A moment of reckoning in Canada

Parliament Hill Monday, June 7th, 2021

There are times in our collective story when something really stops people in their tracks. The story of the 215 unmarked graves beside a residential school in Kamloops is one of these instances. Even though the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report has been out since 2015, it seems to take the pictures of 215 little pairs of shoes on Parliament Hill to bring all this home to us.

We have known about the appalling death count in residential schools since at least 1907. That year, Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce produced a report on the state of health in Canada’s residential schools. The conclusions of the report were astounding:

“It suffices for us to know, however, that of a total of 1,537 pupils reported upon nearly 25 per cent are dead, of one school with an absolutely accurate statement, 69 per cent of ex-pupils are dead, and that everywhere the almost invariable cause of death given is tuberculosis.”

The Bryce Report, 1907 p.18
One of the tables from the report. What is striking is that many schools did not report at all or said their records were incomplete, records that Archbishop Collins now says are available to all. The Bryce Report p. 18-19

Bryce focused on one particular school where the results were particularly heart wrenching:

Thus, of a total of 31 discharged from the File Hills school, 9 died at the school, of 6 others there is no record of condition on discharge, but all are reported to be dead, 7 others died from within a few months to three years after discharge and 9 are reported as in good health,

The Bryce Report, 1907 p. 18

The reason for this very high death rate was well understood. Scientific medicine had made great strides in the past 40 years and the health effects of good and proper ventilation were well understood. In many of the schools however, there was a criminal inattention to what was needed to keep kids well and protected. Bryce continues:

in the absence of regular and sufficient ventilation, extremely inadequate; that for at least 7 months in the long winter of the west, double sashes are on the windows in order to save fuel and maintain warmth and that for some 10 continuous hours children are confined in dormitories, the air of which, if pure to start with, has within 15 minutes become polluted, so as to be capable of detection by ordinary chemical tests. It is apparent that general ill health from the continued inspiration of an air of increasing foulness is inevitable; but when sometimes consumptive pupils and, very frequently, others with discharging scrofulous glands, are present to add an infective quality to the atmosphere, we have created a situation so dangerous to health that I was often surprised that the results were not even worse than they have been shown statistically to be.

The Bryce Report p. 19

The report goes on to talk about a general inadequate level of physical activity provided for the students and the absolute disregard for daily health and sanitation in the schools.

Such a report could have been a clarion call for action. These children were the responsibility of the state and it was clearly the state’s responsibility along with the various churches to make amends and vastly improve every aspect of the residential learning environment.

But here is where the story get sinister. Dr. Bryce reported to Duncan Campbell Scott, federal Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs and Scott suppressed the report. It was leaked to the media causing a public outcry, but very little was done to follow through on Bryce’s recommendations that included “the handing over of the school system to the Chief Medical Officer and be made in its first essentials a sanitorium system rather than an educational one: That each child must be primarily considered an “individual case of probably tuberculosis.”
That improvements be made in the buildings so that open air work-rooms and dormitories shall be provided.
That increased expenditure for extra clothing be provided for, also a special dietary. Also improved water
supply for bathing &.” Indian Residential Schools & Reconciliation

In fact, the report was seen as an irritation:

It will be obvious at once that Dr. Boyce’s recommendations while they may be scientific are quite inapplicable

to the system under which these schools are conducted. Even were the Department prepared to take the schools

over from the Churches, it is self evident that the Churches would not be willing to give up their share of the

joint control. These preliminary examinations by Dr. Lafferty and Dr. Bryce have already caused considerable

irritation and brought protests from the Roman Catholic authorities who have the larger number of pupils under

their charge

Department of Indian Affairs File 140,754-1 “Correspondence relating to tuberculous among the Indians in the various agencies across Canada 1908-1910” (c10167)

Daily Colonist November 16, 1907

Scott continued to block Bryce at every turn. In 1913, he denied him the funding he needed to continue his work. Bryce was not allowed to present his findings at conferences. He was denied positions in the Federal Public Service that he was certainly qualified and by 1921 he was forced into retirement (First Nations Child and Family Caring Society). All techniques used by large institutions that have no need for the truth.

But we still don’t seem to get it. Decades after the suppression of The Bryce Report by Duncan Campbell Scott and the Canadian Government, there is still no willingness to call the acts of our churches and governments genocide.

