A score for social studies

The Ontario Ministry of Education will introduce five new social sciences and humanities courses into the high school curriculum starting September 2011.

The courses include gender studies, world cultures, human dynamics, and separate equity studies classes for the college/university and workplace tracks. The new courses will be available to Grade 11 and 12 students in Ontario, and will be offered as electives.

The Ministry’s initiative in launching a new group of relevant social science courses is laudable. It’s easy for high school students to be unfamiliar with topics like gender issues when these subjects aren’t part of the curriculum, and introducing courses that focus on social issues will raise younger students’ exposure to these topics.

Offering the new social science courses to high school students will also mean this group is more aware of course options in gender or cultural studies when they arrive at university.

One limitation of introducing the courses as optional electives is it’s unlikely their message will get to students who need to hear it most. Many students opting to take these courses are likely already aware of, or involved with, the related issues.

Students who would benefit most from instruction in gender, equity and cultural studies are those less aware of issues in the field—and those less likely to choose a course in this area.

Eventually, courses like the ones the Ministry plans to introduce next fall should be mandatory in the high school curriculum.

The perception that programs like gender studies are not “real” academic subjects is still surprisingly prevalent, and signals the urgency of the need for related high school courses.

Another concern is finding qualified teachers to instruct the new courses, as the interdisciplinary material lies outside the bounds of most conventional “teachables.” Gender studies is not currently considered a “teachable” subject for students in the Concurrent Education program at Queen’s, but it is no less valuable than learning subjects like French or chemistry.

The Ministry’s move is an important acknowledgment of the growing field of equity studies, and is likely to produce more informed high school graduates sensitive to current social issues.

High school students should recognize that gender and cultural studies are about more than feminism, and they should avoid the temptation to consider the new electives bird courses. The innovative, interdisciplinary course offerings have a lot to teach if Ontario’s students are willing to learn.

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