As many of you will know, this past weekend I was at The Great War: From Memory to History. There are a number of fantastic subjects that we explored – I was live-tweeting the sessions so feel free to scroll back and explore @lsfraser.
We had a great debate on the complicated relationship between commemoration, narratives and critical thinking, and some important questions were raised.
Many provinces and schools are including “building Canadian citizens” as a goal of their Social Studies curriculums. Is this simply furthering of Canadian narratives and myth?
This aim could easily be misinterpreted as propaganda, and it shouldn’t be. It is about providing students with the tools to take an event, personality or idea, research it from a variety of perspectives, and develop an informed and critical stance. This is about providing students with the confidence to share their opinion through discussion, voting and advocacy.
Are our history classrooms teaching or simply commemorating history? Can we have commemoration and critical thinking? Or are they counter-productive?
A history classroom should not be all commemoration. But I think commemoration activities, like some of the examples we discussed — researching and telling wartime stories – can play an important role in teaching and learning. Students need something to inspire and interest them, and as teachers we need to provide an entry point into the subject. Often, activities that centre on these narratives are what get students passionate about history.
To suggest that students cannot then turn and look critically at these narratives I believe does a disservice to the ability of today’s students. To believe that they have no place in our classroom also suggests that commemorative activities would fail to raise counter-narratives or multiple perspectives, which is a disservice to the wide variety of stories that make up our history. Research of narratives of enemy aliens interred during the First World War or the soldiers court-martialed and Shot at Dawn, for instance, are commemorative activities — but also reveal a critical counter-narrative to the standard mythos of nation-building.
There were many more great questions and ideas raised throughout the conference, so stay tuned for more reflections!