Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Battle over history education ends in a stalemate

This was the witty line I came up with at the conclusion of this course that I've been auditing this term. As per the requirements of our program, I chose this course to be the one where I completed all the course requirements-- which meant doing all the readings (three to five hours a week, a 'graduate' level), leading the discussion in one of the seminars, writing a literature review and completing an end-of-term project.
For the end of term project, as mentioned below, I wrote about the Equestrian Statue of King Edward VII located at Queen's Park, a short walk from Massey College.
The last class of my 'Issues in numeracy and literacy' course of the term -- it continues in January -- is early this afternoon.
The Battle course taught me a few things. First, I'm not an academic. The readings in this course, as previously mentioned, were at times thick. Or 'dense' to use a more academic language. The course centred on the so-called history wars of the late 1990s and how the resulting change in academia hasn't successfully filtered down to history classes in our schools. As we contemplated the end of the course over some beverages Tuesday evening, we came to the question of whether or not the reform that's underway in the teaching of history would be successful. System-wide reform through a standards-setting process was a failure south of the border in the 1990s (one of our readings for this course), and it's met with various levels of success in other countries.
Currently, the Ministry of Education is updating the 2005 history curriculum to include concepts of historical consciousness (alternately called historical thinking), as pioneered by UBC historian Peter Seixas. Teachers have already been advised the updated curriculum will feature the Benchmarks of Historical Thinking that have been slowly developed over the past 15 years.
I thought the revision could meet with some success-- despite the pessimism of some of my classmates. I accept there will always be teachers who will not reform their practice from however they've established it. But most will, if this reform has the support of the ministry, school boards and teachers' federations-- all of whom are supposedly involved. Plus, to this reader, looking at the current curriculum and the benchmarks, there are already a number of common features. There aren't too many bridges between it and the world of academia, which I'm sure based on my takeaways from this course means that academic historians will have plenty to continue complaining about when it comes to how history is taught in our schools.
The funnest reading we had recently was one edited by Christopher Dummit and Michael Dawson. The history wars in Canada are over, they argued, since the 'old guard' has been replaced within the academy. The article, published in 2009 by the Institute for the study of the Americas at the University of London, was deliciously vicious in poking the Canadian academy for what it's forgotten and what it's not doing well. It was a great way to end the term.
Next term
Not all the i's and t's have been dotted and crossed, but I'm hoping to spend all my OISE time in the winter term auditing the courses from the fourth-year of the faculty's concurrent education program. The cohort I've arranged to attach myself to is the first of the new program, so it should be interesting.