The interview with Rosemary Barton and Cardinal Collins is just a rehashing of past wrongs. Would Scott have said anything really different than the platitudes Collins offered this past Sunday?

Collins is a smooth operator and he brushed aside any thought that there are records that have yet to be disclosed, even as the head of the Oblate order, Rev. Ken Thorson, is in the process of digitizing the records from their Kamloops school (CBC, June 6, 2021).

It is the smug arrogance of church leaders like Collins that will really make the struggle for reconciliation so much harder. No need for apologies, no grand gestures, just a little bit of work here and there.

Full interview with Cardinal Collins

When the mighty fall, they fall hard. Trite statements and interviews by complacent, comfortable men do not help. Yesterday Egerton Ryerson’s statue in Toronto came tumbling down and it has been announced it will not be reinstated.

A photo of the Egerton Ryerson statue at Ryerson University in Toronto after being pulled to the ground. Credit: Global News. Global News

Ryerson was responsible for the early design of the residential school model in Canada. He believed that white and indigenous students should not be taught in the same schools due to their different cultural backgrounds. He was also responsible for developing the separate school system in Ontario – another outmoded idea that might also soon face the chopping block.

As we reexamine our history, who do we still honour? Who do we now comdemn?

All history is relative and the judgement of current times will have to be meted out on people like Scott, MacDonald and Ryerson. These are Canadian icons no more and they must all be toppled from their ridiculous pedestals so we can move on.

Canadian History – looking for connections – a rewrite.

This is a rewrite of a post I put out earlier this week. I am rewriting it because it lacks direction and frankly, it’s not very good.

My poor writing reflects my confusion.

I am taking a few months to read lots of academic material on the teaching of history. I am entering a Ph.D. program at the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa and I am trying to get my head around the writing that is out there on teaching methodology.

History is a hard subject to teach well, but it is also hard to write clearly on what good teaching in this field is all about. Much of what I have read is confusing and complex. I despair that if we can’t write clearly about this topic we will fail to put out much that is helpful for teachers.

To bring down the confusion (I hope) the earlier writing I am keeping is in italics.

So, I wrote:

Today I am trying to figure out what we can possibly do to make history interesting for our students.

I started by randomly going through some of the sample questions in the Ontario History Curriculum document for Grade 9. This is what I found.


B: Canada, 1914–1929

Here are some of the Sample Questions based on Specific Expectations B 1.1 – B 3.4

When you analyse census data, what do you think is the most significant trend in the Canadian population between 1914 and 1929? Why? Did this trend affect all people in Canada?

What were some of the short- and long-term consequences of Canadians’ participation in battles such as the Somme,Ypres, Passchendaele, and Vimy Ridge?”

How did First Nations, Métis, and Inuit tend to view Canada’s participation in World War I? How did they view Canada’s status as part of the British Empire?

Every time I rewrite this piece, I take out more of the ‘sample questions’. I am now down to four. There are so many and they don’t do anything to help people teach or learn. Someone sat around and threw together a bunch of questions making sure they covered all the right bases. Why were these questions chosen? What is the thought process going on here?


What I wonder is this. How do we follow a provincial curriculum with so many specific expectations – 14 for the unit Canada, 1914-1918 – and at the same time enable students to build connections in the narrative?

Whose questions are these? How are they relevant?

As part of my reading, I am working through Samantha Cutrara’s book Transforming the Canadian History Classroom. She is challenging many of the ideas on what the Canadian history classroom looks like and she is arguing that the focus needs to be put squarely on the student.

I continue to read her book, but as I read I am again feeling lost. By the fourth chapter, she seems to be basing her theories on the teaching of one educator who is struggling with a Grade 9 Applied History class. She seems to be saying that the teacher does not ‘see’ the real students and is caught up in ‘edu-speak’ in order to explain what is not working well in her class (p. 109)

This is a really dangerous approach – to blame a teacher as a way to prop up your own ideas is simply wrong. Anyone teaching high school applied history for the first time would probably fail – based on my own experience, this is something that is really hard to do! It is so easy for a theorist to point out the practitioner’s failings. Nothing good can come from such an approach.

