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A pumpjack works at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., on Oct. 29, 2016.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

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Readers respond: Alberta school lesson on oil sands prompts threats from parents amid sensitivity over industry’s image

The parents

Yikes. Now the oil industry wants to take over the education system. –Canadalover1

I doubt the oil industry wants to do that, but these parents need to take a long look in the mirror and reflect on why some of them thought threats of violence were appropriate during this situation. –G.E.T.

Excellent lesson from the teacher. You know you are a bad parent if you cannot debate and reason with your own children. Violence and threats to schools are clear signals that you are losing the rational argument. –The jolly hangman

“The students then received a written assignment that asked how Albertans should manage competing demands on the province’s land for uses such as oil development, wind and solar power, agriculture and recreation.”

Sounds like a good question requiring both research and thought. It should be asked of Alberta politicians as well as students.

Exposing both groups to both sides of the issue is how compromises and progress are made.

One might even say it’s fair and balanced. Parents’ outrage doesn’t help in the least. Shame on them. –just as good as you

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Jason Kenney at his office in Calgary, on Nov. 12, 2019.Amber Bracken/The New York Times News Service

The politics

Apparently Conservative politicians want their views, and only their views, ever to be mentioned inside Alberta’s classrooms. Ironically, this will fulfill the United Conservative Party’s contention that Albertan public schools are being radicalized by extremist ideologies – which is how most of Canada views UCP’s obsessively pro-oil ravings.

Hello, Alberta: It is not heresy for an educator to introduce opposing sides to an issue – even where that issue concerns the oil sands – and ask students to consider those opposing views. –Mossback

These are innocent 10-year-old children. They have a right to a childhood free from politics. When they become adults they will be able to make their own minds up. –Jack Reacher

If they haven’t been taught critical thinking and how to debate opposing views they will have no minds to make up. –Proudfoot5960

Since when is asking students to analyze a topic from both sides considered “politicization?”

I teach in a technical institute and employers are constantly begging us to teach our students to think critically. I guess in Alberta that means to criticize any thought that doesn’t support the oil industry.

As a Saskatchewan resident with a long history of friends and family in the oil patch, I come at this topic knowing what’s at stake for Alberta and Saskatchewan, as Canadians try to tackle the problems around fossil fuel use and climate change. I did not think losing our democratic responsibility to be well-informed citizens was on the table. –Wilma Groenen

When my children were in high school during the Mike Harris years in Ontario, there were reports of teachers telling children, higher grades mainly (18-year-old voters), that the Progressive Conservative government was destroying education and they should vote Liberal.

Politics can sneak into education but this case is just education looking at an issue that industry leaders and politicians are making controversial. –ZayWhat

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Oil well pump jacks in a farmer's field near Calgary, on Nov. 13, 2019.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

The lesson plan

As an Albertan, I can see both sides of this issue and not get caught up in the foolish screeching. It is prudent and wise that we teach our children to analyze the world around them and make intelligent assessments. Certainly oil-sands development and climate change are current, relevant issues. However, I can also see the overreaction from some parents in an oil-country town. They probably don’t have all the facts as to what was presented to their kids and also view their livelihood, their homes and their family as being under attack by eco-radicals. Their response is no different than the families in Toronto who overreacted to changes in sex education a few years back. People are human and tend to react emotionally to things they view as threats. Obviously one more reason to teach our children to think rationally and analytically. –timley

Children in Grade 4 shouldn’t be exposed to such a controversial issue, particularly this issue and in Alberta. It probably should have been presented in high school. In my 58 years of business experience, Grade 4s needed more time spent on arithmetic and spelling for at least the last 40 years, and you can add penmanship and and language skills. –norvan goldcard

It is a good question, but at 10 years old, it is inappropriate and beyond their level. An age-appropriate question for the age level would be: “Why is it a good idea to compost?” or “Why is important to plant a tree?” They should not be exposed to the we-are-killing-the-planet! narrative. It is psychologically damaging, even if it happens to be true. FYI, I am pro-Paris Agreement. Nevertheless, we seem to be in such a hurry to share our “truth” that we risk (and have) raised a generation of anxious kids, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of something that seems too large to control for an 18-year-old, let alone a 10-year-old. –D Ludd

Try having that same Grade 4 lesson in Toronto, but substitute “racialized diversity” for “oil sands” and see how it goes. –C. Parsons

It seems like teachers right across Alberta are not being “balanced” or fair. There is a significant ideological push even here in Fort McMurray about oil sands being dirty, with little balance on the part of teachers (at least that I have heard about) on the steps Canadian energy companies are taking to be more responsible, both environmentally and socially. –JaySams

I think it’s good for kids to hear strong opinions. The important thing is that they hear a range of strong opinions – from all sides.

Sounds like the teacher was covering both sides. That’s a good thing. The bad thing would be if the teacher was only giving the environmental viewpoint and painting the oil and gas sector as pure evil or vice versa. I’ve heard of that happening too.

