“When I moved from Montreal to Toronto four years ago, I was startled by the contrast of assumptions in each city regarding what Canada stood for, its history, and what issues were most important.
My personal experience finds an echo in the “Je me souviens” project, a recent study showing the enduring gap of historical consciousness between Anglophone and Francophone youth, in spite of increasing bilingualism in Quebec. This gap is built into us, as the study shows, long before formal history courses, which provide more facts while doing little to change our broader perspective on Canada. How we think about our country derives not from our actual knowledge of its history, but rather from the general public sphere in which we are immersed.”
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!).