Education Social Studies Curriculum Theory
Cathryn van Kessel is an Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta in Secondary Social Studies Education.
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:
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 and the Research at the Intersections of Gender (RIG) special interest group at UAlberta.
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.
She is continuing knowledge mobilization of her 2018-2020 SSHRC Insight Development Grant project that 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 are exploring 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:
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.
In addition to the required undergraduate courses (EDSE 373, 374, and 474) and graduate courses (EDSE 503 and 504) that Cathryn frequently teaches, she has also developed three graduate seminars (EDSE 501 sections): Evil Education, Existential Education, and Intellectual Influences in Contemporary Curriculum Study. These graduate courses are all taught with an interdisciplinary thrust in relation to educational contexts, drawing from fields such as curriculum theory, philosophy, social psychology, and sociology.
Prerequisites: *9 in the Major subject area, EDPY 304, EDU 100/300, 210, and 211. Corequisite: Courses in the Introductory Professional Term (IPT) for the Secondary Education Route. Successful completion of the on-campus portion of the IPT is expected prior to being granted permission to continue into EDFX 350. Note: Not open to first year students.Winter Term 2022
Prerequisite: *9 in the Minor subject area; pre/corequisites: EDU 100 or 300, EDU 210, and EDU 211. Note: EDSE 374 is not open to first year students or students whose Major is Social Studies.Winter Term 2022
This course focuses on curriculum perspectives and possibilities. Prerequisite: EDSE 503. May contain alternate delivery sections; refer to the Tuition and Fees page in the University Regulations section of the Calendar.Winter Term 2022
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)