Social Divisions

Social Studies - Grade 9

This unit of inquiry is not a recipe book but rather a launchpad to inspire new BIG IDEAS. We encourage you to use and/or modify one, or several of the BIG IDEAS below. Adapt it to the grade/ ability level of your students.


Enduring Understanding

There are multiple participants and causes of social division; hence, action ought to effectively facilitate healing in all individuals and address all systemic causes.


Guiding Questions

What social divisions exist today?

What are the barriers to healing?

What bridge exists and what bridges have yet to be built?


Mind Opening

Choose or devise practices to encourage students to be open to new experiences and ways of thinking in your classroom. For example, the MindUP in-school program.


Discovery & Inspiration:

Launch the Project

Introduce the Theme: Present the Enduring Understanding and Guiding Questions using vocabulary that is appropriate for your grade level.

About Vancouver Biennale: Play a short video.

Create Project Space: Brainstorm ideas to make the  project theme visual and visible using bulletin boards, and/or a project corner to share relevant materials and inquiry questions and processes.

Reference Resources:

Introduction to Sculpture and Public Art Unit Plan for information on how art has evolved and the unique experience sculptures and/or public art brings.

Vancouver Biennale 2014-2016 Exhibition Theme: Open Borders / Crossroads Vancouver

•  let’s heal the divide (Toni Latour, Canada) from Vancouver Biennale  2014 – 2016 Exhibition


Other Resources

Covered in the Reference Material for Inquiry Challenges list of this unit plan


Learning to Learn:

Art Inquiry

•  This Art Inquiry process enables the students to practice observing, describing, interpreting, and sharing visual information and personal experiences.

  Introduce to the students the location of the public art let’s heal the divide. Challenge the students to review Toni Latour’s bio and past works and predict what issues she might represent based on the chosen site and why.

• Visit or otherwise experience the art installation and encourage students to freely explore and interact with the art pieces individually and in groups

•  Use the Art Inquiry Worksheet (PDF) to guide and capture their ideas and impressions. Customize or create your own Art Inquiry Worksheet as appropriate for your project and class needs. Ask the students to consider and list the social divisions that they know of today.


Shared Insights

Students share their Art Inquiry Worksheet responses in class or teacher selects model responses from class-wide discussion


Inquiry Challenges

DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE: An introduction to Downtown Eastside (DTES) and the participants

Reference Resources:

1.   The Province: Change must be led by the people, (January 1, 2012)

2.  Let’s Heal The Divide with P. Amil Reddy (Better Homes for Everyone Foundation) video (TBA)

3.  The Tyee: For Downtown Eastside, A Vision Beyond Main and Hastings, (Mar 12, 2014)

4. CBC News: $1B Downtown Eastside plan raises concerns in Vancouver, (Mar 13, 2014)

5. Global News: City hopes Downtown Eastside plan will transform neighbourhood, stabilize low-income community, (March 13, 2014)

6. The Georgia Straight: Vancouver council approves long-term plan for Downtown Eastside, (Mar 15, 2014)

7. DTES: A Community in need of Balance, Strathcona Business Improvement Association, Ray-Cam Community Association, Inner City Safety Society (PDF)

8. Ryerson Review of Journalism: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Is Easy to Sensationalize, Hard to Explain, Haley Cullingham, (Sept 22, 2011)

9. In the lead up to the Vancouver Olympics, the Province sought to capture the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood and its legacy of struggle. The paper shared with readers six principles it use to guide its one-year coverage: The Province: Operation Phoenix, (February 1, 2009)

Milton Wong (Ref 1) called for a community led corporation that would involve both the residents and businesses in fostering shared values. Compare this approach with the long-term plan Vancouver council put in place (Ref 3 – 6). Take into consideration the proportion of money being spent in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). A Province investigation reports that, of the daily input through spending within the DTES, most goes towards welfare-rent payments or health services for vulnerable residents, but a substantial portion can be traced back to the salaries of social workers, doctors and nurses, who don’t live or spend discretionary money there.

