By Samantha Cutrara
As a contributing editor for Active History, this year I will be exploring the Canadian history curriculum across the country. Conceptualized as a series, each post will build and develop off the findings of the others, so that we may conclude in June with some critical ideas about how Canadian history is designed to be taught and learned in public schools. Ideally, these ideas may provide more space for historians and non-traditional history educators to better speak to and understand the needs of classroom history teachers, finding synergies among the different work.
This month I’ll be focusing on Saskatchewan. In reviewing the elementary (K-8) and secondary (9-12) Canadian history curriculum in Saskatchewan, I found two interesting themes that made me think about history curriculum more broadly: individual- vs state-directed practice and pedagogical trends. In this post, I will outline the K to 12 Canadian history curriculum in Saskatchewan before highlighting how these curricula lead me to these larger themes.
Canadian history is taught in Saskatchewan under the larger organization of “Social Studies.” The K to 9 curricula was designed so that each course met four overall goals, with each goal aligned with different academic disciplines; history being one of eleven. These goals set the “Outcomes” for each course (usually 3 to 4 Outcomes per goal), with more specific “Indicators” providing options for how these Outcomes may be met. Like Ontario, the Outcomes and Indicators in Saskatchewan for History have an Inquiry focus, with Outcomes intending to be achieved through unique inquiries in each classroom.
Canadian History begins in grade 4 and continues in grade 5 with students learning about the land, First Nations and Métis relationships, and treaties. In grade 5, students also begin to learn about European “influence” on pre-confederation Canada. Grade 8 returns to Canadian history, with a focus on the individual in Canadian society. The Outcomes Indicators provide a wide range of options for study, including World War I, the effect of the Royal Proclamation 1763, and the vote for Indigenous peoples. As evident, this grade 8 course is not chronological so much as thematic.
In high school, students must take two social science courses to graduate, which include History, Social Studies, or Native Studies. The grade 12 social science program is organized as “Canadian Studies” and includes the History 30 course, the only explicitly Canadian History class a student may take high school. This course covers pre-contact to the Meech Lake Accord and has a heavy focus on socio-political history, society’s paradigms, and the social contract. The curriculum for History 30 provides five heavily detailed units separated chronologically with 15 hours recommended for each, all with a historical background and dozens of high-level concepts as a focus.
If I was to stay on the theme of last month’s post in which I provided suggestions for historians and other educators to assist teachers with this curriculum, I would say that historians could help teachers update and extend the history background and provide greater examples to contextualize the concepts; but I don’t really know how useful that would be.
The feel from the History 30 curriculum is that much of the work is done by the teachers. While the curriculum is heavily detailed, given that this curriculum was last revised in 1994 and that it is available online as a scanned word processed-document without the search functionality and readability that today’s teachers would expect, I doubt that many teachers are holding fast to all of the outlined objectives. Rather, I expect that many teachers in Saskatchewan teach the optional History 30 as a blend of a 20 year old script, trial and error, resource availability, and personal interest.
Would Saskatchewan be upset about the amount of space teachers have to teach this course? When looking at their curricula for K-9, I would guess not. The K through 9 revision is designed for teacher and student choice. While History 30 doesn’t seem to have any room for the same type of choice, but lack of revision may invite choice and interpretation.
This finding has prompted the question of whether codified curriculum is always prescriptive? Does “hidden curriculum” present itself more or less when the codified curriculum is detailed? Is the space between teacher-directed and state-directed history provide more room for student voice and experience – something I advocate strongly for?
The different revisions between the elementary curriculum and the high school curriculum also demonstrate how the times in which we are teaching influences what is present and possible in the Canadian history classroom. As I will be discussing throughout the series, Historical Thinking Inquiry is very trendy right now; in the 1990s, Concept Learning was also on trend. Because of the heavy emphasis on both these trends in the respective revisions, all of the Saskatchewan curriculum feels “of a time.” Especially when compared between grades, the curriculum doesn’t feel timeless or ahistorical. Instead, it feels reflective of pedagological trends, soon to be outdated. Should curriculum be timeless or ahistorical?
While no curriculum is without bias, in reviewing the Saskatchewan curriculum I wonder how helpful it would be to build into our History curriculum documents that include explicit discussions of the time(s) in which they were created and the bias driving the organization and the outcomes: Why this approach to the study of history? Why now?
To conclude, have you thought about the historical nature of your pedagogy while teaching. Has this influenced what and how you teach? In what ways do you think these larger factors of individual choice and pedagogical trend shape what young people come to know about the Canadian past? Should we make clear the time in which our standards were written? If we were to revise the History 30 curriculum in Saskatchewan to align with the K-9 document, do we lose anything or simply gain a revision?
Dr. Samantha Cutrara is a History Education Strategist and is currently working on a manuscript for UBC Press entitled Creating a New “We”: Canadian history education for the 21st century. Find more information about her consulting and academic work on her website SamanthaCutrara.com.
The author would like to acknowledge that this work was created on land that is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, the Métis, and most recently, the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit River. The territory was the subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. This territory is also covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. Today, the meeting place of Toronto (from the Haudenosaunee word Tkaronto) is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and the author is grateful to have the opportunity to write, study, teach, and learn in the community, on this territory.