Alberta Schools to Make Knowledge Optional May 3, 2009

Alberta Schools to Make Knowledge Optional

I thought Canadians were supposed to be better than we Americans when it came to education issues… we’re the country that can “boast” of the Creation Museum, forbids gay marriage in all but four states, and kept George W. Bush in office for eight years.

Maybe Canada’s trying to catch up to our stupidity. At least Alberta, anyway:

A controversial Alberta bill will enshrine into law the rights of parents to pull their children out of classes discussing the topics of evolution and homosexuality.

The new rules, which would require schools to notify parents in advance of “subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation,” is buried in a bill that extends human rights to homosexuals. Parents can ask for their child to be excluded from the discussion.

The kids whose parents would opt to pull them out of these discussions are precisely the kids who need to hear these discussions.

If you want to disagree with evolution, you better know what evolution is and what it isn’t.

If you want to go on saying homosexuality is wrong, you should know some facts about it first.

It’s not like those classes are asking kids to commit sodomy.

And what’s the slippery slope here? Will the same parents let their kids learn about the Big Bang? Comparative religions? Sex education? Doubtful.

And if you don’t want your kids to learn about evolution, you’d have to remove them from every single science class, since evolution influences all of them.

One official had the money quotation:

“This government just spent $25 million of taxpayers money to give Alberta a new image. All they’ve done is make Alberta look like Northumberland and sound like Arkansas,” [NDP Leader Brian] Mason said.

If this law passed, maybe universities should think twice before accepting any Alberta students who wish to major in health or the sciences.

(Thanks to Marla for the link!)

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  • What Would Professor Pat Pending Do?

    Alberta is home to Canada’s creation science museum, which appears to be based out of somebody’s starter home.

    http://www.bvcsm.com/

  • Alberta had to be forced by the Supreme Court to pass same-sex marriage, if I’m not mistaken. It is by far the most conservative province we have. However, I disagree with the idea that universities should be reluctant to accept Albertans in health and science programs. Maybe it should be marked on the students’ records if they chose to not take certain classes, but not all Alberta students are going to opt out of taking them and there’s no reason to punish the lot of them, especially with the projected doctor and nurse shortages we’re going to be experiencing in a few years.

  • Wendy

    If it makes you feel any better, the rest of the country pretty much hates Alberta. They’re making us all look bad. Alberta = Canada’s Texas.

    Some Albertans may be totally messed up, but check out CBC’s weekly “most recommended” comment section, where they display the 5 highest agreed-with comments from all their stories, for the week. ALL the comments are about this one story, and they all strongly disagree with the proposal.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/yourbeststuff/2009/05/thumbs_up_top_5_recommended_co_2.html

    There’s hope yet!

  • Martin Cauvin

    I suppose you would like to see home education banned as well? We gotta make sure everyone gets taught what we want them taught… or rather do what was suggested on another post: mandatory re-education. Them there religious people are fruit cakes anyway.

    I am starting to like the tolerance of atheism. (Sarcasm intended in case you don’t catch it).

    MC

  • We’re not all drooling rapture readians here in Alberta! Some of us (myself included) are mad as wet hens about this new legislation. What can I say, our premier is a moron… seriously the man can barely string a sentence together!

    Also, I am not proud to admit this but it must be said. Albert has its own creation museum in Big Valley. I’ve been there. All the old ID standbys are there. You’ve got the bacterial flaggelum, dinosaurs on the ark, the grand canyon being formed by Noah’s flood and (my personal favourite) carnivorous sheep.

    Alberta isn’t quite the seventh circle of hell yet but we’re close.

  • Michelle

    I do hope you were going for tongue-in-cheek with your last statement, “maybe universities should think twice before accepting any Alberta students who wish to major in health or the sciences”.

    I’m a health sciences student at the University of Alberta, living in the only NDP riding in the province (for the Americans: that’s a leftist party. We’re not all conservative around here). Many of my friends are religious, leaving me feeling quite alone and without community as an atheist. None persecute me, but neither do I have many people to talk to who share my views.

