|Calendar Description: An examination of such factors as the economy, the state, social class, gender, ethnicity, subcultural membership, ideology and the home environment in relation to schooling.
Introduction to Instructor and Classmates
Orientation: Review Course Outline
- Course Goals
- Course Policies
Introduction: Why An Issues Course?
- The Importance of Reflective Practice / Autonomous Professional
- The Importance of Defining Issues for Oneself
- The Importance of Placing Issues in a Larger Context
Example: Staying Cool
- Questions to Guide Inquiry
- Social Class
Runté's Five Models of Failure (and why the sociology of education—stopped)
- The Economy
- How does the [Alberta] economy effect [Alberta] classrooms (and your future career?)
- Is the primary role of schooling to prepare graduates for the workforce? Whose needs should be given priority: the economy's need for particular types of skills; or the individual's need to maximize their particular potential? E.g., if we know there are only going to be x number of teaching jobs in 2020, should we turn the rest of you away from the Education faculty? Isn't training more graduates then there are jobs a waste of time and public money?
- If schools are to prepare kids for the future, what will that future look like, and are we doing a good job of preparing graduates for it?
In the 1960s, researchers documented gender stereotyping, bias, and discrimination in textbooks, curricular materials, teacher behaviour, peer expectations, and teacher career expectations, and so on.
- Sixty years later, is gender still an appropriate topic for a "current issues" course, or have we already said everything that needs to be said? What are the current issues around gender? What new gender issues are coming to Alberta schools that teachers should be watching for?
- How does gender effect your interactions day to day in the classroom of 2020?
- Are there still gender-related barriers to teaching/school administrative careers in Alberta?
- Jason Kenney rejected his United Conservative Party's motion that parents be informed when their child joined a gay-straight alliance at school. What does this say about parent rights; student privacy rights; public expectation of schools and teachers; and the status of these types of issues in Alberta today?
Ethnicity (Racism & Cultural Issues)
Canadians have slowly come to recognize that residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, and similar policies were racist, destructive, and horribly wrong.
- What can current schools do to help with the reconciliation process? Or is that not any part of the school's job?
- What can we do to make sure our current schooling policies and practices aren't just as bad—the same attempt to assimilate First Nation students into 'mainstream culture'—only dressed up in more politically correct language? Will the PSII instructors of 2060 be similarly teaching about the horrible outcomes of our 2020 "good intentions"?
- Other jurisdictions (e.g., Toronto) have developed explicitly anti-racist courses and programs. Have you encountered anti-racist education in your teacher preparation? Does Alberta have or need anti-racist education?
Similarly, the ethnic composition of Alberta is rapidly changing as immigration brings much greater diversity into once homogeneous communities like Lethbridge. Canada prides itself on its commitment to multicultrualism, and Alberta Education has always been a leader in mulitcultral schooling, with bilingual instruction currently available in over 23 different languages/cultures.
- How can classroom teachers successfully integrate ESL, culturally different, and/or traumatized refugee students into their classrooms? How prepared are you to deal with immigrant cultures, experiences?
Video: What you sound like to your ESL students: classic music video by Italian pop singer, Adriano Celentano, depicts what American English sounds like to him.
- What in the education faculty has prepared you to recognize the changing demographics of Alberta classrooms or to understand the many other cultures that are now showing up in your classroom? What should we be doing?
- Is the role of school to assimilate immigrants into English Canadian culture? How is the urge to assimilate compatible with the Canadian value of promoting multiculturalism? American schools make no bones about assimilating immigrants. Are Alberta schools really any different? Should they be?
- Classroom/School management: Students naturally group together with others like themselves. As tweens and teens search for identity, they quickly divide themselves into different, often competing subscultures. How much does it matter that kids group themselves into different subcultures? Should teachers seek to force connections across these divisions when setting up group work? Appreciate and accommodate existing friendships and alliances that students are already comfortable with? Utilize natural rivalries to encourage academic competition?
