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The Politics of the Curriculum Redesign

* {Edit} Due to some constructive feedback of the post from a variety of folks, I want to reiterate that I am truly excited about the direction of the curriculum redesign in terms of the pedagogical direction we're heading. I really value the hard work that teachers and school boards have put into creating a curriculum that will better serve the needs of all students. However, I do take issue with corporations being involved in any capacity and do not see them as "partners" in the curriculum redesign or in any aspect of our educational system.

Original Post:

There has been a ton of controversy about Alberta Education's curriculum redesign, which is set to roll out in 2016. Many other teachers have blogged about the benefits of the new curriculum (less prescriptive curriculum, more opportunity for inquiry), which I am in agreement with. However, I would like to use this post to hash out what the politics of the redesign are in terms of curriculum development. In other words, who should be a "stakeholder" in education and who should not.

Alberta NDP MLA Deron Bilous recently made most Albertans aware of the corporate influence in the curriculum redesign process last week by releasing this document: http://www.education.alberta.ca/media/8382747/partners.pdf. It dictates all of the major partners and "stakeholders" in education that will be a part of the redesign. These organizations got involved in the curriculum redesign by applying for a "Request for Proposal" from Alberta Education and then those proposals were approved by a committee within Alberta Education as to which best met the criteria outlined in the RFP's. (Edit: Only publicly funded school authorities were selected in the RFP process, corporations or private industry did not apply for an RFP but were rather selected as "partners" in the curriculum redesign)

After a quick review of the outlining document of who are the partners and stakeholders, it is not clear how major corporations became partners in the curriculum redesign. Were they asked by school boards or Alberta Education for their input on curriculum or did they directly ask to be involved in the process (If anyone reading this knows the answer and can provide a reference I will edit with an update)? Now the main message coming from Alberta Education and minister Jeff Johnson is that these stakeholders are being consulted and their input is being received, however, they (corporations and other organizations) are not directly writing the curriculum.

I don't know how Alberta Education chose their partners in the prototyping phase of the redesign, but it is clear that there is heavy corporate involvement. Corporations include (but not limited to): Syncrude, Cisco, Microsoft, Apple, Cenovus Energy, Pearson Education, Stantec, etc. The other partners are made of school districts, Alberta Teachers Association, FNMI groups, etc.

I understand the very basic concept that education should coordinate with the corporate world in order to ensure that students are learning the skills that will make them successful in obtaining employment. However, this is an extremely problematic way of viewing education. It simplifies and reduces the work of teachers to reproduce workers for the capitalist system. Train them to get a job and that's it.

I admit, I take a bit of radical view of this topic. To me, education is fundamentally a democratic structure of our society. Corporations are intrinsically authoritarian systems that have demonstrated no interest in democratic principles. It does not make any sense as to why a corporation's input should be valued in Alberta's curriculum redesign. Whether corporations were chosen by school authorities and Alberta Education or they directly asked to be involved in the process doesn't matter entirely. Regardless of how they got involved, corporate involvement in education is flat out wrong.

For some reason, many corporations have input or are being consulted on the k-3 curriculum redesign process. A corporation has absolutely no right and it is a complete violation for their input to be valued in the early development of children. What interest does a corporation have in what kids learn during their k-3 years? How is that not a complete violation of our children's learning? Of course corporations have a vested interest in our education system. As I mentioned, they want to ensure there will be workers for them in the future and to also ensure that curriculum is tied to corporate products that teachers will need to teach in the classroom (I'm looking at you Apple and Microsoft).

Unfortunately, it seems the curriculum redesign has missed a great opportunity to keep education in the hands of the public good and away from private interest. Education should be a public good as it can be a space to tackle major issues of our times. Generally, our schools are places that reproduce the inequalities that exist in the outside world. Issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and colonialism are all impacted in our classroom, regardless of whether we teach in the suburbs or the inner-city. If teachers do not have an intricate understanding of this process then they can unfortunately play a part in reproducing the inequalities within the world. (This topic is an entire blog post on its own)

If the curriculum redesign was focused on building a strong and healthy democracy for Alberta, then there would not be one corporation on the "stakeholders" list. We would instead focus on what the true purpose of education is by establishing a curriculum that fosters a democratic spirit, critical thinking, and problem solving. Now I admit, a big part of the redesign will allow for this, but we must do more than to just "hope" that teachers will be able to do this in their classrooms. Education is for social and political action, which is the idea that we can create a better world and not have the privileged be unaware of the struggling of the marginalized. We need to have an education that liberates those who are suffering to be active players in their world to create the society that will benefit all Albertans.

Corporations are fundamentally not interested in strengthening democracy or working to end the system of privilege that benefits a few (them) and hurts the many. This is why corporations should have no role in establishing our curriculum however good the intentions may be on theirs and the governments end. Their goal will always be to profit, either with the ensured workers of the future, or the ability to establish "business partnerships" with public education to get their hands on the seven billion plus dollars of education funding. A corporation will always have a bottom line of profit that must be earned. You cannot measure democracy and critical thinking in dollars. These ideas are antithetical to major corporations interest in our educational system.

Instead, we should work and consult with actual "community partners" who are committed to to a larger democratic project that would establish justice and equity within all institutions of our society. Teachers, students, parents, and content experts have the knowledge and skills to develop curriculum, why do we need to have input from anyone else in the first place? If we use our education system to create independent, critically thinking, and compassionate students, then they will have the skills to apply to their passions in science, mathematics, social studies, English, and any other discipline that they strive towards to gain meaningful employment in their adult years. I want a world where people can critically think, take care of each other, and don't allow the abuse of power to upend their societies. I can't say if corporations want the same thing.


Comments

  1. Dan,
    Thanks for your post. While I agree that it is time to redesign the curriculum and delivery methods for Alberta students, I must take issue with one aspect of your post. In your post, you indicate that corporations were involved in the RFP process for the curriculum redesign. That is not true. All of the RFPs came from school boards. In addition, the work of the redesign is being done by teachers from boards in Alberta. I believe that Albertans from all walks must have a voice in the redesign of the curriculum and that must be very broad based. I believe Alberta Ed is seeking a broad voice to contribute but is relying on the experts, the teachers, to produce a curriculum that reflects the changing world our students will enter. To suggest this is being organized or orchestrated by corporations and industry is not true.
    Thanks for your post,
    Sean Beaton

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  2. Hey Sean,

    Thanks for your comment. Sorry if I wasn't clear in my post, but I know corporation are not orchestrating the curriculum redesign, but their input is being asked for. That is the point that I'm taking issue with and the politics surrounding that. In terms of the RFP process I'm just going by what the info on the Alberta Education website says. If you can clear up how corporations got involved in this process I'll be happy to make the appropriate edits to the blog post.

    I know that the large amount of work of the redesign is in good hands and will be great for Alberta students. I just wanted to hash out the corporate interest involved as many great teachers have blogged about the really positive possibilities that will come out of the redesign.

    Thanks!

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  3. Nevermind, I see my error after reviewing the document. So corporations were not involved in the RFP process but were selected as "partners" in the prototyping phase. Do you know how they were selected or why some around involved in the different segments? (k-3, 10-12, etc.)

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  4. Dan,

    My understanding is school boards who were involved in the RFP process selected their community partners. They determined who they would seek to involve during the process. I believe that included university leaders, businesses, FNMI leaders, etc. However, as far as I am aware, ABED did not dictate who had to be involved nor did industry/corporations ask to be involved.

    Sean

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