July 7, 2010

Ever since the creation of public schooling in Manitoba in 1870, history and geography teachers have been actively involved in their own professional development. In the 1880s, for example, they created teacher institutes at selected spots around the province. Sometimes at these gatherings a teacher would teach a model lesson and other teachers would observe and critique it. Sometimes they would discuss the merits of a new curriculum or textbook. Sometimes they would listen to a visiting speaker. In 1905 the Manitoba Education Association began its annual Easter conventions where teachers met to examine the latest developments in their various subjects. The creation of the Manitoba Teachers Federation in 1919 (it became the Manitoba Teachers Society in 1942) provided teachers with another vehicle for the pursuit of continuing professional development, as did the creation of locally-based subject-matter clubs in the 1920s and 1930s.

Only in the 1960s, however, did these activities come together in a comprehensive Manitoba-wide programme. The 1959 Report of a Royal Commission on Education (the Macfarlane Report), combined with the election of a reform-minded government led by Premier Duff Roblin in the same year, produced a wave of educational reform. The provincial Department of Education undertook a comprehensive revision of the curriculum. New ideas about teaching and curriculum design were in the air. At the same time the Manitoba Teachers Society expanded its activities in professional development and curriculum design, notably by the creation of Subject Area Groups (also known as Special Area Groups or SAGs), which provided funds and other resources for the establishment of subject-based organizations and began the annual subject-based SAG conferences which brought teachers together from all parts of Manitoba on a subject-matter basis.

The result was the creation of the Manitoba Geography Teachers Association and the Manitoba History Teachers Association, both in 1967. Both associations organized conferences, in-service sessions, field trips, and related activities, and both published their own journals, with the first issue of the Manitoba Geography Teacher appearing in 1968 and of the Manitoba History Teacher in 1969.

The existence of two separate organizations presented many teachers with something of a dilemma, however. Not least, it had the potential of setting history and geography teachers against each other in a competition to secure space for their subjects in the curriculum, especially at a time when the whole curriculum was being reconstructed. More specifically, in most Manitoba schools the same teachers taught both history and geography. In Grade 10, for example, geography was a compulsory course, while history was compulsory in Grade 11, with the result that, except in the largest urban high schools, teachers generally taught both subjects. Moreover, the curriculum reforms of the 1960s meant that in each of Grades 7-9 students took a half-year of history and a half-year of geography, both taught by the same teacher. One result was that teachers of history and geography found themselves faced with two organizations, two journals, and two annual conferences and often having to make a choice between them. A second result was that the two organizations found themselves competing for the same audience. In addition, the 1960s saw increasing interest, in Manitoba as elsewhere, in introducing new social science subjects into the curriculum, such as anthropology, economics, sociology, political science, and in the 1970s Canadian Studies, into the high school curriculum.

The result was that in 1974 the two organizations combined to form the Manitoba Social Science Teachers Association (MSSTA). The name of the new organization was carefully chosen. It spoke, not of social studies, but of social science, thereby demonstrating the commitment of both geography and history teachers to maintaining the disciplinary integrity of their subjects while also acknowledging the common ground they share and allowing space for the inclusion of other social science disciplines in the curriculum.

Since its creation in 1974 MSSTA has continued and enlarged the professional development activities of its predecessors. It seeks to protect the place of the social sciences in the Manitoba curriculum, as in the 1990s when it played an active part in preserving Canadian history as a compulsory subject in Grade 11 at a time when the government of the day seemed to wish to make it an elective credit. It publishes a quarterly journal; organizes an annual province-wide conference; works with other like-minded organizations in the fields of history, geography and the social sciences; is represented on Department of Education curriculum committees; and provides a forum through which teachers, university academics, Department of Education personnel, and others involved in the teaching of the social sciences, can meet.