Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in the pre-Christmas interview that Global News ended up using as a New Year’s Day look back at 2021 (Photo: Screenshot of Global TV video).

The way Jason Kenney told the story, Alberta parents and teachers would like his United Conservative Party government to “go a bit slower” rolling out the new primary school curriculum it introduced in late March to widespread opposition.

To those who have been following the controversy created by the curriculum dreamed up by Alberta’s premier, his education minister, and a small group of handpicked and like-minded advisors who may or may not actually know much about curriculum design, that will seem like a considerable understatement. 

An irresistible clip of Global provincial affairs reporter Tom Vernon’s reaction to one of Mr. Kenney’s answers (Photo: Screenshot of Global TV video).

What almost all teachers want is for the entire Kenney Curriculum to be put in the shredder and for the government to start anew on plans for an entire new K-12 curriculum rewrite along the lines of the revisions worked on for several years under past Progressive Conservative and NDP governments.

But soon after its election in 2019, the UCP trashed that work, cut teachers out of the process, and brought in its own inexpert experts to come up with a curriculum more palatable to conservative ideologues.  

In the absence of polling, it’s harder to be certain what most parents think, but it’s difficult to believe many are comfortable with the Kenney Government’s changes given the nearly universal condemnation by teachers and actual curriculum experts. 

Of course, religious zealots and private school enthusiasts in the UCP base, for whom the curriculum appears to have been written, love it. 

Regardless, in a rather episodic Global News interview covering a variety of topics, the premier tried hard to downplay the controversy and insist parents’ and teachers’ concerns with the new primary school curriculum have more to do with disruptions caused by COVID-19.

It’s worth looking closely at what Mr. Kenney had to say in the interview, which was conducted on Dec. 7 and appears to have been heavily edited to shorten the premier’s characteristically windy bloviations. It was released on YouTube by Global on New Year’s Day, almost as if they didn’t know what else to do with it. 

Asked by Global Provincial Affairs Reporter Tom Vernon why he’d pressed pause on the curriculum, and whether he still intended to push on with the unpopular project, Mr. Kenney made it clear he doesn’t intend to change much. 

“COVID has kind of disrupted everything, including the school system,” the premier responded. “We’ve seen a lot of learning loss, a lot of disruption in the schools. And, we just heard from parents, teachers, school boards, and others that, given that, we should, um, go a little bit slower on rolling out the improved curriculum.”

And so, he went on, while the government will be proceeding with the “really good improvements” to math, reading and physical-education curricula, it will generously give teachers a break and not require them to introduce all of the new curriculum.

“Instead of having to change their lessons for every subject, all at once, after the challenge of COVID, (this will*) give them a bit of a breather to focus on, I think, the most important subjects for student outcomes, reading and writing,” he insisted. 

“Then we can pilot and have more time to make changes to the Social curriculum, an extra year for that to come out,” he said. “So it’s a more measured pace. I think that’s good for teachers, kids, parents and the whole system.”

I doubt very many Albertans believe this – especially about the Social Studies curriculum, which aroused the fiercest criticism – but you can hardly blame a politician for trying to spin an unpopular policy as something more palatable than voters think it is. 

But don’t expect a meaningful rewrite, Mr. Kenney made it clear. “There will definitely be changes, but probably not a complete rewrite.”

“We want a content rich curriculum,” he said. “And there is a philosophical difference here. There are other people who just want to basically teach abstract concepts to kids rather than content. We actually think that children should know what our history is as Canadians. Good, bad and, and indifferent.”

“This requires teaching actual content, and that’s really what we’re trying to get at through the reformed Social Studies curriculum.”

One imagines, of course, that many teachers and curriculum specialists would object to the claim the current curriculum lacks actual content. 

The bottom line, though? It is that there will be no significant changes to a curriculum that has been condemned as age-inappropriate, outdated, Eurocentric, jargon-riddled, inaccurate, and unconcerned with developing critical thinking skills or preparing students for the 21st Century – not to mention peppered with plagiarism.

This should surprise no one. Mr. Kenney has long pursued an ideological project to reform the education system so that it will produce more Conservative voters.

As he told his friend the far-right commentator Ezra Levant during a panel discussion at the federal Conservative Party’s 2016 national convention, Canadians under 30 are “the first generation to come through a schooling system where many of them have been hard-wired with collectivist ideas, with watching Michael Moore documentaries, with identity politics from their primary and secondary schools to universities. 

