Social Studies

Social Studies Faculty
Neil Robinson
Robyn Amiel
Simon Beatty
Neil Bryant
Brian Carr
Steve Cowie
Robin Gage
John Luna
Laura Richardson
Liam Sullivan
Mark Wismer

The Social Studies Department includes the major disciplines of history and geography and covers government and leadership, global studies, and law. Through the humanities curriculum, each student develops thinking, writing, speaking, listening, and reading skills, and learns how to articulate, modify, and defend a position by learning and analyzing a defined body of content. Additionally, the student learns about the physical world in a geographical context.

Our major areas of study include history and geography as well as government and leadership, global studies, and law. Our social studies program integrates these diverse areas into the context of our current society. The humanities curriculum develops students’ critical thinking, writing, and communications skills. The aim is to cultivate their ability to articulate, modify, and defend a position by learning and analyzing a defined body of content. 

A student listening to the teacher in class

The development of learning skills and attitudes plays as important a role in the education of each student as the acquisition of content. The knowledge explosion and the increasingly sophisticated means to access information make it vital that we equip our students with the aptitudes to evaluate a bewildering array of choices. Students are challenged with a varied set of learning activities including granular small group and full class discussions expansive research, achievement tests oral presentations, and debates. 

As a Canadian boarding school each student will be introduced to aspects of Canada's history and geography in Grades 9 through 11. The country’s unique multi-cultural character and strategic positioning is reflected through an examination of our heritage, the influence of the United States, and our future as a Pacific Rim nation. 

We also have a mandate to track modern nature of current events and to remind students of the global issues beyond the school gates. An integral part of all Social Studies courses is a weekly review of current events in British Columbia, Canada, North America, and the world.

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Students in a social studies class

BC First Nations Studies 12

In this course students explore various aspects of Aboriginal culture, values, traditions, history, languages and land. Students will examine the social, cultural, economic and political impacts of colonialism and discuss the movement towards decolonization. Students have the opportunity to learn course content by means of storytelling, analyzing case studies, and interpreting literature by Aboriginal authors. Guest speakers and Aboriginal artists will join our class frequently to further explain the significance of cultural expression. Experiential learning opportunities will be offered throughout the year, including a field trip to explore the culture of the Coast Salish people and legacy of the Residential School system.

Civics 11

Civic Studies 11, paired with Biology 11, offers opportunities for students to form reasoned views on issues, and to participate in socially relevant projects and real-life learning for the purpose of developing civic mindedness. This course enables students to relate their learning in school to their civic duties and expectations, enhance their sense of membership in society, and increase their ability to take more active roles as citizens of Canada and the world. Much of the curriculum will be facilitated with the marine environment in mind and experiential activities will play a substantial role in the course.

Neil Robinson

B.A., B,.Ed., M.A. (Calgary) Head of Social Studies, Global Studies, Volleyball, Golf.

Having grown up in the mountains of eastern British Columbia without much television to speak of, Mr. Robinson is drawn to the great outdoors at every opportunity. After completing high school he ventured to the University of Calgary to complete several degrees including his Master's Degree which was focused in the area of gifted and talented learning. He has a passion for all things athletic and particularly enjoys golf, soccer, volleyball, and hockey. A teacher of eleven years in Calgary and three here at Brentwood, Mr. Robinson's passions can be found in human rights, volunteerism, and travel. In a perfect world, he'd like to do all three at the same time. It comes as no surprise then, that he is excited to lead Brentwood's inaugural Service Learning trip to Peru during this year's spring break and to grow our relationship with Mosqoy, a non-profit organization that focuses its resources in promoting the success of marginalized indigenous peoples from the Sacred Valley.

Robyn Amiel

Robyn Amiel

B.A. (UVic), M.Ed. (Washington State), Social Studies, Rowing

After moving around Canada and living on several military bases, Robyn and her family settled back in Victoria to embrace coastal living and to be closer to extended family. After rowing for the University of Victoria and for various provincial teams, Mrs Amiel graduated with a Bachelor of History and went on to pursue a career in hospitality management. Managing a guest services department at a ski resort proved to be short-lived, as the lure of Brentwood was enticing. After coaching rowing and teaching social studies at the school for three years, Mrs Amiel took a short hiatus to coach collegiate, varsity rowing and complete her Masters of Education degree in curriculum and instruction at Washington State University. Since returning in 2012, Mrs Amiel enjoys coaching the senior boys and for Rowing BC and Rowing Canada at the U21 level during the summer months.  She is also excited to be back at Brentwood in the social studies department. She enjoys living in Whittall House with Mr Amiel and their son.

