03 June 2009

There was a boat?

In my long list of daily tweets from CBC, I came across a link to this article about a new law in Alberta that allows parents to take their kids out of class during

A clause in the bill, which is an amendment to the province's human rights legislation, requires that school boards give parents written notice when controversial topics are going to be covered in the curriculum. Parents can then ask for their child to be excluded from the discussion.

When did it become necessary to protect kids from things they might learn in school? This feels to me like yet another abdication of responsibility by parents. I mean, I certainly hope that my own kids grow up to be thoughtful, caring, compassionate people who embrace cultural and lifestyle diversity, but I don't plan to do it by not letting them know that opposite viewpoints exist. And I would certainly prefer that any discussion be moderated by an educated professional as opposed to anything they might come across on the Wild Wild Web, or sitting around with their friends.

What happened to parents letting the schools do the teaching and then tempering the lessons with discussion at home. This is the moral equivalent to slapping an "Evolution is Only a Theory: stickers on the front of science textbooks. Yes, we know. That's why it's called the Theory of Evolution. And we don't teach Creationism because it's not a science. And because we don't teach religion in public schools. (Before you jump down my throat, I am well aware that we still live in a Judeo-Christian-centric society in North America, and that God pops up everywhere (including most major school holidays). I'm just saying that our curriculum does not include theology; at least not in my neck of the woods.)

So, why can't parents take an active role in their child's education in a positive way? I certainly don't disagree with parents right to know that some topics are part of the curriculum. Every semester, I'm responsible for a "Curriculum Night" where I have to account for most of what I plan to teach. That doesn't necessarily include the minutiae of the course, but definitely the broad topics, and of course, parents are free to ask about specifics, which I may or may not be able to provide at the time.

Rather than taking children out of class altogether, why not talk to kids about family beliefs, either before or after the classroom discussion? Why do teachers need to come up with an entirely new category of adaptation for students who "aren't allowed" to learn? There are enough kids on this planet who don't get an opportunity to learn about the basics of life or the much lauded "Three Rs". Now we're afraid that some kids might be learning too much and we have to censor them from the discussion?

There is opposition to the clause from those who fear that "... Bill 44 makes it possible for parents to file human rights complaints against teachers and school districts...". I have to say that I agree with that stance. Most teachers work hard to create fair and diverse classrooms that honour and respect people from many different backgrounds, and I don't think that comes out of fear of litigation. I think it comes from a place of knowing how to respect many people in many different ways. I many not agree with the beliefs of a student who is a Jehovah's Witness or a Catholic or a Hindu, but I will try my best to let them know that I'm okay with what they believe, and hopefully they'll find a way to reciprocate -- not through ignorance of the difference, but because I will model acceptance and understanding.

The people who tacked this clause onto Bill 44 didn't just miss the boat. I'm not sure they knew it was there in the first place.


Tricky said...

It is a steaming pile, isn't it?

I think, though, the moral of the story is that we, as a society, are determined to be people with a deficit in critical thinking.

Anonymous said...

I am not anti school or anti education, but I wanted to raise the possibility that some parents might wish to teach their children about sensitive subject manner at home, and that is certainly their right. Maybe that is what this allowance is trying to protect. School has its place, but should not be relied on as the gold standard to teach our children. There are many ways to teach someone that may not conform to the traditional classroom setting. Perhaps after a parent is able to talk about sex with their child then the experience of learning more about it in the classroom with peers can be beneficial, but some may not want the first time their child learns about it to be from a teacher at school.

Just trying to see both sides of things.

minako said...

I don't disagree. I think it's fair to alert parents about the kind of subject matter that may come up in class, but I don't think it's helpful to shield kids from it. Notification could be used to give parents an opportunity to open the conversation first, if they choose. But I don't think that preventing kids from getting an authoritative account of controversial topics.

Speaking for myself and most of my teacher-friends, it's likely a better source than something they may come across on the internet.