With the recent announcement and consultations surrounding the pending social studies curriculum draft for Alberta, several important factors need consideration. Teachers must be actively involved, along with all other stakeholders; we must refrain from fixating solely on a knowledge-rich curriculum and we need to emphasize teaching multiple perspectives.
Teachers need to be directly involved in helping write the curriculum to ensure the content and expectations are developmentally appropriate for students, as they were for all previous curriculums, excluding the problematic last draft. This has nothing to do with ideology; rather, the last curriculum draft was written solely by subject matter experts and their expectations were often developmentally inappropriate. Examples include having Grade 2 students, just beginning to read and write, “Create a timeline for the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.” Grade 3 students were instructed to study “clauses of the (1215)” Magna Carta and link how they are relevant today. High school students often struggle to analyze direct passages from older documents such as the Declaration of Independence.
The 2020 document, “The Guiding Framework for the Design and Development of Kindergarten to Grade 12 Provincial Curriculum,” stated: “A knowledge-rich curriculum is fundamental to Alberta Education’s goal of deep understanding.” This focus, though largely ignoring core skills vital for students in the modern world, needs a balance between content and fundamental skills, also referred to as competencies, to be emphasized. A sole focus on knowledge-rich content, previously advocated for, reduces the curriculum draft to basically requiring teachers to copy and paste the “knowledge” into a PowerPoint and teach it word for word. This lessens the need for students to actively engage in the material and utilize fundamental skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking. The common oversight is that the curriculum either needs to be heavily content-focused or inquiry-based, but neither approach works well on its own.
The current curriculum drafted under the Progressive Conservatives has continued Alberta’s legacy as one of the best education systems in the world, especially when looking at international assessments such as PISA. While this curriculum needs updating, it does an excellent job of emphasizing teaching history and current events through the lens of multiple perspectives, rather than teaching history simply by delivering facts as if the events happened only from one viewpoint. For instance, when the British Crown signed the numerous treaties with First Nations, it is fundamental for a student to understand both perspectives. This approach also helps prevent concerns often mentioned by the public regarding indoctrination within schools.
My hope is that the next social studies curriculum carries on the same emphasis advocated by the current one: “The program of studies is designed to promote metacognition through critical reflection, questioning, decision-making and consideration of multiple perspectives on issues. Through this process, students will strive to understand and explain the world in the present and to determine what kind of world they want in the future.”
Since social studies isn’t really about the teachers, the parents, the government or the general public, it is fundamentally about the students and providing them with the tools to create their own future.
Brett Dibble is a social studies teacher at Alternative High School in Calgary.
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