Alberta gives parents rights but what about kids?

Yesterday I talked to Culture and Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett about proposed changes to Alberta’s human rights law — including the part that allows parents to exempt their kids from school curriculum on religion sexuality or sexual orientation. I asked him if allowing parents to exempt their children from certain curriculum could actually end up undermining human rights in some ways. Here’s some of Blackett’s answer (I couldn’t fit this into my story for the paper ):

“I mean how much [teaching on] sexual orientation takes place in our classrooms? Not a whole lot…. The flip side of that argument is that a couple who is lesbian or gay who has a child — when the discussion comes to the area of human sexuality or sexual orientation they might feel it’s biased the other way. Although again other than an hour probably in a school year I don’t think there’s much of a discussion on any of those topics that would warrant a parent to actually take their child out…. There’s very few parents that opt out of cirriculum now because there’s nothing controversial in it and we don’t expect there will be very many cases under the parental rights provision. But it’s there as a symbolic gesture.”

Alberta Teachers Association president Frank Bruseker doesn’t buy it. What if a creationist parent objects to geology classes on the grounds of religion? he wonders. Or what the class is discussing organ transplants and a Jehovah’s Witness parent doesn’t want their kid to be part of the conversation? And why should parents be able to shield their kids from ideas that challenge their worldviews anyway? “Isn’t that part of what public education is supposed to do — create students who become critical thinkers and say ‘Well do I agree with this?’” says Bruseker. “‘Do I buy this or not? How does this fit in with my belief system?’ That’s part of what education is about.”

As someone who spent eight years at a fundamentalist Christian school in Alberta — a private school using a Texas-based curriculum that labeled Buddhists and Muslims as “evil” and promoted “a degree of insensitivity towards blacks Jews and natives” according to a 1985 Alberta government commission — I’m thinking Bruseker makes a good point. At what point do parental rights infringe on the rights of a child to a quality well-rounded balanced education? It’s a fair question.