Cathryn van Kessel, PhD

Associate Professor, Faculty of Education - Secondary Education Dept

Pronouns: she, her, hers

Contact

Associate Professor, Faculty of Education - Secondary Education Dept
Email
vankesse@ualberta.ca
Address
438 Education Centre - South
11210 - 87 Ave NW
EdmontonAB
T6G 2G5

Overview

Area of Study / Keywords

Education Social Studies Curriculum Theory


About

Cathryn van Kessel is an Associate Professor at the University of Alberta in Secondary Social Studies Education.

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7450-5963

Cathryn was born and raised in the Edmonton area, but lived and studied in Vancouver for almost a decade. Cathryn’s career as an educator began in 2005 with a move back to her original city, teaching junior and senior high social studies and Latin in Edmonton until 2015. Three of these years included serving as a vice-principal, and then subsequently she continued teaching part-time while undertaking the initial stages of her doctoral studies at the University of Alberta. She accepted an academic position in the Faculty of Education in 2016.

She holds the following degrees:

  • PhD in Social Studies and Curriculum Studies (Alberta, 2016). Dissertation: Youth Conceptualizations of Evil: Implications for Social Studies Education
  • Bachelor of Education in Secondary Social Studies (UBC, 2005)
  • Master of Arts in Ancient Culture, Religion, and Ethnicity (UBC, 2004). Major Essay: Greco-Roman Ethnocentrism and Peoples of the Near East
  • Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Classical Studies (UBC, 2000). Honours Essay: The Erinyes in Archaic and Classical Greek Literature.

Cathryn currently manages two Open Educational Resources: The Grim Educator (2018-2021) and Intellectual Influences in Contemporary Curriculum Study (2021).

She is an Associate Editor for the journal Canadian Social Studies, as well as a member of the RAD Educators Network.


Research

Research interests include: conceptualizations of evil in the context of education, social studies education, curriculum theory, teaching for social change, philosophy in/of education, nonphilosophy, intersectional perspectives and the concept of radical love from Black feminist scholarship, teacher education, popular culture, existential philosophy and psychology (including, but not limited to terror management theory), and posthuman theories.

While her doctoral work uncovered a variety of conceptualizations of evil held by Grade 11 social studies students in relation to philosophy and political theory, research since then has branched off into in-depth explorations and applications of particular definitions of (and questions about) evil. Because of her passion for the topic and deeply held belief in the urgent need for less harmful social relations, she is committed to publishing open-access whenever possible.

Her 2018-2020 SSHRC Insight Development Grant project focused on applying research from social psychology regarding unconscious defensive processes that prevent us from tolerating opposing worldviews. This qualitative research project involved pre­service social studies teachers learning and implementing terror management theory (TMT). Through focus groups before and after their practicum placements, as well as reflective journals during their classroom experience and individual interviews in a subsequent year, we explored how TMT can be a theoretical basis to foster respectful engagements with opposing worldviews, including creating this video and this poster for classroom use on worldview defences.

Her current projects are focusing on Baudrillard's idea of "Symbolic Evil" in the context of sociopolitical changes in history as well as possible changes unfolding now as well as how teachers are thinking about these significant changes.

For more about Cathryn and some of her research interests, please feel free to listen to the following podcast interviews:


Teaching

Cathryn's teaching style tends to blend direct instruction with small group activities and discussion with an overarching goal to provide students with a sense of the landscape of the topic at hand, but then to provide them with the opportunity to extend our inquiries beyond what she claims to know. Specifically, she have been focusing on student engagement, deep intellectual questioning, as well as safe/brave dialogue and debate.

Scholarly Activities

Research - Teacher Education, Diversity, and Worldview Threat

2018 to 2020

In this SSHRC Insight Development Grant project, I am drawing from research in social psychology that has illuminated unconscious defensive processes that prevent us from tolerating opposing worldviews. Terror management theory (TMT) recognizes that human motivation is multifaceted and layered, and yet our terror of death is the worm at the core. All animals seek to avoid death, but we know that humans can experience existential terror even in the absence of an immediate threat. Thus, we create defensive shields against this terror, including our cultural worldview, which tells us how we belong to a group that will endure after us. The problem with rigidly adhering to a cultural worldview to curb our existential terror is that all worldviews are somewhat arbitrary, and thus require continual validation from others in order remain believable. Therefore, exposure to cultures of people with alternate worldviews, especially those that are radically different from one’s own, potentially undermines one’s faith in their worldview and the psychological protection it provides, thus triggering defensive compensatory actions like derogation as well as attempts to assimilate or even annihilate. TMT has been supported by hundreds of experiments in multiple countries. Yet, until this project it has not been employed in an educational context.