- The impact of divergent media: When your instructor was growing up, there was only one TV station, so everyone was watching the same Ed Sullivan show Sunday night and had something in common to talk about Monday morning. In 2020, those consensus-building commonalities are rapidly disappearing. Those two kids in the front row may live next door physically, but they may have very different referent groups: with a virtually unlimited choice of viewing via the internet, what they are watching, learning, thinking outside of class may have nothing in common at all. (The current concerns over fakenews circulated via Facebook is only the most recent and clearest example of how individuals can develop distinct reference groups isolated from the mainstream and thus illustrate the lack of a public consensus.) It's not just that your immigrant student is still watching the news from the old country, rather than the local news, it's that your Trekkie watching the Space channel has nothing in common with the jock watching TSN. Are Trekkies really that different from (incompatible with) Jocks?
- Kid culture: How connected are you to kid culture? What do you know about Aphmau, Logan Paul, MatPat, or fanfiction? Are you watching what your eight-year- old or fourteen-year-olds are watching and reading? Do you listen to the same music? How best can the classroom teacher navigate the complexities of competing gangs, fashions, music, etc?
Where is the line between education and indoctrination?
- Are our textbooks and curriculum resources biased? Cultural hegemony is the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling elite, who impose their worldview on everybody else through the schools, media, and laws so that their view becomes "common sense": the universally dominant ideology that justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural, inevitable, perpetual, and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that primarily benefit only the ruling elite. Does our curriculum benefit some groups and disadvantage others by pushing assumptions about what's normal?
- Are there some values that all Canadians can agree upon that should be inculcated in all students (e.g., "democracy", "citizenship", "equality", "non-violence", etc.)? Or should we strive for a 'values free' curriculum, where every culture's views are equally valid?
- Who decides what is part of the curriculum? Who should decide? Should shop classes, for example, focus on shop skills, shop safety, and how to apply for jobs or should they also include modules on the role of unions and collective action? Should the high school curriculum include calculus (which is used on a daily basis by, say, .001 percent of the population), or something more universal, like how to do the household budget or raise children or how to manage social media? Do governments and lobbyists respond to every new crisis by asking the schools to include a 'prevention module' on that topic? Is it the school's job to respond to obesity, anorexia, opioids, #metoo, climate change, pipelines? Who decides which topics get picked up as mandatory curriculum, and which are never mentioned?
- The informal or hidden curriculum is also a big part of teaching. What values do Alberta schools really teach? Rule-following or critical thinking? Punctuality or committed engagement? What does the arrangements of desks in a classroom suggest about our teaching about hierarchy vs equality? When the teacher's values conflict with those of the parents, who should get the last word?
- Ability grouping is standard practice in many Alberta schools, but research is clear that this does not facilitate learning and is in fact often quite harmful to both high and low ability kids. So why does the practice persist? Is just because it makes life easier for teachers? Or does it serve an ideological purpose?
For as long as there has been an Alberta there have been separate schools for Catholic and Protestants; there also separate Jewish, Moslem, and a variety of private Christian schools, as well as various options for private schooling for those who wish to opt out of the public system.
- Is this separation of students by religion still necessary in an increasingly secular age?
- Does the provision for separate schools promote tolerance or division?
Aside from the social class (cultural capital) issues already raised by your instructor, the home environment has a significant impact on the child in your classroom, such as the disruption of divorce or the death of a relative. Understanding the student's life outside of school is fundamental to understanding their behaviour within the classroom.
- There are differences in parenting styles—from the Tiger mom who dictates the answers to the homework assignment; helicopter parents who hover constantly to wrap their child in a cocoon; to parents raising 'free range children'. How does a classroom teacher reconcile competing parental expectations for their children, and therefore their child's teacher?
- Many teachers appear to view parents as 'the enemy', a threat to be controlled and protected against. Others view parents as a resource to whom homework and behavioral issues can be delegated. Still others view parents as a labour pool that can be tapped to volunteer in the classroom. What in your teacher education has prepared you to deal with parents and guardians?
An emergent topic not anticipated by the calendar description
The current calendar description was written in 1991, so although it covers many of the fundamental "big issues" facing schools today, it may be missing something important. Since this course is about defining the issues for oneself, are there other social issues you would like to address?
Given the logistical difficulties of teaching the course in a compressed semester, there is no time in the course for students to research and propose alternative topics and have the instructor review them for course 'fit' prior to presentation. However, since this course outline is available to you upon registration—up to a month in advance of the course—if you would like to propose a topic for yourself or for the course prior to the beginning of class, then it may be possible to incorporate it into this course outline prior to July 9th, when the course officially opens. If you are interested in proposing a different topic, email your instructor prior to July 1st.
Last updated June, 2018.