My take-away from the United Conservative Party’s leadership race thus far, which held its second leadership debate last week, is that “ideology” seems to be the new, scary buzzword.
According to the cabal of white dudes running, the NDP is “ideological.” Closing the coal mines is “ideological,” and, of course, some leadership candidates are promising to remove “ideology” from schools—the new K-12 curriculum review process is a seething hotbed of ideological concerns, don’t you know.
To all of which I can only respond: well, duh.
Of course the NDP is ideological—that’s the entire point of a political party. In fact, that’s the very definition of ideology. According to the Oxford Dictionary, ideology is “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.”
Wikipedia takes the definition one step further: “Ideology is a comprehensive set of normative beliefs, conscious and unconscious ideas, that an individual, group or society has.”
Ideology is everywhere. I have to admit that calling every move the NDP makes an ideological one is a clever move. The word sounds scary if you don’t quite know what it means and renders the UCP’s ideological leanings invisible. The NDP’s decisions are ideological and scary; the UCP’s are normal and natural, thus the calls for “taking Alberta back.”
Clever or not, it doesn’t stop me from getting enraged whenever a UCP white dude starts blathering about ideology, particularly when it comes to schools. The entire point of education is one of ideological indoctrination—children do not emerge from the womb fluent in social norms.
These concepts are taught to them repeatedly: sharing is important; don’t pee on the floor; this is what base 10 math is; here’s the story of where your country came from.
Do the different versions of what we teach children impact how they perceive the world? Of course. Is there one neutral way of presenting this information? Of course not.
Ideological decisions not only underpin curricula but the role of schools themselves, and this is no more obvious than the on-going conversation about Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs). The day before the UCP leadership debate, Minister of Education David Eggen announced that there is legislation in the works making it illegal for schools to inform parents if their children participate in a GSA and would require every school to adopt anti-bullying policies that would protect LGBTQ students.
Although the language of the bill is not yet drafted, David Eggen told the CBC that the bill is a response to folks like Jason Kenney, who believe that parents should be notified if their child participates in a GSA. Indeed, Kenney reiterated those thoughts at the UCP leadership debate (Brian Jean and Doug Schweitzer think it should be the child’s choice to inform parents).
So on the one hand, we have the idea that schools should be safe places for all students. On the other, that schools should be an extension of the parent/child relationship. Neither of these positions is ideologically neutral.
While I appreciate the stand the Ministry of Education is taking (and gleefully look forward to the response of Catholic and private schools to the anti-bullying requirements), I can’t help but worry it will be for nought if the UCP is successful in the next election.
This is a law that could be easily removed, particularly if GSAs become an election issue. Luckily, curricula changes are much harder to make, and perhaps this is what has the UCP so upset. Laws can be changed relatively quickly; ideologies tend to stick around.