moral and ethical considerations apply to governments? Most of us would instinctively say yes, but the determination of Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party to press on and either ignore the scandal, or dismiss it as meaningless, suggest a cavalier contempt for the rule of law, not to mention for normal ethical conduct. 

“This isn’t a 19-year-old scrambling at the deadline,” Dr. Bratt noted. “This is the Department of Education. And it’s serial plagiarism. 

“Hard to divorce the plagiarism from the content,” he added. “Both are problematic.” 

Indeed. And it’s hard to ignore unethical conduct by a government in one area without wondering what might be happening in another. Even the government’s Alberta Energy War Room, legally known as Canadian Energy Centre Ltd., pretty swiftly withdrew its logo, twice, when caught moving a little faster than the speed of business to appropriate someone else’s work without payment. 

Mind you, the government’s haste was not really so different from that of the frantic student described by Dr. Bratt. Having repeatedly made the baseless claim the Progressive Conservative curriculum work continued by the NDP government was socialist ideology and therefore deserved to be run through a shredder, it had to come up with something in a hurry. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

We know of the gravity of the plagiarism thanks to the work of University of Calgary Education professor Sarah Eaton, who studies academic accountability and ethics. 

She is editor-in-chief of the International Journal for Educational Integrity, author of Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Academic Integrity, and one of two Canadians on the 40-member global Committee for Publication Ethics Council, so her thoughts on this topic ought to carry a certain weight. 

Her initial analysis of the curriculum draft establishes beyond question there is a serious problem. 

In a blog published on April 3, she identifies three basic categories of plagiarism: paraphrasing without attribution and “the practice of re-arranging or swapping out words from the original text with synonyms,” both of which she terms indirect plagiarism, and “copy-and-paste plagiarism,” or direct plagiarism. 

Noting that she was sent more than 100 examples of plagiarism by teachers and others in the hours after the curriculum was released, likely including some duplications, Dr. Eaton picked three examples, one of which appeared to have been based on text published online by the North Vancouver Recreation Centre, another very similar to text found in the Wikipedia, and one “an exact duplication of text published in a 1976 article authored by Howard Palmer, published in the International Journal.”

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

“I have identified several different sources in my brief analysis,” she wrote. “This indicates that content has been lifted or borrowed from multiple original sources, not just one or two.”

“This draft curriculum is a patchwork of material pulled from different sources,” she said. “Plagiarism happens when source material is not attributed. A basic tenet of academic and research integrity is to give credit where it is due. In this draft curriculum, there is little to no indication of acknowledgement of those whose ideas and words contributed to its development. It appears as though the draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum is rife with plagiarism” (Emphasis added.)

Dr. Eaton suggests three remedies:

  1. Identify content from elsewhere. “This will require a line-by-line review of the entire draft curriculum.”
  2. Document the source of the original, unattributed work.
  3. Cite and reference all sources.

None of this is likely to happen, alas. For one thing, it would require a delay, which the government doubtless feels it cannot afford. And it would reveal just how shabby a piece of work this is.

When allegations parts of the curriculum were based on other sources first surfaced after the draft was released by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on March 29, the Kenney Government’s first instinct was to deny and obfuscate. 

Since then, it has fallen silent about the plagiarism, which is no longer a matter of allegation, and blithely continued promoting the draft to the public as if it were a legitimate document and its critics are motivated solely by ideology. 

The issue has not gained much traction with media, possibly because journalism as an occupation has its own troubled relationship with plagiarism. While word-for-word copying is uncommon in the field, and dealt with inconsistently when discovered, other forms of indirect plagiarism are frequent, owing to discomfort admitting ideas or information may have originated with a commercial competitor. 

“The educational community will view plagiarism as important,” Dr. Bratt observed. “But I think the wider public will kind of laugh it off.” 

He asked: “How do you teach students ethical conduct when the people preparing the curriculum are violating it?” 

Good question. While children in Grade 6 and under may be too young to fully appreciate this situation, you can count on it that every undergraduate student in Alberta with an inclination to plagiarize will soon be aware of it, and adding it to their litany of lame excuses and justifications. 

16 Comments to: What happens now to Alberta’s ethically tainted K-6 social studies curriculum, found to be ‘rife with plagiarism’?

  1. tom

    April 6th, 2021

    “. . . . when ideas come to us affecting the embraces of virgins, and swear to us they are ours alone, and no one else have they ever visited: and we believe them.”
    -George Meredith, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel

    Reply
  2. Dave

    April 6th, 2021

    I suppose this is just another sign Kenney and the UCP is flailing and failing.

    As you said, accusations against the previous government’s curriculum as being too ideological, meant the pressure was on the UCP to come up with something fast. What probably seemed clever at the time, as it helped galvanize support from key social conservative groups, has now led to a number of problems. This is not the first time short term thinking has come back to bite the UCP later.