This qualitative research project involves pre­service social studies teachers learning and implementing terror management theory (TMT). Through focus groups before and after their practicum placements, as well as reflective journals during their classroom experience and individual interviews my research assistants and I explored how TMT can be an historical lens in a social studies classroom, as well as a theoretical basis to foster respectful engagements with opposing worldviews in any subject area.

If you cannot access an article listed below and would like a copy, please email me.

Link to the Grim Educator open educational resource (OER)

Publications

Responding to worldview threats in the classroom: An exploratory study of preservice teachers

Author(s): van Kessel, C., Jacobs, N., Catena, F., & Edmondson, K.
Publication Date: 2022
Publication: Journal of Teacher Education
Volume: 73
Issue: 1
Page Numbers: 97-109
DOI: 10.1177/00224871211051991
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1177/00224871211051991

Teaching heavy matters: Situating Covid-19 within the context of death and grief

Author(s): Christ, R. C., Varga, B. A., Helmsing, M. E., & van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 12/24/2021
Publication: Teachers College Press
Page Numbers: 28-40
External Link: https://www.tcpress.com/post-pandemic-social-studies-9780807766255

Covid-19 as a symptom of another disease

Author(s): van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 12/24/2021
Publication: Teachers College Press
Page Numbers: 125-136
External Link: https://www.tcpress.com/post-pandemic-social-studies-9780807766255

Ma(r)king the unthinkable: Cultural and existential engagements of extreme historical violence

Author(s): Varga, B. A., & van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 12/6/2021
Publication: Journal of Curriculum Theorizing
Volume: 36
Issue: 2
Page Numbers: 16-31
External Link: https://journal.jctonline.org/index.php/jct/article/view/985

Guest Editors’ Introduction to the Special Issue: Echoes of Terror(ism):International Contemplations and Reflections on 9/11

Author(s): Varga, B. A., Saleh, M., & van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 7/12/2021
Publication: Canadian Social Studies
Volume: 52
Issue: 2
Page Numbers: 1-9
External Link: https://doi.org/10.29173/css28

Engaging with the death & memorialization of socially significant public figures in social studies education

Author(s): Varga, B., van Kessel, C., & Helmsing, M. E.
Publication Date: 7/5/2021
Publication: Oregon Journal of the Social Studies
Volume: 9
Issue: 1
Page Numbers: 73-83
External Link: https://sites.google.com/site/oregoncouncilforsocialstudies/O-J-S-S/o-j-s-s-issues

Hello from the other side: Breathing life into death and grief with/in the context of social studies education

Author(s): Varga, B. A., van Kessel, C., Helmsing, M. E., & Christ, R. C.
Publication Date: 6/22/2021
Publication: Iowa Journal for the Social Studies
Volume: 29
Issue: 2
Page Numbers: 8-29
External Link: https://iowasocialstudies.org/resources/Documents/IJSS%20Summer%202021%2029(2).pdf#page=8

Embracing the pivot: Engaging wahkohtowin in building anti-racist learning communities

Author(s): Ward, J., Watson, E., & van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 5/1/2021
Publication: Lessons from the pivot: Higher education’s response to the pandemic [Open Educational Resource]
Page Numbers: 13-18
External Link: https://scholar.umw.edu/education/11

Existential considerations to disrupt rigid thinking in social studies classrooms

Author(s): Jacobs, N., van Kessel, C., & Varga, B. A.
Publication Date: 4/1/2021
Publication: Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education
Volume: 20
Issue: 1
Page Numbers: 51-65
External Link: https://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/taboo/vol20/iss1/4/

Fighting the plague: “Difficult” knowledge as sirens’ song in teacher education

Author(s): van Kessel, C., & Saleh, M.
Publication Date: 12/2/2020
Publication: Journal of Curriculum Studies Research
Volume: 2
Issue: 2
Page Numbers: 1-20
External Link: https://curriculumstudies.org/index.php/CS/article/view/59

