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 [PDF available here: PRISM Toolkit, Secondary Edition – original version ].
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.
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.”
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.”
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)”:
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.
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”.
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.
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.
*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
Video – CTV Two News, November 4th – Theresa Ng (Informed Albertans) and ATA representative Jonathan Teghtmeyer
UPDATE May 1st, 2017:
The Alberta Teachers’ Association has revised their PRISM Toolkit Secondary Edition repeatedly over the past several months. The newest version now has a different coloured cover (from green to orange), has replaced the “Gender Unicorn” with the “Gender Spectrum” on page 21 and removed the word “comrades” from their gender inclusive language chart on page 22. However these are merely superficial changes that still do nothing to resolve the foundational concerns of the resource. Here is a downloaded copy, current as of May 1st, 2017: ATA PRISM Toolkit downloaded May 1st