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Friday, November 09, 2007

Selective historical memory no asset to Canada

My first reaction to this article was ... surprise, surprise!

A new study released just ahead of Remembrance Day suggests the majority of young people score a failing grade on the subject of Canada's history. That's despite major education initiatives over the past decade to try to boost the collective memory, such as the construction of the Canadian War Museum and television initiatives such as "Heritage Minutes" segments from The Historica Foundation.

Right. What do you expect in a country whose national media refused to air Canadian historical documentaries like "Freedom Had a Price", to honour certain Canadian war heroes, and where bookstores don't bother stocking books on Canadian historical fiction like Kobzar's Children??

However, as the article illustrates, and some of the comments suggest, that's not the history that the cultural elites want the public to know. They're more interested in the Canadian selective memory than the collective memory, as the article goes on to illustrate:

Here are some key findings from the study:

  • In 1997, 36 per cent of Canadians knew the year of Confederation compared to just 26 per cent in 2007;
  • In 1997, 54 per cent of those polled knew the name of Canada's first prime minister, while just 46 per cent now know that John A. Macdonald held this position;
  • Respondents' scores on questions about Canada's military history increased. In 1997, 31 per cent knew that the Battle of Vimy Ridge was fought in the First World War, a percentage that has now risen to 37 per cent;
  • In the recent study, 37 per cent knew Nov. 11 marked the end of the First World War, compared to 33 per cent in the earlier study.

Now of course it is appalling that so few students, and adult Canadians for that matter, know these things. These are the basics, for heaven's sake!

But, as mentioned above, there is more, much more, history that many influential Canadians don't want learned.

I find it every bit as appalling that all too many still feel that if you come to Canada you have to forget where you came from, and especially the culture of where you came from... including the history.

And that they consider that the people who don't forget, and especially those who continue to honour cultural traditions of their (non-Anglo) forbears, are not "real" Canadians, no matter what they did ... or are doing ... to build this country. Basically, just because they didn't forget.

With a self-limiting attitude like that, no Canadian should seriously expect better than this report.


Taras said...

This is crazy. Quo vadis, Canada?

When I enrolled in the America House Library at age 15, I thought that one day my knowledge would knock the New World off its feet.

I got it all wrong. It is now the New World whose knowledge often knocks me off my feet.

Anyway, thank you for the links. May we never forget our fellow Ukrainians, of all continents, who fought bravely in the bloodiest wars of the 20th century.

Pawlina said...

Trust me, Taras, your knowledge knocks this gal living in "the New World" off her feet!

Especially in the context of the content of this post.

Ukrainians in Ukraine have good reason for their sketchy collective historical memory... their history was deliberately distorted and kept from them by foreign occupiers.

What excuse do Canadians have? They did it to themselves with their own bigotry. Which, unfortunately, is still alive and well today.

To answer your first question: to hell in a handbasket.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pawlina,

It seems that the younger generations in Canada and the U.S. are really losing it -- from handwriting/penmanship to knowledge of their history.

Don't know if it's still this way, but when I was growing up in the US as a DP way back in the 1950s (now I sound like one of those old fogies...), American history and civics were taught from the earliest grades. Songs, legends, games,in English and history classes, all the way through.

I don't think that patriotism was hammered into you, but you got all that through osmosis, and you learned, you memorized (Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address, etc.]. So at least all that background was there.

History was definitely a part of education. I was appalled to read that Canadian history is not a requirement for every year of school, and is an elective?! Not to mention world history of any kind? Ya get whattcha pay for.

Another thing, people in N. America in general aren't that aware of things -- Rick Mercer showed that in his "Talking to Americans," and Jay Leno's questions -- even at convocations -- get some whopping non-answers. It seems that the people interested in history, politics, the world in general are in the minority. We can only ensure that we and our families and friends know better, and go on from there.


Pawlina said...

Well said, Orysia.

And I must commend you on your admirable work over the years to enlighten the reading public, with your prolific and fascinating contributions, from translations to articles and oral presentations.

Many thanks, and keep it up! Looking forward to seeing you in action again in Vancouver soon...

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