    Now, I read that you think perhaps I should have been kept out of school for living in the same neighbourhood as some of these crazies? Please say you’re joking; it’s lonely enough as an atheist around here, without being looked down on from all sides.

  • Matt

    Five states, actually. Connecticut’s governor signed their same-sex marriage law yeasterday. 🙂

  • Brian

    I am starting to like the tolerance of atheism. (Sarcasm intended in case you don’t catch it).

    “Tolerance” doesn’t mean “sit idly by while students are taught utter nonsense in place of a reasonable science curriculum.” That crosses a line.

    A religion that taught that pi equals two would not be allowed to impose that teaching on schools. Students who had learned math that way should properly have their credentials questioned or denied. The same goes for religions that advocate creationism, or intelligent design (creationism in street clothes).

  • How about parents who don’t “approve of” reality based things like science, gay people and the like just home school their children instead of mucking up the taxpayer-funded school system with their nonsense and unreasonable demands? It would make everything so much easier on everyone. If they’re later incapable of functioning in the real world because they’re completely ignorant that’s their own problem. It’s time we stop coddling people who choose fairy tales over reality.

  • This is something that is enshrined in some of the rural areas already. 10 years ago when I was in high school my parents pulled me from the sex ed classes. Most of the class wasn’t there. I had creationist questions on a biology test in 9th grade.

    Alberta has two major areas that this is pandering to. The Mormon heartland in South-western Alberta and the conservative Christians (including the Worlds Only Calvinist Pentecostals!) that are heavily concentrated in the flyover country between Calgary and Edmonton.

    Any city schools would be just as good or better than anything in any other Canadian city.

  • In England parents have the right to remove their children from any form of sex education classes. This is soon to end and sex education will become a compulsory part of the national curriculum. No value judgments should be made in educating people about sex. Education is about providing information so that students are able to make their own judgments. Isn’t it?

  • I do hope you were going for tongue-in-cheek with your last statement, “maybe universities should think twice before accepting any Alberta students who wish to major in health or the sciences”.

    A bit tongue-in-cheek, yes. A few years ago, when Kansas was going through its evolution battle, Scientific American’s John Rennie urged college admissions counselors to “make it clear [to the Kansas school board] that in light of the newly lowered educational standards in Kansas, the qualifications of any students applying from that state in the future will have to be considered very carefully.”

    That’s the type of pressure that government officials need to face. Not everyone, like yourself, will receive a poor education. But the point is that a university may not know what they’re getting with an Alberta student if this law passes. Is that the type of reputation these officials want to create for their education system?

  • Interesting that the kids who need to know information about evolution and homosexuality the most could not get it due to their parents and soon to be, their own prejudices. But if some kid does not know about evolution, they should not pass a science course – very simple.

    I am of the opinion that children in Kansas are being egregiously wronged by the state school board by having creationism taught in schools instead of evolution, and that college administrators should test these children before they admit them to their schools. I have come from a college where I was one of the few students in the class that could read words with more than 5 letters.

    Buffy: I totally agree with you. While it is sad to condemn these kids to being given an education by people who believe the earth to be less than 6,000 years old, we also have to think about the effect it would have on the population. Quarantine.

    Hermant: Yeah, I am of the opinion when kids are being given a substandard education, they should be given a more rigorous review of their knowledgebase.

  • Michelle

    Hemant, fair enough. Testing is fine before a student gets into university, but I obviously wouldn’t be happy about being barred just because of where I live.

    Also, here’s an interesting point about the sex ed classes: I went to public school, so I started getting in-depth sex education in junior high, beginning in grade 7. We had the basics about human anatomy beginning a few years before that, then in junior high, the information was rounded out. Thus, by the time I was 15, I knew almost all that could be taught in a classroom about the topic.

    A few of my classmates went to Catholic schools, and were learning about contraception and STIs for the first time when we were required to practice teaching patients about them! Therefore, I understand and agree with everyone’s concern about students in general. Please, just don’t paint us all with the same brush!

  • geru

    It’s not that they’re making education optional, they’re making reality based education optional..

  • AxeGrrl

    This thread (referring to the originating newstory site) has garnered some 2500+ comments/responses (wow), and I have YET to see anyone on the ‘believer’ side answer the great question posed by the user ‘Jack_Be_Nimble’:

    Do you support the idea that a parent can limit their child’s education based on their own religious or moral beliefs?

