Albertans, will you take a stand to protect our children?

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On Monday March 13th at 6:30 p.m. I published a blog article which exposed how a taxpayer funded website, recommended by Alberta Education for K-12 children, linked directly to a number of “community supports” with sexually graphic articles and content. In only 48 hours that article was viewed over 34, 000 times and shared over 6, 000 times over Facebook.

Because of the public outrage following this news, 18 of the original 66 links provided as “community support” on the Alberta GSA Network were removed by the following afternoon. That means that over 27% of the total links were deemed inappropriate for K to 12 children and taken down  – which is far from being an isolated issue or an accidental oversight.

The fact is that the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (iSMSS), who organizes the GSA Network, did not properly vet their links and community supports, which only proves their lack of competence when it comes to being trusted with the safety of our K-12 children.

For months students have had access to sexually graphic material with only 1 to 2 clicks from a government funded and recommended website offering support to K-12 children. If I had not happened to come across these links they would still be there.

Why is it up to citizens to vet these government funded and recommended resources? Shouldn’t the Alberta government be hiring people who can do their job without volunteer citizens having to do it for them?

Removing links does not solve the problem. The underlying problem still remains – who is the NDP government entrusting with authority over our K-12 education system?

The response from iSMSS

The first response of iSMSS to the news I published was a statement provided to Danielle Smith on News Talk 770, which she read on-air.

The Director of iSMSS called my blog article “sensationalism” and “nothing more than hysteria”.  He criticized Danielle Smith saying that he was “disappointed you would give this group any air time” and that “giving them a platform only legitimizes their extremist view.”  (Listen starting at minute 13:12 )

Later in the day, this same Director referred directly to my Informed Albertans article and tweeted a request to turn “hate into help” with a link for donations. Instead of apologizing for the exposure of children to sexually graphic material – or thanking concerned parents for doing his job – he instead called it “hate” and turned it into a fundraising opportunity.

Kristopher Wells collecting donations

Does the Minister of Education really think that the government should continue to provide authority over K-12 children to someone who labels it “extreme” and “sensationalistic” to draw attention to sexually graphic material being linked to from a government funded website targeted to kids as young as five?

Is it really “hate” and “anti-LGBTQ” for me to speak up in protection of all our province’s children against exposure to content that includes BDSM and advice to “pay for porn”?

Critical Questions, but still no answers

Simply removing the links also leaves many critical questions unanswered.

The GSA Network was never meant to be a passive source of information for K-12 children, but an active network directing and connecting “local organizations, community groups, and schools.”

Aren’t there concerns why K-12 kids are being encouraged to register their club online with an outside organization like iSMSS and for what purposes that information is then used?

In what way does iSMSS “provide other community supports” to students who register? Who is overseeing communication between K-12 students with adults who are outside the school system?

Given the lack of competence demonstrated by iSMSS with vetting external links, how can we have confidence in how they are “directing and connecting” schools and students to local organizations and community groups?

Most importantly, why aren’t these critical questions being asked?

Who is in charge?

Alberta is undergoing the most massive curriculum re-write in our province’s history. As a former teacher, I understand that curriculum not only affects our students now, but for decades into the future. It is therefore essential that we trust only the most qualified professionals at the helm.

I was deeply disturbed by what I found provided as “support” for K-12 children on the GSA Network website, organized by iSMSS. I have also become increasingly concerned by the unprofessional conduct that the Director of iSMSS has demonstrated on repeated occasions, including:

– continual attempts to vilify concerned parents and citizens (including unfounded accusations of being “anti-LGBTQ”, “hate”, “extremists”, etc)

public smear campaign against Catholic education which prompted formal complaints from two Catholic Superintendents, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association and the Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta

– the posting of inappropriate content of an anti-religious and sexual nature on his social media

– public mocking of concerned parents by posting their letters of concern on his Facebook page.

How is it that this individual can continually behave in such an unprofessional manner and get away with it by calling other people names? 

If the Minister of Education won’t tell us who is on the list of those rewriting the curriculum, then he better assure us who is not on the list.

Albertans need to know: who is really holding the reins of power behind the scenes at Alberta Education?

To the Minister of Education David Eggen:

Will you assure Alberta parents and taxpayers that iSMSS, along with and any associated staff and Directors, are no longer involved in any capacity with the K-12 curriculum re-write or the provision of resources, research or teacher training that is being funded by the Alberta government?

And to fend off the feeble, predictable and ridiculous complaints involving some sort of fictional narrative of a “witch hunt”, I will remind everyone that parents and children in this province expect and deserve the highest vetting standards when it comes to those in authority over our K-12 education system.

I worked as a teacher for many years. I recognize that educators hold a position of sacred public trust.

Think about it:
If your child’s teacher publicly mocked parents over social media, or posted an ad featuring naked young people who “share an erotic kiss on a tennis court” and “are often seen embracing, rolling around on the ground together” or if they provided external links that directed K-12 children to sexually graphic material do you really think they would – or should – still be employed and entrusted with the care of K-12 children?

Why would we continue to fund and employ incompetence that can easily lead to the endangerment of children? 

Is that an example of a “witch hunt”? Or being responsible for our kids?

iSMSS and its Director have severely violated the public trust and have repeatedly demonstrated they should not be in a position of influence in our K-12 education system at all.

There are plenty of psychiatrists, counsellors and health professionals who can be trusted to support K-12 students – especially  vulnerable children who identify as LGBTQ – in a way that is competent, respectful and professional.

Enough is enough – Alberta children deserve better.

Your Voice Matters

Thank you to Leela Aheer for making a member’s statement in the Legislature on Wednesday. Thank you also to Jason Kenney who emailed a statement to stand with parents who are deeply concerned about children being exposed to this inappropriate material in our K-12 education system.

These courageous statements by politicians would not have happened if not for the people of Alberta, who immediately got on the phone and on email to make sure their elected representatives knew what was happening.

As I’ve said before: “Don’t expect politicians, even good ones, to do your job for you. Politicians are like weather vanes. Our job is to make the wind blow.”

Politicians are not leaders as much as they are followers. The only way our Minister of Education, school board trustees and MLAs will ever consider taking a stand for our concerns is if we continue to voice those concerns loudly and persistently. Consider making a phone call, sending an email or arrange a meeting.

