Kenney engaging in 'dog-whistle' politics in critique of curriculum revamp, professor says

A member of the committee writing Alberta’s new social studies curriculum is criticizing UPC leadership candidate Jason Kenney for calling the revamp a secret NDP effort to force its ideology on students.

'Invented theatre to pretend that there’s a backroom cabal of social justice warriors'

Jason Kenney entered the race to become the new leader of the United Conservative Party on July 29. (Richard Marion/Radio-Canada)

A member of the committee writing Alberta's new social studies curriculum is criticizing UCP leadership candidate Jason Kenney for calling the revamp a secret NDP effort to force its ideology on students.

Lindsay Gibson, an assistant professor of education at the University of Alberta, says that by making the curriculum redesign an issue, Kenney is engaging in "dog-whistle" politics. The term refers to a coded message intended for, and understood by, a particular demographic group.

"I just think that it's invented theatre to pretend that there's a backroom cabal of social justice warriors who are secretly designing curriculum and social engineering things," said Gibson, who specializes in social studies education.

"It's just not true."

When Kenney launched his leadership bid on July 29, he said the outline for the new social studies curriculum was "riddled with politically correct themes" such as colonialism, oppression and climate change, and lacked any study of Canadian, Alberta and military history.

"[The NDP] is preparing to attack Alberta's model of successful school choice. They're undermining parental authority and they are rewriting the school curriculum in secret," Kenney told the crowd at his campaign launch.

"We all know what this means. More teaching fads and political agendas in our classrooms."

Kenney said the NDP was trying to suppress schools from teaching military history, including Canada's contributions in the two world wars.

The remarks prompted Education Minister David Eggen to say Kenney was lying. 

"What absolute baloney," Eggen said on Twitter. "Kenney is lying large. School and curriculum respect the military. Always have, always will. Shameful talk."

'Big deal out of nothing'

Kenney has also said that if he becomes premier, he would release the names of people involved in the revamp, something the government has refused to do.

In an interview Wednesday, Gibson said that as an academic at a publicly-funded institution, he sees no problem with people knowing he is on the committee.

But some of his colleagues are teachers in small Alberta towns, so he understands why they might be worried about the potential for backlash, he said.

Gibson taught social studies for 10 years and then got his PhD at the University of British Columbia.

He was involved in B.C.'s social studies curriculum rewrite. It didn't make the news like the process has in Alberta.

"I am shocked at the degree to how politicized this has been," Gibson said.

"I think they're making a big deal out of nothing. I think it's a political point and not one about the actual curriculum process."

On Tuesday, Gibson told critics including Kenney that he was willing to discuss with them what the committee was up to.

His offer hadn't been accepted as of late Wednesday morning, when he spoke to CBC News.