    If you answer yes, then you support the following:

    1. A person may remove their daughter from school completely, because they believe that it is against God’s will that daughters be educated.
    2. People may remove their children from math because they believe in numerology, and think numbers should be only used for that purpose.
    3. People may remove their children from anatomy or biology class because they think medical intervention goes against God’s will and we should not be learning anything to do with medicine.
    4. People should be able to completely remove their children from school because they think that the intellect should be surrendered to God.

    He/she has made several attempts to get a response and I’ve seen none.

    Given that, I now feel obligated to repost his/her question until someone does answer it 🙂

  • Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM

    Since there is now doubt about the equality of standards and knowledge among Canadian high school graduates (as there should be in the USA) the colleges and universities should preserve their standards and the quality of their education by demanding that students pass pre-admission tests of knowledge in areas which may have been neglected or compromised. If students do not pass these tests then their admission should be dependent on them making up the work in summer school classes. They should then retake and pass the previously failed tests prior to commencing classes at post-High School level.

    College preparatory Remedial Science, Ethics and Human Rreproduction classes may be become as common as remedial math and English in the USA.

    Parents who wish their child to be shielded from this knowledge will have to answer to their child who wants to attend college.

  • Alberta is the equivalent of a Red Bible State. They have rodeos for god sakes!

  • Infinite Monkey

    Dammit, pick on another one-horse, backwater, red neck state, you’ve got a selection, don’t pick on Arkansas, my home state, every time!

    Although, if the shoe fits…..

    Can I change my home-state status?

  • Martin Cauvin

    To all questions below… have you not heard of homeschooling? I think a parent has a right to remove a child from the educational system, and that has nothing to do with religious beliefs. I support the atheist who wants to remove their child from the system as well. There are atheist homeschoolers you know.

    Wow… for what it is worth I apologize as a Christian for the many and various ways athiests and many others have been treated by Christians. Even if you were my enemy (and you are not) I am commanded to love my enemy. Many times you have been and are demonized, for that I apologize as well.

    I wish I could change the horrid things done by Christians. I can’t. However, I started to come to this sight as a Christian because I was hoping to find the best of the atheist position for purposes of debate, discussion and simple understanding of your position (on my part). I don’t think I have found that yet.

    MC

    —————

    Do you support the idea that a parent can limit their child’s education based on their own religious or moral beliefs?

    If you answer yes, then you support the following:

    1. A person may remove their daughter from school completely, because they believe that it is against God’s will that daughters be educated.
    2. People may remove their children from math because they believe in numerology, and think numbers should be only used for that purpose.
    3. People may remove their children from anatomy or biology class because they think medical intervention goes against God’s will and we should not be learning anything to do with medicine.
    4. People should be able to completely remove their children from school because they think that the intellect should be surrendered to God.

  • Ulrich

    For what it’s worth, my country (Germany) does not allow homeschooling, and I, though decidedly liberal, am fine with that. I believe children have the right to receive a comprehensive, (quoting Geru) reality-based education. Allowing parents to pull their kids out of evolution classes is allowing them to deprive the kids of this right.

    Oh, and I wonder since when evolution has been “explicitly dealing with religion”, anyway.

  • rekounas: yes we have rodeos but they’re not the inhumane debacles that people make them out to be. The animals are treated with the utmost care, cowboys are not allowed to use spurs and unless they fall or pull a muscle, the animals are not hurt.

  • RLWemm

    When I lived and taught in my country (Australia) it only allowed “home schooling” in exceptional circumstances. The home-school teacher had to be registered in the State as a qualified teacher and, like all others, was required to follow the prescribed State syllabus/curriculum.

    The preferred alternative was “distance education” or “correspondance school” where the parent assists with the teaching of the material sent by the qualified teacher/s and the material is examined externally.

    Any other alternative was deemed to unreasonably disadvantage the child. Allowing unqualified parents to teach their own children the syllabus of their choice makes a complete mockery of the teacher qualification and licensing system.