We need you – Albertan parents and taxpayers – to keep up the pressure.

This issue cannot be a flash in the pan that only gets a few days of outrage from Albertans and then iSMSS and its Director  continue to rewrite the curriculum, conduct “safe and caring” teacher PD sessions and lead sexual health conferences for K-12 children once the controversy dies down.

Removing links is only a start to dealing with the real problem.

The following question must be answered:  

Is the Alberta government continuing to allow these same people to have authority and taxpayer funds when it comes to the provision of curriculum, resources and teacher training in our K-12 education system? 

For those of you who also want an answer to that question please add your name to the petition. The more people who sign, the more it shows that the NDP government will not succeed at quietly hoping this important issue will go away.

Be vocal and persistent – please take a stand for the protection of children in Alberta.

–> PLEASE SIGN HERE <–

Alberta government funds website directing K-12 kids to sexually graphic content

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Is this the type of “help” the Alberta government should be funding for K-12 children?

fruit loop 3a post

fruit loop 2a post

fruit loop 6a post

Fruit Loop 01a post Masturbation

The content of these articles is graphic. There are images of naked men being flogged and restrained with suggestions on how to use specific BDSM products, including links to purchase those items from an online sex shop. In the article about masturbation, your child is even advised to “pay for porn” and “visit a group masturbation night at your local sex club”.

These sexually graphic articles are examples of the content available on the “Fruit Loop” Facebook page, linked to as a “Community Support” on the Alberta GSA Network website to “help” K-12 children with their Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).

Community supports Fruit Loop link

Unbelievably, it only takes two clicks for K-12 children to easily access sexually graphic material from this website, which is funded with taxpayer money and even recommended by Alberta Education.

The Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (iSMSS) is paid by the Alberta Government to organize the Alberta GSA Network, intended to support a target audience that includes children ages 5 to 17 years old.

Dr. Kristopher Wells, who is a Faculty Director with iSMSS and the “driving force” behind the creation of the Alberta GSA Network, has publicly shared posts from Fruit Loop on his own social media, including a “fast-paced ad” featuring naked young people who “share an erotic kiss on a tennis court” and “are often seen embracing, rolling around on the ground together.”

Clearly he is not ignorant of the sexually graphic content of their posts.

KW Screen Shot 2016-09-20 at 2.16.15 PM

The iSMSS using government funds to provide access to sexually graphic content – especially masquerading under the banner of “support” for K-12 students – is an exploitation of the trust that children, parents and teachers place in our province’s education system.

It is true that sexually graphic content is available on the internet and kids could find it anyway.

However, using schools to intentionally direct and connect children to community organizations that peddle sexually graphic content is not safe or appropriate.

It is dangerous, reckless and wrong.

K-12 children who access GSAs are often already struggling and vulnerable. Exposure to the sexually graphic content made available through the Alberta GSA Network website puts these children at further risk of harm and victimization.

It is obvious the Ministry of Education is trusting the wrong people with the role of supporting 5 to 17-year-olds and creating “safe and caring” schools.

If this is the “help” iSMSS and Dr. Wells want to provide to Alberta’s kindergarten to Grade 12 students through our school system, then we don’t want it.

As parents and taxpayers of Alberta, we call on the Alberta government to immediately:

1. Suspend all funding to iSMSS.

2. Remove iSMSS and Dr. Wells from any influence over our province’s K-12 education system, including any provision of research, resources, counseling, teacher training and new curriculum development.

In order to ensure that schools are welcoming, caring, safe and respectful learning environments, Albertans must demand a higher standard when it comes to anyone entrusted with the support and care of K-12 children in this province – a much higher standard than the “support” currently being offered by iSMSS.

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UPDATES:

(March 14, 1 p.m.) In response to my blog article and this information becoming so public it seems the GSA Network website has now edited their list of community supports over the past hour. If you would like to verify the original list, please see the screen captures available in the GSA Network website supporting documentation (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT).

The fact remains that iSMSS did not properly vet their links and community supports, which only proves their lack of competence when it comes to being trusted with the safety of our K-12 children.

Links and content so inappropriate for K-12 kids should never have been there in the first place, especially under the guise of “support”. If I hadn’t happened to personally stumble across the content, it would still be there. Why is it up to citizens to vet these government funded and recommended resources? Shouldn’t the Alberta government be hiring people who can do their job without volunteer citizens having to do it for them?

Removing a few links does not solve the problem. iSMSS and Dr. Wells have severely violated the public trust and should not be in a position of influence in our K-12 education system at all.  Alberta children deserve better.

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(March 15) Donna Trimble, Executive Director for Parents for Choice in Education, posted an excellent open letter to our elected representatives entitled “Which Alberta Politicians Will Stand Up for Our Children?!”  Feel free to forward her letter to your MLAs and school board trustees.

Thank you to News Talk 770 with Danielle Smith for interviewing Donna Trimble, Executive Director of Parents for Choice in Education on March 14, 2017 about these concerns: LISTEN HERE FOR THE INTERVIEW

Thank you to Andrea Huncar from the CBC News who wrote an article about this topic 

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(March 16, 5:30 p.m.) I have started a petition to pressure the Alberta government to reveal the extent to which iSMSS is still involved in authority over our K- 12 education system.

–> PLEASE SIGN HERE <–

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VIDEO AVAILABLE:

PART 2: The law that puts kids in charge

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Imagine an Alberta where school children of any age have rights to legally overrule their teachers and principals. Sound enticing?

Prior to March 2015 such a world did not exist. It used to be that all educational rights were held exclusively by adults or jointly between adults and students.

But with the enactment of section 16.1 of the School Act (Bill 10), the professional judgement and expertise of school staff officially became subordinated to the will of K-12 children by providing exclusive legal rights to some students.

When a K-12 student requests a Gay/Queer Straight Alliance (GSA/QSA) – or to lead any associated school-wide activity – principals are provided with one legal option: they “shall permit the establishment of the student organization or the holding of the activity.”

While it is not necessarily harmful to provide students with more control, this legislation has demoted teachers and principals from positions of professional authority and now the void is conveniently being filled with a new source of expertise.