Neil Bryant

B.Sc. (Victoria) Chemistry, Science, Debating, Law

While he is not keen to admit it, Neil is approaching the middle part of his career in teaching. All of it has been at one boarding school or another, and all of them are within 20 kilometres of Mill Bay. Consequently, he is very happy to now be part of the Brentwood faculty, as he has admired the school from outside the gates for years.  After graduating from UVIC with a Biochemistry degree and almost finishing his MA in Special Education from UBC, Neil decided that he would much rather teach chemistry and science rather than merely practice them. Thoroughly absorbed by feeding 2 persnickety cats and raising 2 amazing children, Neil also enjoys road bike racing, rowing and coaching debate all of which get the heart pumping and allow him to eat like a king without looking like a zeppelin. He also is a trial writer for the Science 10 curriculum and exam with the BC Ministry of Education, on the executive for the BC Speech and Debate Society, and sings in a cover band whenever he has a spare evening.

Brian Carr

Brian Carr

B.A. (Victoria)  Social Studies, Rowing

Born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia, Mr. Carr came to Canada in 1964 with his parents and little brother, Rory. The Carr family moved onto the Brentwood campus in the fall of 1965 where the senior Mr. Carr served as Houseparent for 19 years. After Brentwood, Mr. Carr attended the University of Washington as a rower and fledgling geographer. Graduation from the University of Victoria brought him back to the Cowichan Valley where he taught at Frances Kelsey Secondary School before answering his primal urge to return to Brentwood. A busy member of the Social Studies Department, Mr. Carr is also a coach of the Brentwood College Rowing Club. Mr. Carr's wife, Leslie Reid Carr, teaches Spanish and French at the school and is the houseparent of Allard House. Together they have two children.

Steve Cowie

Steve Cowie

B.A., M.A. (Victoria) History, Social Studies, Rugby

A native of sunny Kelowna, British Columbia, Steve Cowie graduated with honours from the University of Victoria in 1975, majoring in history and English, then completed his Masters in history in 1976. He has played rugby for the UVic Vikings, Castaways, the Island Crimson Tide, and Cowichan. As the second longest serving member of the Brentwood faculty, Mr. Cowie is a "lifer" seven times over and now teaches the sons and daughters of students he taught in the early years. He has taught history, geography, English, and law, while coaching at every level of rugby, basketball, golf and tennis. He has had the priviledge of coaching the girls rugby team as well as the Island Tsunami U18 girls team. Though Dr. Johnson defined a historian as "a hopeless drudge", Mr. Cowie tries to make history come alive in the classroom with his passion for teaching and his belief that inspiration and encouragement are the greatest motivators. He likes to think this keeps him eternally young at heart. Mr. Cowie and his wife, Sheila, have two sons - David and Nathan.

John Luna

M.F.A. (Calgary), B.F.A. (Victoria) Foundation Art, Studio Art AP, Art History

Born in Victoria, where he completed programs at both the Victoria College of Art and the University of Victoria, Mr. Luna has spent the past nine years balancing a love of teaching with pursuits in painting, sculpture and installation work and writing art criticism. He has exhibited and curated installations of painting in connection to poetry, video, sculpture and historical artifacts, in Victoria, Kelowna, Calgary (where he earned an MFA), Edmonton, Portland, San Diego and San Francisco, as well as publishing catalogue essays and criticism in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Los Angeles and Jakarta. He has taught at the Vancouver Island School of Art, the University of Victoria, the University of Lethbridge, the University of Calgary and the Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts, and is delighted to have in Brentwood a captive audience for both art history lectures (featuring liberal amounts of drawing) and studio classes (with impromptu slide shows.) When not teaching, Mr. Luna enjoys his cheerful, exhausting family and menagerie.

Laura Richardson

Laura Richardson

B.A. (S.F.U.), B.Ed. (UBC) 21 Century Studies and Social Studies, Geography 12

After completing her Bachelor of Arts degree at Simon Fraser University, Laura Richardson decided to pursue a family tradition and became a teacher. She completed her B.Ed. at the University of British Columbia in 1991. As teaching jobs were scarce in Vancouver, she headed home to the Fraser Valley where she taught in the Chilliwack School District.Trading the fresh waters of Cultus Lake for the oceanfront of Mill Bay, she and her husband, Dan Norman, both jumped at the opportunity to live and work at Brentwood. The move to the island worked well for her family and after nine years of assistant house parenting in Alex House, Laura moved off-campus in 2010. She continues to spend family time sea kayaking and camping all over the West Coast and recently has taken up gardening as a new passion. As the teacher sponsor of the Brentwood Environmental Action Team, Laura works with her team of students to educate the community about sustainability. Armed with the knowledge and skills to become global stewards, she hopes that when students leave the shores of Mill Bay, they will take better care of their own communities.

