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, firstname.lastname@example.org) and also the office of Wildrose Education Critic Leela Aheer (403.207.9889, email@example.com).
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.
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 image of the “Gender Unicorn” with an image of 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
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