A new source of expertise for kids

This past fall the provincial NDP government began providing taxpayer funding to launch a new source of “expert authority” for K-12 students – the provincial GSA coordinator and GSA Network website. What is concerning about this new authority is that they have gained a massive amount of influence to directly promote their ideology to K-12 students in our schools, while legally ensuring zero interference from any other adults, including principals, teachers and parents. What a fantastic deal for anyone: all the perks of influence to Alberta’s schoolchildren, but without any of the oversight and public accountability.

The ideological intentions of the GSA Network are obvious. The only perspective promoted to K-12 students is that gender and sexuality are fluid, subjective and on a spectrum of limitless possibilities.  The website even includes a definitions page from Trans Student Educational Resources that deems the terms “biological male/female” as “defamatory and inaccurate.”  Is this the new standard of support that K-12 children are expected to receive while at school – the “reassurance” that biology is some sort of huge, offensive lie?

Who is really in control?

What is remarkable is that the legislation conveniently guarantees the free reign of this ideology throughout every school in Alberta according to any manner chosen by K-12 students, including assembly presentations, guest speakers or the school-wide distribution of materials. If school staff impose any limitations on these student-led organizations and their activities they could face legal repercussions. Notably, this legal authority is not extended to any other student group or circumstance beyond this specific context.

Faith-based schools who think that they can appoint a faith leader – for example, an elder or priest – to ensure the student group holds to their foundational sacred teachings of sexuality must be honest with parents and admit that faith leaders are not granted this authority in their legally defined role to merely “facilitate” and “assist” these student-led groups.  For example, if a Grade 4 student in any Alberta school – public, Christian, Catholic, Muslim, etc. – insists on a school wide pride parade, drag queen assembly performance and rainbow flag raising ceremony as a GSA sponsored activity then the principal and staff liaison have a choice: comply with the student’s demand or break the law by imposing a limitation on the student’s choice of activities.

It hardly seems coincidental that Dr. Kristopher Wells, who is personally credited with promoting this legislation (see Hansard for March 10, 2015, pages 541, 545 and 548), happens to work in the same department which now operates the GSA Network and which has gained impressively influential direct access to K-12 schoolchildren and a significant amount of taxpayer dollars. Dr. Wells has spoken often of his goal for culture change and it seems that legally demoting all other traditional forms of adult authority in schools and replacing them with the “expert” authority of his own department seems like a winning strategy to achieve his goal. Those who are familiar with Dr. Wells’ unapologetic and offensive depiction of religious groups and parent concerns are especially concerned about the level of authority and financial support which has been provided to him and his department by our Alberta government as a direct result of the legislation he personally promoted.

“It’s the law” is not an excuse

It is time that Albertans demand some answers from our elected officials:

1. Why would MLAs of every political stripe rather put children legally in charge and guide them with a government funded ideologically based website and publicly unaccountable provincial coordinator instead of allowing teachers and principals to exercise their professional judgement to thoughtfully balance the countless variables of each unique school context?

2. Why do Alberta politicians who continue to support this legislation have so little trust in the expertise of teachers and principals?

3. Why is Alberta the “only province whose law imposes no grade restrictions” on the operation of these student organizations (Dec. 6th ATA News), meaning this legal authority extends to children as young as kindergarten?

Contact the offices of Education Minister David Eggen (780 427 5010, education.minister@gov.ab.ca) and the Education Critic of the Official Opposition Leela Aheer (403.207.9889, chestermere.rockyview@assembly.ab.ca) to share your concerns. If you attend one of the many events currently being hosted by PC Leadership Candidates or Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, ask your questions in person. And please add your name to the “Parental Consent is Key” campaign by Parents for Choice in Education to help strengthen our voice to pressure for legislative amendments.

It is time for our legislators to understand that the absence of reasonable limits to this historic provision of legal rights to K-12 children has undermined public trust in our education system. Parents and professionals across the province continue to voice concerns over the growing influence of ideologically based authorities within our schools who are not subject to any public accountability and professional oversight. Yet these concerns still seem to be falling on deaf ears.

The stated intention of section 16.1 of the School Act – to support sexual and gender minority students – is laudable and important. But intentions are not the measure of effective legislation. Poor legislation can – and should – be amended by our MLAs now that the full scope of its effects are plainly exposed in the light of hindsight.

“It’s the law” is not an excuse for inaction. Our MLAs need to understand that progress is not digging in your heels and claiming that what’s done cannot be changed. Progress sometimes means admitting a mistake was made – and taking steps to make it right.

 

About this series
Just over one year ago, on January 17, 2016, an unexpected moment in my life began a journey that has brought me through countless new experiences and challenges that I never planned or anticipated.  In the course of the past year I have met with several political leaders, been quoted in dozens of articles, participated in numerous live television and radio interviews, helped lead simultaneous rallies of over 4,300 people and communicated with thousands of people across the province, including parents, teachers, administrators, lawyers, politicians and members of various faith communities.

This exclusive series is a retrospective overview of significant recent changes that have happened to our education system, along with insights I have gained from the many experiences of the past year. If you want to receive future articles in this series, delivered directly to your inbox, feel free to subscribe with your email address.

I have titled this series “Education in Alberta & The Tsunami of Change” because it is important to understand the difference between an initial event and the full experience of its effects.

When people say an earthquake has happened a thousand kilometres away and warn a tsunami is on its way, it may be all too tempting to point to the blue sky and sunshine while blissfully sunbathing on the beach and dismiss their warnings as misinformed fearmongering. “I’ll wait until I can see it for myself” we assure ourselves.

Unfortunately, by the time the tsunami hits then it is too little too late to respond.

As the adage says “Knowledge is power” – and it is only when we are fully informed that we can respond appropriately and make the most effective decisions. Right now in Alberta tremendous changes are happening in the architecture of our education system and this series is one way to help people learn about those changes and how they will inevitably impact the day-to-day lives of students, parents and staff within our schools.

Previous articles in this series:
PART 1: You’re testing my child on… what??

 

 

 

 

PART 1: You’re testing my child on… what??

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How would you feel if your child’s Biology 30 or Science 9 mark required them to answer a test question with an explanation of the Gender Unicorn as a “more authentic way of understanding of gender”?

