‘How We Teach History Matters Most’

Canada’s most prolific living historian, on the falsification of Canadian history: 

“…to anyone with eyes to see, Canada is not a failure, but an overwhelming success. What is happening in our schools is political indoctrination, grounded in unbalanced historical nonsense.”ERBLHowWeTeachHistoryMattersMost800x800“Political correctness carried to ludicrous extremes…would be — and is — history that teaches Canadians, native-born and recent arrivals, that their country is an abomination.

“Unfortunately, that is the history that is today being taught to Canadian children. Yet, to anyone with eyes to see, Canada is not a failure, but an overwhelming success. What is happening in our schools is political indoctrination, grounded in unbalanced historical nonsense… 

“…Any history that sets out simply to pound patriotism into children’s heads is by definition biased, twisted, and dreadful. No professional historian wants to see this happen. 

“The history taught in the schools should be history, warts and  all…

“…while institutional history must be “the core of any national history,” institutional history is not enough. The history we teach has to include immigrants, workers, aboriginal ‘peoples’, and orphans….

“But…the core –“the politics, diplomacy and warfare which led to the creation of British North America and the Canadian political system”– has been largely excised from our schools and universities. So, too, has the political, diplomatic, and military history of post-Confederation Canada. One professor in Ottawa brags that he teaches on post-Confederation Canada without ever mentioning Mackenzie King, to cite but one example of THE ENERGETIC EDITING OF OUR PAST.

William Lyon Mackenzie King

“The social historians…putting the ordinary people into our history are, regrettably, the same historians who simultaneously REMOVED the political leaders, diplomats, and generals.

“And the bureaucrats who set the curricula for our schools have cheerfully gone along with this for their own social engineering purposes: the elimination of any controversy that might offend students and parents, and an emphasis on the sins of Canadians, so that they can create a mythical ‘city on the hill’.

“In those provinces where Canadian history is still a compulsory course in high school, scant attention is paid to anything but social history. And MUCH OF THE TEACHING FOCUSES ON THE MALTREATMENT OF ABORIGINALS AND IMMIGRANTS, THE ABUSE OF WOMEN, AND THE EVILS OF CAPITALISM.



“ALL I HAVE EVER WANTED FOR CANADIAN HISTORY IS THAT IT BE PRESENTED TO STUDENTS IN A  BALANCED WAY. It is certainly true that…when I first taught more than thirty years ago, the teaching of Canadian history was mired in the mud. It was the boring old tale of “colony to nation”, and heavy on the central Canadian story. I can understand why…British Columbian students (and mine in Ontario) found this unengaging.

“Nevertheless…I think Canadians should know this story, whether they live in B.C. or Newfoundland…  Why shouldn’t B.C. schools teach about William Lyon Mackenzie and William Lyon Mackenzie King, or Ontario schools teach about Amor de Cosmos and W. A. C. Bennett?

William Smith — later called Amor de Cosmos — was a politician, journalist and one of the architects of B.C.’s entry into Confederation. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

If history is to be “a lesson in truth”…then Canadian schools must teach about Canada, all of Canada. The story of the workers and women must be taught, as well as the history of Mike Pearson, the world wars, conscription, and Canadian-American relations. And, yes…balance demands that differing interpretations be presented to students for them to argue about. That is how we learn and that is how we strive to uncover the truth. History is indeed “the story of our arguments”, and the difficulty of discovering the truth about those arguments.

“BUT LET US NEVER PRETEND THAT HISTORY IS THE HIGH ROAD TO RECONCILIATION — the past is contentious, full of crimes and betrayals. We study it to learn how our predecessors lived and erred and, if we can, to learn from their mistakes in the (often vain) hope we will not repeat them.

“No one wants schools to teach the pabulum of an ‘authorized’ version of the Canadian past. Indeed, there is no authorized version, and there never will be, so long as we are a democracy…

“Let me be as clear as I can. HISTORY HAPPENED, AND IT MUST NOT BE TWISTED OUT OF SHAPE FOR  PRESENT-DAY PURPOSES. Our schools need to teach the history of Canada and they need to teach more of it.

“Canadian history must not be used for indoctrination, but must be presented warts and all… They should teach social history and political history. They should teach about the regions, and about Canada as a whole. In other words, they should be balanced.

“That is the kind of history any sensible politician, educator, or parent would want. The real mystery is why we Canadians do not teach history this way.”

