Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has pulled a guidance document recommending schools include positive material about Nazi-era German economic policies when teaching about war atrocities.
The document, published in January 2020 by the ministry, endorses considering whether classroom resources “reveal both the positive and negative behaviours and attitudes of the various groups portrayed.”
“For instance, if a video details war atrocities committed by the Nazis, does it also point out that before World War II, (the) German government’s policies substantially strengthened the country’s economy?” the document says.
After surfacing on social media Friday and being denounced by Jewish and anti-hate groups, the guidelines meant to recognize diversity and promote respect were pulled from the government’s website.
On Twitter, LaGrange said the views in the document are “extremely concerning and completely unacceptable,” adding as soon as she was made aware, she instructed staff to remove it from all government publications immediately.
“The wrongheaded views outlined have no place in our society and I categorically denounce what is written. There is not a ‘positive’ side to tell of the murderous Nazi regime, as this document wrongfully suggests,” LaGrange wrote, adding that the document has nothing to do with the curriculum development process and the content dates back to “some years ago.”
A previous 2008 Alberta Education version that drew material from 1984 also contains similar ideas. However, rather than referring to “the German government’s” economic policies pre-war, the archived document refers to “the Nazi’s policies.”
In a Friday statement, Nicole Sparrow, LaGrange’s press secretary, said after the Education Act was passed in 2019, a slew of education documents were updated to remove references to the previous legislation, but they weren’t fully reviewed for content.
The 2020 document includes at least three references to the 2019 Education Act, including the requirement that parents be notified about teaching topics including religion and sexuality.
“To be very clear, the comments contained in the 1984 document were just as wrong then as they are today,” said Sparrow, adding the ministry has started a review of all documents on the government website for content, with a focus on those that haven’t been looked at in detail recently.
When Premier Jason Kenney was asked about the document at an unrelated press conference, he reiterated the ministry’s comments.
“I completely disavow it,” he said.
Stacey Leavitt-Wright, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton, said Friday her initial reaction to the document was one of shock, but the federation is grateful the government acted as quickly as it did, and plans to meet with the ministry next week to discuss the importance of Holocaust education in Alberta, including further developing the draft K-6 curriculum.
“This is a time when all Edmontonians should be concerned about combatting hate and racism … this would be a good time for us to be able to take some action to try to combat some of that,” Leavitt-Wright said, adding it’s not just a Jewish issue, but something everybody can learn from.
Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, policy director at the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, said Friday the document was “mind-boggling.”
“The fact of the matter is that the Nazi regime committed a genocide and killed six million Jews and millions of others. It dragged the world into the largest global armed conflict in history. In the end it destroyed its own country, so we’re left wondering what positive attributes we could find in any of that,” said Kirzner-Roberts.
She added the center appreciates that the ministry responded so quickly, but questions remain as to how official ministry guidelines like these were updated, approved and kept around for so long.
“How come, over the years, this stayed up, and nobody thought there was a problem with this?” she said, noting that government documents typically involve layers of bureaucratic approval.