This research helps us reflect on how to teach history to youth. We know to which extent, over the past twenty years, the historical thinking paradigm has influenced academics and teachers. Without diminishing the important contribution this intervention has made in teaching history, we need to acknowledge that historical thinking is not easily implemented in the concrete context of the curriculum or classroom.
We have arrived at this conclusion by examining a subset of students in Quebec’s mandatory History and Education to Citizenship course who, in principle, have been introduced to historical thinking methods. It appears from their submissions, however, that even after learning about historical thinking, students continue to adhere to canonical visions of Quebec’s past; a past that’s binary, simplistic and divided. Of course, it is possible that the historical thinking paradigm was not fully applied in the classroom and therefore these responses have nothing to do with its putative failure to fulfill its promise. It is equally possible, however, that the strong voices supporting this paradigm under-estimate a number of significant realities:
Youth develop their understanding and vision of history outside of the classroom as much, and often more, than inside the classroom.
Youth quickly forget most of what they are told or learn in class.
The grand national narratives remain a ready-to-use framework or template for young people diligently searching to make sense of the past that allows them to live efficiently in society (or at least pass the exam!).
“Moving beyond the institutional implementation of historical thinking concepts, Thursday’s essays explore historical thinking and consciousness within the broader Canadian public. In the first post of the day, the ‘Pasts Collective’ (Del Muise, Marg Conrad, Gerald Friesen, Kadriye Ercikan, David Northrup, Peter Seixas and Jocelyn Létourneau) summarize the results from their large-scale study on how Canadians engage with the past. Their conclusions teach us much about the level of trust Canadians place in historians’ work and the institutions and resources developed around it. In the afternoon, Jocelyn Létourneau introduces us to the fruit of a similar study he conducted in Quebec, focusing on historical consciousness among Quebec’s youth and the disjuncture between teaching and learning. (Those of you who read French can get an early peek at this on our partner site, HistoireEngagee.ca; it goes live there today).”
” […] To the question: “If you had to tell me what Quebec history was all about in one sentence, what would you say?” student Alexandre Thibault responded: “The invasion of Indian lands by French people and the subsequent invasion by English people.”
Fellow students Alex Miller-Pelletier and Mariana Racine-Mendez saw Quebec’s history as a struggle for identity.
“Since the Plains of Abraham war, French people have felt the oppression of English people,” they said.
Létourneau found that young anglophones are half as likely as francophones to have a positive view of Quebec’s history.
He said that he believes it’s time we move past the simplistic, black and white script. […]”
English high school history students summarize Quebec history in one sentence, at the John F. Kennedy High School in Montreal, Friday, February 21, 2014. (Marie-France Coallier / THE GAZETTE)
A team of researchers led by Université Laval historian Jocelyn Létourneau asked 3,423 students from Secondary 4 to university to summarize the history of Quebec in one sentence. These are the words that came up most often. Red words are from anglophone students, blue from francophones. The size represents the frequency of the word as a percentage of respondents. Photograph by: Wordle.net
“Some fear that the new curriculum may only emphasize a troubling trend uncovered in a novel 10-year study by Université Laval historian Jocelyn Létourneau. The scholar asked high school and university students to sum up the history of Quebec in one phrase. He found that while students may not have all the facts, dates and figures, they are clearly marked by an overwhelmingly negative view of the Québécois saga — one defined by endless struggle and repeated defeat.”