–Canadian historian Jack Granatstein, “How We Teach History Matters Most{CAPS added}
Jack Granatstein — “The most prolific Canadian historian of his generation, Granatstein has written widely on Canadian history and current affairs… The most influential of Granatstein’s polemics was “Who Killed Canadian History?” (1998), which argued that Canadians knew little of their past. Schools and universities emphasized racism and sexism in Canadian history, Granatstein argued, while Canada’s real accomplishments were ignored.

“National history needed to be taught, because it served a “public purpose”, unifying a large and diverse country. THE BOOK AROUSED THE IRE OF THE ACADEMIC COMMUNITY by CHARACTERIZING CANADIAN HISTORICAL SCHOLARSHIP AS OFTEN TRIVIAL, AND POORLY WRITTEN.

“Although rejected by many historians, the book became a national bestseller and helped increase Canadians’ awareness of their history. Some provinces increased the emphasis on Canadian history in their schools’ curricula. Lynton (Red) Wilson, Charles Bronfman, and several other business executives donated the funds to start the ‘Historica Foundation’, with the goal of increasing public knowledge of Canadian history.” {CAPS added}




“The second formative event in pushing me to write this book came when a very good friend showed me five essays written by his eight-year-old son at a private school. Brad, eight years old, was in grade two and he was being taught Canadian history. If he had been in a public school, he wouldn’t have been. In a private school, he was, and I suppose that’s a good thing, but what concerned me was what his essays were about.

“Five essays from a first introduction to Canadian history. The first one concerned Samuel de Champlain’s abuse of his thirteen-year-old bride;
the second, the extermination of the Beothuk by the white man in Newfoundland;
the third, the execution of Louis Riel by the Government of Canada;
the fourth, the maltreatment of Canada’s first woman doctor by her medical peers;
and the fifth, the internment of Japanese Canadians.

That was Canadian history as presented to an eight-year-old child by his teacher. Our history, Canada’s history in other words, was about sexism, racism, and the abuses of government. Nothing else.

“There was no attempt to have a chronology, a basic tool of Canadian history or any other. There was no attempt to put events in context. There was no attempt to balance evil with good. Instead, incidents were pulled from the past and stuffed down children’s throats, to prove a point that a particular teacher deemed important. Why? How could this have happened? Who killed Canadian history? …

“Without a sense of our past, we are like poor souls wandering lost in a forest, without a map. Without a sense of our history, we can have no future. Without a firm grasp of whom we were and whom we are, we cannot hope to successfully integrate the newcomers who come to Canada to build a new and a good life in this most favourite of nations. Without history, our children will know nothing of what made Parliament, our laws, our society the way they are. Without history and the techniques that study teaches us, the ability to read, write, reason can never be well taught. And speaking from my war museum post, without history, our sons and daughters will never know what their fathers and grandfathers did to help save the world. The Dutch know, but we do not…

Canada_flag_map_svg“Why is our history almost dead? Because the federal government is unwilling to leap over the provinces to try to reach the people with their history. Because our provincial governments preach regionalism instead of teaching the history of the country. Because well-meaning people fear that if we teach about war, we are glorifying conflict. Because school bureaucrats fear that teaching art history will offend someone, will make a child or a recent immigrant group uncomfortable.

“Because we believe wrongly that our history is divisive or boring or so undistinguished that it is not worth learning. Because academics study increasingly smaller and unimportant subjects and write their books and articles in the most boring way imaginable. Because the media deliberately sensationalises and applies 1990’s morality to past events…

We do have a history and we do need to study it and to learn from it. Canadians have worked together to build a nation, a nation that is far stronger than the misguided fools who would try to tear it down. We made a nation by working together, by doing great deeds in the past, knowing we can do more in the future – the usual definition of a nation. We need to know this for if we kill Canadian history, we will surely destroy our present and future.

“So, who killed Canadian history? Who are the guilty people? You and me, by not paying attention to what was going on in the schools we sent our children to, by voting for school trustees and MPPs who have literally no interest in education.

“Who can resurrect Canadian history? Again, you and me — by demanding changes, by voting for those who promise to restore the past, the understanding of the past for the present, because if we can do that, then maybe we just might have a future…”


Jack Granatstein

“We are fighting for the lives of innocent young people beset by devilish tempters, who claim to offer higher forms of thought and deeper truths and insights — the intellectual equivalent of crack, in fact.”

Geoffrey Elton, “Return to Essentials: Some Reflections on the Present State of Historical Study”, (Cambridge, 1991), p. 41




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