Liam Sullivan

B.A. (Malaspina University-College), B.Ed. (UBC) Houseparent of Ellis House, Social Studies, Basketball

Liam Sullivan began working at Brentwood College School in 2007, taking a position as an assistant Houseparent in Whittall House. He worked with Mr. Gage for three years while teaching Social Studies and coaching the junior boys’ basketball team, before accepting the role as Houseparent of Ellis House in 2010. Mr. Sullivan has been involved in numerous sports throughout his life however, in high school he began to focus on basketball exclusively and was lucky enough to continue his playing at the college level. Mr. Sullivan was the captain of the 1994 National Championship team at Vancouver Island University. Once his playing career ended, Mr. Sullivan has devoted his time to coaching the sport he loves. He has been involved in coaching basketball from the elementary school, middle school, high school and college levels for the last 18 years. It is here at Brentwood College School that Mr. Sullivan lives with his wife Marilou and their two children Brendan and Abby.

Mark Wismer

B.A. (McGill), B.Ed. (Ottawa) Assistant Houseparent ­Ellis House, Social Studies, Government, Rowing

Mark Wismer grew up on beautiful Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world. It was here in this idyllic setting that he first developed his interest in teaching from his mother, also a teacher. Mr. Wismer graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and Human Geography from McGill University. During his time at McGill, he was introduced to the sport of rowing and joined the varsity team for the last three years of his degree. After graduation, he moved out west to hone his rowing skills on Elk Lake, Victoria, a well-known training ground for the top rowers in the country. It was during this time that Mr. Wismer first joined the Brentwood community, working as an intern. Called back to the East, he returned to Montreal and got married to his wife: current part-time nurse Ulrika Drevniok. Curiously enough, when the couple first met, Mrs. Drevniok was being coached by Brentonian Dave Calder (1996), a silver medal Olympian. While in Montreal he coached rowing at McGill and served as the Head Coach of the rowing club for one year. In 2008, the Wismers moved to Ottawa where he completed his education degree at the University of Ottawa. We were pleased to welcome Mr. Wismer formally to our school in September 2009 where he is Assistant Houseparent in Ellis House and teaching in the Social Studies department when he isn't coaching rowing. He and his wife have also added two wonderful children – Cormac and Stella Maris - to the Brentwood family.

Social Studies 9

Students are introduced to the concept of change and the factors that contributed to the dramatic shifts that occurred in Europe and North America during the period 1500-1815. Specific areas of study include the English Revolution, Industrial Revolution, American Revolution and French Revolution. Themes such as society and culture, politics and law, economy and technology, and the environment are used to analyze the nature of change and develop students’ critical thinking skills.

Course content includes examinations of how the expansion of European hegemony significantly altered the political, social and cultural systems of many of the world’s non-European peoples, particularly in Africa, Asia and the Americas. As well as how during a period of scientific change and new technologies (the Industrial Revolution), major challenges to the established systems of thought regarding religion, politics and social structure (the Enlightenment) were to take the form of revolutions in England, America and France, political and social upheavals through which the modern world was beginning to emerge.

21st Century Studies 9

The 21st Century 9 course introduces students to a variety of economic, political, cultural, and environmental issues that affect our world. Connections from a historical and geographical perspective provide the basis for exploring the complex nature of human interactions within society and nature. Globalization is explored in an economic and demographic sense as is the effect of the Internet on human communications, education, and business. The impact of humans on the environment and the need for sustainable solutions to energy and waste production form the second part of the course. A “hands-on” component to the course will involve students in monitoring environmental sites on and around the school grounds, growing produce on campus, and participating in conservation efforts with community groups. The course will also incorporate the Youth Philanthropy Initiative that offers an opportunity for students to win $5000 through the Toscan Foundation for donation to a local charity. 