To receive full marks, your child would have to explain that gender changes at random and varies by circumstance, is entirely subjective and exists on a spectrum of limitless possibilities. This explanation would not be presented as one perspective among many, but as the only correct answer. In fact, your child would be taught that any biologically based, objectively verifiable, “binary” understanding of gender as male/female is “overly simplistic and often wrong”  “misleading” and “exclusionary and harmful”.

Welcome to the new standard of “scientific” testing for Alberta students, provided courtesy of the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) and developed in collaboration with Alberta Education.

The PRISM Toolkit Secondary Edition represents a brave new world in which ideological activism has boldly and unapologetically overtaken scientific consensus in the teaching and testing of Alberta students. Reading this resource should be required homework for every Albertan citizen, if only to serve as a wake-up call to the drastic subversion of standards in Alberta’s schools.

Getting to Know Alberta Education’s Standards

I was a teacher for many years. I’ve read the Guide to Education, released each year by Alberta Education. I have also read the Health and Life Skills Guide to Implementation. In these documents, Alberta Education’s standards are clear when it comes to topics which are “publicly sensitive and upon which there is no consensus of values or beliefs” (see page 82 of Guide to Education and page 38-39 of the Health & Life Skills Guide to Implementation).

What is most alarming is how willingly Alberta Education is violating its own standards by allowing the ATA’s PRISM Toolkit to be used in our province’s schools.

Alberta Education recognizes topics “on which reasonable people may sincerely disagree” as “an integral part of student learning in Alberta” and lists the following benefits:

  • Preparing students to participate responsibly in a democratic and pluralistic society
  • Develop the ability to:
    • think clearly
    • reason logically
    • to open-mindedly and respectfully examine different points of view
    • make sound judgements

However, Alberta Education also provides some cautions to teachers:

1. Exercise sensitivity to ensure that students and others are not ridiculed, embarrassed or intimidated for positions that they hold on controversial issues.

2. The school plays a supportive role to parents in the areas of moral development and shall handle parental decisions in regard to controversial issues with respect and sensitivity.

3. Teachers should use controversial issues to promote critical inquiry rather than advocacy, and to teach students how to think rather than what to think.

Defying Alberta Education’s Standards

However, by imposing the Gender Unicorn as the only correct way to view gender – even making a student’s grade dependent on this singularly “correct” view (page 87, 88) – the PRISM Toolkit blatantly violates these standards of Alberta Education.

The resource is explicit in its premise that any binary understanding of gender as male/female is “overly simplistic and often wrong”  “misleading” and “exclusionary and harmful” (page 21) and that gendered language such as “boys and girls” is “restrictive” and to be eliminated from classroom discourse (pages 22, 23, 56).  How will students ever grasp how to “participate in a pluralistic society” and “respectfully examine different points of view” when they are taught and tested that only one “correct” view should exist in the world?

And what about those students who do have a biologically based and binary understanding of male and female – perhaps even a belief that this gendered view represents a profoundly sacred understanding of human sexuality?  Imagine being that child who is then forced to answer a test in a way that is in complete contradiction to their deeply held and sacred beliefs. Wouldn’t that student feel personally “ridiculed, embarrassed or intimidated for positions that they hold” and wouldn’t the child’s parents conceivably protest that the teacher’s imposition of the Gender Unicorn is not reflecting a “supportive role to the parents in the areas of values and moral development”?

The ATA has attempted to reassure the public by stating that the PRISM Toolkit is merely an “optional” resource. But this is not reassuring at all.  Should it ever be optional to violate our province’s own educational standards?

Who does the ATA really support?

The ATA has also attempted to assuage concerns through repeatedly emphasizing that “teachers will exercise their professional judgement in determining whether and how to implement suggestions and models set out in the document”.

But this assurance is nothing more than hollow rhetoric. Consider how my own respectful communication of concerns, based on my professional judgement as a trained teacher, was received by the ATA who “liked” the following social media posts after I participated in a CBC Radio Edmonton interview about the PRISM Toolkit:

It seems teachers may “exercise their professional judgement,” but only within the narrowly defined ideological limits granted by those at the helm of the ATA.  Apparently tactics of public intimidation are now acceptable methods to help motivate teachers to fall back in line.

I first raised concerns about this resource in November (see my original blog article which has been updated to include links to the many subsequent media interviews), but in the end the ATA and Alberta Education did nothing to resolve these legitimate concerns and proceeded with their en masse mailing of print copies to every school in Alberta.

The stated intention of the resource – to support sexual and gender minority students – is laudable and important. But the PRISM Toolkit Secondary Edition goes far beyond these intentions.  Just because professors of sexual and gender minority studies and transgender advocates insist that the Gender Unicorn represents the only “correct” way of understanding gender does not justify imposing this understanding on everyone.

There are a multitude of more thoughtful, balanced and effective ways to support sexual and gender minority students while also upholding and safeguarding critical educational standards, including a respect for all diverse views. Unfortunately it seems the ATA cares more about supporting an ideological agenda through a public denigration of professional expertise than thoughtfully considering a more sensible, respectful and balanced approach.

Teachers wield tremendous authority and influence over the captive, impressionable audience of students in their classrooms, especially when it comes to testing what is “correct” and “incorrect”. Allowing this resource any entry into Alberta’s schools represents an obvious abuse of Alberta Education’s own standards. It also sets an outrageously disturbing precedent wherein bureaucrats and politicians are wholeheartedly granting ideological activism supremacy over scientific consensus in the teaching and assessment of Alberta children.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

If you have concerns about this issue, I encourage you to contact the Education Minister’s office (780 427 5010, education.minister@gov.ab.ca) and also the office of Wildrose Education Critic Leela Aheer (403.207.9889, chestermere.rockyview@assembly.ab.ca).

Let them know that you care about the standards of Alberta Education and expect those standards to be followed.  Insist that the PRISM Toolkit Secondary Edition be pulled from school shelves and brought back to the drawing board in order to ensure that we find a more effective way to ensure that all students are respected and supported.

