The Curriculum

 

Core Components

The structure of the Level Three Social Sciences curriculum includes six core components developed through three required units of study. 

 

The six core components to be integrated within all units are:

  1. History
  2. Power and Authority
  3. Current Events
  4. Aboriginal Content and Perspectives
  5. Multicultural Perspectives
  6. Sense of Place

The core components represent a lens to look through, as each unit is prepared.  The intention is for instructors to consciously consider and check that each component is represented in each unit.

This means that in each of the units of study there will be historical information presented; some consideration of the impact of power and authority relationships; an addition of relevant current events; a presentation of Aboriginal content and perspectives; a presentation of multicultural perspectives; and an opportunity to create a sense of place.

 

1. History

History is the branch of knowledge that deals with significant past events.  Learning about history can help us understand the present and, perhaps, prepare for the future.  It can also help us understand the complexity of things that happen around us every day.  History does not provide all the answers, but studying history can help us ask the right questions.

Examining history becomes a useful exercise for learners who are beginning to develop critical reading/thinking/reflecting skills.  Who determines what becomes “history”?  Who determines what are “significant past events”?  Whose version is told?  Whose dominates? 

History is interpreted through the experiences, beliefs, values, and perspectives of the writer or through a particular group’s vision of the past and the way they see past events.  For example, the history of women (herstory) has generally been omitted from written histories.  Eurocentric, male-dominated, subjective, and biased approaches to writing history have shaped the thinking of many modern institutions and establishments with which we regularly interact, including schools and curriculum.  One of the problems with “official” national (e.g., Canadian) history is that it cannot legitimately claim to be the history of a nation and all the peoples who are a part of that nation and yet it tries to do just that.

Regarding school curricula, Connell (1993) writes:

The mainstream curriculum is hegemonic in schools in the sense that (a) it marginalizes other ways of organizing knowledge, (b) it is integrated with the structure of power in educational institutions, and (c) it occupies the high cultural ground, defining most people’s common-sense views of what learning ought to be…. The mainstream curriculum is hegemonic in the society at large in that it is part of the cultural and practical underpinning of the ascendancy of particular social groups – capitalists and professionals, men, Anglos (p. 38).

 

Banks (1993) also supports the belief that knowledge is socially constructed and reflects human interests, values, and actions.

The knowledge that people create is heavily influenced by their interpretations of their experiences and their positions within particular social, economic, and political systems and structures of a society…. Often researchers themselves are unaware of how their personal experiences and positions within society influence the knowledge they produce.  Most mainstream historians were unaware of how their regional and cultural biases influence their interpretation of [certain historical events] … until … challenged (p.5).

Banks (1993) goes on to note:

An important tenet of mainstream academic knowledge is that it is neutral, objective, and was uninfluenced by human interests and values…. [Conversely], transformative academic scholars assume that knowledge is not neutral but is influenced by human interests, that all knowledge reflects the power and social relationships within society, and that an important purpose of knowledge construction is to help people improve society (p.9).

Whenever we study history, it is important to use a wide variety of sources.  Often, these sources will contradict each other, and the different perspectives become part of the challenge of making sense of the historical record.  Equally important in this process is the identification of what is left untold in official histories.

Writing and thinking about history are often done in two parts.  The first part, the "rational" part, is the gathering of information, the facts.  There are many potential sources for this: archaeological and anthropological sources such as the pictographs at Wanuskewin; archives; treaty documents; books; encyclopaedias; almanacs; newspapers; diaries; written and oral stories; public records; and many more.  Traditionally, most records were in hard copy print, but electronic media now allows access to audio and video recordings of interviews and documentary films.  The Internet is also a valuable source of information.

 

Once facts have been collected, they need to be synthesized.  This second part is often called interpretation.  How reliable is our information?  Do our sources conflict with one another?  What is the bias or point of view of the writer?  What perspective is he writing from?  This is the most difficult part, but it's also the creative part, the part that brings history to life and makes it much more than an endless list of names, places, and dates.

 

There are many ways to look at history, and we all have our own unique perspective when studying and interpreting it.  What is critical is to recognize that knowledge is not neutral and to strive to find ways to deconstruct the notion of “objective” knowledge and history.

