The Honourable Adriana LaGrange,
Minister of Education
228 Legislature Building
10800 - 97 Avenue
Dear Minister LaGrange,
The Canadian Historical Association represents professional historians in Canada, and we naturally pay close attention to curriculum with a view to encouraging best practices in history education. In the past twenty years education researchers have made dramatic breakthroughs in understanding how children locate themselves in history and how they can best learn about the past. The main conclusions from this research is that while it is important to teach students facts about the past, focusing on memorizing facts for their own sake is a recipe for failure.
The proposed changes to the K-12 social studies curriculum in Alberta include content that is welcome, including attention to religious and ethnic diversity, to First Nations, to computer coding, and to sexual consent. However, our primary reflection on the new curriculum is that is weighted too heavily towards memorization and does not reflect the pedagogical advantages of the last two decades. Research by Canadian scholars like Peter Seixas, Stephane Levesque, Tom Morton and American Sam Wineburg have shown that students have different capacities as they age but even in Kindergarten can be hooked on understanding history if they are introduced to concepts like context, significance, interpretation, cause and consequence.
Focusing virtually exclusively on the content of the social studies curriculum reduces the benefits of the proposed changes. There are always more things that people can learn, more bits of information and more facts. But if the curriculum review had included proposals to introduce students to key historical concepts and strategies, the value of their history education would extend far beyond the mere memorization of fact. Indeed, it would position social studies alongside STEM courses as essential to increasing problem-solving capacities. The Alberta education system would be developing the skills that would ensure a critically engaged population in the future. Missing this opportunity, when so many of the stakeholders have been calling for just these sorts of revisions, would be a tragedy.
As part of our commitment to supporting history education the CHA has partnered in a major initiative funded by the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council to bring that research to teachers, school boards and Departments of Education. That projecting, Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future, is a partnership of 10 universities and 15 other organizations. If your department wanted access to the latest research on social studies pedagogy and the historical consciousness of children at different ages we encourage you to connect with the project based at the University of Alberta.
Dr. Penny Bryden
Canadian Historical Association
cc. Premier Jason Kenney
Minister LaGrange's Response - 20 August 2021