“That’s kind of a cultural challenge for any conservative party, any party of the centre-right, and we’ve got to figure out how to break that nut,” he said in that telling interview. 

And that’s why this project is particularly close to the heart of this son of a private school principal.

* Take out the two words in parentheses and you have Mr. Kenney’s actual words, or perhaps it would be fair to say his actual word salad. The parenthetical addition, therefore, is your blogger’s attempt to impose grammatical order on the premier’s stream of consciousness in hopes of making his meaning clearer, not less so. This is always a risky proposition for any editor, and if I misrepresented Mr. Kenney’s intentions, the fault is entirely mine . 

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27 Comments

  1. Our Mr. Kenney has a particular talent for making statements that come close enough to approximating the truth so as to sound credible and reasonable to some not paying close attention, without actually ever arriving at the truth.

    No, people don’t want him to slow down his curriculum changes, they want him to stop and reverse them. However, I suppose admitting that would be to admitt he is in conflict with popular opinion here and that is not something a faux populist would ever admitt. So, he pretends he is listening to the public by slowing it down. Faux populism presumably does not require good hearing, just hearing something, even if it is misinterpreted.

    However another strategy is also at play, as Kenney seldom just engages in only one ruse at a time. This is also a clever way to get something controversial out of the way for a few months, say until after his leadership review. I suspect there will be a lot of “slowing down” of anything too controversial over the next while.

    So I suppose we should enjoy the listening Kenney while he lasts, even if his hearing is not so good. It will probably not last long and soon be discarded by spring like an out of season sweater vest.

  2. Nothing like an enormous word salad buffet from Kenney to start the new year. (Though I doubt that the man spends much time at the salad bar or near any vegetables anyway.)

    So, it wasn’t the nonsense espoused by this wrong-headed curriculum that caused all the trouble and resistance to it; it was the COVID. How Churchillian of Premier Crying & Screaming Midget?

    The scandal surrounding this so called improved curriculum (and it takes a lot to make something involving education a scandal) it not unlike what happened in Kansas after Sam Brownback because the governor.

    Brownback, who is as hardcore a Bible Belt conservative as you can find, cut taxes in that state, which were already crazy low, with the intention of starving public services, including education. The rationale for Brownback’s approach, which was supported by the state GOP in the state assembly. The resulting mayhem in an education system that was already starved of resources was pointed out when it was discovered that public schools were using taxes books published before 1978. Worse, the curriculum was paired down, supposedly because of the budget cuts to include fewer subjects. State Republicans had long controlled many of the local school boards, so this damage had been long and on-going anyway. Brownback cadre of slash & burn CONs sought to create a curriculum that would actually make children, without any doubt, stupider that they already were.

    The savage wasting of Kansas’ great experiment not only (hard to believe) did not result in the promised increase in tax revenues (this is the part where the ‘Laffer Curve’ turns and stabs everyone in the back) it caused a migration out of the state to areas where public resources were better funded, and the school curriculum that wasn’t formed on the basis that dinosaurs and humans peacefully co-existed. (I guess everyone forgot about the T-Rex Neanderthal Wars.) Brownback won re-election by a hair and, thanks to an appointment by then POTUS Donald Trump, resigned as governor. Brownback’s GOP successor publicly admitted that Brownback’s reforms had ruined the state’s finances and its public services. In 2018, the gubernatorial election saw the GOP lose the Governor’s Mansion to the Democrats.

    Brownback is, like Kenney, a doctrinaire Roman Catholic. (a convert from Evangelism) Unlike Kenney, he has a huge family. While many tend to disregard aspects of Kenney’s personal life as being germane to his conduct as premier, it actually points up strongly a reason why Kenney as been so amateurish on the curriculum file to the point of trying to impose some kind of whacked-out personal agenda on children’s education. He really doesn’t care about what happens when he does something wrong. It’s not like he cares about what happens to other people’s kids. Many would say this is a response typical childless adults.

    Consider Kenney’s lackadaisical and complete disinterest in the conduct of Devin Dreeshen and others in his government, even going so far as to publicly declare that politics is a social activity that requires the consumption of alcohol on the job, and you get a very good insight to the way Kenney’s mind works. As for office romances that go off the rails, Kenney couldn’t care less what happens or what goes wrong in that sphere of human stupidity. It’s anything goes and public image be damned.

