Thursday, April 30, 2009

Parental Rights In Alberta: Bill 44 & The Creationists

Alberta Minister of Culture Lindsay's Blackett's new bill overhauling the Alberta Human Rights Code says:

11.1(1) A board as defined in the School Act shall provide notice to a parent or guardian of a student where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or
instruction or exercises, prescribed under that Act include subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation.

(2) Where a teacher or other person providing instruction, teaching a course of study or educational program or using the instructional materials referred to in subsection (1) receives a
written request signed by a parent or guardian of a student that the student be excluded from the instruction, course of study, educational program or use of instructional materials, the
teacher or other person shall in accordance with the request of the parent or guardian and without academic penalty permit the student

a) to leave the classroom or place where the instruction, course of study or educational program is taking place or the instructional materials are being used for the duration of the part of the instruction,

...and etc. Yesterday, one of my readers noted in the comments that:

Actually, after reading the legislation a bit more carefully, it's quite topic specific. Topics like science remain science, and the creationists would have to prove that the science curriculum is in fact a religion that they disagree with.

It's got a lot less wiggle room in it than Morton's bill had in 2006.

...which is to say that if, for example, there was a class devoted to the history of Buddhism, a Catholic parent might have their child pulled from it according to the new act. And, if so, then the legislation merely codifies what is already happening in Alberta schools. As Paula Simons writes in the Edmonton Journal:

Schools already send home permission forms that parents must sign before their children take classes in sex education. Parents can already pull their children from school programs that deal with religion. I pulled my own daughter from the classroom when the Gideons came to hand out New Testaments.

Yet Premier Ed Stelmach stated yesterday, and Blackett confirmed, that "parents would have the right to opt out of evolution classes".

So how does this square with the relatively narrow wording of the bill? Will the portion of biology class devoted to evolutionary theory get defined as a religion that it is possible to disagree with?

Can of worms indeed.


susansmith said...

Wow, sure glad I'm not a trustee there - soon they will be teaching creativism along side science. We sure won't be emulating those policy changes anytime soon!

MgS said...

I suspect that the government intends to allow for the wingnuts to yank their kids out of science classes.

However, the wording in the law will turn out a very different story when challenged in court. (and it will be, make no mistake about that)

Frankly, I don't think the Stelmach government can reason its way out of a wet paper bag in a rainstorm.

MgS said...

Oh - minor technical niggle - it isn't "Bill C-44" - that's a Federal legislation naming convention.

In the Alberta legislature it's just "Bill 44"

bigcitylib said...

Thanks Mgs. Don't know where I got the C.

Kurt Phillips said...

In Grades 3, 6, and 9 students across the province write the Provincial Achievement Test. In Grade 12, they write Diploma Exams. While I understand the PATs might not be used by a teacher in his or her class for assessment (they might just be used for comparing and contrasting results) the Diploma Exam is worth 50% of a student's overall mark.

So, how does a province that is committed to standardized exams make an exam in, let's say Biology, where perhaps a significant number of the students are not required to cover some portions of the curriculum? Will there be more than one standardized exam (which sort of calls into question the whole enterprise)? Will these tests be easier than the regular stream? Or will the tests remain the same and the students who were not required to cover the material be expected to write these exams? And, when results in the province fall because some students don't have a basic understanding of science and thus affect class averages, will teachers be blamed?

Sixth Estate said...

I guess biology can't be provincially tested anymore.

Or maybe there'll be a comparative essay: "explain the strengths and weaknesses of Origin of Species and the Book of Genesis as explanations for the origin of species."

Pensational said...

This should just be embarassing for Albertans. I have only lived in the Province for 10 months, but I am absolutely cringing with embarassment at this ridiculous bill. I hope others are embarassed as well.

doggimum said...


I have lived in Alberta my entire life. I am an evolutionary biologist (grad student) and I am absolutely disgusted by this bill. I don't know if it will do anything but attract a little media attention (if any) but I plan to organize a protest very soon. I have very strong opinions about the right of kids to learn what they want and have access to information so they can educate themselves and not become clones of their idiot parents. Sorry for the run-on, but I just needed a quick rant.

bigcitylib said...

Sponge evo-devo. If you go through with this please let me know.

voyageur said...

Having been a high school teacher most of my life (biology and chemistry), I know from personal experience (as well as from the experiences of some of my colleagues), that certain parents will set up their kids to pose certain types of leading questions ("What do you think about....?") and how the answer may then be held against the teacher, often with vitriolic vengeance and outrage. Bill 44 is a disaster! I am glad that I am retired.

Markus Chan said...

Having worked with Alberta curriculum and assessment for the past four years, I am quite vexed and filled with consternation as a result of this goofy bill. I reckon that teachers in Alberta have been trodden on and taken for granted for decades, and the Alberta Teachers Association perpetually goes through a stage of prerequisite hand-wringing, foot-shuffling, and navel-gazing at every new violation before meekly accepting each one. Pay rollbacks, increasing responsibility with decreasing authority, and weighted expectations have been heaped on teachers in this province incessantly. I suggest that all teaching and instruction for primary and secondary schooling in Alberta grind to a halt until someone defines what kids need to know in order to be internationally intellectually competitive. Or until weird legislation that brings human rights into science classrooms is struck down.