Alberta is often regarded as the Texas of the North for their mutual conservative political cultures, as well as dependence on oil and gas revenues.
But recent controversies in each jurisdiction over how educators should approach teaching about the Holocaust also provide a point of comparison.
Gina Peddy, an administrator with the Carroll Independent School Division in Southlake, Texas—a Fort Worth suburb—elicited outrage in October when she told educators that if they are to teach about the horrors of the Holocaust, they must also provide an “opposing” perspective, NBC News reported.
The intention was to align the school board’s teaching practices with a new Texas law—House Bill 3979—that mandates teachers present “diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective” when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial issues.”
Clay Robinson, a spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association, told NBC this was an “overreaction” and “misinterpretation” of the legislation.
“We find it reprehensible for an educator to require a Holocaust denier to get equal treatment with the facts of history,” Robinson said. “That’s absurd. It’s worse than absurd. And this law does not require it.”
More recently in Alberta, the government retracted an official Alberta education document that advocated teachers portray positive aspects of Nazism, in addition to Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples.
The ministry’s Guidelines for Recognizing Diversity and Promoting Respect, which has been deleted from its website but is still accessible on the Wayback Machine, suggests students hear “both the positive and negative behaviours and attitudes of the various groups portrayed” in their studies.
For example, it recommends that materials depicting Nazi atrocities in the Second World War be balanced with the perspective that before the war, the “German government’s policies substantially strengthened the country’s economy.”
As well, the same section suggests resources that “dwell on the mistreatment of FNMI (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) people by Caucasians” should also include examples of settler Canadians who opposed these policies.
“Without omitting or glossing over the many instances when members of one group have cruelly wronged persons of another group, the resource should attempt to provide some balance by presenting factors causing the behaviour or portraying positive qualities exhibited by members of the group that have acted inappropriately,” the document says.
On Nov. 12, the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, wrote to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, requesting the content be removed and for the ministry to review how it ended up online.
“It is shocking that the Alberta Ministry of Education would consider the genocidal Nazi regime as a good example of a group that had positive behaviours, given Nazis murdered six million Jews and millions of others, in addition to completely destroying their country because they initiated a war,” FSWC president Michael Levitt, a former Liberal MP, said in a statement.
In response, LaGrange acknowledged on Twitter that the document “contains extremely disturbing and completely unacceptable views,” but denied she, nor anyone at the ministry, had seen the document, despite it being an official Alberta Education document with a copyright from last year.
“To be clear, this document has nothing to do with the curriculum process and the content dates back to some years ago. Under no circumstances would my office approve horrendous content like this being taught to Alberta students,” she added, thanking FSWC, as well as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and B’nai Brith Canada, for bringing the issue to her attention.
In a statement, LaGrange elaborated, explaining that the document itself dates back to 1984, but with the government replacing the former School Act with its Education Act in 2019, the document was updated to replace references to the former with the latter.
“A general review of the document content was not done at that time and at no point did this document come to the Ministers Office for approval. As soon as it was brought to our attention, we took immediate action to remove it,” she said.
Carla Peck, an education professor at the University of Alberta whose field of research is curriculum, told The CJN that this wasn’t the only time the document was updated, expressing skepticism of the minister’s claims.
She noted the document references other Alberta Education resources from 2011, 2012 and 2015, and that it uses the term ‘FNMI,’ which was not present in the original.
“I think somebody’s telling tales out of school,” said Peck.