Steckley (2001) provides the following example about the writing of history: If Aboriginal people began living on the Plains 11,500 years ago, and Europeans first saw the Canadian Plains less than 300 years ago, this means that more than 97% of Plains history is Aboriginal history alone.  Imagine a textbook with ten chapters, with each chapter portraying an equal part of that history.  The first nine chapters would be devoted to Aboriginal history, as would more than 70% of the final chapter.”  (p. 91)

However, even Steckley’s well-intentioned example can be deconstructed by understanding that most First Nations do not consider time in this linear Western fashion.  Instead, First Nations consider themselves indigenous to this land, meaning that they have been here since time immemorial.  As such, a history book like the one proposed above would make no sense, because the linear quality of time is not relevant to the concept of being indigenous to a place.  This example shows how a seemingly simple concept like writing inclusive history may have a variety of interpretations and yet how easy it is to accept as “common sense” an explanation contextualized within a Eurocentric worldview. 

 

2. Power and Authority

Embedded within the fabric of Canadian social relations are the workings of power and authority.  Think of relationships with children, teachers, parents, siblings, relatives, bosses, and friends.  When one of these people presents a position that differs from your thinking, or when someone asks you to do something that you disagree with, your response may have to do with the power and authority embedded within that relationship.  Responses of defiance, inquiry, silence, challenge, compliance, or deference may well depend on yours or others’ power and authority.

Knowledge, social position, and place affect how power and authority circulate among individuals and groups.  Constructs of difference (age, race, gender, socio-economic class, religion), genres of discourse (government, religious, educated) and characteristics of site (workplace, prison, home, hospital, church, school) contribute to divisions in power and authority. Meseum of Broadcast Communications - ANITA HILL-CLARENCE THOMAS HEARINGS
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The idea of hegemony explains how power is maintained, not only through coercion, but also through the voluntary consent of those who are dominated or oppressed.  MacLaren (as cited in Boler & Zembylas, 2003) defines hegemony as 

The maintenance of dominance not by the sheer exercise of force but primarily through consensual social practices, social forms, and social structures produced in specific sites such as the church, the state, the school, the mass media, the political system, and the family (p. 111).

Hegemony describes how a dominant group can sustain a particular way of seeing social reality in such a successful manner that even those who are disempowered by it accept its view as common sense, as part of the natural order.

Understanding the concept of hegemony helps us to see power as relational and dynamic, involving a complex web of relationships in which we all participate, rather than as something simply imposed on us or by us.  In this sense, power exists not simply by a person or group imposing its will on another person or group, but rather as an ongoing system that is perpetuated through possibly well-intentioned people acting as agents of oppression, usually unconsciously, just by living their daily lives.

Hegemony is also maintained through discourse.  “Discourse” includes ideas, theories, language, images, and texts that operate to entrench networks of social and political control.  Foucault (1980) calls this type of hegemony “regimes of truth” (p. 46).  “Regimes of truth operate to legitimize what can be said, who has the authority to speak, and what is sanctioned as true” (p. 46).  For example, until women began speaking about spousal abuse, a husband’s authority to physically control his wife often went unchallenged.  The power he maintained over his wife was rendered invisible through the language of family privacy and the assumptions about sexual consent in marriage.  Hegemony can explain how power and authority determines what are seen as acceptable social behaviours, values, and beliefs.

As people internalize attitudes and roles that support and reinforce systems of domination without question or challenge, oppression is normalized in everyday life.  Experts in this area of social theory suggest that change can only occur when we understand that we all play a role in oppression.  All people, including both those who are privileged in the hierarchy of oppression, as well as the targets that become victimized and penalized, play a role in maintaining oppression.

By examining power structures, learners and instructors together can begin to see how we are all players in hegemonic constructions.  This provides for critical reflective work.  However, it is not enough to identify the power relations and where each of us stands in them; instructors and learners also need to analyze the risk factors involved in challenging and interrupting systems of power. 

 

3. Current Events

An important element of any social sciences course is a commitment to an analysis of current events.  Current events include those local, national, and international developments that are of significance to an understanding of our world and that illustrate important social science concepts.

The inclusion of current events in social science instruction helps to make topics more relevant to learners’ lives and to their goals.  Current events can also be used to develop Generic Skills such as analyzing information for accuracy, bias, and usefulness.

