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Educational Activism
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Does the elementary curriculum support activism?

Antonino Giambrone, Teacher, Toronto DSB

By its very nature, the elementary curriculum generally outlines what knowledge students must have, and not necessarily what they should do with the knowledge. Thus, the curriculum provides a set of topics and relevant expectations that students are be taught about in order to “participate and compete in a global economy” (p.2 of all curriculum documents).

This does not necessarily mean that the curriculum does not support activism. It does get mentioned as a goal in the Social Studies, History, and Geography curriculum: students should be able to “relate and apply knowledge acquired through social studies and the study of history and geography to the world outside the classroom” (p. 3). Does this imply activism? It is definitely not overt. Simply making connections to the outside world is not activism in and of itself. Activism is a way to make those connections, and those connections can lead to activism – the relationship is iterative.

According to the Language curriculum document, successful language learners “use language to interact and connect with individuals and communities, for personal growth, and for active participation as world citizens” (p.4). This is a more outright support for activism (although “participation” is different from acting for change), and similar statements can be found in the recent Science and Technology curriculum with respect to the environment. Overall, the recently revised curriculum documents more overtly support activism than the earlier versions.

I strongly believe that educators have the power to implement activist approaches focused on justice, despite the relative silence of the mandated curriculum. Justice-based activism cannot solely take the form of teaching about bits of knowledge or topics, where issues are linearly examined and learned about, and then left for others to address. Justice-based activism must teach for justice – that is, with the explicit goal of action. This goal of action, beyond that of “competing in a global economy”, is what should be made much more explicit within the elementary curriculum.

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