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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding ethical judgments in secondary school history classes Gibson, Lindsay Smith


Ethical judgments about controversial events in history are an important part of the discipline of history, history education, and the way the public interacts with the past. This study focuses on history teachers’ beliefs about ethical judgments in the discipline of history and history education, the factors that influence their beliefs, and the relationship between teachers' approaches to ethical issues, questions, and judgments and their students' approaches to ethical judgments. The research was conducted in two parts; in the first part sixteen Grade 11 Social Studies teachers completed a survey that asked questions about their beliefs about ethical judgments in the discipline of history and history teaching, the factors that influenced their beliefs, and the classroom practices they regularly employed. In the second part, case studies were conducted with four Grade 11 Social Studies teachers as they taught about Japanese Canadian internment, an ethically controversial event in Canadian history. Data collected during the classroom observations included field notes, audio and video recordings, resources teachers used during their lessons, and completed student assignments (n=102). Among the sample I studied, the majority of teachers have sophisticated views about the place of ethical judgments in the discipline of history and history education. Yet, the teachers were not aware of the various ways ethical judgments were present in the activities and resources they used, and the extent to which they brought their own ethical judgments into the classroom. Furthermore, the teachers did not teach students how to identify ethical judgments in different accounts or to make their own reasoned ethical judgments. In other words, there was a large gap between what teachers believed about ethical judgments, and how they actually approached ethical judgments in the classroom. The main influences on the sophistication of students' written responses appear to be the amount of time students focused on the historical topic, the amount and quality of instruction students received about making reasonable ethical judgments, and the type of question asked.

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