Friday, 16 March 2012

Paul Martin on History Education

I read in today's Globe that former prime minister Paul Martin is deriding the lack of attention to aboriginal peoples in history education in Canada today. (see story here)

The article notes how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (looking into the history of residential schooling) had made a similar point, arguing that the history of residential schools ought to be a part of the curriculum. I couldn't agree more.

The entire way our colonial history is taught in elementary and high school needs to be rethought unless and until it focuses on the way in which the founding of Canada was a part of a larger project of colonial expropriation of land and cultural whitewashing. This isn't the only story to be told about Canada's founding, but not including it is like having  maccaroni and cheese without the cheese; you can eat it, but something rather essential is missing.

Alas, though, I'm a bit put off by the suggestion of Martin's group that schools ought to be teaching more about aboriginal culture. Perhaps it's just me but I can't help but be skeptical about how this would actually work in practice. It's hard not to imagine this as leading to the same kinds of over-simplifications usually used to teach about 'pioneer' history now, but this time applied to aboriginal history. So instead of - or along with - stories of pioneer hardship and perseverence we could have stories on the harmony and environmental responsibility of aboriginal peoples.

Is this really what we would want - more simplifications and myth-making but in a more inclusive fashion? 

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