Cutrara does ask some pretty important questions about how we teach history:

“…when students encounter histories that lack meaningful connection to the present, when students have no clue where the information or story is heading, it contributes to a sense of demoralization about learning history” (p. 73)

She continues, Canadian history “fails to connect to the Canada they live in outside of class…”(p.74 Cutrara) – if we fail to connect to our students, what is the point of all the specific expectations and suggested questions we find cluttering up our history curriculum?

At this point in my writing, I am beginning to get lost, I continue:

What does our current curriculum have to do with creating the relevance students need to take an interest in history?

Maybe what we need to focus on is the telling of stories – maybe by doing this we can create relevance. This works for me. Every day when I go to the Globe and Mail, I often go first to the Moment in Time section – I do this because the photos tell a compelling story like the one below.

Part of the delegation of the Negro Citizenship Association is shown here boarding the train at the Union Station in Toronto, for Ottawa, where they presented a brief to Walter E. Harris, Minister of Immigration on April 27, 1954.
THE CANADIAN NEGRO

Protesting Ottawa’s immigration laws

More than 60 years ago, a group of determined Black activists boarded a train in Toronto to head to Ottawa to protest against discriminatory immigration laws. This marked the first time in Canada that a Black-led delegation brought activism directly to the doorstep of the federal government. The delegation, comprised of civil-rights activists, including Bromley Armstrong and brothers Stanley and Norman Grizzle, was led by Barbadian Canadian Donald Moore. 

Madalyn Howitt

This is a real story, this is interesting, it also could have some relevance to the students we teach. If not this story, there are hundreds more that could engage their interest.

As I reflect on this, I realize there is nothing really helpful in what I am writing here – any good teacher should be able to personalize the curriculum to fit their students. I will look for more writing on this topic, but nothing new here.

When so much is predetermined for students, how is it possible to link the interests of students to what they will be learning in history? This is one subject that really needs to cater to the interests of students in order to create connection to the lives of the people we are teaching. When we are in the process of telling our national stories, how can we decide what are the elements of this story before students walk into the room?

Another case in point, today I read this on the CBC website.

I grew up a young Black girl in Olds, Alta., without ever hearing the name Amber Valley.

Amber Valley was the largest Black community ever to have existed west of Ontario. It was only an afternoon’s drive away from where I lived. 

I also never heard or read about any of the self-sustaining all-Black communities founded by the 1,600 or so African-Americans who moved on to the Canadian Prairies at the turn of the twentieth century: Wildwood, east of Edson; Breton, southwest of Edmonton; Campsie, northwest of Edmonton; Maidstone in Saskatchewan. 

I grew up a Black girl in Alberta without ever hearing of Amber Valley. How does history go missing?

These are ramblings at best. I am throwing these ideas out there then I am rewriting them on the fly. I am mainly disappointed with what I am reading, but I am a long way from articulating something of value for myself. It seems to me that we have put a great deal of focus on effective teaching for math, language arts, and science, but we are at a collective loss when it comes to telling our own national story.

I will keep reading and writing. Sorry for the confusion, I have a long way to go.

Historical Thinking for the Common Good

Everyone knows what history is until he begins to think about it. After that, nobody knows.

Alan Griffin

I find sometimes that this blog is a good place to put ideas still in formation out there for me to take a look at.

This is one of those blogs. The teaching of history is one of the building blocks of our society. In Teaching History for the Common Good, Keith Barton and Linda Levstik write that history provides citizens with capability to engage in collaboration towards a common good Barton, Levstik (2004). The teaching of history is what makes us responsible and discerning citizens. So, if this is the case, why do we seem to have so much difficulty teaching it?

I started my career as a history teacher and I have a graduate degree in History from York University. My studies didn’t prepare me to teach the subject beyond putting out a narrative to my students. A narrative that was not really up for debate, a narrative that was a pretty traditional retelling of the classic Canadian story.

Later on when I scheduled teachers into their high school classes, the mandatory history class – CHC 2D/2P was rarely taught by someone who majored in history. Generally, we put in junior teachers who were working their way up in seniority hoping one day to get senior courses in grades 11 and 12. These teachers were provided with a text and possibly some resources from the more senior members of the department. I don’t think in most cases, the narrative model for teaching was ever really challenged. Consequently, history was one of those subjects that many students really dreaded. It was not relevant, it was not engaging and it told just one side of the story.

