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Apathy has been on my mind recently. It has been highlighted in my mind by the current federal election that we are having in Canada. There has been a lot of talk about how disconnected young people are from our leaders. To make a long story short this has got me wondering to what extent this is my problem, or even to what extent am I responsible. As a social studies teacher for the last ten years I have worked with a large number of very dedicated colleagues and one of our fervent hopes has been to produce active, thriving, functioning citizens. When you look at the Alberta Program of Studies for Social Studies it says: “Social studies provides opportunities for students to develop the attitudes, skills and knowledge that will enable them to become engaged, active, informed and responsible citizens.” It has said roughly the same thing for quite a while, I would guess right around 35 years. Yet in those 35 years there is no evidence whatsoever that more of students are actually becoming engaged, active, informed and responsible citizens. I want my students to become all these things, and I am sure that some of them have become that, but I question whether many are. So if that’s the case, why? What are we doing?
The answer of course is much bigger than I could possibly discuss in one blog post, but here’s an observation I noted over the last couple of days. I have several students who are actually quote interested in knowing details about the current election and how government functions in general. They have a lot of questions about it. They may have been taught in the past how it works, but we all know the difference between teaching and learning can be pretty large sometimes, and they are hungry for answers. How many times though in our race to tackle the ‘material’ that we feel we need to cover that we rush through these questions without really answering much. I asked my students to complete the CBC vote compass and got a whole lot of questions about issues which are of interest to Canadians, yet at the same time I felt I couldn’t possibly explore the issues adequately. Of course I can answer their questions, but how long will that answer stick with them. I am convinced that as a social studies teacher I am missing something.
I also don’t think there’s one answer. I found this wonderful video today which highlighted some societal issues and practices (which can in many cases be applied to schools) that certainly help play a role. However if I was presenting this video I might add that we are not being very successful in school in getting students to be engaged. We probably would not be able to engage all students in society, but, at least from a social studies teacher’s perspective, we are missing something really important.
So yes it is my problem, both as a social studies teacher and a member of society.