New courses ‘needed for a long time’

Ministry of Education introduces five new social sciences and humanities courses in Ontario high schools

Concurrent Education Students’ Association Communications Director Vanessa Powell Carvell says her major, gender studies, isn’t considered a teachable subject.
Concurrent Education Students’ Association Communications Director Vanessa Powell Carvell says her major, gender studies, isn’t considered a teachable subject.

The Ontario Ministry of Education’s new high-school gender studies course is a positive development, but one that needs to be implemented carefully, some students and faculty say.

The ministry announced last week it’s introducing five new courses, one of which is gender studies, in the social sciences and humanities beginning in high schools in September 2011.

The other four are world cultures, a college/university-track course in equity studies, a workplace-track course in equity studies and human dynamics.

“The ministry is responsible for establishing curriculum policy,” Ministry of Education spokesperson Patricia MacNeil told the Journal via e-mail. “School boards/schools are responsible to offer programs meeting the needs of those as best for their students.”

MacNeil said the courses won’t be mandatory, adding that they are part of the ministry’s commitment to removing systemic barriers to student achievement.

Vanessa Powell Cavell, Concurrent Education Students’ Association (CESA) communications director and ConEd ’11, said she thinks the new courses, especially gender studies, are a good step for Ontario’s secondary school system.

“I think it’s been needed for a long time,” she said.

Powell Cavell said she’s a gender studies—formerly women’s studies—major, but she can’t teach gender studies in the intermediate/senior stream because it isn’t considered a teachable subject.

Education students in the intermediate/senior stream choose two subjects to teach called “teachables.” Powell Cavell said she’s in the primary/junior stream for teaching. Students in the primary/junior stream don’t need to choose teachables.

She said if gender studies had been a teachable subject when she chose it as her major, she would have considered going into the intermediate/senior stream to teach high school.

“If it were an option, I would have considered it,” she said, adding that she chose the primary/junior stream because she enjoys working with young children. “I can use what I’ve learned in gender studies to incorporate all of that into my classroom.”

Powell Cavell said she thinks having a gender studies course in high school is a good idea because although gender studies programs can be found in most postsecondary institutions, not all students pursue higher education.

“Right now it’s a very privileged thing to be able to learn about my rights as a woman,” she said.

Education professor Daniel Lalonde said he thinks the high school gender studies course will encourage more students to take gender-related courses in university.

Although he thinks the new social sciences courses are important, he said he would rather see some of the issues addressed in existing courses.

“I think it would be best if gender studies were implemented across the curriculum, such as anti-racism, rather than it being its own course,” he said.

Michael Brinkworth, CESA president and ConEd ’10, said he thinks the education program at Queen’s will need to be modified to prepare students to teach the new courses.

“Right now, gender studies isn’t a teachable. … This would be the kind of course that would be taught by a teacher that wouldn’t necessarily have their focus in this area,” Brinkworth said.

“Hypothetically, I could be asked to teach this course in the future,” he said, adding that he’s in the intermediate/senior stream preparing to teach math and chemistry.

Brinkworth said he thinks the faculty of education should offer additional courses to integrate more social sciences issues into mandatory courses education students need to take.

“If there was something like that where it was an additional course or series of courses, that would enable teachers to feel comfortable with this sort of subject matter because it’s quite different from other subject matters,” he said. “It would just be important to emphasize that the teacher set up a safe learning environment because some of these issues can become quite controversial.”

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