Ask students to respond to the following questions: Exploring the self and bias when using primary and secondary sources

Who are the stakeholders? Do these stakeholders identify with any particular group? Where do they live and work? What is their present and past relationship with other stakeholders and stakeholder groups?

How might stakeholder group membership, place of residence, or the nature of one’s employment introduce a particular type of bias when reporting on their experiences?

How do we know when bias exists and what are some ways to investigate or determine the incidence of a particular bias? How can bias be measured within a primary source? How does the audit process change when examining a secondary source? When examining your sources, how can bias be described categorically and how can it be described quantitatively?

Compare and contrast the points (Ref 8) vs the six principles from (Ref 9) in context of the media’s role. Students can discuss the responsibilities of fair representation and the temptation of the media to sensationalize the suffering or to play the advocate.

MAP OF DIVIDE: Students explore and express the causes of social division

Reference Resources:

1. Vancouver Sun: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is a ghetto made by outsiders, (June 27, 2014)

2. Vancouver Sun: Metro Vancouver Mapped, (March 1, 2012)

3. Let’s Heal The Divide with BIF Naked (female rock music performer) video

4. Let’s Heal The Divide with Steve Kim (C3 Korean Society) video

Through History – Change and Continuity: View the history of Vancouver’s DTES from 1886 to 2014 video (Ref 1). Identify the causes of change and if that is an improvement. Be ready to defend your point of view.

Social Services: There are 260 agencies and/or housing sites located in the Downtown Eastside or which provide services to the area. Working in small groups, ask the students to explore the interactive map (Ref 1) and select service types that they want to find out more. Click on an icon to learn about individual organization. Ask students to discuss the role these organizations serve within the community and the reasons they choose to be part of DTES.


Ask students to respond to the following questions: What is a demographic? What are demographics? What are some common demographics?

Do you believe that socio-economic factors are important to you when choosing a place to live?

Are cultural factors important to you when choosing where to live?

Do any of the available demographics give you information about the factors which are important to you?

Compare and contrast the Metro Vancouver demographic statistics (Ref 2) for DTES and another neighbourhood that you are familiar with. Report on any similarities between the two neighbourhoods using text, diagrams or otherwise.

Geography: Ask each student to draw a city map for selected Metro Vancouver neighbourhoods to represent the City from a geographic perspective. Research and share out how divides have been set up for these neighbourhoods.

Recap by asking students to respond to these questions: What is social division? What different perspectives can we use to examine the divide? Are these perspectives realistic? Are they valid? Where do these diverging perspectives differ most? How can differing perspectives come together?

Which stakeholder group(s) do you identify with most and how? In answering this question, develop a scale and give yourself a ranking. Don’t forget to provide a description to give your ranking meaning.


To experience how individual and group bias is introduced, ask the students to answer the following questions at three different times. Ask students to further their understanding of social division by investigating and responding to these questions: What is social privilege? In answering this question, produce a timeline to give historical context to the current forms of social privilege. Through sharing individual responses in small group review what is missing from your measure of social privilege. Continue the exploration and response what does it mean to be socially disadvantaged?

Discuss the grouping as a class, and then students re-visit their initial descriptions for revision. Compare individual constructs to the group constructs, and produce a graphic of your own choosing or creation to report on how your views and opinions have remained unchanged and how your perspective has changed or developed. Use a ranking system to give an indication of the strength with which you agree or disagree with each description of social advantage/disadvantage. Reflect on your reasons for and the perspective you are taking when giving the ranking.

Finally, make a final draft of, what it means to have social advantage or disadvantage.

Do your best attempt to list and describe the major contributors to social division. In answering this question, develop a scale and give each contributor a ranking and provide a description to give your ranking meaning.

Use these groupings to give form to a table, chart, diagram or some other type of graphic organizer that eloquently encapsulates and highlights the following:

– Key demographics of stakeholders and stakeholder groups

– The types of experiences reported by stakeholder groups and the nature of the bias or biases prevalent in each of these groups.

