Shaping an education for the modern world: a history of the Alberta social studies curriculum, 1905 to 1965

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This dissertation examines the evolution of the Alberta history and social studies curricula from 1905 to 1965. It treats school curriculum as an artifact of public thought, as an expression of a society's understanding of itself and its aspirations. An analysis of the history and social studies curricula, therefore, represents an attempt to describe how Albertans understood themselves as a society and as citizens of Canada. From 1905 to 1935 Alberta students studied British and Canadian history. The curriculum was determined by the intellectual elite of the universities, who were guided by their understanding of the need for citizens of "disciplined intelligence." Before World War One, the curriculum written by this elite therefore emphasized virtue and good character. It tried to create students who would put their talents in the service of society. The elite believed that students of good character could improve society and that a proper grounding in the lessons of history would demonstrate the value of tradition as well as the importance of progress. After World War One, the urgency for social improvement increased and the elite incorporated more explicit messages about the need for cooperation and conformity in the curriculum. Students were encouraged to be good citizens. The history curriculum before 1935 reflected the belief that hope and the future direction of society would come out of an understanding of the past. In the 1935 the new educationalists in the Department of Education abandoned the teaching of history and introduced a progressive curriculum. The Enterprise and the social studies were interdisciplinary programmes designed to equip students for the task of social reconstruction. Gone was the belief that the past held positive lessons for the present. The progressive revision embodied the belief that that history was a catalogue of human failure; the educationalists argued that only a grounding in the social sciences could prepare students to improve society. The confidence in social planning, indeed social engineering, remained in the curriculum in the 1950s and 1960s. But the Cold War seemed to illustrate the fragility of democracy, the "way of life" progressive educators sought so ardently to defend. The 1950s and early 1960s were prosperous times for Albertans, so the focus of the curriculum became preparing students to share in that prosperity. Educators in this period believed that the best defence for democracy was economic opportunity. The ethos of Alberta's history and social studies curricula has therefore evolved: from an education for good character to preparation for citizenship; from a commitment to social activism to preparation for work. What was abandoned through this evolution was any meaningful inquiry into the nature of the past. A coherent study of the past for its own sake was lost. Students therefore were unable to discover their place in their community and a sense of themselves grounded in an intelligent understanding of their history.
Bibliography: p. 474-490.
von Heyking, A. J. (1996). Shaping an education for the modern world: a history of the Alberta social studies curriculum, 1905 to 1965 (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from doi:10.11575/PRISM/14568