Ottawa, 9 November 2020
Premier Jason Kenney
Office of the Premier
307 Legislature Building
10800 - 97 Avenue
Minister Adriana LaGrange
Ministry of Education
7th Floor - 10155 102 Street NW
Dear Premier Kenney and Minister LaGrange,
I am writing on behalf of the Canadian Historical Association, the organization representing professional and academic historians in Canada, to express our concern about the proposed revisions to Alberta’s kindergarten to grade 4 curricula.
We know that in considering curriculum reforms, the goal of your government is to better prepare students to become engaged and active citizens as they grow into adulthood. In order to become active and knowledgeable participants in our democracy it is an important goal they not only know our history but also have the intellectual skills to understand it. We share these goals.
The traditional method to teach history and social studies, until about thirty years ago, was to decide what facts students needed to know and have students memorize them. Research over the past forty years have shown that students forget all but a few of these memorized facts within months of finishing a particular class, that this method of pedagogy actually has the effect of turning students away from an interest in history and lifelong learning, and that students do not learn the critical thinking skills to be able to understand the lessons from history. In other words, our traditional method not only wasted everyone’s time, it was counterproductive.
Research on historical education has shown that it is much more effective to teach students how to understand the past, how lessons from the past can be brought into our world, and how to differentiate between history based on facts and fictionalized accounts of the past. Peter Seixas, director of UBC’s Historical Thinking Project and Samuel Wineburg have led the scholarship in this field and shown that while it is important that students understand the chronology of history, to be effective citizens they can and must learn to evaluate historical evidence for validity, understand cause and consequence and be able to understand the significance of historical events. Unfortunately, we do not see the any of the modern scholarship in this field reflected in the new curriculum.
One of the goals of social studies education is to bring our young citizens into a common body of knowledge and understanding to build the bonds of community, province and nation. Alberta’s and Canada’s population is comprised of Indigenous People and immigrants from all over the world, some recent, and some whose ancestors arrived hundreds of years ago. All must be able to see themselves, their ancestors and their histories reflected in the social studies curriculum if the goal is to build a multi-cultural, open, democratic society. Introducing students to the ideas of diversity, equality and human rights in the Kindergarten to Grade Four years is the best key we hold to build a society free from racism and prejudice. The proposed curriculum actually removes many of these very essential features extant in the current curriculum.
We urge you to shelve the proposed changes. Rather than turn the clock back thirty years in Alberta, to an era when no one loved their social studies classes, we encourage you to look ahead to your own goals of an engaged and aware citizenry. Alberta’s new curriculum should reflect the modernism, dynamism and diversity of the province, and should be created by teachers, historians, and experts in social studies pedagogy who can make that happen.
Canadian Historical Association / Société historique du Canada
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