|Frontier School Division
Social Studies/Native Studies (SS/NS) Department
|Return to Homepage|
This section of the Teachers' Zone highlights educational news that may be of interest to teachers in Frontier School Division.
In a letter entitled “Population growth a threat,” that was printed in the Winnipeg Free Press, 26 March 2007, A10, teacher Dave Huebert of Winnipeg, expressed his bafflement at the “tone of recent articles decrying Winnipeg’s slow population growth,” and argued that the “continuing and exponential increase in population” was the “most serious environmental challenge facing the world today.” In another letter on March 27, Dougald Lamont took issue with Huebert and the advice he had given to his students to have “few or no” children. In Lamont’s view, this promoted “the eco-friendly idea that being an evolutionary dead end is something to be proud of,” that humans were “a kind of pest, like mosquitoes, whose population should be controlled,” and that Winnipeg’s stagnant population growth was a positive accomplishment.
Lamont certainly had a point, but he did not go far enough. Huebert actually told his students “to have fewer children, to drive as little as possible, and to live in a small, energy-efficient home,” apparently in response to their query about “the three most environmentally sound choices” they could make in their lives. As an educator, Huebert’s job is to stimulate critical thinking, not to engage in social engineering. In any case, such short-sighted advice has already resulted in serious population decline all across Canada that would be an even greater crisis except for a vigorous immigration policy. For many people, driving “as little as possible” isn’t practical, especially in a country as vast as ours. The suggestion that “small, energy-efficient homes” are a better choice than big, energy-consuming homes is a subjective opinion that is laden with assumptions about values and consumption that are not universally shared.
Huebert would have been doing a better job, if he had encouraged his students to look at world population growth and energy conservation from various points of view. Instead he jumped on the latest band wagon and hauled all his students along with him. Unfortunately, there is too much of this going on in the classrooms of North America. Students deserve better.
Social Studies and History teachers need to encourage open-ended inquiry, so that students learn the skills to find answers for themselves rather than listen to an endless litany of facts, delivered lecture-style, for regurgitation on the next term paper or examination. However, there are often not-so-subtle forces out there that encourage teachers to bias or stifle an inquiry approach. The Province of Ontario, for instance, has a new Grade 10 Science curriculum in draft form that would change the unit on weather to “climate change,” defined as a problem largely caused by people that needs to be addressed immediately. In fact, this position is challenged by reputable scientists, who argue that climate controls are not well understood and that scientific investigation of the causes of climate change has been contaminated by politics. Contentious issues like climate change lend themselves to investigation and analysis from many different perspectives, but this may not happen in Ontario classrooms when the draft curriculum becomes official. The danger is this. Instead of seeing climate change as an opportunity to hone students’ thinking skills by a thorough analysis of the various scientific arguments about it, educators may be tempted to privilege the most popular interpretation at the moment and indoctrinate their students to adopt it as their own. A much better approach is to foster pedagogy that stimulates critical thinking. Such a course can produce some astonishing results. A good example is a paper written by 15-year old Kristen Byrnes of Portland, Maine, who decided after four months of research that global warming and politics don’t mix very well, and that the Sun, not Man, is the main force in global warming. Such thoughtful dissidence is impossible unless teachers give their students the freedom to look at controversial issues from more than the most popular or accepted point of view. Kirsten seems to have had that option.
It is crucial to the health of our society that we produce more Kirstens, future citizens whose critical thinking skills have been developed in dynamic classrooms where interesting and often controversial issues are the subject matter. Unfortunately, curricula like that proposed in Ontario discourage teachers from promoting this kind of student engagement. The problem is not just confined to Canada either. Recently, a concern was raised in Great Britain that history teachers were avoiding some issues out of fear of “political correctness.” The Historical Association, which promotes the study and teaching of history, commissioned a study by England’s Department for Education and Skills to investigate the teaching of “emotive and controversial” history in primary and secondary school. It found that “teachers and schools avoid this kind of history for a variety of reasons, some of which are well-intentioned,” and that “in particular settings, teachers of history are unwilling to challenge highly contentious or charged versions of history in which pupils are steeped at home, in their community or in a place of worship.” For example, some teachers glossed over or avoided the Holocaust and the Crusades because of fear of offending their Muslim students, while others were wary of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the History of Israel because certain Christian parents objected to the way it was being taught. Reacting to this discovery, Chris McGovern, a history education advisor to the former Tory government, wrote:
He is absolutely right. Otherwise, as the researchers pointed out, lessons become “bland, simplistic, and unproblematic,” which is a perfect recipe for passivity and boredom. It is also the recipe for dull, ill-informed, and unimaginative students, the kind that never confront their own or other people’s assumptions because they have never been placed in a position where they have to do so. Social Studies or History teachers who fail to address this problem should reconsider whether they are doing the job they were hired to do. Students need to be able to evaluate ideas to see if they stand up in the real world. It is the only way they can free themselves from the shackles of false beliefs and ideologies as well as indoctrination by manipulative teachers, politicians, and scam artists that they will meet throughout life.
11 June 2007
7 May 2007
19 May 2007
Click on the footnote number to return to the text:
Last updated: July 16, 2010