Parents:  Many teachers and principals are too busy to even know about this new resource. Be proactive and request that the principal and teachers at your child’s school read the PRISM Toolkit for themselves. Respectfully voice your concerns and insist that you are informed if they plan to integrate any of it into their teaching and testing. A “Parent Notification Form” provided on the Parents for Choice in Education website can facilitate this important dialogue and accountability between schools and parents. Remember to reference Alberta Education’s own standards. Keep in mind this PRISM Toolkit is specifically designed for grades 7-12 and encourages integration of specific lessons and materials into all subject areas.

Teachers: I’ve been in your shoes and know how busy you are, but I encourage you to take some time to read or at least skim through the PRISM Toolkit for yourself rather than relying on the ATA’s attempt to downplay and dismiss concerns. Ask yourself whether this resource is truly the most effective way to support all students. Take your voting seriously when it comes to the upcoming Provincial Executive Council elections in mid-March. Remember you pay thousands of dollars in union dues toward these people’s salaries and the leadership direction they choose to implement. Know where candidates stand on documents like the PRISM Toolkit. Ensure that you invest your vote wisely and that your concerns are represented and addressed.

I urge all readers to share this information with others to increase awareness of the drastic changes within our education system. It is more important than ever to defend Alberta Education’s standards in order to safeguard the integrity of our education system and ensure public confidence and trust in the teaching of our children.

 

About this series
Just over one year ago, on January 17, 2016, an unexpected moment in my life began a journey that has brought me through countless new experiences and challenges that I never planned or anticipated.  In the course of the past year I have met with several political leaders, been quoted in dozens of articles, participated in numerous live television and radio interviews, helped lead simultaneous rallies of over 4,300 people and communicated with thousands of people across the province, including parents, teachers, administrators, lawyers, politicians and members of various faith communities. 

This exclusive series is a retrospective overview of significant recent changes that have happened to our education system, along with insights I have gained from the many experiences of the past year. If you want to receive future articles in this series, delivered directly to your inbox, feel free to subscribe with your email address.

I have titled this series “Education in Alberta & The Tsunami of Change” because it is important to understand the difference between an initial event and the full experience of its effects.

When people say an earthquake has happened a thousand kilometres away and warn a tsunami is on its way, it may be all too tempting to point to the blue sky and sunshine while blissfully sunbathing on the beach and dismiss their warnings as misinformed fearmongering. “I’ll wait until I can see it for myself” we assure ourselves.

Unfortunately, by the time the tsunami hits then it is too little too late to respond.

As the adage says “Knowledge is power” – and it is only when we are fully informed that we can respond appropriately and make the most effective decisions. Right now in Alberta tremendous changes are happening in the architecture of our education system and this series is one way to help people learn about those changes and how they will inevitably impact the day-to-day lives of students, parents and staff within our schools.

Read the second article in this series:
PART 2: The law that puts kids in charge

 

Be informed and engaged in the protection of authentic educational choice

Over the weekend I posted an update on my online petition. For blog subscribers who missed the petition update, here is the information:

Trinity/WISDOM Home Schooling

Great news this past week on a resolution regarding the government’s alarmingly abrupt closure of Trinity Christian School Association in October, which directly impacted over 3,500 homeschooling students.

Here are excerpts from the Alberta Home Education Association (AHEA) website posted on January 4th and 6th with background info and an update:

Jan. 4th: “On October 25, 2016, the Ministry of Education removed the accreditation from Trinity Christian School, thus effectively closing WISDOM Homeschooling.

Trinity/WISDOM launched court proceedings in opposition to this closure and was successful on November 4, 2016 in getting an interim injunction to that Trinity/WISDOM could continue to operate albeit without funding.

A further hearing was set for January 5th, 2017 to determine if the injunction should be continued and funding restored”

Jan 6th: “An agreement was reached yesterday between the province of Alberta and Trinity Christian School, the operator of WISDOM Home Schooling.

The Trinity Christian School Association will continue to be registered and accredited – and operate with full funding – under an agreement reached in court on January 5.

Trinity will continue to be responsible for the WISDOM program, and Trinity/ WISDOM expect that day-to-day operations will continue so that home educating families should see no disruption or change in service.

AHEA is thankful that Trinity/WISDOM will continue to operate and to serve Alberta home educating students and families.

According to a Facebook post from a parent who was in the court room on Thursday (Leandra Balisky Loewen), the judge:

“directed his strongest words at AB Education and condemned them for, in the judges’ words, their “smear campaign” against Trinity. He cited their reporting Trinity had spent tax payers money on funeral expenses when it was a 4.47 card bought for the family of one of their teachers who passed away. The judge shook his head and intently stared at the AB Education bench. Their lawyer stood and said she had nothing to reply. The judge spent some time admonishing both groups they should have come to a reasonable conclusion before the legal action. He concluded with, “Do what’s best for the kids”.

As pointed out in an Edmonton Journal column by Graham Thomson, as well as an excellent video from Brian Holdsworth – a dad whose family was directly impacted by the Trinity/WISDOM closure – Alberta Education owes Albertans some explanations and apologies.

Independent Baptist Christian Schools

My online petition was originally started to address the threat of removing funding for Christian schools that are refusing to implement specific practices on sexual orientation and gender identity that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

Albertans are still awaiting a resolution to this situation. Prior to Christmas a CBC news report stated that “an inquiry report into two Edmonton-area Baptist schools which refuse to allow gay straight alliances in school has been completed” and “results will soon be shared with the public”.

Please stay tuned and I will let you know when news is released.

Telephone Town-Hall on “THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION IN ALBERTA”

I continue to reach out to politicians of all major parties in order to represent the concerns of the thousands of people who have signed the petition.

So far the only one who has responded by meeting with me specifically about these concerns is Jason Kenney, who is a candidate running for leadership of the PC party.

He wants to hear more directly from you about your concerns so he is hosting a telephone town-hall on Monday January 9th (TONIGHT!) from 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. specifically on “The Future of Education in Alberta”.

I encourage you to get involved as it is a convenient and worthwhile opportunity to be informed and engaged.  As demonstrated by the Trinity/WISDOM experience, it is extremely important for all of us to actively defend authentic educational choice and keep the government accountable. The numbers who register and participate in these types of events help to demonstrate to politicians how many people in the province care about these educational issues.

Click on the picture below in order to access Jason Kenney’s video about the Telephone Town-hall, as well as the registration link to sign-up with your name and phone number. Your phone will ring on Monday night so you can listen in and perhaps even get to ask your own question directly to Jason.

