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Arthur, Alison Jane. “History Education in Nova Scotia: Purpose and Practice.” MEd thesis, Acadia University, 2005.




The purpose of this thesis is to examine the state of history education in southwestern Nova Scotia. There, history courses are being remodeled to fit the learning outcomes model where students must be able to demonstrate certain learning outcomes as designated by the provincial curriculum. Does this rigidity seriously reduce the teacher’s freedom and flexibility in how he or she chooses to conduct history education? Does history lack status compared to other disciplines in the schools and the educational community at large? Is there a common understanding shared by the province, the school board, the teachers, and their students about the value of teaching history? And, in a larger sense, what is the purpose of teaching history?
The research approach involved two main strategies: participant interviews and a scholarly review of the applicable literature. All student and teacher interview participants were from schools that serve rural areas, as the research focuses on the special circumstances of small rural schools as opposed to larger urban educational settings. The courses examined were Global History and the newly developed set of courses that fulfill the Canadian history graduation requirement. Eleven history teachers in southwestern Nova Scotia were interviewed, approximately fifty per cent of history teachers in that region. Also interviewed were 17 senior high school history students (11 females and 6 males) from a rural high school with an enrollment of approximately 550 students in grades 7 to 12. Two curriculum officials, one at the board level and one from the Nova Scotia Department of Education, were also interviewed.
This study finds that the province of Nova Scotia has a well constructed history curriculum. Even with the looming threat of standardized testing, the study found that the curriculum was progressive in its approach, that it allowed a great deal of flexibility for teachers, and that it gave importance to history education. At the classroom level, however, the study found that history education lacked direction and apparent purpose. Many teachers were unclear about the purpose and importance of their craft and as a result, their students were also unclear about the purpose of studying history. Teachers seemed focused on teaching content and failed to see that there is no purpose in such teaching if content is divorced from a meaningful context. This lack of purpose contributed to a preference, at the school level, for the sciences, mathematics and language arts. This was further exacerbated by assigning history course loads to unqualified teachers who did not have a background in history.
This thesis includes a discussion of the relevant literature regarding the purpose of history education, an examination of official provincial documents for history courses taught in Nova Scotia, and recommendations for professional practice and professional development based on findings.

This study suggests that teachers be encouraged to bring a community focus to history classes, and to make the lessons of the past immediately relevant to issues and concerns in the lives of their students. It suggests that teachers be given the chance to bring the new history curricula to life in their classrooms, and be exposed to professional development opportunities through in-service or teacher mentor programs. Similarly, it recommends that history become a political study where the issues and concerns that students see in their communities can be brought into sharper focus through historical inquiry.


Mary Chaktsiris