Now this was a long time ago and I would love to learn that this doesn’t happen anymore, so if you are a history teacher and I am missing something, please let me know. Now, of course there are a wide variety of resources available to the teacher. Some are better than others, some are curated, credible sources of information, others not so much. But I wonder, even with all these new shiny digital resources, has anything changed in how we actually teach the subject?

 

The Think Like an Historian series by Historica Canada is an example of material now available to educators in Canada – this might help to makes some of the necessary changes in how we teach history

Actually, a lot has changed since I taught in the classroom. For more than 20 years, scholars have been writing about historical thinking – what it is and how to impart this in classroom. Theorists started to write that students needed to be asked to do more than just consume a national narrative. Students should be analysing or establishing causal linkages in history, they should be responding morally by remembering, admiring or condemning people and events of the past. Beyond this, students could be expected to identify with the past by making connections between themselves and the people and events of the past Barton, Levstik p. 6.

These ideas are percolating and changing all the time. In 2013, Peter Seixas and Tom Morton came out with The Big Six: Historical Thinking Concepts and in 2017, the Critical Thinking Consortium came out with Teaching Historical Thinking, both texts that I relied on heavily when I taught a history methodology course at the Faculty of Education last year at the University of Ottawa. Besides these works there is a whole range of other material that has been produced on new methodologies for teaching history. The ideas are fresh and exciting and all challenge the notion that history needs to be a boring apology for a national story.

When you start to look into this material, you will see that the really big idea here is teaching students how to discern and think. The Big Six concepts include historical significance, the use of evidence, continuity and change, cause and consequence, the development of an historical perspective and thinking about the ethical dimension of historic events.

This approach to teaching is well researched. Great material continues to be written, for example, a recent study by Lindsay Gibson and Carla Peck, examines how to teach historical thinking methods to pre-service elementary teachers Gibson & Peck (2020). They make an important point as part of this study:

The hope is that identification of core practices will establish a coherent language of history teaching practice, and will create a closer relationship between research on teacher education and research on teachers’ professional learning and bridge the gap between research and practice

Gibson & Peck p. 220

While Gibson and Peck have been able to develop teaching methods that have shown positive results with their teacher candidates, the real challenge is how can this methodology be extended to other pre-service programs, in-service professional development programs and teacher-support publications and websites. This is the work that needs to continue. Work has been done on what represents effective teaching practice in history, Fogo (2014), but has this been translated into materials and resources for educators?

This work has been done much more effectively in Science, Math and Language Arts and there are materials available that can effectively guide teachers on how to conduct inquiry in these subjects. Where this work has been done in History, the scale of the work is much smaller and does not focus enough on the links between teaching and learning Fogo p. 152.

A good example of the current work being done in other fields includes the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which map out the key concepts and practices for teaching science in the United States.

Venn Diagram featured in The NSTA Quick-Reference Guide to the NGSS K-12

Maybe what is needed for history instruction is a version of the work being done to develop teaching strategies to be used in the classroom like the NGSS. This would be a huge task, but if we truly want to see a change in the way history is taught in our schools, we need to find more ways to translate the research into practice as Fogo suggests.

While there are materials for teachers to assist with teaching historical thinking concepts, like The Critical Teaching Consortium, The Historical Thinking Project, and the Think Like an Historian series by Historica Canada to name a few, there needs to be more resources that really assist teachers who are doing this important work. In other words, there is a great deal of the what and why of historical thinking concepts, but not nearly enough of the how.

There is no question that the teaching of history in our schools can be more effective. Research is showing that by and large, classrooms are still “sites of memorization rather than questioning, analysis, and interpretation” Gibson & Peck p. 213. While in other fields a great deal of work has been done to collect and study high-yield teaching strategies and then translate these though pre-service and in-service programming, this work still needs to be done in history education in our schools. If we really want to be doing history on a daily basis, we owe it to our teachers and students to bridge the gap between research and practice and replace old narratives with real thinking and analysis.

REFERENCES

Bain, R. B. (2005). “They Thought the World Was Flat?” Applying the Principles of How People Learn in Teaching High School History. Dans J. B. S. Donovan (dir.), How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom (p. 179-214). Washington: The National Academies Press.

