History texts should engage us

Here is an oldie but a goodie, written long before the days of blogging.


As a student of Canadian History, I have been exposed ad-nauseum to countless mind-numbing texts on Canada’s illustrious history. Now that I am a teacher of Canadian history, I find myself subjecting my students to the same mind-numbing texts. Try as I might to supplement my curriculum with interesting and entertaining anecdotes from our past, the simple utterance of the words “history text” elicit a collective groan that could wake John A. himself. The carefully edited puff-ball versions of Canadian history in classroom texts have all the moxie of Melba toast; about all they inspire is sleep. We Canadians have been lulled into a complacent contempt for our history. We have engineered this indifference through the textual history we provide in the classroom.

Last night I turned the final page of Will Ferguson’s book, Bastards and Boneheads, and could not help but feel that Ferguson could be the answer to Melba-toast texts in our schools. Ferguson , “Pierre Berton with attitude,” delivers Canadian history in a factual but witty style. He would be a shot of Jack Daniels in a world of watered-down rhetoric. Ferguson pulls no punches in his version of Canadian history; he clearly defines the negative as well as the positive in the people and events that shaped Canada.

A text by Ferguson would certainly be a shift from the feel-good versions of Canadian History available to us today. No longer would Mackenzie King be venerated as one of Canada’s greatest prime ministers. Instead students would learn of his anti-Semitic policies, and that his indifference to the plight of European Jews contributed to the deaths of thousands of people–an act, some would say, worthy of a seat at the Nuremberg trials next to Goering and Hess. No longer would battles on Canadian soil be boring and limited to the Plains of Abraham, New Brunswick, and the Red River Valley. Students would learn of the contribution and sacrifice of First Nations and that they were not simply noble savages or pawns in the struggle for nationhood but an active, vital force in the birth of our nation. Students would learn that the cast of characters who built Canada was diverse and not limited to a select few, whose stories were edited into a version that was fit to print.

Canadian history is engaging and interesting if we take it for what it truly is, a ruthless immoral battle in a pit of historical vipers. At the end of Bastards and Boneheads, Ferguson states, “History is a verdict and we are all on the jury.” Let’s give our children the facts in an engaging and honest way and let them judge for themselves.

Calling Will Ferguson! Write us a textbook kids will take home and read.


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