    Most of those who home-school in my country of current residence (USA) do so because they do not want their children to be exposed to ideas of which they do not approve. This is bad education and should not, in my opinion, be permitted.

  • Martin Cauvin

    Hmmmm… we all have a right to our opinion. However please do a Google search. Many atheists homeschool.

    Perhaps homeschooling shouldn’t be permitted (I disagree with that notion), but the point is that it is then no longer a religious/moral vs. atheist debate, but a debate that should happen on other grounds.

    MC

  • Martin Cauvin

    Oh… and how about this?

    “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

    Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26(3)

    Do you oppose the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? On what grounds?

    MC

    PS. That quote answers the original poster known as “Jack_Be_Nimble” at the original site. And answering without reference to Christianity or moral beliefs 🙂

  • Spurs Fan

    To all questions below… have you not heard of homeschooling? I think a parent has a right to remove a child from the educational system, and that has nothing to do with religious beliefs.

    Martin,

    I think most of us agree with this point, but you are missing the big picture: If you want to pull your child out of school altogether, and then home school, so be it! That would be fine. But for parents to pull their children out of a certain class because they do not agree with what is being taught and then put them back in begins the very slippery slope of reducing the quality of public education in the first place.

    Choose public school, private school, or home schooling. But choose one based on your indvidual beliefs and stick with it — don’t try to get a public school to conform to your ideas of morality or education.

  • Ashlyn

    Alberta really is our Texas. Cattle, cowboy hats and hatefulness.

  • I live in Alberta, and I wrote a letter to the Alberta Teacher’s Association urging them to defend the standard curriculum in Alberta by lobbying strongly against this bill. When parents pull kids from random segments of the curriculum, with no penalty (as specified by this bill), it just facilitates irrationality and leaves society vulnerable to scams, cults, anti-vaccinationism and other magical thinking.

    The bill also potentially puts teachers in the center of a shitstorm of controversy with parents and legislators and religious institutions, and that’s not good for the whole education system here.

    The wording of the bill is such that teachers must inform parents if materials deal directly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation, so that parents have the opportunity to pull the kids. I think the schools and teachers could make a strong stand in favor of standardized education even if this bill passes, by just refusing to classify ANY subjects as religion, sexuality or sexual orientation. Evolution isn’t religion, it’s scientific fact. The holocaust isn’t religion, it’s historical fact. Sex ed and sexual orientation are biology.

    Let the nutjobs and deniers teach their alternative realities in Sunday school or mosque or on Oprah or whatever.

    That said, most Albertans are rational and moderate thinkers, and I don’t think irrationality is more prevalent here than in other parts of Canada.

  • Gotta love the Alberta hatin’

    I went through the Alberta public school system, K-12 in a very conservative part of the province, the Mormon south. While there were instances like the optional sex-ed and the creationist test questions on the whole my teachers were committed and hardworking… and we kicked ass on the standardized testing.

    It gets worse up north, you get into the equivalent of ‘Palin country’ where you have a high school teacher teaching holocaust denial, but that hit the news like an atom bomb because it was so unusual.

    Alberta isn’t the Texas of Canada… maybe the Colorado of Canada.

    There are a lot of rational people, but there is a history and and old undercurrent of xenophobia and Christianist thinking that largely persists in the rural areas.

  • I’m split on this.

    Part of me thinks this is stupid of Alberta. Parents have an option if they don’t like what public schools are teaching and it’s called homeschooling. It’s why I homeschool my kids. I’m not going to win the fight to bring Attic greek or Lego marathons or birdwatching or pre-algebra into the standard Grade 5 curriculum and neither would it be in the best interests of most of the people who use the public schools so instead my kids just homeschool. Works fine.

    But then I think one of the problems of public schools is that they’re so rigid and unchangeable from the perspective of most parents. Don’t like the fuzzy math your kids are learning, or rather, aren’t learning? Tough luck, it’s what the local school decided to get. So even though I find the implications of the Alberta measures cringeworthy it is opening up a system citizens should have more say in.

    So I’m torn. Should parents realize they’re giving up certain choices if they choose to embrace public schools or should we risk some parents doing stuff we disagree with to bring change to our education system?