    For a person to has a reputation for micro-managing everything to death, Kenney appears to be someone who is very much not in control of his files. He really doesn’t care what happens next and he’s already checked out.

  3. Further to Ezra Levant and Kenney’s so called resistance by Gen-X to collectivist ideas, I recall an event I attended, years ago, while Levant was still a law student at the U of A. Levant was in his final year, I presume things were going well for him, and he had just completed his tenure at the Fraser Institute. While at the Institute, Levant wrote a little tome entitled Youthquake. While on the face of it one would think that the title of this book was inspired by Andy Warhol’s “Factory” of creatives, the book was meant to be an air-raid siren for the coming assault of the misguided and idiotic progressivism promoted by Baby-Boomers and 1960s fashionable policy hipsters by the wide-awake Gen-X cohort. I only thumbed through a sample copy of the book, which was snapped up quickly by the members of the “U of A Reform Party Club”, but I could tell that there was a tremendous amount of B.S. on its pages. Not so much a Gen-X manifesto but more of a Ezra Levant self-promotional tool for all young and irresponsible CON youth. As for Kenney, during his interview with Levant, he pretty much echoed the sentiments Youthquake and the complete destruction of public resources it prescribed. Yeah, Burn, Baby, burn!

    Looking back at the beliefs of Levant and Kenney then and now, I see not much has changed. Both believe that no one — certainly not Get-X — should ever support any progressive ideal in any form because … public resources and the taxes to pay for them are thievery. That’s right. It’s all about the Boomers’ psychotic campaign to pillage and steal everything in sight before they throw off their mortal coils. I suggest that Levant and Kenney’s own disinterest, or in the case of Levant, resistance to effective public health measures is because, in certain alt-right circles, COVID is the ‘Boomer Remover’. That’s right. COVID is Gen-X’s best hope to wipe out the last of all those greedy Boomers and remake the world. Burn, baby, burn.

    1. That last bit sounds exactly like a comment made a few days ago by a reader of this blog. Speaking of old Ezra the scribe and his book of Ezra, has he put a bounty on anyone this year? Some people take themselves a little too literally.

      1. You would be very surprised to hear the Gen-X angst I had to put up with at that time. Gen-X has all kinds of notions about itself, one them being that they are victims of the Boomers and they should/must break everything. It’s weird notion to have, considering how many of the more upwardly mobile Gen-X’ers I knew were employed, either, in the public sector or by their Boomer parents. Many, I discovered are hotly CON and capitalist because they use it as an action of rebellion against their parents. Observing the present state of politics in Canada, Gen-X is pretty conflicted over policy direction. There’s the clown show found in CON run provinces, but that seems to be abating as evidenced by the collapse of the so called resistance. (Doug Ford has morphed into Red Ford, btw.) There’s also the miscalculation by Kenney, Levant and their ilk that Millennials are just like them. Far from it. Millennials were the ones that were victimized by the creeping CON/alt-right policy agenda and they know it. While Ezra Levant wants to believe he’s tapped into the Millennial consciousness, he sounds like a hectoring grumpy old man. Trust me, Ezra has never walked twenty miles in a snow, ever. (I didn’t it once for fun, and it was a pretty dumb thing to do.)

        1. I’m Gen X, definitely lean libertarian on most issues and attended U of A at that time (late 1988 – 1994) for my first three degrees. My parents were Boomers and worked for everything they accomplished (both grew up on remote farms with no electricity, running water or health care, my Mom didn’t speak any English or attend school until she was 10, had no ESL classes or tutors or teaching assistants, but won the Governor General’s Medal for SK at age 16 and put herself through U of A). My immutable political beliefs have nothing to go with generation accounting, as such points of view would be lazy:
          -government should rarely borrow money for noncapital items. Basically, it is OK to invest in things, but never people
          -group rights, which in Canada mean union representation, Catholic education, French education, and Indigenous self government) are affronts to democracy and should be resisted
          –how can individuals be equal if their group membership confers specific entitlements?
          –group rights force individuals to associate with the group, possibly against their free will
          –groups are subject to their own leadership hierarchies, which may not be democratically elected and may not have the same accountability mechanisms that attempt to keep democratically elected governments in check

          The only generational consideration of importance is the boat anchor imposed by government debt, as government borrowing for noncapital items only delays addressing issues and increases the cost. It is fashionable to claim that government debt doesn’t matter as the central bank can always print money to buy it without causing inflation. Believing as such, which I never will, requires deep religious conviction as creating something from nothing is inherently an act limited to a supreme being.