In a democratic society, knowledge of current events helps to develop citizenship.  By being informed, responsible participation in public life is more likely.

Current events instruction helps to further explore or reinforce previously taught material in a variety of subject areas.  While the analysis of these events can take place in environments other than the social sciences classroom, the social sciences curriculum is a natural place for this instruction.

 

4. Aboriginal Content and Perspectives

Currently, people in Canada are dealing with issues such as racism, poverty, unemployment, treaty rights, and land claims.  Together, learners and instructors can explore a variety of different perspectives on these issues in order to develop their understandings.

Aboriginal people are the original inhabitants of North America and make up a significant part of the population.  A history of colonialism and oppression has been the birthright of Aboriginal people.  Yet, Aboriginal people do not carry this history alone, because it is as much theirs as it is non-Aboriginal Canadian’s legacy.  As such, it is not only important for Aboriginal students to consider and learn about Aboriginal perspectives, it is important for non-Aboriginal people as well.  This reality needs to be reflected in the content and the perspectives that are presented and discussed in the classroom.  We need to consider what Aboriginal experiences and knowledge need to be included and what would be helpful for all learners to know and understand.

There are challenges facing Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations in Saskatchewan and Canada.  Finding solutions requires the ability to learn about each other, addressing misconceptions, assumptions, and biases, to see more than one point of view, and to critically examine and analyze current issues in relation to past events.

 

5. Multicultural Perspectives

Exposure to a variety of perspectives and worldviews provides opportunities for learners to broaden their understandings of various segments of our society and of historical and current events.

Considering multicultural perspectives in social sciences is important because, as Esses and Gardner (1996) note,

The ethnic composition of Canada is becoming increasingly diverse.  Of particular importance is the rise in the proportion of visible minorities, who…may be especially likely to be the targets of prejudice and discrimination (Moreau, 1991, see also Berry & Kalin, 1995) (p. 4).

Canada prides itself on being a multicultural country.  Canada’s official policy of multiculturalism was first introduced in 1971 and updated extensively in 1988 with the passing of the "Act for the Preservation and Enhancement of Multiculturalism in Canada.”  Regarding the official policy of multiculturalism in Canada, Esses and Gardner (1996) note,

The ideal of multiculturalism in Canada poses two desirable outcomes: the survival of ethnic origin groups and their cultures, along with tolerance of this diversity and an absence of prejudice toward ethnic minorities (Weinfeld, 1994) (p. 10). 

Developing an “absence of prejudice” cannot be assumed to be an easy or straightforward process, but is one that the social sciences can facilitate.  Learners in social sciences are asked to examine how they form their opinions and perspectives.  Developing skills in critical reflection requires that learners examine their own ways of thinking as the first step toward challenging quick assumptions or firmly held biases.

 

6. Sense of Place

A “place” can be defined as a setting, a locale, or a community.  Often it is a concept related to geography where the inter-connectedness between the land and the people is examined.  Questions related to this connection are asked – what are the physical features of the region?  How has the physical nature of the land influenced the culture of the people?  How does it impact the ways people make a living?  – and so on.

The use of the term “sense of place” in this curriculum guide both encompasses these geographical concepts and goes beyond them.  Having a sense of place is about knowing where one is - emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  It is about exploring, knowing, or coming to terms with our own personal terrain of consciousness, our place in the universe.  schoolnet.ca - aboriginal: The Plains Cree

Having a sense of belonging or kinship is important for all people, young or old.  Developing a strong ‘sense of place’ helps learners begin to see themselves as products of history, participants in current events, and agents of social change.

An evolution of ‘sense of place’ will occur naturally in the social sciences through discussions about history, culture, identity, current events, systems of governance, rights and responsibilities, power and authority, leadership and role models, racism, sexism, and other topics that involve human interaction.

Social norms that are subtly and not so subtly entrenched in our organizations and institutions condition us to define places, set boundaries within places, and even put places off limits for some people.  Divisions are usually defined by differences in age, race, gender, socio-economic class, and religion.  Having a sense of place, for some, means examining difference and breaking down boundaries.

Personal places, communal places, and sacred places provide the venues for experiencing life.  Being in a place implies participation, involvement, and membership.  Interaction and intimacy with places and having the ability to associate places with safety, kinship, and success provides the path to understanding identity and belonging within a culture.