Let kids make up their own minds. –Freshycat

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Crude oil, and other petroleum products, is transported in rail tanker cars on a Canadian Pacific Railway train near Medicine Hat, Alta., on Sept. 6, 2018.Larry MacDougal/STRLMD

The stories

Similar happened in my child’s class. He is in a school in a farming neighborhood. The teacher showed a PETA video on how beef is “murder." My son helps me with cattle work and did not appreciate his parents being called murderers in the video. He was vocal about it and got reprimanded. The teacher knew his background but showed the video anyway. –Ewingoil

But isn’t it it important to know what critics are saying about an industry, even if they are misinformed? How can industry supporters build trust if they refuse to analyze criticisms and develop meaningful responses to it? –Anne Johnson

Parents absolutely must ask their children everyday, “What did you learn in school today”?

This was made clear to me in the days leading up to the federal election in October when my 12-year-old daughter asked me who I was going to vote for. I told her the Conservative Party. She paused and then said, “Those are the people who want to cancel free health care.” It took a while but she finally told me that is what she had been taught in school. We had quite a long talk after that about political parties and the values each of them promote. It was also a good opportunity to show her my income-tax return so she could see for herself how much money the government takes away from our family every year to pay for things that other people call “free.” –theobservant1

I'm surprised and disappointed that your child was actually indoctrinated in that way at school.

I hope it’s not the norm and I don’t think it is. I believe that when talking with children it’s good to follow their lead; let them ask the questions and then answer with the fact that there are a variety of opinions and then describe them.

A little boy asked me recently – a toddler actually – what happens to us when we die. I told him that some people believe we go to a certain place, some believe we come back here and some believe there’s nothing after this. The child said they thought we came back here … maybe we do. It’s a mystery to me, but it’s so important to let children know that there are many different ways of looking at a situation and that they can share their own opinions on all subjects. It’s beautiful to witness actually! –Judith M.

When I was about 10, the FLQ crisis was in full swing. Our teachers brought the politics into the classroom and allowed the students to discuss the issues involved and think through the ways to deal with what was happening literally all around us at the time (we walked by soldiers in the streets, on the way to school). I dare say my class made some pretty interesting observations at that time. Even at 10 to 11 years old, some of the answers we came up with were better than those offered by many in the media and the business leaders of the day. My point is that kids can and should be involved in these types of issues/discussions. That’s how they will learn, and they’ll be the ones making the decisions on our behalf one day. I say let them learn all sides. They’re smart enough to listen and understand, and decide. Maybe even teach their parents a few new things... –alternative facts

Yours truly was stood up and denounced in front of his class at the ripe old age of 10 in Grade 4, in Eastern Europe, for not being a sufficiently enthusiastic Communist! Later got into arguments with our English Lit teacher about the abysmal quality of our course material. Did no permanent damage and taught me not to accept positions at face value. In that sense I support the teaching of controversial material, as it must surely be an improvement over the politically correct tripe all too often evident. –DieterHH

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Parts of a drilling rig moves after drilling an oil well near Calgary, on Nov. 13, 2019.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

The science

Technology changes and attitudes change, and suddenly this natural thing that we thought we could exploit and sell to someone else won’t be worth much any more. No matter how much Alberta stands up and makes accusations, no matter how much it points fingers at environmentalists, the reality is the world is going to stop using oil one day. It may be 30 years from now, but it will happen. –highconcept

A lot of families are going to go into bankruptcy and lose their homes because Canada wants to cut its own nose off its face. We will need the money oil provides in 2020 and for decades thereafter to afford the transition to other forms of energy. Why should Canadians suffer while other countries still sell oil by the tanker? A lot of the countries in the world about which everyone says, “look at Norway or Denmark or Sweden, how great their subway systems are,” built these with money they made selling oil. Why shouldn’t Canada have the same opportunity? We need to sell this resource while there is a market for it. –Fool Finder

The oil sands are environmentally bad, there is no denying that. Better kids learn about it as early as possible. –wind_stopper

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A drilling rig gets packed up after drilling an oil well near Calgary, on Nov. 13, 2019.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

The end

They want politics out of the classroom.

So they say.

Which really means they don’t want anything taught in the classroom that they do not like.

Which is just as much an imposition of their political views on the classroom.

It’s not like we haven’t seen this before. Here is a list of works that schools or religious groups in either Canada or the United States, or both, have banned:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • Peyton Place
  • Where’s Waldo?
  • Harry Potter
  • The Handmaid's Tale
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • Brave New World
  • James and the Giant Peach
  • Flowers for Algernon

We’ve seen this before.

Political censorship goes to the very core of democratic values. –OldBanister

“A policy resolution passed at the governing United Conservative Party’s recent annual meeting said students in public schools are being ‘increasingly radicalized by extremist ideologies.’ "

Well see you at the Grade 4 dance to get this settled once and for all! –Cognitive Dissonance

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