          I knew of Ezra Levant in Junior High (Calgary was rather small back then), but never paid much attention to him. He ran with the nerdy crowd, whereas I was too nerdy for the nerdy crowd. That being said, at least he earns his living through honest means, rather than depending on coerced contributions from union members.

      1. Earlier this year, Foxnews was denouncing the vaccine, declaring that it’s ineffective or, worse, some kind of nefarious plot. The problem is it’s Republicans who are most likely to be unvaccinated. As a result of the steady rise in infections and the body count in the Red States, Foxnews urged all its viewers to get vaccinated because “the vaccine works and it does save lives.” OAN and NewsMax continue to beat the vaccine is a 5G Trojan Horse plot drum by commies and China. (Bat soup, remember?)

        As for Ezra’s claims about Boomers and his passionate defense of everything alt-right and Gen-X, he seems to have a cognitive-dissonance about where and who the CON support comes from. Ezra was always intolerant of the “old coots” when he was in his twenties and he’s still intolerant of them today. Problem is that’s his real audience.

  4. “watching Michael Moore documentaries”
    Ironically, fossil fuel boosters (Kenney’s base) have embraced Moore’s latest “documentary”, if not the egomaniac himself. The highly fictional, badly outdated, and widely debunked “Planet of the Humans” recycles anti-renewable energy myths and disinformation.
    In an unholy alliance against the energy shift, right-wing nuts and radical left-wing degrowthers endlessly cite Moore’s video in comment sections.
    Kenney needs a new punching bag.

    1. Moore is more propagandist than a documentarian, but he does get something right in that doc piece he produced. The fossil/carbon industry is “green-washing” itself to cover its worst excesses. It’s the same marketing stunt that was pulled by other industries to make themselves appear eco-friendly. Putting a recycle label on your product apparently makes you one of the good guys without question. The problems started when recycling processes are found to rarely live up to their billing, and saying something’s recyclable just gives you an excuse to make more wasteful products. Amazon boasts that it’s a green company, but it shoves more waste into landfills than anyone else.

      One example was a green and sustainable electricity producer who clear-cut an entire mountain side so they could build their massive generating platform. It’s all going to be fine, until the torrential rains bring the mudslides that take out that project and everything else in the area.

  5. You could call it cute that the only formal education the premier has is a high school diploma that his Daddy drew up for him. Except he’s killed about four thousand people with covid and four a day with opioid poisonings. Almost all poor people who aren’t white because he’s not a racist and believes all the people of the province are worthy of life.

  6. An extra year to make changes to the “Social curriculum,” eh?

    While the premier generously insists his government will make “really good improvements” to the most abstract of study subjects, he seems himself not to have done the math with the actual content of his party’s primary concerns: the odds of the UCP collectively resurrecting its remarkably low popularity, the probability that the UCP has identified K as the disruptive pilot —given the vast majority of Albertans already disapprove of his leadership, but only slightly more than they do the UCP’s governance in general—, and that “extra” year which (quick operation on the cellphone tally-whacker) puts the party only about four months away from the electoral finals.

    (Phew! “Math is hard…” especially for conservatives…)

    Proving himself a nut to crack in these collective respects, he might have to be held back due to poor grades—indeed, so might his entire ‘form’ (how ‘grades’ were called in the 19th century retrogressive conservatives nostalgically aspire to). And, speaking of history—“good, bad, and indifferent,”—Jason Kenney’s transcripts are splattered with educative incontinence: he has a consistent tendency to drop out instead of redoing a failed term and, like a busted priest or cop, to affect residential changes to the precincts of a new school (an oft-plagiarized subject) to teach again with Bible and strap.

    Handy math hint: sometimes, in political trigonometry, a problem can have two solutions.

  7. “That’s kind of a cultural challenge for any conservative party, any party of the centre-right, and we’ve got to figure out how to break that nut,” he said in that telling interview. ”

    Yes,’breaking that nut’. It is the ideology and parochialism of economic, political, and social big lies that needs to be repackaged and resold to the public once again; where in the real world, the ‘cult of selfish individualism’ embraces nepotism, crony capitalism, and the necessity of having to be employed by the state, directly or indirectly as corporate lobbyists or ‘policy advisiors’, in order to survive. See, for example, “Oil company turned healthcare company got ‘significant’ COVID testing contract after hiring UCP connected lobbyist whose son works in health ministry” and of course Ben Harper.

