This is history? Quebec's new high school history textbooks are inward-looking and devoid of meaning.

Author:Rioux, Christian

Maybe you thought the construction and the fall of the Berlin Wall were milestones in the 20th century. At least two out of six new general history textbooks for Grade 7 and 8 students in Quebec don't even mention these events.

Or maybe you thought Captain Alfred Dreyfus, at the centre of the famous affair that tore France apart in the 19th century, was jailed for espionage because he was a Jew. Well, this detail appears to have been secondary, since there is not a word about it the Grade 7-8 textbook Regards sur les societes (published by CEC).

And then there's Francois Villon--maybe you knew he was a medieval poet. Not so fast: the new general history textbook D'hier a demain (published by Graficor) cites the author of La ballade des pendus in an anthology of Renaissance artists.

These glaring errors and omissions were gleaned from the pages of new books for Quebec's Grade 7-8 program in world history from antiquity to today. They should be enough to convince anyone that all is not well with the teaching of history in Quebec.


A revealing letter published recently in Le Devoir, written by a 15-year-old student who attends a school in the Pointe-de-l'lle School Commission in the east end of Montreal Island, makes this point. Jeanne Pilote explains what any attentive observer can see: application of the educational reform to history has turned the courses into "absolutely anything at all" and the students into guinea pigs. "We spend entire periods," she writes, "questioning ourselves from a historical perspective, which means that we formulate questions about history without even answering them."

In the spring of 2006, when the Ministry of Education released its plans for the history of Quebec and Canada program in Grades 9 and 10, it caused such an outcry that the minister had to reconsider. (1) The authors of the program were accused of liquidating the national memory by remaining silent about events as important as the Conquest and the rebellions of 1837-38.

By contrast, the world history from antiquity to today program went virtually unnoticed when it was introduced two years earlier. However, by examining the six textbooks for this program, we can see that the issue is more far-reaching than it seemed. In other words, the "anything at all" that Jeanne Pilote spoke about is at the very heart of the new approach to teaching history.

Before the educational reform, history's function was to answer the question "where do we come from?" Its job was to grasp the complex sequence of events that produced us. Its main goal has...

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