Shall we teach Canadian history?

[I posted this originally in my history blog, but think it is of enough interest to my non-history friends to post here too]

This discussion was in the Globe and Mail this past saturday. I don’t know how long the Globe will maintain it online, so I made a pdf copy for you here:Should we can Canadian history?. I’m still agast at the first piece in the discussion – I didn’t think anybody still spoke out loud about history as a western-led progress, the “advancement of civilization” led by our male, white, European forefathers. I think my eyebrows glued to my hairline at that… How can someone even suggest that “music, science and political philosophy are all largely Western achievements”???
One thing from the article that I found VERY interesting and that wasn’t reproduced in the online version is what students are expected to walk out of school with, if they take all their history courses. This is according to Ken Osborne, a professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba, who has spent his career training history teachers. Here is his list of the core points:

  • Canada has a long aboriginal history predating Europeans’ arrival and aboriginal peoples occupy a key place in our history
  • Canada was once a colony of France, then of Britain – and French-English duality is a defining characteristic of the country
  • Bilingualism, multiculturalism, regional diversity, federalism and parliamentary democracy are defining characteristics of Canada
  • US relations have been a formative element of our evolution
  • Immigration is a major factor in Canada’s development
  • International events play an important role in our past
  • History as a subject is characterized by ongoing debate and interpretation

Those are all VERY important points and certainly things I learned in my Canadian history classes at university. Hats off to any high school teacher  who has been able to pass on these core points to their students.

Author: guerson

Food-obsessed historian and knitter.

6 thoughts on “Shall we teach Canadian history?”

  1. very interesting, I did not read the article but I will do. Another important element that should be discussed in history classes is monarchy. What is interesting to see either is the difference between globe and mail approach and francophone quebequer newspapers…I was looking for some news to publish in my weblog, and I just found an article in La Presse discussing the current issues on multiculturalism…and “accommodements raisonnables”. If you want to take a look :

    Happy Canada day !

  2. Osborne is a very cool guy.
    There is pretty much no one beyond us actual historians (grad school types and faculty, and not even all of us) who know what history is all about. Training history teachers—both in teachers’ colleges and throughout their careers in front of the classroom—is crucial and not something that is done very well. Good curricular design is also key. And etc. I support “navel-gazing,” but so too do I support Osborne’s concept of education for democratic citizenship when it comes to school history. This doesn’t mean brainwashing or an exclusive focus on politics. It means we need to teach critical thinking skills, instill democratic attitudes and historical-mindedness, as well as provide students with some basic “facts” about the country’s (and the world’s) historical experience. Not an easy task, but a necessary one.
    Thanks for this piece, A!

  3. Jen,

    I agree 100%. I have always had a problem with the way history is taught at schools. I believe that the proper teaching of history is crucial not only for proper democratic citizenship but also a degree of “historical-mindedness”, as you say, which is fundamental for creating a more tolerant and open society.

    Too bad school boards see it as simply “window dressing”, as most humanities disciplines tend to be treated…

  4. Oi Ester,

    Vc chegou em casa rápido ;) Pois é… de vez em quando quero falar de coisas mais técnicas sobre minhas pesquisas e comecei a achar que ia entediar muito os amigos que não são da área e não estão interessados. Resolvi criar um blog só pra isso: .A coisa anda meio parada mas logo logo devo estar colocando mais coisas por lá…

  5. ooops, that came out in Portuguese ;) I’ve just spent the afternoon chatting with Ester in Portuguese and when she made the comment, the answer came out in that language…

    Anyways, for the non portuguese-speaking friends, I basically explained that I found myself wanting to talk about the more technical side of my research and, afraid of boring some of you to death, I decided to create another blog dedicated to that alone: . It’s a quieter blog, I don’t post as much, but will probably start posting more as I get into the writing mode…

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