    The rigors and harsh brutality of market capitalism and its myths applies to everyone else, as usual. Where the rules are to ‘do as I say’. Because, to ‘do as I do’ (also known as ‘gaming the system’: “Gaming the system (also rigging, abusing, cheating, milking, playing, working, or breaking the system, or gaming or bending the rules can be defined as using the rules and procedures meant to protect a system to, instead, manipulate the system for a desired outcome.”) and the government financed rewards and cozy relationships that follow from doing so strictly applies to family, friends, insiders, and fellow ideologues.

  8. “We actually think that children should know what our history is as Canadians. Good, bad and, and indifferent.”

    Oh, goodie! My eyes are popping like Tom Vernon’s.

    I can’t wait for the units on residential school genocide and the many ongoing forms of systemic injustice that it created for our indigenous peoples in present times.

    I can’t wait for the unit on Sir John A.’s alcoholism, and how substance abuse shaped Canadian society. Maybe this could be part of a comparative review of society’s attitudes toward substance abuse throughout the history of our great nation, leading to the current opioid crisis and a discussion of decriminalization. One unit could be called “Alcoholism vs. Opioids in Modern Society: Social Class and the Morality of Addictions”. Let me work on that. Maybe we can discuss boozing in government offices, and how that shapes policy toward addictions, from vomiting in parliament in the 19th century (“shields down”?) to “shields up” in the 21st century provincial legislature.

    I have many more ideas that the premier could use with his incredible New Truth agenda. Call me, Jay. Let’s do (a booze-free, physically-distanced, outdoors but not on the Sky Palace patio) lunch. I’ll bring the sammies. So much ground to cover!

    1. P.S. I should warn you, Jay, that the sammies might be gleaned from pp. 515-516 of and old culturally-appropriate “Joy of Cooking” recipe book. Do you prefer porcupine or muskrat? Fine, the bear then, if you insist.

      1. P.P.S. When I referred to comparative studies of substance abuse shaping public policy in Canada from the 19th to 21st centuries, I believe kindergarten is the best place to start, don’t you, Jay?

        P.P.S. I have already salted the bear, but it’s proving a bit unwieldy. Not sure how it will fit between two slices of white bread. It’s fighting back.

  9. Just to clarify, private schools are adamantly opposed to this curriculum as well. The government asked private and religious schools, both of which I’m a part of, to do a collaborative review of the curriculum with select teachers, of which I was also a part. At its surface, it appeared that this review was requested by the government in the hopes that they would drum up support on our end, which they could take to the public with the intent of showcasing said support. That backfired however when the collective lot of us drug the curriculum through the mud and shredded it to its core. Oddly enough shortly after that review (I was on the social studies team), the social studies portion was shelved for the time being. Make no mistake, NOBODY supports this curriculum from an educator’s standpoint.

  10. Funny thing about how Ezra earns his means…

    There was that shooting at a mosque in Quebec City, and Ezra was the first one to declare that the arrested suspect was not the shooter. Rather, he was a stooge for the real shooter, whom Ezra declared was an Islamist extremist and the whole thing was a case of Muslim on Muslim violence.

    Ezra then crowdfunded an effort to find the real shooter. Of course, Ezra never did find this shooter, but he did bring in some cool cash for the effort.

    Easy money if you can get it.

  11. K-12 school curriculum had been a principal battlefront in Canada’s version of the culture war since long before Jason Kenney rode his blue pickup in from Ontario to save Alberta from the socialist hordes. Whereas down in the States, it’s about trying to control women’s bodies, but loosening controls over deadly weapons, here in Canada it’s long been about what & how we teach our children. Some of this has involved appealing to newcomer communities who may not yet have completely accepted mainstream Canadian values, especially when it comes to sexual health education in the schools, and how we treat diverse sexual orientation & gender identity groups.

    What the unmarried, childless — as far as anyone knows — Jason Kenney did was hitch his blue pickup to that so-con bandwagon and try to hijack it for his own purposes. He has no personal stake in the education system; all he sees is an opportunity. But make no mistake, resistance to putting recognized experts in pedagogy — in other words, people who know what they’re doing, and who have put years of their professional lives into research and publishing — in charge of what and how our children are taught in the schools, long predates his arrival.

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