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As a provincial organization, OHASSTA represents the voices of thousands of teachers across Ontario teaching History, Civics and Politics, Law, Economics, Philosophy, and a diversity of Social Sciences. We have worked closely with and advised the provincial government to design and implement Ontario’s curriculum over many decades. We support the highest level of excellence in disciplinary thinking in our curriculum and classrooms through resources that promote innovative inquiry-based learning experiences and authentic, experiential learning approaches – including the Civics curriculum.

Josh Fullan, in his opinion piece Canadians get a failing grade in civics, proposes that we abandon the civics course entirely. We, the Ontario History and Social Science Teachers’ Association (OHASSTA), respectfully disagree.

His assessment that “effective courses in civics should go beyond the minutiae of parliamentary law-making and teach how power works, our rights and responsibilities and how to make use of them for individual and collective good” is correct.

In fact, the Ontario Civics curriculum has strands that specifically address this essential learning of active citizenship. To support this teaching, OHASSTA partners with exceptional national and provincial organizations. For example, Facing History and Ourselves and the FAST “Voices into Action” initiative create resources to help students critically challenge how power, authority, and privilege shape the past and present in politics and across society. CIVIX and its Student Vote program, funded in part by Elections Ontario and Elections Canada, the Youth Philanthropy Initiative, and the Ontario Justice Education Network are all organizations that facilitate authentic learning experiences in the election process, volunteering and youth activism, and understanding laws and legislation.

OHASSTA is firmly against any proposal to “get rid of civics classes entirely” as Fullan suggests. We have lobbied over many years to have Civics expanded to a full-credit mandatory course, taught by subject specialists. Currently, students are only exposed to political thinking and civic literacy in grade 5 and grade 10 in Ontario, and can take optional courses in Grade 11 and 12. We do hope that all teachers address citizenship in whatever ways they can, but the grade 10 Civics and Citizenship course is the only dedicated space where students can examine these issues.

Fullan suggests embedding civics into all courses. Indeed, it is already embedded in all Social Studies, History and Geography, Canadian and World Studies, and First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Studies curriculum documents through the Citizenship Education Framework. While OHASSTA anticipates an update to the grade 10 Civics curriculum this spring, no curriculum update can compensate for a lack of attention to teacher qualifications and professional learning support over decades.

There is no particular qualification needed, or indeed, available to teachers in Civics, though you can take an Additional Qualification in Politics (and Civics) at a handful of universities. Teaching civics well involves engaging students in political conversations about real issues that matter to them in their own communities, helping them to discover their own political values and beliefs, and showing them how to take action in meaningful ways while remaining a non-partisan facilitator of learning. Many educators have also developed rigorous Civics content to respond to the Calls to Action 62 and 63 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. They are working hard to explore with their students the political implications of colonization, Anti-Indigenous laws such as the Indian Act, and learning about Indigenous governance and sovereignty. This is no small feat to accomplish in 9 weeks. The consistent lack of attention to this course and support for teachers to teach it well over the last 20 years has no doubt contributed to the “failing grade” that Fullan gives Canadians or at least those under 40 in Ontario.

Civic education needs to be strengthened, not discarded. Teacher professional learning for Civics needs to be systematically improved and subject specialists need to be prioritized for staffing the Civics courses. We will continue to work hard, alongside our partners, to strengthen the teaching of active citizenship in all courses and maintain that grade 10 Civics and Citizenship is one of the most important courses a student can take during their secondary education.