Student skill sets will be expanded through a number of initiatives. They are instructed on how to conduct research for intelligent and efficient use of internet resources. They collect and handle data through technical devices and spreadsheet programs that help them manipulate and display measurements they have taken and information they have gathered. Students also learn research and presentation skills including public speaking, video and slide presentation, and the creation of an illustrated brochure. Through successful completion of the course, an ICT 9 credit is awarded to reflect student proficiency in areas of digital and information technology.

Social Studies 10

This course explores the themes of economic and technological change, culture and society, politics and law and the environment in Canada from 1815 to 1911. After the War of 1812, Canada was affected by events in Europe and the United States, as new political ideologies challenged the old systems and a flood of immigrants transformed Canadian society. As the country developed, it faced many challenges which often led to conflict and change. New provinces were added to the Canadian Confederation and a transcontinental railway was constructed. Canada became an important economic force and it began to strive for autonomy from Great Britain while coming increasingly connected with the United States.

The course also looks at Canada in a geographical context with an emphasis on the physiographic regions, industrial and economic development and globalization. Students do a “Road Trip” project in which they explore the physical geography, culture, history and economics of a specific city in Canada. The students should gain a greater understanding of the dynamics which have shaped the Canadian identity in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Social Studies 11

Transitioning to the new BC curriculum

Brentwood College School is excited to present the new BC Social Studies curriculum to our high school students. Up to the Grade 10 level, that journey has started already. We had anticipated that the full implementation of that curriculum would take place in September 2017, but the Ministry of Education called for a delay. Moving forward, our teachers are keen to challenge Brentwood students with components of the new curriculum, and that students entering Grade 11 have already transitioned into elements of the new curriculum already demand that we offer unique options to ensure they are getting the most out of their work in social studies. We are going to facilitate the Social Studies 11 curriculum, but guide students through it in an enriched way. Students will be able to choose from the three options below, assuming their timetables can accommodate their preference.

Social Studies 11: World History enrichment stream

Depending on the students background knowledge, they will be afforded the opportunity to explore specific areas of interest regarding the concepts of nationalism and the breakdown of long-standing imperialist structures created by new economic and political systems. If students have a background in European and Canadian history, they will be encouraged to explore situations from around the world.

Social Studies 11: Comparative Cultures enrichment stream

Students in this class will have the opportunity to explore how our understanding of geographic and environmental factors influence the development of agriculture, trade, religion, values, politics, language and authority in cultures. If students have a background in European and Canadian history, they will be encouraged to explore cultures from around the world.

Social Studies 11: Political Studies enrichment stream

Students will be provided with the opportunity to explore how political decisions are made, the institutions that shape power in different countries, the impact of unequal distribution of political and social power as well as agreements that have been made on an international level that represent comprises between countries with different values. If students have a background in European and Canadian political developments, they will be encouraged to explore political developments around the world.

Global Studies 11

This course will examine the many complex and fascinating issues that affect our global community. Students will study the various concepts and perspectives through individual and group research and in-depth class discussions. Topics include globalization, human rights, trade, development, foreign aid, gender issues, terrorism, and international organizations. These concepts are examined in their historical contexts and through the analysis of current events. Students use several case studies from different countries, concentrating on the relationship between the developed and developing world. The focus of the coursework is to help students gain an appreciation of the interdependence of these topics and so develop a greater ability to interpret and understand global events.

Art History 11

The study of art and its role in society from prehistoric times to the renaissance forms the basis of this program. Students examine and critically analyze major forms of artistic expression from the past and the present from a variety of cultures. While visual analysis is a fundamental tool of the art historian, art history emphasizes understanding how and why works of art function in context, considering such issues as patronage, gender, and the functions and effects of works of art. 

Natural Philosophy and Ethics 11

This course is a broad-ranging discussion and research based study of issues that arise from the development of technologies. Students adopt an ethical perspective. They are encouraged to challenge and debate accepted positions in areas such as biomedical and computer technology. The nature of ethics and value systems are analyzed as well as the premises behind scientific thought.

Pseudoscience, logical fallacies and the relationship between science and the media are also discussed and illustrated through a variety of case studies. The course covers all of the prescribed learning outcomes for Science and Technology 11 and students receive this credit at the end of the course thereby fulfilling their graduation requirement for a Science 11.

Law 12

In this course students explore all aspects of the judicial process. In addition to studying particular cases, students will research and present legal arguments in a debate format simulating a mock-environment. The Foundations of Law, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, plus family, civil and criminal law form the main elements of the course.

