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An Open Letter to Jeff Johnson/Gordon Dirks

Dear Jeff Johnson Gordon Dirks,

I am writing this letter in hopes that you will strongly consider the issues that I describe below about Alberta Education. I am a teacher who works with some of our provinces most vulnerable students. The youth I serve have been neglected and abandoned by the society they live in. Poverty, addiction, and violence are a regular part of many of my students lives, which as you can imagine, can interfere with their ability to succeed at school. Despite this, my students are remarkable survivors and extremely intelligent students who could greatly benefit from a more caring educational system. It is this experience that impacts how I view education and what we need to do to make "Inspiring Education" work for all students.

I appreciate many ideas presented so far in the "Inspiring Education" plan. Opportunities for more student inquiry and a less prescriptive curriculum will give students a much richer learning experience and give teachers the flexibility to tailor their pedagogy to meet their students needs. As a teacher that must be flexible in my classroom, I am looking forward to these changes and any other changes that will move the education system in a positive direction.

However, there are some major concerns for me within "Inspiring Education" and the curriculum redesign. Since it was discovered, I have been a large advocate against corporate involvement in the curriculum redesign. As a teacher who takes pride in what I do, I find it extremely insulting that corporations have been invited to provide input on what is to be taught in our schools. Many corporations have publicly stated that they want students to "think critically" or be able to "problem solve". Are teachers not capable of designing a curriculum that does both of those things? Have we not been doing that in our classrooms for decades?

One of the reasons I became a teacher is that I believe education is a pillar of democracy. Part of our roles as teachers is to prepare students for democratic life and to be active citizens. I don't believe that corporations, whose legal obligation is to maximize profit, share the same love of democracy that I, and many other Albertans have. Corporations are not democratic institutions and have absolutely no expertise to provide on curriculum or education. Opening the door for them to provide input on the curriculum redesign is a slippery slope that reduces education to training.

The purpose of what we do as teachers is not to merely fill holes in the labour market. A democratic education teaches students to question, analyze, problem solve and critically think. It prepares them to become involved in the world around them and teaches them the tools to transform that world if they see fit. The curriculum redesign can only accomplish these goals if it has the input of parents, students, teachers, content experts, and community members. We have to remember that corporations are not "community members" either as corporations such as Apple or Microsoft are not Alberta residents.

Corporate involvement in the curriculum redesign poses a real threat to the ideal that Inspiring Education should hope to accomplish. Along with this threat, and although Inspiring Education does pose many positive changes, there is a glaring gap that is not being addressed. Inspiring Education has been focusing solely on issues that happen within the classroom like issues of instruction and content. However, the only way to make Inspiring Education truly "inspiring" would be to address how the issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability and colonialism impact teaching and education. Schools have traditionally been places that reproduce the dominant culture of the places they are in. It is time that we as an educational community challenge this and focus on how we can make our schools an inclusive and safe environment for all students, teachers, parents, and staff.

For example, Inspiring Education should look at taking steps to address how poverty impacts education. Living in poverty can negatively impact a students ability to learn and succeed within schools. As much as we strive to improve the learning conditions within our schools, an inspiring education model should also work with other organizations/governments to tackle complex social issues like poverty to really improve the chances of success for all of our students.

We must also make sure that our teachers and staff understand and are supportive of initiatives such as Gay-Straight Alliances in order to empower and provide safe spaces for our LGBTQ students. We must ensure that our students with special needs are properly cared for and welcomed into our classrooms so they can have the opportunity to share their knowledge and ideas with their classmates. We must address how colonialism is still occurring within Alberta today and how that impacts our Indigenous students within our schools. I teach in Edmonton, on Treaty 6 land, and see that many of our students who fall through the cracks of the traditional school system are Aboriginal. If we're going to make education "inspiring" for all students we must ensure that we embrace an educational platform that strives to create a space that is safe for all students and empowers them to have a voice in the schools that they attend.

I believe that we are at a very critical point in shaping what our education system could achieve in the future. We have an opportunity to shape an educational system that could be a model to the rest of the world that demonstrates a democratic and equitable education system, This type of system could hopefully empower our youth with the tools to make the world a little bit better of a place and also be able to find meaningful employment where they can discover their unique skills and potential.

I urge you Jeff Johnson Gordon Dirks to strongly reconsider allowing corporations to have input within our education system as I don't believe they have the same desire to achieve the objectives mentioned above. And most of all, I urge you to consider how "Inspiring Education" can play a part in creating a more equitable education system that could benefit all of Alberta's students and communities.


Dan Scratch