Education committee takes a dangerously political view of history

Coalition pour l’histoire

- Nothing is more political than trying to depoliticize history
Many were shocked this week by Le Devoir's story that an Education Department committee suggests teaching a more unifying, less conflictual history of Quebec.
But the fact is the document's approach is in perfect keeping with two ideas that already permeate the way history is taught here. The first is the questionable but popular pedagogical theory that students must be encouraged to build their oven learning experience.
This requires a more egalitarian vision of the teacher-student relationship in which the former accompanies the latter in his "situation of learng". So, too many facts taught within a defined framework risk disturbing this process.
Or as Laval University professor Jean-François Cardin - one of the committee's experts - put it on Radio-Canada:
"Instead of handing on an already established historical memory, new programs invite students to build their own comprehension of history, be it the conscription crisis or the October crisis - a tendency we find in other history programs in the Western world."
The other idea or, trend that this committee's work reflects is more political. It started in the years that followed the 1980 referendum when the Education Department quietly began to deemphasize the politically charged French-English conflicts and chose to focus more on the socioeconomic aspects of history.
The idea got a boost in a 1996 report ordered by the Parti Québécois government. The committee that produced the report - headed by historian Jacques Lacoursière - surprise many by ditching the concept of a national history of Quebec. Instead, it suggested that each student be taught to "construct his own historical knowledge, according to his needs or that of his group."
The present committee's suggestlons of a less conflictual history take these two trends even farther by trying to align Quebec's history programs with the approach that dominates educational systems in English Canada.
In the ROC, instead of simply adding the more multicultural aspects of Canadian history to a central corpus composed mainly of the long list of French-English conflicts that shaped Canada and Quebec, multiculturalism became the main prism through which the Canadian history is seen.
This is a political choice that aims to foster a more unifying, less conflictual history, with less focus on conflicts with Quebec and francophones, and more focus on Canada's multicultural makeup. The larger goal is to form citizens who are sensitive to their national identity and unity.
This historical vision sees Canada as one nation comprising a number of ethnic or linguistic groups, including francophones, but preceded by the aboriginals referred to as the First Nations.
If Quebec takes its inspiration from this approach and ignores a number of important French-English conflicts, it would be virtually espousing the same vision. Would Quebec's history then be presented as that of a nation, or as that of a sub-group within Canada?
If that's the case - and the Lacoursière Report has already refused to refer to the "national history of Québec" - it would be a very political choice for the Education Department and the government to make.
If this committee does want to de-emphasize even further the teaching of such nation-forming conflicts, as the Conquest, the Union Act of 1840, the crushing of the 1837-38 Patriote rebellion, the 1917 conscription crisis, the unilateral patriation of the constitution or even the failed Meech Lake Accord, this would constitute historical revisionism, if not outright propaganda.
Nothing is more political than trying to depoliticize history. The history of nations is the tale of conflicts - political, economical and sociological. Removing the factual content of conflicts would be pure manipulation.
This would produce citizens devoid of true historical knowledge. History must be taught with conflicts and all, leaving students free to use this knowledge to help them make their own political choices.
For now, Education Minister, Jean-Marc Fournier says it's just a document. But it has been in the works for two years already. If it's left as is, it will form the basis of a new history program, student manual and teacher's guide.
This week, Fournier appeared surprisingly uninformed about the document's content or the experts who contributed to it. Maybe he should take more interest in what his bureaucracy is concocting.
Unless it's simply churning out what the government truly wants history teaching to become in Quebec.

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