    The UCP also seems in a hurry to do many things all at once, but haste and lack of focus seldom lead to good results. A smarter government could have easily and perhaps accurately used the need to focus on COVID as a reason to delay such things. However, the Alberta can’t wait crowd that founded the UCP are likely not that patient or thoughtful. There also seems to be a hubris and lack of humility at the heart of the UCP leadership. Many other politicians make hasty promises to win power, but are more thoughtful and careful when it comes to implementation.

    Of course much of our mainstream media is overly cozy with the UCP, so critical analysis of things like this curriculum will have to come mostly from elsewhere. However, just because there are not lots of headlines in the local news about this does not mean Albertans don’t notice the UCPs shortcomings here or are happy with the UCP’s clearly weak efforts.

    Reply
    • Lars

      April 6th, 2021

      I think it likely that the UCP would view delaying complex legislation so that they could focus their efforts on COVID as a waste of a good crisis. It’s more probably that a lot of this legislation is being pushed through during the pandemic because the electorate is distracted by that same pandemic.

      Reply
    • tom

      April 6th, 2021

      Good analysis.

      Reply
    • Comment

      April 6th, 2021

      Dave – I agree. They are manic.

      Reply
  3. Anonymous

    April 6th, 2021

    Plagiarism. It so frequently brought up, from music, (Led Zeppelin has been mentioned with this) to education. Ralph Klein was known to have plagiarized some type of paper. The UCP are plagiarizing their education curriculum revamping. The UCP can’t go by for very long, without screwing things up. In 2 more years, this province will be in such a mess that it will be difficult to fix things up.

    Reply
  4. Randy Fiedler

    April 6th, 2021

    This government was founded on plagiarism by using Ronald Reagan’s 40-year-old discredited trickle down economic theories.

    Reply
  5. Hammer

    April 6th, 2021

    As a college faculty member in Alberta I can state unequivocally that the department I work in would not tolerate this behaviour and I echo Duane’s words. The individual would be turned into the department Chair and if found in violation and depending on if it was first or second time offender would be sanctioned appropriately.
    My question is; I in essence am a Government employee, and must follow strict academic dishonesty guidelines, and yet those that produce children’s curriculum do not have to. Something is amiss!

    Reply
  6. Bob Raynard

    April 6th, 2021

    Given the absolute uselessness of the proposed curriculum, I think the fact that the developers plagiarized chunks of it is the least of our worries.

    The plan is for the new program to piloted in the 21-22 school year, then implemented in the 22-23 school year. Has the government not even considered they will be going to the polls just as parents will have had several months of having their kids come home hating school?

    Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      April 6th, 2021

      Well Bob, we can HOPE the Kenney Klowns can’t do arithmetic. Sticking their kids with this useless drivel would drive most parents to the ABC party–“Anything But Conservatives!”

      Reply
    • GoinFawr

      April 6th, 2021

      “Has the government not even considered they will be going to the polls just as parents will have had several months of having their kids come home hating school?”

      To be fair the last time I checked a wide demographic of kids have always hated school, regardless.

      But not to worry, more and more parents are becoming aware of just how awful these Used Car Partiers really are, and will require no additional prompting than that come 2023

      Reply
  7. John T

    April 6th, 2021

    My MLA is Ron Orr who posted very recently that the old curriculum was “stagnant”. If that is his only critique I find it laughably insufficient, especially in light of the response the UCP version has gotten.
    Along with the evidence a lot of it was plagiarized just tells me the UCP are not competent and are moving at light speed to try and get their legislation in place so when the next election comes around the voters will have fading memories of this crap.

    Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      April 6th, 2021

      John, the old curriculum was worse than stagnant. It was progressive!

      Even if they manage to get this dumpster fire under enough control to roll it into classrooms, parents will have their noses rubbed in this stupidity every time their kids ask for help with their homework. I can’t see Albertans forgetting this monumental screw-up, ever.

      Reply
  8. Mike in Edmonton

    April 6th, 2021

    Rushed, chaotic, badly planned, incompetent AND plagiarized. Is anyone surprised? This is what happens when ideological (idiot-logical) talking points push aside long-term planning.

    Ironic, too that Dr. Eaton identified plagiarism so easily in this mash-up of a curriculum. In the conclusion of her blog post, she notes that the draft curriculum for English Language Arts and Literature notes the importance of acknowledging sources of information. She concludes:

    “Surely if we are asking children in grades 4 and 5 to demonstrate the skills of ethical use of information, we should expect the same of the adults who develop the curriculum.”

    https://drsaraheaton.wordpress.com/2021/04/03/analysis-of-plagiarism-in-the-draft-alberta-k-6-curriculum/

    I agree. Will the UCP government?

    Reply
  9. jerrymacgp

    April 7th, 2021

    We have three grandchildren, and our eldest is six years old. She’ll be going into Grade 2 in September, and I shudder to think she might be exposed to this awful curriculum when she does.

    Our only hope is that the Grande Prairie Public School District chooses to join some of its peers in refusing to trial this draft — or should I say, daft — curriculum.

    Reply

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