Geography 12

This course is a detailed examination of our physical environment, including geomorphology, climatology, meteorology, soils, and natural vegetation. Human geography includes a study of energy resources, minerals, agriculture, transport and communications, industry, and land use choices. Map and photo interpretation also constitutes a significant part of the final examination which all students write in June.

History 12

History 12 follows the BC provincial curriculum that covers the majority of the 20th Century and the incredible political, social and technological changes that marked the period from 1919 to 1991.  Students will examine the significant global impacts in the aftermath of World War I, the inter-war period, the causes, course and results of World War II, the post-1945 world to 1991, and the deterioration and ultimate collapse of communism in the West. In addition to political events, social and economic issues, such as the changing role of women and the impact of technology, are explored.

AP Art History 12

AP Art History is designed to provide the same benefits as an introductory college course in art history: an understanding and enjoyment of architecture, sculpture, painting and other art forms within historical and cultural contexts. In the course, students examine major forms of artistic expression from the past and present and from a variety of cultures. They learn to look at works of art critically, with intelligence and sensitivity, and to articulate what they see or experience.

Students examine the following spectrum: non-European artistic traditions, ancient through Medieval, and Renaissance to present.  

Course content spans a broad spectrum: ancient through Medieval including pre-history, the Ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece and Rome, early Christian, Islamic, Byzantine, early Medieval, Romanesque and Gothic. The course also examines the Renaissance to present including 14th through 16th centuries, 17th and 18th centuries, 19th century and 20th century. In May, students will write the Art History Advanced Placement exam. 

AP Comparative Government and Politics 12

This course covers an introduction to comparative politics, sovereignty, authority and power; political institutions; citizens, society and the state; political and economic change and public policy. Six countries form the core of the AP exam: China, Great Britain, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria and Russia. Students are encouraged to analyze and critique political systems and their historical records as well as gain an appreciation of media influences and cultural bias.

The political spectrum in all its hues and the machinery of government form a backdrop for discussions on current world events and future trends.

AP Studio Art 12

This course is primarily for students who have demonstrated a high level of ability in 2D art and who may be interested in a post-secondary career in a related field such as art, photography, fashion or design. The course promotes a sustained investigation of all three aspects of portfolio development—Quality, Concentration, and Breadth. It enables students to develop mastery in concept, composition, and execution of drawing and 2-D design. In addition, students develop a variety of approaches in drawing and design and are able to demonstrate a range of abilities and techniques, solving problems and expanding ideas using different media. Students also study painting and drawing styles from the past and learn to incorporate elements of these into their own work. The course emphasizes making art as an ongoing process that involves the student in informed and critical decision making. This includes group and individual student critiques and instructional conversations with the teacher, enabling students to learn to analyze and discuss their own artworks and those of their peers.

AP Human Geography 12

The course provides a systematic study of human geography, including a look at the nature of population, cultural patterns and processes, the political organization of space, agricultural and rural land use. Industrialization and economic development within cities and urban land use are also explored. The course teaches the use of spatial concepts and landscape analysis to examine human organization of space. Software programs that integrate data sets with maps of various kinds are employed to help students image and display patterns of human interactions and changes in resources. An appreciation of how to use and interpret data sets and geographic models is a major outcome of the course including aerial and satellite imagery on scales that range from the local to global. The geography of religion, ethnicity and language are explored from a cultural and historical perspective together with man’s impact on the planet and its ecosystems. The challenges posed by population pressures and economic development are considered from a global perspective as well as through case studies that illustrate particular relationships and principles. Critical thinking and the ability to extract meaning from data are key skills that are developed throughout the course.

AP European History 12

The study of European history since 1450 introduces students to cultural, economic, political, and social developments that played a fundamental role in shaping the world in which they live. Without this knowledge, we would lack the context for understanding the development of contemporary institutions, the role of continuity and change in present-day society and politics, and the evolution of current forms of artistic expression and intellectual discourse.

In addition to providing a basic narrative of events and movements, the goals of AP European History are to develop (a) an understanding of some of the principal themes in modern European history, (b) an ability to analyze historical evidence and historical interpretation, and (c) an ability to express historical understanding in writing.

AP World History 12

AP World History focuses on developing students’ abilities to think conceptually about world history from approximately 8,000 BCE to the present and apply historical thinking skills. Five themes of equal importance — focusing on the environment, cultures, state-building, economic systems, and social structures — provide areas of historical inquiry for investigation across different periods and regions. AP World History encompasses the history of the five major geographical regions of the globe: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania, with special focus on historical developments and processes that cross multiple regions.

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