– Descriptions of the types of experiences reported; their prevalence and incidence.

EMOTIONAL BARRIERS: Identify and overcome emotional barriers to empathy

Reference Resources:

Let’s Heal The Divide video with Constance Barnes video

Let’s Heal The Divide with Marcia Nozick (Eastside Movement for Business & Economic Renewal Society) video

Let’s Heal The Divide with Aaron Munro (Raincity Housing) video

In small groups, students discuss and reflect on their own personal experience on how judgement has formed a barrier to heal any divide in their personal life their personal fear of being difference, fear of change, and cultural differences and how those emotions cause divide among people their view on the ever-present experience of discrimination for those with mental illness


Drugs and Mental Illness

Reference Resources:

1. The Georgia Straight: Study finds steep drug and mental health challenges for Downtown Eastside single-occupancy tenants, (August 10, 2013)

2. Vancouver Sun: Many addicts still shooting up in Vancouver alleys, (June 3, 2014)

3. The Canadian Press: Drugs and lack of safe housing part of Vancouver’s mental health crisis: experts, (Oct 13, 2013)

4. “In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction”, by Dr. Gabor Mate

Students can research and debate on BC changing its approach to mental health treatment in the mid-1960s. Instead of keeping patients in a single, centralized institution such as Riverview, it moved toward a more regionalized system so patients could receive care and treatment closer to home. The new approach was ramped up in the late 1980s and by the early 2000s, plans were in the works to close the facility for good. The final patients were transferred out of Riverview last year; the facility closed its doors for the last time in July, 2012.

Renewal or Gentrification

Reference Resources:

1. VICE: Renovictions on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Aren’t Stopping Anytime Soon, (April 24, 2014)

2. Canadian Press: Downtown Eastside Gentrification Worries Residents, Feb 24, 2013

3. Let’s Heal the Divide with Danielle Wiley (City of Vancouver Planner) video (TBA)

4. MUSEUM of VANCOUVER Blog: Pidgin Protesters Students can engage in a debate on various selected topics of interest such as the reduced availability of space for low-income housing, higher rent due to increased property value vs the positive impact of a mixed population and path to a renewed community with new job opportunities.


Reference Resources:

1. The Province: Change must be led by the people, (January 1, 2012)

2. Let’s Heal The Divide with Donna Spencer (Firehall Arts Centre) video

3.  Let’s Heal The Divide with Francis Heng (Artist) video

4. Let’s Heal The Divide with Mia Wienberg (Artist) video

5. Let’s Heal The Divide with Tiko Kerr (Artist) video

Milton Wong (Ref 1) is a strong believer in the role of the arts in stabilizing and re-energizing communities; he donated $3 million to Simon Fraser University’s School of Contemporary Arts at Woodward’s and was a co-founder of the Heart of the City arts festival (along with former Carnegie Centre director Michael Clague).

Ask students to reflect and respond to: How can art bring people in different communities together for dialogue and begin the process of cultivating shared values? Review the community engagement programs Vancouver Biennale put in place for let’s heal the divide art installation, discuss how you view art can be a catalyst for change.


 Student Creation & Taking Actions

Students can begin to take action for positive change by getting involved and/or support many organizations that are already in place to heal the divide.

Listing just a few samples:

BC Poverty Reduction Coalition

The Bloom Group responds to the most urgent needs of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

UBC Learning Exchange: Connecting UBC with Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside



•  Teacher and students can reflect on their entire learning process by revisiting the Guiding Questions:

•  How did the unit of study open inquiry, create cross–curricular learning opportunities and/or apply learning to real life situations? Has this unit of inquiry changed your opinions, values and worldview? In what ways, if any, has it helped you grow as a learner?


Related Topics for Cross-Curricular Access


– Gentrification

Personal Identity

– Beliefs

Group Identity

– Cultural values

– Socio-economic status

Source Auditing

– Primary Sources

– Secondary Sources

– Bias

Statistics and Data

– Proportions

– Frequency

– Graphs and plotting


©2015 Vancouver Biennale