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Approaches to teaching the humanities and social sciences

The different approaches taken to humanities and social sciences writing at Canadian private schools

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Perennialism

Perennialism in the humanities and social sciences emphasizes the idea of education being a kind of “conversation” between generations, and so frequently turns to “Great Works” and “Big Ideas” for teaching-content. Perennialist programs approach past works on their own terms; as if they might actually help students understand “today” better. Past works are not viewed as mere historical artifacts, but as gateways to a deeper understanding of the human condition. History (and, by extension, the humanities in general) therefore plays a large role in perennialist curriculums, though social sciences like economics, psychology, and sociology can still be taught. There is a strong Liberal Arts bent to perennialist programs. The key goals are to develop critical thinking, a strong foundation of core knowledge (or “cultural literacy”), and persuasion skills through informed debate and extensive practice in essay writing.



Pragmatism

Pragmatism in the humanities and social sciences emphasizes making learning relevant to students’ present-day experience. Assignments tend to centre around projects and tasks rather than argumentative essays; these projects will often have a “real-world” application or relevance. There might be more of a social justice component to a pragmatic program, though that isn’t always the case. Subjects like history and philosophy are still covered/offered, but they play a less prominent role in the overall program than in the case of perennialism. The social sciences (contemporary geography, sociology, psychology, etc), meanwhile, might play a more prominent role in pragmatic programs. The key goals are to make learning progressive and relevant, while teaching students real-life skills and critical thinking.

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Equal Balance

These programs represent an equal balance between the perennialist and pragmatic approach to teaching the humanities and social sciences.


 

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