Those of you who read the blog know that I am pretty passionate about teaching and literacy. While of course this is true, literacy work has not always been my first teaching love.
When I started teaching I always wanted to be a Social Studies teacher. As a student in High School I loved talking politics, I loved learning about ideologies and leaders of the past. I loved history. In university I was introduced to one of the most brilliant and compassionate educators I have ever met who taught me about the important of Historical Thinking and Historical Significance.
Over the past few years I have moved my focus more to literacy work but that does not diminish my love for Social Studies. I have held on to one Social Studies section since moving to the Junior High. Canadian history. As a student I was least interested in the history of my own country. European arrivals was where we always started, like there was nothing before then, and we just made our way up through British and French Conflict, Confederation and Modern Canada. As a kid it strikes me that most of education was slanted that way… a single story.
The other day I was having a conversation with someone and he asked me what I teach. Upon hearing I taught Social Studies he asked me “Why were we trying to rewrite history?” The question caught me off guard. I asked him what he meant and he began talking about Sir John A Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister. For my American readers he was pivotal in the confederation of Canada and instrumental in the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway which joined the country from East to West. Recently in large part due to the the work of the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada) more attention has been directed at other actions he was in part responsible. Much like the confederate statues debates in the United States Canada has had its own debates around celebrating individuals from our past through memorializing them in building names or with statues. With John A Macdonald, who’s name was on my town rec centre growing up, the discussion around his contributions to and support of the practice of Residential Schools was brought to light. Now for those that do not know about Residential Schools or for some uninformed reason think they have any redeeming qualities please do some research.
So back to the conversation. He was not pleased that our first Prime Minister, a father of confederation (he used the term), was being cast in a racist light (I am pretty sure it wasn’t the light that was racist) . The discussion came back to how (liberals) are trying to rewrite history.
I ponder on this and wonder about my job as a Social Studies instructor. Is my job to continue to tell one narrative? Is my job to teach from a resource that only briefly touches on our First Nations heritage? Is my job to continue to allow the same tired stereotypes to be repeated year in and year out? I struggle to accept that that is the job description of a Social Studies teacher.
This year I read the amazing posts from #31DaysIBPOC and in doing so gained access to a different perspective. The idea that students might not see themselves in our class discussions haunted me. The idea what they did see was not a complete picture haunted me. The fact that people still bristle at the idea that we should, as teachers of history, be teaching history confuses me. So we started questioning the text book this year, we question and push back on the long held beliefs that many of us have held on to.
As we look at the events of the world and how they seem to run on repeat I see the need for Social teachers that teach the whole history not just the parts that make “US” look good. We look at Residential Schools and the damage done that continues to impact our First Nations communities. We look at treaty agreements and their violations and we look to our neighbours to the south and modern day internment camps set up and look at our own troubling history.
I love literacy, I love the power of words. The power that the truth we find in them brings. That is the power of looking at our whole history. It isn’t about rewriting, it is about putting all the pieces together so we get a complete picture.
That is the other piece of me. I need to remember it more.