I came across this article just yesterday and the timing couldn’t have been better. The article in question: “Quebec’s high school history books should be taken out of classrooms, independent review says“. A colleague and I have just recently submitted a paper proposal to the Canadian Society for the Study of Education that will provide a comparative analysis of the social studies curricula utilized in both Quebec and BC. We argue in our paper that the curriculum used in Quebec is outdated and antiquated in the content choices that are made within textbooks as the promote mostly Eurocentric and Western histories while excluding a more representative history of indigenous populations in Canada and the contemporary history of recent immigrants in the post-colonial era. The article seems to corroborate our own initial thoughts on the content choices within the Quebec history curriculum. The report (which can be accessed here) authored by Terry Copp, Jennifer Lonergan, and John Zucchi, and commissioned by the English Montreal School Board, found the following to be problematic (this is just a summary based on my reading of the report): 

  1. Students are not taught to see the complexities of history in this Program. Every phenomenon seems to have an immediate cause, or two, or three. Rarely is there a broad contextual discussion to situate the historical or social phenomena
  2. …the program does not effectively support the development of critical thinking, which is essential in order to understand history. Rather, it presents a particular interpretation which is taken for granted to be correct, with no questions being actively raised within the topics as to its objectivity. 
  3. There is a single version of history, a single identity, and a single narrative. There is no mention of the fact that Québec is a diverse society and that as such there are other views regarding Quebec’s identity and thus what is important in its history
  4. For all the coverage of the Indigenous people, of the Inuit, of women, there are no insights into their versions of Québec. Those who identify with Jewish or Italian or Haitian ethnicity, or with any ethnic, cultural or racial minorities, also seem to have no perspectives on Quebec history and identity. … Furthermore, students who are unable to identify with the ideology behind the narrative will feel disconnected from the illustrated narrative.
  5. The Indigenous throughout are presented as ‘other’ and antagonists, rather than human beings whose place was colonized by outsiders, and whose own history became inextricably linked to the history of Quebec and Canada. French colonizers are generally portrayed as benevolent allies, gently ‘familiarizing’ indigenous peoples with their way of life, in the hopes that they would adapt this way of life and be ‘willing to convert to Catholicism’ freely…
  6. Immigration in the last 30 years has had an important impact on the cultural, political and economic scene of Quebec and Canada, but this topic is scarcely covered. Indeed, the contribution of many different ethnic and cultural groups over the last century to Quebec and Canada are overlooked.
  7. Greek, Portuguese, Haitian and other immigrants are also barely mentioned. These vibrant communities have no coverage. … visible minorities, seem to have no place in this text. None of these communities are examined for their place in the economy, work place, enterprise, and union movements.
  8. Muslims are barely mentioned in passing, Buddhists and Sikhs are nowhere to be seen. In 2018, is it still possible to dwell on the excluded in history, or the oppressed, and not mention any of these groups, never mind trying to understand, not their “contributions” to Quebec and Canada, but simply their world views, their perspectives on Quebec and Canadian society, history, politics and identities?

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I believe that there needs to be greater representation of minority histories within our education system. The necessity of this representation is predicated on the reality that Canada, and in this case Montreal and Quebec, are undergoing massive demographic change. Why is representation important? Because it leads to the feeling of belonging. Our classrooms are microcosms of our society and can tell us a lot about the shifting nature of our demography and what we can expect our communities to look like in a few decades. With increasing numbers of immigrants and first generation Canadians joining Canadian classrooms, we need to make sure that they feel that their stories and history is represented in what they and their peers are learning. Through this process, these students will feel that they belong to a larger community through this representation. Why is belonging important? Because this feeling of belonging strengthens our democracy and shifts power towards those who have historically not had any.

Another important reason that having greater representation of these histories in our texts is that it strengthens the vigour of our democracy by creating a greater awareness of the other and those different from the mainstream population which has the potential to decrease ignorance and intolerance. In my previous post I had written about how there has been an increase in hate crimes in Canada, specifically in Quebec and Ontario. In my research and in the presentations I’ve made at Congress, I’ve argued and demonstrated that a greater awareness of the other through our education systems can lead to the diminishment of ignorance and increase social cohesion and positive interactions across multiple groups of people who hail from different geographical, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. 

Curricula is a powerful social tool. It is one of the tools that governments utilize that shapes the dominant discourse of a society. This isn’t to say that curricula is utilized for nefarious reasons by governments, but it should be the responsibility of governments to develop curricula that meets the needs of our future society. As such, good curricula needs to anticipate what changes we would like to see a generation from now. We know that Canada is changing. 1/3 of Canadians will be members of the visible minority population by 2036, with a majority of these individuals being concentrated in metropolitan centres. What type of education will students need today that will anticipate the population change that we are going to see tomorrow? Montreal has a unique opportunity in Quebec to set the tone of what our history curricula will incorporate. 

This research paper that we are working on will hopefully shed more light on some of the problematic areas of the current Quebec curriculum. Moreover, the inclusion of the BC curriculum will hopefully demonstrate how another province has challenged itself and its curricula to address the changing demographic landscape in BC. Stay tuned for more details as we continue to work on this research project over the next 6 months. 

 

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Alim Fakirani