As Canada moves to reconciliation, we find ourselves at a crossroads – a crossroads between identifying the problem and finding its solution. And as this country’s perspective on Indigenous issues is rapidly changing, so should our education system. The problem is that we are still stuck in the past. From uninterested teachers to poor, outdated resources, we as students deserve better. Our approach to teaching Canadian history must change.
From Grades 4 to 7 we’ve learned the same progression of Canadian history. It starts when European explorers come to Canada. We’ve moved on from them “discovering” Canada but it’s still in no way a fair account of history. They’re treated as heroes — the French and English explorers who established the European-Canadian society as we know it. What this narrative fails at is both teaching what happened before settlers arrived and how their arrival hurt Indigenous peoples.
History textbooks that are so unjust shouldn’t be permitted today.
Updating our resources is never a priority for school administrations. Students, donors and staff all prefer more tangible investments: new technology, trips or artists/scientists in the school, not a new outlook on our history. Yet history textbooks and other resources should be a number one priority, as the difference between what is and should be taught is drastic. History faces unique problems that are unlike any other subject, as our society’s outlook on its complex issues have changed since our textbook’s publication in 2001. That inaction is leaving people behind.
History textbooks that are so unjust shouldn’t be permitted today. Books that have one page on the more than 10,000 years of history before settlers came. Books that seldom give the view of Indigenous people. And books whose writers thought it was acceptable to write one short chapter on the traditions of Indigenous peoples and throw their hands up in the air. All these flaws create a textbook that chooses whose voices should be heard by the students, instead of letting all sides share their stories and the students make that judgment for themselves.
As Canada comes closer to a turning point, one would think that the time to act is now. Yet no action is being taken. So being tired of that inaction and the same flawed narrative, I proposed a solution.
I presented my teacher with a few pages of the Manitoba curriculum, which went further in depth about Indigenous peoples, and proposed that this could fill some of what was missing in the textbook. It built on what the Ontario curriculum lacked, highlighting the wide range of Indigenous societies and the traditions of pre-contact Indigenous peoples.
I was shut down and told that I could refer students to the resource and they could access it in their own time. A fellow classmate told me afterwards that no other student was going to go to that resource. I agreed with him. If we don’t challenge our students to think differently, nothing will change. And this burden falls on educators. Students shouldn’t be begging to further their education, teachers should be inviting it.
Every Toronto school teaches empathy – putting oneself is someone else’s shoes. Yet the schools’ actions don’t follow through. As non-Indigenous people we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the Indigenous people from across the country whose stories, culture and voice are being left out. We will never be able to repair our relations with Indigenous peoples if we’re being taught that they don’t matter. If our government and our society are so keen on changing those relations, they must start changing our education.
Photo: courtesy Jed Sears
First published in Education Canada, June 2018