BC’s Draft Curriculum and Aboriginal Worldviews

victoria totem

by Tina Olesen

The draft of the proposed changes to the BC curriculum is out for review. Although our School Act states that public schools are supposed to be conducted upon secular principles, if I’m reading it correctly the draft curriculum looks to be proposing the inculcation of a worldview that is anything but secular.

The Ministry of Education in British Columbia has long included Aboriginal history and culture in the prescribed curriculum for BC students, but the new draft curriculum appears to be making quite a dramatic shift. There are indications in the draft that the province may move toward inculcating what the curriculum designers call Aboriginal worldviews. “Aboriginal worldviews are an integral part of the …curriculum, as all students learn about themselves and others as British Columbians and Canadians.”[1]

What are worldviews? A worldview is “the lens through which you ultimately look at reality… a worldview is a set of assumptions or assertions you have made through which you look at every choice and every decision that ultimately comes in life, to shape, especially, your values and your spiritual commitments that are made in your day to day living,” explains Ravi Zacharias, a Christian apologist.

While many people firmly believe in the viability of separation of religion from education, religiously neutral education just doesn’t exist. Education always addresses the ultimate questions of life. Ravi Zacharias suggests that there are four such ultimate life questions: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. The answers to these questions form one’s worldview. Schools cannot avoid these questions; they will either look to the Bible for the answers, or they will look elsewhere. Either way, they are not neutral.

The government’s proposed plans are to “…embed Aboriginal perspectives into all parts of the curriculum… ensuring that Aboriginal content is a part of the learning journey for all students…” The  draft curriculum “…extends Aboriginal perspectives into the entire learning journey…” so students will  “…experience Aboriginal perspectives and understandings as an integrated part of what they are learning” while the “…curriculum content embeds Aboriginal knowledge and worldviews.”[2]

Worldviews attempt to answer spiritual questions, such as “How was the world created?” or “What happens to us when we die?” Aboriginal spiritual teachings are not only cultural stories, but spiritual answers to spiritual questions. In local Aboriginal spiritual teachings about cedar bark, for example, the cedar tree is considered to be sacred and is personified with god-like qualities. This is consistent with animism, “the belief that all plants, animals, and objects have spirits.”

A document referenced in the draft curriculum plans, “The First People’s Principles of Learning”, says this: “Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.” That’s not a religiously neutral statement.

How prevalent is Aboriginal spirituality in BC? The National Household Survey (NHS) Aboriginal Population Profile for BC in 2011 at Statistics Canada recorded that about 4% of BC’s Aboriginal population identified their religion as traditional Aboriginal Spirituality.[3] Approximately 44% of the province’s Aboriginal identity population identified themselves as Christian,[4] while around 51% reported that they have no religious affiliation.[5] Roughly 5% of the total population in British Columbia reported having Aboriginal ancestry.[6]

To compare this to the total population of British Columbia (including those of Aboriginal descent), about 0.002% of British Columbians identified their religion as traditional Aboriginal Spirituality,[7] while roughly 45% of British Columbians identified themselves as Christian.[8] Approximately 44% of British Columbians reported having no religious affiliation.[9]

Why would the BC Ministry of Education propose the inculcation of a spiritual worldview associated with only 0.002% of British Columbians, using a taxpayer funded public education system?

The inculcation of Aboriginal worldviews in our public school children would not reverse the devastating damage done to so many of BC’s Aboriginal people in Indian Residential Schools, where their parents were forced by the government to send them. The crimes that were committed against those children were horrific, as was the religious hypocrisy and tyranny (for background, see this article in the Province). Child abusers in those schools falsely represented the name of Jesus Christ. Aboriginal parents had no means of protecting their children from this abuse of authority.

Is the government now attempting to reverse the harm done by obliging all public school children to learn Aboriginal worldviews/spirituality?

Curriculum is always based upon spiritual assumptions, even when it is portrayed as neutral or secular; the question is which spiritual worldview is being conveyed? If it claims to be Christian, how truthfully is Christ being represented?

Thankfully BC parents today are no longer compelled, as Aboriginal parents once were, to educate their children as the government dictates. Parents are free to voice their concerns over curriculum, and they have options they can exercise in their children’s education, unlike parents in many other places in the world.

Governments will choose the worldview that they wish to inculcate in state schools for their own ends, which are not always disclosed. We have to examine the lens that our schools are holding up for our children to look at the world through, and decide if that lens truly corresponds to reality, or not.

 (The BC Ministry of Education is seeking feedback on this draft curriculum. You can submit your feedback here or see https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/sites/curriculum.gov.bc.ca/files/pdf/review_process.pdf)

[3] Out of 232,290  Aboriginal people in BC, there were 9,715  people who reported practicing “Traditional (Aboriginal) Spirituality” (see 2011 NHS Aboriginal Population Profile for BC)

[4] Out of 232,290  Aboriginal people in BC, there were 101,400 people who identified as “Christian” (see 2011 NHS Aboriginal Population Profile for BC)

[5] Out of 232,290  Aboriginal people in BC, there were 118,435  people who reported having “No religious affiliation” (see 2011 NHS Aboriginal Population Profile for BC)

[6] 232, 290 people identified as having Aboriginal ancestry out of a total population of 4,324,460 British Columbians (see 2011 NHS Aboriginal Population Profile for BC)

[7] Out of 4,324,455  people in BC,  there were 10,295 people who reported practicing “Traditional (Aboriginal) Spirituality”  (See NHS Profile, British Columbia, 2011)

[8] Out of 4,324,455  people in BC,  there were 1,930,415 people who identified as “Christian” (See NHS Profile, British Columbia, 2011)

[9] Out of 4,324,455  people in BC,  there were 1,908,285 people who reported having “No religious affiliation” (See NHS Profile, British Columbia, 2011)

2 thoughts on “BC’s Draft Curriculum and Aboriginal Worldviews

  1. Well argued. However, you make some assumptions that may be unfounded. According to decolonizing and social justice pedagogy, it is important to to present alternative views to the dominant culture, not reinforce the conditioning that already exists. The purpose of the curriculum is not to create a new conditioning or way of society, but to challenge norms to avoid stagnation in our society. Of course, the harm of the past cannot be undone, but it can be repaired by diversity and inclusiveness that causes a shake-up of our dominant belief systems. It is not choosing one belief system over another, but giving voice to minorities that have long been oppressed.

    • Daryl, thank you for reading and responding to my article. My concern is how this draft curriculum seems to be proposing to impose a minority spiritual worldview (Animism) on all public school children. Aboriginal perspectives have been included in the BC curriculum for quite some time; that isn’t at issue. The draft curriculum looks to be proposing going beyond including Aboriginal perspectives, to the inculcation of “Aboriginal worldviews” steeped in religious Animism. Infusing Animism throughout the curriculum would not reverse the oppression of Aboriginal people (the majority of whom claim Christianity or secular humanism as their worldview, not Animism). It would be an act of oppression to impose an Animistic worldview on all children in public schools.

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