Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bill 44 - A Step Backwards?

During the presentation today, Bill 44 was also brought up. I had heard of this before but the presenters really gave me a lot more information about it! Basically, Alberta passed a law in June of this year that allows parents to remove their kids from classes that discuss sexuality, sexual orientation, and religion. The school board must give written notice to parents when controversial topics are going to be covered in class. At first I was wondering how this could be accomplished as many controversial topics often come up unexpected in classes. However, after doing some research on Bill 44, it seems that there are no restrictions on casual classroom discussions but parents have to be made aware if it is directly in the curriculum content.

This law seems to be upsetting a lot of people because it is preventing our students from being educated about these issues and able to form their own thoughts and informed opinions. I understand and also have that concern for sure. We should be exposing young people to these issues and be able to discuss them in a positive manner in the classroom. Learning about different religions and different views on sexuality can be a very positive educational experience. It will increase awareness and acceptance of others which would hopefully teach us to respect one another. We should be able to form our own opinions but also be informed about and accepting of others’ values, beliefs and opinions. In addition, other critics of this law state that it is only further showing the close-minded intolerance of Albertans – why not teach our students to accept homosexual individuals as equals in our society and why not criticize religion in the classroom? According to those opposed to this law, this is a step back for education.

I very much understand the importance of discussing these issues but I also think that parents have every right to teach their children about these issues themselves. Parents obviously want their children to grow up with the values they have taught them and are probably just worried that teachers will not approach these topics in an appropriate way. It might not be that they want their children to be uneducated; it just might be that they are worried that the teacher’s values will get drilled into their children’s minds. If a teacher was challenging the values that I was instilling in my children, I would be upset. There are many controversial and sensitive issues that I would want to talk to my kids about rather than them learning about it exclusively at school. I’m not saying I would pull my kids out of classes such as these; I would just make sure they had enough knowledge to make an informed opinion regarding the new information they receive – in case the teacher wasn’t approaching it free of bias. I think it is better that parents have this right to pull their kids out of the class as opposed to the content being removed from the curriculum all together – which would be another extreme option.

Overall, I don’t fully agree with the Bill, I just understand why it was put in place. I think it is good for teachers to be able to inform students about different beliefs – as long as they are not telling them to believe a certain thing. For example, I think it would be great to teach students about all of the different religions. In Social Studies in Saskatchewan, we did exactly that – which I’ve learned now is not the norm. I went to public school and we learned a lot about all of the different religions and their foundations and beliefs. This was very informative and increased my knowledge on the subject. However, if this was done in such a way to say that one religion is better than the other or that clearly no religion is right it would be very worrisome. Perhaps this is why the bill passed.

Teachers should use these controversial issues to teach their students how to think not what to think. I would like to think that this would be the goal of most teachers and hopefully parents would look instead into how the information is being taught instead of preventing it from being taught at all. We need to open our students’ minds to these issues and new ideas while having respect for everyone involved. In which case, there would be no need for the bill.


  1. Teachers are in a unique position. They have a captive audience of young impressionable minds for a consistent period of time – this scares people who don’t understand the educational ecosystem. You point out a number of avenues for where these fears can come from. Think back to all the teachers you have known and whose messages you remember. I recall that they all had a passion for their subject and for the craft of teaching. Their personalities and bias often crept through in their passionate delivery and quest to engage the captive audience who often didn’t really care for the fact that they were stuck in a desk. I would choose a passionate presentation any day ... a well rounded educator can discuss sensitive topics, present and explore multiple points of view AND still share their convictions and how they arrived at them without jeopardizing a student’s right to arrive at a different conclusion.
    (The Super Hero credo) With great power comes great responsibility - Stan Lee
    The question here is do we really need to legislate everything? Well...if you have the need to control then you will opt for a rule book the size of Wikipedia. If on the other hand you have faith in teachers, administrators, and parents who should all be involved in developing the educational environment then you should butt out with rules like this one. The challenge here is that the stakeholders in education are sometimes asleep at the wheel – or on cruise control – and then things like Bill 44 spring them to attention.
    What will be the practical roll out of this one? Will the administration of it stifle conversation or will the teachers who engage this kind of higher thinking in our classrooms just work with, around or past it? I believe that we need to find better ways to engage all the players in what is going on in the classroom without legislating the mechanisms.

  2. Great cartoon. Sad, but funny.

    Nice thoughtful discussion


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