Feel free to pass along the link to others you know who may be interested in the opportunity and thank you for your continued support and efforts in advocating for the protection of authentic educational choice in our province.

jason-kenney-telephone-town-hall-video-link

Which Alberta politicians are taking a stand for education?

From exposing government secrecy, defending home education and criticizing the imposition of the purple unicorn perspective on students, thank you to these three politicians who helped focus public attention on important educational issues over the past few weeks.

1. Jason Kenney, Candidate for Leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative (PC) party

jason-kenney-meetingI appreciated the opportunity to meet with Jason Kenney for an hour last week and was impressed by his willingness to respond meaningfully to the issues I presented and demonstrate genuine understanding of the concerns being voiced by so many Albertans.

He also deserves accolades for being the only Alberta politician with the courage to speak out against the imposition of the purple unicorn perspective as the only correct view on sexuality/gender in school.  If you haven’t heard the news yet about the polarizing PRISM resource that is being sent to all Alberta schools, please read my last blog article or listen to some of the interviews I did on radio and television in early November.

Jason Kenney responded to the survey which was provided by Parents for Choice in Education to all PC Leadership candidates. His answers (read them here) indicated a thoughtful, balanced approach with strong support of choice, freedom and parental rights in education.

Thank you Jason Kenney for taking a clear stand on educational issues that matter to so many Albertans!

2. Mark Smith, Wildrose Education Critic

Accolades to Mark Smith for drawing public attention to the fact that the Minister of Education is purposely concealing the identity of the expert working group members involved in the most ambitious curriculum overhaul in our province’s history.

Mark Smith’s post on Facebook, which you can access by clicking the image below, included a video of his exchange with Education Minister David Eggen on this subject.

mark-smith-expert-working-group-question-in-legislature

Concerns on this topic have also been voiced by the Calgary Association of Parents and School Councils (CAPSC), featured in a Metro article last week.

Kudos to Mark Smith and the CAPSC for publicly pressuring our government to be fully transparent and accountable. Taxpayers deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent in this province, especially when it comes to knowing who is in charge of shaping the future direction of our publicly funded education system.

3. Brian Jean, Leader of Wildrose, Official Opposition

brian-jean-speech-at-home-school-rallyThank you to Brian Jean for his rousing speech at the November 29thCelebration of Home Schooling” rally at the Legislature in support of freedoms and parental choice in education, attended by over 650 people.

A portion of the speech was recorded and shared on Facebook, which can be accessed through clicking the image to the side.

Unfortunately this accolade is accompanied by some frustration, which I expressed in a Dec. 2nd email to Brian Jean (see below).  I have yet to receive a reply to this message.

Dear Mr. Jean,

I was in the crowd at the Celebrate Home Education rally on Tuesday and appreciated your strong words of support for parental choice and home education.

However, I was also deeply disappointed.

I am a parent and a former public school teacher. I was also the MC at the rally that took place at that same location in front of the Legislature in May.

We had at least 2300 Albertans in attendance that day, alongside another 2000+ who gathered simultaneously in Calgary.

Yet remarkably not one MLA from any political party was in attendance at that event to support those parents and their concerns about how educational choice and freedom are being eroded and threatened for their families. 

I am hopeful that perhaps these past six months have given you and other politicians more perspective than you may have had in May.  Perhaps you and your colleagues are now finally beginning to better understand the scope of implications that recent changes to educational policies and legislation are having on the families of this province.

Do you truly care about representing parental choice and the concerns of all Albertans when it comes to the education of their children? 

If so, there are over 25 000 Albertans who signed a petition asking for amendments to legislation which impacts all Alberta schools – and each of those people are still waiting for even one politician to speak out on their behalf.

While it is an admirable start to voice such strong support for parental choice when it comes to home education – which is of tremendous importance to many families in Alberta – I hope that you do not stop there.

I would hope that if you truly care about representing Albertan families and upholding parental choice and genuine freedom in this province that you would begin doing more to publicly represent all parents and children, including both the concerns of home educators, as well as the families who choose to send their children to brick and mortar schools.

Through my work over the past few months I have had the opportunity to personally hear from thousands of Albertans who are extremely concerned about educational issues.  Many teachers, administrators, parents and children have expressed their concerns to me through in-person conversations, emails, phone calls, social media, comments on my blog Informed Albertans, as well as through a change.org petition I started in August which has been signed by over 3600 people so far. 

I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you in Edmonton in order to provide more insight into the full scope of the concerns that these families have voiced.

Also, on behalf of the 3600+ people who have signed my petition, I would like to personally drop off a printed copy of all the signatures and comments to you.  I’m sure that each Albertan who signed the petition would appreciate an update to hear that their voices of concern have actually reached the ears of our elected representatives.

I look forward to hearing from you soon. Please reply within the next week regarding whether you will be able to arrange a day to meet together and discuss these important educational issues.

Sincerely,
Theresa Ng

 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

I once heard a quote that has stuck with me: “Don’t expect politicians, even good ones, to do your job for you. Politicians are like weather vanes. Our job is to make the wind blow.”

The only way our politicians will ever consider taking a stand for our concerns is if we continue to voice those concerns loudly and persistently.

Here are some actions to consider for Albertans who support a thoughtful, balanced approach to educational issues, as well as a system that is more transparent, responsive and accountable to all stakeholders:

1. Sign up for a $10 Progressive Conservative membership to help guide the future direction of the PC party.

The PC party is at a massive crossroads and there is tremendous variation on how each potential leader will deal with educational issues if they are elected.

For example, while Jason Kenney has communicated his concern about purple unicorn ideology being imposed onto children in Alberta schools, another PC Leadership contender, Richard Starke, actually specifically expressed “support for the approach to gender and sexuality that is increasingly being implemented in schools, including the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s controversial PRISM toolkits.”

If you care about having a political party that will represent your concerns about the care and education of your children, please consider signing up to support Jason Kenney’s campaign to become the next leader of the PC party. So far he seems to be the only PC candidate that is taking a strong interest and public stand in addressing these critically important educational issues.

