Historical Education in Canada

17 06 2009

Today’s Globe and Mail has an opinion piece bemoaning Canadians’ lack of knowledge of the history of their own country. As a history professor, I have a vested interest in favour of more historical education, so I’m inclined to sympathize with anybody who advocates that our citizens learn more about the past. The fact some provinces do not require the study of any history in high school is a disgrace. However, I’m struck by the fact that the piece’s authors (Marc Chalifoux and J.D.M. Stewart) focus exclusively on the public’s knowledge of _Canadian_ history. It seems to me that an educated person ought to know about both the history of their country as well as that of the world as a whole.  They should also know something about the history of their locality or metropolitan area.

Yes, Canadians should be familiar with the Last Spike, Macdonald, Trudeau, Louis Riel and all the rest of it. But they should also know something about the French Revolution,  Edison, Jenner, Mao, Auschwitz, Lincoln, and Mandela.  Reasonable people can disagree about the right balance of local, Canadian, and world history in the school curriculum, but I think that there should be at least a bit of all three.  To only teach students Canadian history would breed parochialism. In any event, you can’t really understand Canadian history without knowing something about the histories of Britain, France, and the United States. (I say this as a specialist in Canadian history).

Note re the authors of the article: Marc Chalifoux is executive director of the Dominion Institute and J.D.M. Stewart is a teacher of Canadian history at Bishop Strachan School in Toronto.