COMMENTARY || The real facts about the social studies curriculum-revision process
Two UAlberta professors involved in the process set the record straight.
By Carla Peck and Lindsay Gibson
We are two professors currently involved in the Alberta Education social studies curriculum-revision process. One of us (Lindsay Gibson) is a member of the Curriculum Writing Group (CWG) and one of us (Carla Peck) is a member of the Teacher and Educator Focus Group.
The CWG is responsible for drafting the subject introduction, scope and sequence, and student learning outcomes whereas the focus group reviews, confirms, and provides feedback to the CWG and Alberta Education on the curriculum drafts.
For the past several months, unfounded rumours about the curriculum-revision process have been circulating in newspapers, on social media, and in political leadership hopefuls’ campaign materials. We feel it’s time to clear up some of the most egregious myths. We write based on our experiences with the social studies curriculum revision process.
Myth No. 1: The curriculum revision process is being done in secret
Alberta Education has gone to great lengths to ensure the general public has opportunities to provide input to the curriculum-revision process through public consultations, online surveys, and workshops organized by the Alberta Regional Professional Development Consortia. The first online survey in fall 2016 garnered over 32,000 responses, with 47 per cent of respondents self-identifying as parents/guardians. This feedback is publicly available here.
Another survey was conducted in the spring of 2017 and that feedback is currently being analyzed. Having worked in several provinces, we know of no other educational jurisdiction that has gone to such lengths to ensure the general public can contribute to the development of curriculum.
Myth No. 2: “Left-wing” professors are leading the curriculum revision process and their names should be made public
First, it would be a shock to our colleagues to learn that all professors are “left-wing.” As with any large group of people, professors come in all political stripes. Second, and more importantly, professors are a minority on both the CWG and the Focus Group committees. Sixty-five per cent of the 50-60 member committee are teachers, 18 per cent are Alberta Education staff, 10 per cent are other organizations, and 10 per cent are post-secondary instructors. Detailed statistics about committee membership are available here.
Alberta Education is leading the curriculum revision process and the opinions of professors are not given any more priority than other voices on the committees. In terms of naming professors who are involved in the process, we feel that that is up to individuals to decide to share on their own, as we have done. Alberta Education has rightly protected the names of teachers on the committees—teachers who have volunteered their time out of a desire to serve the province and their students.
Professors are volunteers too and may well wish their names to be public but are respecting Alberta Education’s process. Calls to “name names” smack of conspiracy-theory thinking and McCarthyism.
Myth No. 3: Curriculum documents prescribe how to teach
Curriculum documents prescribe to teachers and schools what to teach, and in the case of social studies, this includes information on substantive concepts (such as democracy, Confederation, and the history of Alberta and Canada) and procedural concepts (such as how historians learn about the past). Curricula do not dictate to teachers how to teach, but they do clearly—and appropriately—give broad direction, for example, that social studies instruction should be organized around issues to be investigated and discussed.
These suggestions are based on decades of research with teachers and in classrooms on what works in helping students develop sophisticated understandings of the world. Still, teachers maintain complete professional authority to decide which teaching methods and activities are best for their students. Teachers are highly trained professionals who can, and do, shape their teaching using a range of methods and activities including direct instruction, inquiry-based learning, and individual and group work, to name a few, to meet their professional obligations and the needs of their students.
Although we are dismayed that these myths have persisted for several months, we are happy that the public is so involved and invested in the curriculum-development process in Alberta. This is as it should be, and public debate is important. It is equally important that this debate is grounded in facts, not myths.
Carla Peck is associate professor and Lindsay Gibson is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education.
This op-ed originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal.