151 Years Later, Our Education System Still Gets an "F"
We’re now in our 151st year since Confederation, and sometimes it seems like we haven’t learned much from the previous 150. I had looked at our sesquicentennial as a time to celebrate everything that’s great about Canada, but there were many people who thought it was time to remind us all of the work that still needs to be done. At first, I was upset that people felt the need to rain on our national parade, but then took a moment to reflect and realized they were right.
In Social Studies 10, high school students are given a year’s education on the history of Canada. The lessons should be familiar to most, from Samuel de Champlain founding New France, right through to Confederation and then the 20th century. However, as a millennial not too far removed from high school, I can say that this curriculum fails to educate students on the full history of this great land. Our Provincial government is responsible for setting the curriculum for our schools, and so it is at their feet that the blame must be laid. Specifically, the story that has not been told is the history of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. I know we must not use the term ‘Indigenous’ as a blanket to describe the various First Nations as well as Metis and Inuit peoples, but for this piece I am speaking about the history of all of them. Their history is woven into our nation’s fabric as much if not more than any other peoples of Canada. At my old high school, there was a class called First Nations 12 that we had the option to take – if there happened to be a teacher willing to teach it. In reality, this curriculum shouldn’t be an option. It’s high time that our elementary and high school curriculum reflects the full history of this country and showcases the fact that our national identity extends much further back than just 151 years.
1867 is the date of our creation as a unique political entity and Confederation deserves to be celebrated along with all the good that has come with it. But nobody says that the history of Germany begins with unification in 1871, and as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has shown us, there has been a dark side to Confederation. Most of us who aren’t politicians or academics would not be aware of what the Indigenous peoples of this country have endured if it weren’t for our brief discussion of the issues in school. But it’s about time that the full, rich history of the land we know as Canada is more fully taught in our school system – and that must include more than a passing mention of our Indigenous peoples. So much of our history is entwined with the history of our First Nations, Metis, and Inuit brothers and sisters that it is impossible not to view their history as our history, and vice versa. In fact, since it is doubtful the first Europeans would have been able to survive in the New World without the knowledge, help and guidance of the Indigenous peoples, in reality there would not have been a history of Canada as we know it without them. Before Europeans first arrived, there had been developed societies and complex economies that had been built by the people who lived here. That’s why it is so strange to me that we haven’t more fully detailed the actual history in the high school or elementary school curriculum. By expanding the curriculum to include a more fully described Indigenous history – not only over the past 151 years – but the millennia before that, it would help us gain a better understanding of what was lost, help develop a deeper respect and appreciation for each other, and help pave the way for a clearer path forward in Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous peoples.
If we want to start making serious progress on reconciliation, and if we want to change the narrative from one of discrimination, hardship, and racism to one of hope and cooperation, then we must start properly educating the next generations. That will lead to better respect for the people who called this land home for the thousands of years before newcomers did, and for the societies they had developed. We need to push the law makers in Victoria to re-vamp the high school curriculum. It won’t be easy. British Columbia alone has 198 First Nations in it according to government websites, each with their own history and traditions. What exactly the curriculum would look like would be up to a team of people from all parts of society, because if want to teach the history of this country as it should be taught, then there can be no perspective not listened to. Nobody said reconciliation and nation-building was cheap, and this endeavour is vital to both those pursuits. Like I said, this won’t be easy, but nothing worth having comes easy. To this millennial, having a country where every single one of us feels respected and can be proud to shout from the rooftops that we are Canadian – or “politely inform”, since that’s more like us - is something worth having.