2. Send a note to Mark Smith (780.542.3355, draytonvalley.devon@assembly.ab.ca or Facebook comment) and encourage him to keep pressuring the Ministry of Education to reveal who is writing the new curriculum.

Also phone the Minister of Education’s office (780 427 5010) to share your expectation that these expert working group lists should be publicly accessible to all educational stakeholders, especially taxpayers and parents.

3. Contact Brian Jean (780.427.1031, fortmcmurray.conklin@assembly.ab.ca) and ask him to step up and address all critical education issues more directly and meaningfully.

*******

It will never be easy to speak out about these issues. I know from firsthand experience how voicing even the most respectful and reasonable perspective earns a deluge of labels and disrespect from those who do not bother to look beyond the superficial rhetoric that obscures the true complexity of concerns.

A multitude of critical questions are still not being addressed when it comes to the care and education of our children in Alberta. Frankly, the freedom to parent our own children should not be a partisan issue – we must continue demanding meaningful solutions from all political parties.

If you are new to this issue and do not yet understand the dramatic changes that have taken place in our education system, please take the time to learn more about the concerns being voiced by tens of thousands of Albertans.

Explore the many articles available on this blog or through the Parents for Choice in Education website, including a one hour interview Donna Trimble and I did on the INSIGHT show with Paul Arthur.

And please do not stop there. Invest time in being engaged and pressuring our elected representatives for changes that will address these concerns.

We need more politicians with a strong backbone who will not surrender our children, teachers and the integrity of our education system on the altar of political correctness.

And those politicians need us – ordinary Albertan citizens like you and me – to create sustained and engaged pressure by speaking out and continuing to demand that our concerns be addressed.

 

You think you know what Alberta students learn in school?

Question: What do the following three points have in common?

1. Avoid using terms such as “boys and girls” and use alternatives such as “comrades”, “folks” and “friends”
2. Organize a school-wide drag performance
3. Require all students to participate in mandatory international letter-writing campaigns to advocate for LGBTQ rights

Answer: These are just three examples of recommended teacher lessons and practices from the new Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) resource entitled PRISM Toolkit for Safe and Caring Discussions about Sexual and Gender Minorities, Secondary Edition, which has been published for use with Grade 7-12 students.prism3

The opening pages state that a copy will be provided “free of charge” to all ATA members and credits funding support from the Government of Alberta.

From lesson plans and “inclusive” practices to some concerns with the document, let’s take a closer look at this PRISM resource which was generously provided to all teachers in the province courtesy of your taxpayer dollars.

LESSON PLANS

If you’ve ever wondered how sexual and gender minority (SGM) content could be infused into each subject area in order to achieve specific curricular outcomes, look no farther than the PRISM lesson plan section.

The following examples are all excerpts directly from the resource. I have underlined certain phrases to highlight them.

Language Arts and Social Studies:

Map of LGBTQ Rights, page 114
“Sexual and gender minority (SGM) people throughout the world continue to struggle under oppression, and continue to fight for recognition and protection under the law. In this activity, students are asked to view a variety of maps that detail the current situation for SGM peoples around the world. Students can be asked to do comparisons between nations, examine timelines of human rights achievements for specific regions, join letter-writing campaigns, and study the historical, social and political contexts of nations where human rights are still under threat…. Students can also explore social movements taking place and dig into the concept of solidarity. This is an excellent opportunity for students to practice skills of allyship across international boundaries.”

Text Analysis, page 115
“Students are given clippings from newspapers and online articles with various LGBTQ content from the current news cycle (marriage announcements, Pride Tape, Pride Centre news, trans athletes, etc) and are asked to code to whatever language conventions are being worked on in class at that time. For example, highlight transition words, circle the 5 Ws, underline metaphors, etc. Activities such as this normalize content in our classrooms and serve to destigmatize difference. Normalizing content can be more helpful than the token “gay” lesson as it is embedded in our regular practice. Be prepared to have a discussion of any issues or questions that may arise.”

Art:

Famous Queer Artists, page 116
“Research local and international artists who have faced political and legal backlash for their work. Discuss the importance of art for breaking down social barriers and for questioning the status quo. Encourage students to examine how art is a political act and look for ways to support local artists.”

The Colours of the Rainbow, page 107-109
“Provide students the opportunity to research the history, significance, and meaning of the Rainbow Pride Flag… Have students work in groups of two or three or on their own to research an issue or concern of the SGM community. For example, discrimination by the medical system, marriage and relationship rights, separate change/washrooms, bullying, suicide rates etc…. Encourage the students to use their research findings, the history of the rainbow flag and their own personal reflections on the theme of gender and sexual identity to create a drawing, painting or collage. Encourage students to use all the colours of the rainbow flag in their work.”

Drama/Cosmetology

Drag 101, page 118
“Students put their hair and makeup skills to the test while learning about the art form of drag culture…Students will gain a deeper understanding of sexual and gender diversity while exploring perceptions of gender, masculinity, and femininity. Students may want to invite local drag queens to come to the school to teach make-up and hair techniques. Students may also want to organize a drag performance for the school.

Religion 7–9, 15, 25, 35

Why Homophobia Leads Us to Sin – John 8:2-11 (story of the adulterous woman), page 89-92
“Extend the conversation to understand the impact that homophobia has on classroom, school, and church community. Ideas might include breaking down true communication of God’s love and mercy, resistance to the inclusive nature of God’s call to be ourselves, restricting the pastoral approach to community.”

Science 9 & Biology 30

Intersex Conditions, page 81-88
Assessment question #5: “What is the difference between an individual’s sexual identity and their gender identity?”

Answer Key: “An individual’s sexual identity is considered to be a biological construct whereas an individual’s gender is considered to be a social construct. Also check out the Gender Unicorn (page 21)”:

gender-unicorn

 

INCLUSIVE PRACTICES

However, lesson plans are not the only section available in this resource. The ATA also directs teachers in the province to incorporate “inclusive” practices into all their teaching.

On page 23, teachers are encouraged to post the following chart in their classroom as “a reminder to yourself and students that there are many inclusive ways to refer to each other.”  In order to help students learn the proper use of these pronouns, teachers are encouraged to ask students to incorporate them into their classroom writing.

prism-pronouns-list

On pages 22 and 56, teachers learn about the importance of “gender inclusive language.” Binary language is deemed “restrictive” and teachers are urged to “break the linguistic binary” in order to “practice allyship”. Notice the ATA’s suggested use of “comrades” as an alternative to “boys and girls”. 

prism-gender-inclusive-language

“OPTIONAL” RESOURCE?