Organizing with radical love: Towards equity and social justice education in Alberta

Author(s): van Kessel, C., Dalman, J., Saleh, M., Horneland, D., Boucher, K., & Scratch, D.
Publication Date: 7/2/2020
Publication: Our Schools/Our Selves (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)
Issue: Summer/Fall 2020
Page Numbers: 32-35
External Link: https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2020/06/OSOS-Summer2020.pdf

Teaching the climate crisis: Existential considerations

Author(s): van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 6/1/2020
Publication: Journal of Curriculum Studies Research
Volume: 2
Issue: 1
Page Numbers: 129-145
External Link: https://doi.org/10.46303/jcsr.02.01.8

Thinking educational controversies through evil and prophetic indictment: Conversation versus conversion

Author(s): Burke, K., & van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 5/22/2020
Publication: Educational Philosophy and Theory
Volume: 53
Issue: 1
Page Numbers: 90-100
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2020.1767072

Resistance is not futile: Badiou, simulacra and a story from the Nazi-occupied Netherlands

Author(s): van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 2020
Publication: Journal for the Canadian Association of Curriculum Studies
Volume: 17
Issue: 2
Page Numbers: 38-50
External Link: https://jcacs.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/jcacs/article/view/40361/36448

Critical corpse studies: Engaging with corporeality and mortality in curriculum

Author(s): Helmsing, M. E., van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 2020
Publication: Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education
Volume: 19
Issue: 3
Page Numbers: 140-164
External Link: https://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/taboo/vol19/iss3/10/

“If you can’t tell, does it matter?” Westworld, the murder of the real, and 21st century schooling

Author(s): van Kessel, C., Kline, K.
Publication Date: 2019
Publication: Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1080/15505170.2018.1542358

A textbook study in villainification: The need to renovate our depictions of villains

Author(s): van Kessel, C., Plots, R.
Publication Date: 2019
Publication: One World in Dialogue
Volume: 5
Issue: 1
Page Numbers: 21-31
External Link: https://ssc.teachers.ab.ca/publications/Pages/OneWorldInDialogue.aspx

Terror management theory and the educational situation

Author(s): van Kessel, C., den Heyer, K., & Schimel, J.
Publication Date: 2019
Publication: Journal of Curriculum Studies
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1080/00220272.2019.1659416

An education in 'evil': Implications for curriculum, pedagogy, and beyond

Author(s): van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 2019
External Link: https://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9783030166045

Banal and fetishized evil: Implicating ordinary folk in genocide education

Author(s): van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 2018
Publication: Journal of International Social Studies
Volume: 8
Issue: 2
Page Numbers: 160-171

Teaching as an Immortality Project: Positing Weakness in Response to Terror

Author(s): van Kessel, C., Burke, K.
Publication Date: 2018
Publication: Journal of Philosophy of Education
Volume: 52
Issue: 2
Page Numbers: 216-229
External Link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-9752.12301

Villainification and evil in social studies education

Author(s): van Kessel, C., & Crowley, R.
Publication Date: 2017
Publication: Theory & Research in Social Education
Volume: 45
Issue: 4
Page Numbers: 427-455
External Link: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00933104.2017.1285734

A phenomenographic study of youth conceptualizations of evil: Order-words and the politics of evil

Author(s): van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 2017
Publication: Canadian Journal of Education
Volume: 40
Issue: 4
Page Numbers: 576-602
External Link: https://cje-rce.ca/journals/volume-40-issue-4/a-phenomenographic-study-of-youth-conceptualizations-of-evil-order-words-and-the-politics-of-evil/

The Transparency of Evil in "The Leftovers" and its Implications for Student (Dis)engagement

Author(s): van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 2016
Publication: Educational Studies
Volume: 52
Issue: 1
Page Numbers: 51-67
External Link: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/vwcYrvVUKaHVXUwSbFmM/full#.V5goJ5MrKkY

Evil, Agency, and Citizenship Education

Author(s): den Heyer, K., & van Kessel, C.
Publication Date: 2015
Publication: McGill Journal of Education
Volume: 50
Issue: 1
External Link: http://mje.mcgill.ca/article/view/9166/7035