The B.C. Teachers’ Federation last week began offering resources to teachers on Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline – a move that has sparked criticism for its blatant opposition of the project.
Resource posters depict a river scene of a grizzly bear eating a salmon amid orcas, seals, an otter and an eagle, while black oil drips across the lower portion of the image. The words “What we stand to lose with pipelines and supertankers” are emblazoned across the top section.
Along with the poster, the teachers’ union has made available resources such as lessons on the importance of protecting ocean ecosystems, the “effects of mixing oil, water, and bird feathers” and a game similar to snakes and ladders, involving pipelines and sunbeams.
While critics, such as Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, have accused the BCTF of presenting propaganda to children, the chairperson of the Greater Victoria Board of Education doesn’t see the lessons as cause for alarm.
“For years teachers have talked about topical and perhaps controversial topics in history, social studies, law, as a way of teaching critical thinking skills to our students. We believe that our teachers are responsible and facilitate these discussions in an unbiased fashion,” said Orcherton. “This isn’t new, it’s just that Enbridge is topical right now.”
It remains unclear if any School District No. 61 teachers plan to use the Enbridge lesson plans. Orcherton said any complaints or concerns from parents that come out of the teaching materials will be dealt with immediately.
Jason Price, an education professor in the department of curriculum and instruction at the University of Victoria, said the BCTF and Enbridge are both involved in the “indoctrination” of students regarding resources and the environment.
“It seems that the BCTF is firing this as a salvo in a sense, but one that in some ways is just as balanced as that of the proponents of the pipeline,” Price said. “We’re not playing with an even playing field.”
BCTF has taken strong positions on First Nations and same sex marriages issues in the past, he said, noting the presence of literature on the federation’s website on how to foster clear thinking on controversial issues.
Students are already exposed to the Enbridge issue via social media, familial influences, or civil disobedience in their communities, and should be welcomed to discuss it within the school environment, Price said.
“The idea that somehow we should create schools as a bubble is responsible for the type of mediocre, non-engaged, go-through-the-motions schooling that we’ve had for so long,” he said.
“One of the frustrations that I have personally is the lack of willingness of teachers to use their academic freedom to discuss controversial issues.
“While the federation might be taking a position and highlighting this lesson plan as an approach, I’d be surprised to see a radical indoctrination in our classrooms. It’s a bogeyman that Conservatives like to play, but it doesn’t really exist.”
Few elements of the B.C. curriculum afford students the opportunity to think critically and teachers often take controversial positions to inspire a critical discussion around media, Price added.
“If (teachers) use these as teaching moments, they have to be very, very clear that they put all of the information in and facilitate in an unbiased fashion,” Orcherton said.
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