Den Heyer, K., Abbott, L. (2011). Reverberating Echoes: Challenging Teacher Candidates to Tell and Learn From Entwined Narrations of Canadian History curi_567 610..635 KENT DEN HEYER & LAURENCE ABBOTT University of Alberta Edmonton, AB, Canada

Gibson L., Peck C.L. (2020) More than a Methods Course: Teaching Preservice Teachers to Think Historically. In: Berg C., Christou T. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of History and Social Studies Education. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi-org.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/10.1007/978-3-030-37210-1_10

Fogo F. (2014) “Core Practices for Teaching History: The Results of a Delphi Panel Survey. In: Theory & Research in Social Education, 42: 151–196, College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies Theory and Research in Social Education 42, no. 2 (2014): 152.

Miles, J., Gibson,L., Denos, M., Case, R., Stipp, S., (2017) Teaching Historical Thinking (Revised and expanded edition) The Critical Thinking Consortium and THEN/HIER

Salinas, C., Blevins, B. et Sullivan, C. (2012). Critical Historical Thinking: When Official Narratives Collide With Other Narratives. Multicultural Perspectives, 14(1), 18-27.

Seixas, P., Morton, T., Colyer, J., & Fornazzari, S. (2013). The Big Six: Historical Thinking Concepts. Toronto: Nelson Education

Teaching Historically for Canada’s Future: Overall Goals and Objectives (2020)

The Washington Riots: We are like this

This week, in the midst of one of the most powerful and disturbing moments in recent American history, I decided to start an examination of why we study history.

This is the first blush at a longer project where I will be looking at how we teach history in our schools and what is the purpose of teaching history.

I am starting with Teaching History for the Common Good, Barton, K. C., & Levstik, L. S. (2004).  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. As I work through this and other texts, I am going to record what I am learning here, the place I go to sort out my ideas. I think this is going to take some time.

It is never been enough to teach history as a series of events with no overview of why we choose these particular events. Why do we study the First World War? Have we always done this? Does it teach us anything? What, if anything does it say about us and our national journey?

In 1962, Alan Griffin wrote this in the World Book Encylopedia:

Everyone knows what history is until he thinks about it

When you start thinking about why we teach history and how we teach the subject, this quote rings true. If we want to go beyond a recitation of facts, names, and events, we need to understand why we are doing what we are doing. Not so much of the what, but much more of the why.

I was faced with this when I taught preservice teachers a course in Intermediate History last year. I have written about this before and I will eventually look in more detail about some of the key themes in history as current writers see them.  They include ideas like historical perspective, continuity and change, cause and consequence, and a number of other themes chosen to help students and teachers grapple with important issues.

But even before we choose the themes that are meaningful, we need to pause and think more about the why. Why these themes, why these events?

Before answering this, I want to return to this week in Washington.

When we witness events like this, we have to find a way to start making sense of what is going on. I am not going to try to do this here, but we do have the tools to do this important and really necessary work.

Now, if you haven’t, take a look at the photo essay at the beginning of this post.

The Paris mob attacks the Tuileries – look familiar?

The challenging point in the essay is this: we have always been like this. Saying ‘this is not us’ is not accurate. Actually, for most of our history, this is exactly what we have done. Whether we look to the Roman mob, the Parisian mob attack on the Tuileries, or the Montreal Richard riot, we have a long history of losing control.

The riots in Montreal when Rocket Richard was suspended

We know this. But listen to the New York Times.

American is a nation built on stolen land, by stolen people

Of course, so is Canada.

Listen to the narrative. It is all about our history. We can really only come to terms with what happened this week if we are able to see ourselves in our own story, that all of us come from a violent past where force made things right. Where when the mob held sway there was no justice and no peace, especially for the marginalized.

This is why we study history. Barton and Levstik write that at its very base, we study history to engage in discussions about the common good. We need to look at issues surrounding justice and we need to allow students to make their own considerations and “reason deeply about important human matters” (pg 37).

If I had a history class right now, I would show this short piece first thing on Monday morning. While this is a condemnation of present-day America, it is a condemnation rooted in history. We here in Canada do not get a pass on this either. Our own purposeful study of our own story reveals the same level of violence and hypocrisy.

mob violence in Republican Rome

So when we study history it has to be with a purpose. The New York Times piece is all about history. It is a considered examination of how we got here. It is related to so much that we all should know about. Saying, we are better than this, this is not us is missing a really important historical point. If we don’t see ourselves in these rioters we are making a fatal mistake.

How would the national conversation change if we took the longer view and say – yes this is us, now what?