B.C. schools highlight Canada’s ‘discriminatory’ past while ignoring broad view of history

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Appeared in the Western Standard, May 5, 2024
B.C. schools highlight Canada’s ‘discriminatory’ past while ignoring broad view of history

With great promotional effort, the British Columbia government in 2016 introduced a new provincial curriculum. According to its brochure, the curriculum “pulls together the best from modern learning theories and BC teachers’ advice.”

In practise, this means less emphasis on subject-specific knowledge and more emphasis on so-called core competencies such as critical thinking, creativity and communication. Thus, the academic content students learn is almost entirely up to the teacher.

However, the “modern” learning theories underlying B.C.’s curriculum are anything but new or cutting edge. In fact, B.C.’s new curriculum is little more than a repackaged version of the very old 20th century ideas of William Heard Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick was an education professor at Columbia Teachers College who influenced thousands of educators. In his 1925 book, Foundations of Method, Kilpatrick claimed that the rapid acquisition of knowledge made the old ways of teaching obsolete and argued that to help students adjust to a “rapidly shifting and changing world,” schools should “stress thinking and methods of attack and principles of action.”

If it weren’t for the fact that Kilpatrick wrote those words nearly a century ago, one might think he plagiarized the B.C. government’s promotional material. When it comes to educational theories, there truly is nothing new under the sun.

Unfortunately, B.C.’s largely fact-free curriculum has real implications for students, particularly when it comes to Canadian history.

For example, at the K-8 levels, learning expectations are vague and focus entirely on big picture ideas. In other words, light on details—except where past discrimination is concerned—residential schools, the Chinese Head Tax, the Komagata Incident and the internment of various people. While these are important topics, it’s thin gruel indeed if they’re the only Canadian history details students learn before they graduate.

Unfortunately, the high school curriculum guides are no better. Grade 9 students will also learn about “discriminatory policies and injustices in Canada and in the world” with the same examples as in the K-8 curriculum.

The Grade 10 social studies curriculum guide is equally vague, with one exception. Students must learn about “discriminatory policies and injustice in Canada” with the exact same examples as in the Grade 9 curriculum. One can only wonder why the B.C. government thinks this content must be repeated at least three times during a student’s time in school while omitting most other details about our country’s history, including the many positive aspects.

Grades 11 and 12 students must only complete one social studies course of their choosing. Unfortunately, none of the high school courses focus exclusively on Canadian history. Instead, students can choose from a smorgasbord of courses such as 20th Century World History, Comparative World Religions, Contemporary Indigenous Studies, Genocide Studies, and Social Justice. None of these courses will likely give high school students much of a grounding in Canadian history.

Of course, no B.C. student should graduate from high school without a good understanding of how our country came into existence and evolved, at least since 1867. But this seeming obsession with Canada’s historic faults ensures students will receive a myopic and incomplete picture of our country. Because all publicly funded schools must follow provincial curricula, it’s important to ensure that teachers and students are not shortchanged by poor curriculum guides. At a minimum, this means rewriting curriculum guides so they contain much more knowledge-specific content and provide a broader view of history.

It's time for B.C. to jettison the failed educational theories of the early 20th century and introduce a curriculum that meets the needs of today’s students.

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