  • Most of those who home-school in my country of current residence (USA) do so because they do not want their children to be exposed to ideas of which they do not approve. This is bad education and should not, in my opinion, be permitted.

    Comes with freedom unfortunately.

    Regardless, I’d like to see where you got your info on homeschoolers’ motives. Academic reasons usually top whatever research I see. Often “moral or religious reasons” rank highly as well but it’s a mistake to equate that with not wanting children to be exposed to ideas parents don’t approve of.

    Granted, I have known parents who choose to homeschool in order to shelter their kids. The pagan mom in the Southern US who didn’t want her kids tormented by the Chrsitian teachers and students at the local public school comes to mind.

    I think your info on Australian homeschooling may be dated. I knew quite a few Aussie homeschooling moms online and a quick Google search doesn’t reveal any large roadblocks to homeschooling there.

  • AxeGrrl

    Martin Cauvin said:

    To all questions below… have you not heard of homeschooling? I think a parent has a right to remove a child from the educational system, and that has nothing to do with religious beliefs. I support the atheist who wants to remove their child from the system as well. There are atheist homeschoolers you know.

    I am aware, of course, that homeschooling is not restricted to the religious…….

    but the really interesting thing is that the first believer to actually respond to those questions (on the originating thread) said he’s against some of those proposed scenarios ~ meaning, it’s ok for him/his religion to do it, but not others.

    I can’t wait to hear if/how he justifies that.

  • Brooks

    Can a parent take their children out of chemistry if they believe in alchemy? What if the parents are Holocaust deniers? Can they take their children out of History class if they teach WW2? And what if the child actually wants to learn the subjects? Don’t they get a say in all this? Aren’t creationists always saying now that they should “teach the controversy” but when it comes time to learn the subject, they don’t want to unless it’s under their conditions? I’m reminded of that one South Park episode where Mr. Garrison refused to teach evolution and the school hired Richard Dawkins to teach it in class and this girl’s parents were complaining about evolution. The daughter said she wanted to learn everything but then the parents told her “No, you don’t!”

  • Christian

    Most of those who home-school in my country of current residence (USA) do so because they do not want their children to be exposed to ideas of which they do not approve. This is bad education and should not, in my opinion, be permitted
    ___________________________________

    It’s funny you should say that, because most of the stats I’ve seen say that on average, home-schooled kids do better in college and university.

  • Christian

    The last article I saw on it was in Macleans Magazine (a major Canadian news magazine), It stated that home-schooled kids tend to develop better study habits and generally do better in post secondary education than publicly educated students.

  • Michelle

    In all fairness though, Maclean’s is a bit of a gong show when it comes to talking about universities. Most Canadian universities refuse to interact with Maclean’s. I wouldn’t look to them as an authority on the subject.

  • There are some differences, but make no mistake, Alberta is the Texas of Canada.

    Maybe Canada’s trying to catch up to our stupidity. At least Alberta, anyway:

    Yes, Alberta is trying to catch up, and now that the stupidity has significantly slowed down in the U.S., perhaps Alberta will surpass previous U.S. stupidity levels.

    Like Texas, Alberta also has groups who strongly oppose attacks on rational thought. The “foot-the-door” for creationism in the classroom is an attack on rational thought. Teachers, scientists and even various religious groups are all in opposition to the proposed Alberta legislation. Not everyone in Alberta believes the earth is 6,000 years old.
    Unfortunately, the rational minds who oppose the nonsense in Alberta aren’t the loudest, and now, thanks to the FriendlyAtheist, our dirty secret is out to the world.

  • Dan

    “Wendy says: If it makes you feel any better, the rest of the country pretty much hates Alberta. They’re making us all look bad. Alberta = Canada’s Texas.”

    Yes, and the crazy Albertan redneck mob has even put their man in the position of Science Minister, where he publicly said that he doesn’t believe in evolution because he is a Christian.

    What? Goodyear is not an Alberta?!? How can that be? Everyone in Ontario is enlightened and educated, aren’t they?

    Let’s check: Gary T. Goodyear, PC, MP-Cambridge (born in Cambridge, Ontario)