Some have attempted to offer reassurances by saying this PRISM resource is only “optional”.  However, consider the following points:

1. The PRISM resource is clear that it is intended for use by all teachers in the province.

On pages 42 and 43 we read that being “inclusive” is every teacher’s “moral, ethical, professional and legal responsibility” and that “sexual minority issues and concerns are first and foremost a civil and human rights issue and, as such, need to be addressed and supported by all teachers and school leaders.”

Teachers are even warned of potential consequences if they do not actively address SGM issues in their classrooms:

“Canadian courts have found that schools that fail to address homophobia and heterosexism can be in serious breach of their professional responsibilities and considered to be engaging in educational malpractice.” (page 10)

2. Not optional for students.

While it may still be “optional” for teachers to integrate this material (so far), be rest assured these lessons would never be optional for any of the students who happen to be in the Grade 7-12 Language Arts, Social Studies, Biology, Mathematics, Art, etc. classes where these lessons are supposed to be taught. 

Grade 7-12 students have no choice to decline these lessons, which happen during mandated instructional time and are powerless to object to their learning time being used toward political activism for the advancement of LGBTQ rights or watching a school-wide drag performance. 

3. No sensitivity or respect for alternate perspectives. 

For any teachers who may be concerned about discussing this information in a religious-based school, the ATA responds with the following statement:

“These topics are not about religious or moral beliefs. They are about the safety issues and health concerns of SGM students in schools. They are also about human rights. These are important issues that the whole school community ought to address.” (page 43)

The profound disrespect communicated by this ATA response is alarming.

While their judgement may be true for some, it is deeply offensive of the authors to unequivocally redefine what qualifies as the “religious and moral beliefs” of others.

Whether the ATA chooses to acknowledge it or not, this IS a religious issue for many teachers, parents and students in this province.  And the dismissive tone of the response is insulting to any teacher, parent and student who happens to believe that, for themselves, it is a religious and moral issue.

Three critical questions arise:

a. How is this resource “for the good of all students” (page 42), when it fails to respectfully and sensitively reflect the diversity of beliefs and multiple perspectives represented by students in the classroom?

b. How is it effective educational practice in a free, democratic, pluralistic society to force compliance into a singular worldview without exploring and valuing the diversity of multiple perspectives?

c. Do the authors presume they can just simply redefine an issue and make any potential conflict disappear?

Not only is the response disrespectful, but it is also an intellectually dishonest and inaccurate simplification of a complex issue, failing to realize that human rights cannot be separated from morality. If not for the moral foundation of “right” and “wrong”, the idea of human rights never would have existed in the first place. 

4. Do not bite the hand that feeds you

Finally, regardless of whatever the resource says, teachers are fully aware that this so-called “optional” resource is provided by the same union that wields the authority to revoke their teaching license.

It is not surprising that teachers with concerns have said they must keep quiet or they fear they could lose their jobs.  I was a teacher and member of the ATA for many years and I know firsthand that this pressure is real. 

The content of this resource calls into question the integrity and capacity of the ATA to effectively represent all the teachers in its membership. Teachers must demand better.  If you are one of the teachers who is frustrated with the lack of representation, feel free to email me – perhaps we can begin to coordinate strategies to avoid any teacher being placed into a position of having to decide between their conscience and their job.

YOUR CHOICE

The content and concerns of this PRISM resource require Albertans to answer a critical question: Who should be entrusted with authority over our next generation of youth? 

Vladmir Lenin understood the power of that choice.  As he said, “Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.” .

Some may think it is in Alberta’s best interest to destroy diversity by forcing compliance to a single perspective within our next generation.  They may also appreciate the usefulness of enlisting the masses of our province’s schoolchildren toward ideological and political activism.

But many others believe these actions fundamentally violate the role of an education system in a free, democratic, multicultural and pluralistic society.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born out of the ravages of war and the people who penned article 26 – that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children” – understood that when parents abdicate their responsibility as the primary authorities in their children’s education, an entire generation is at risk.

They understood first-hand, just as Lenin did, that control over a generation of youth is a prize of tremendous value, especially for activists and ideologues intent on “culture change”.

Will we fail to learn from history?

Do you want to just go along with the new status quo, entrusting the care and instruction of your children to the organizations that helped to author this PRISM resource, including the ATA and the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services, along with other influential people such as Dr. Kristopher Wells?  Not speaking up is a choice. And it is a choice for this new status quo.

Or do you believe that parents must be returned to the primary authority in their child’s education? 

If so, it is critical to speak up now.

Parents for Choice in Education has launched an important campaign demanding that parents – not bureaucrats, union officials, ideologues or activists – should be the primary authority in the care and education of children.

The more people who sign up for this campaign, the greater the pressure on elected representatives to implement changes. Your support is vital to getting that count as high as possible. CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP.

This is a critical window of time. MLAs are officially heading back to the Legislature on Monday, October 31st. They will have 16 days to take action before they break again until March.

Please forward this link to others or print the information regarding the PRISM resource to raise awareness about this important information.

Those who we put in authority over our children are the ones who will shape the future – it is important we choose wisely.

 

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*16/12/14 Update
– A tremendous amount of media coverage followed the publication of this blog article. Here are some of the interviews and articles:

CBC Radio Edmonton interview – November 1st – Theresa Ng (Informed Albertans) and ATA representative Jonathan Teghtmeyer

CBC Radio Calgary Eyeopener interview, November 2nd – Theresa Ng (Informed Albertans)

Alberta at Noon, CBC Radio November 2nd – Donna Trimble (PCE) on panel discussion

CBC News Article, November 1st

CBC News Article, November 2nd

Calgary Herald, November 2nd

Fox News World, November 2nd

Toronto Sun, November 3rd

LifeSite News article, November 4th

Video – CTV Two News, November 4th – Theresa Ng (Informed Albertans) and ATA representative Jonathan Teghtmeyer

Parents for Choice in Education blog article, November 7th