Quebecers irked by history plans

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A plan to downplay linguistic conflict in Quebec's high school history lessons is getting a failing grade from some teachers and politicians who feel it offers an "ultra-federalist" view of the past.

The proposed changes to compulsory Grade 10 Quebec and Canadian history classes - leaked to media outlets last week - stresses ideas and inclusiveness instead of divisive events."It represents a departure from the traditional framework of history structured around conflict between francophones and anglophones to offer a more unifying history," said Jean-Francois Cardin, a history professor at Laval University who advised the government on the changes. But critics argue the reforms gloss over such hot-button topics as the 1763 Conquest, the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution and the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. In an op-ed piece published in a Montreal paper, historian Felix Bouvier and Laurent Lamontagne, president of the Society of Quebec History Teachers, called the new curriculum"ultra-fedederalist" and one-sided. According to Lamontagne, who has taught history in Montreal-area high schools for more than 20 years, it is impossible to tip-toe around political tensions."There is the point of view of Quebec within Canada, where Quebec gets its due," Lamontagne said."That could be true. But there is also another option, the Quebec sovereigntist movement. And this one we seem to brush aside." Lamontagne wasn't alone in calling the proposed changes into question, as unions, politicians and pundits criticized what they saw as a move to downplay essential elements of Quebec history. Another Laval University professor who helped the government draft the changes said he was bombarded by angry e-mails after publicly defending the reforms. In Quebec, politics and education have always made for a potent brew. Last month, when a prominent sovereigntist group published Let's Talk about Sovereignty at School - a guide aimed at helping teachers promote Quebec independence - politicians on all sides were up in arms. Even though there was little chance the book would ever find its way into a classroom, Premier Jean Charest called it"scandalous" and something"seen in the old countries of Eastern Europe." Quebec's education minister, Jean-Marc Fournier, reacted swiftly to the most recent controversy. Fournier asked his bureaucrats to rework the document after he heard media reports about its contents, before he even had the chance to read it, his spokesperson said. Fournier told reporters last week he would never support curriculum changes that"rub out" historical conflicts. Though the content apparently still has to be finalized, widespread changes to Quebec's high school history courses are scheduled to be implemented by September 2007. But for some, insisting that strife between French and English take centre stage in any overview of Quebec's past is dangerously reductive. There's a"hell of a lot that happened that wasn't strife between French and English," said Graeme Decarie, a professor of Quebec and Canadian history at Concordia University."For that matter there was strife between English and English and French and French." Focusing too much on conflict gives students the wrong impression about history, says Decarie, himself a former high school teacher."History is not a matter of learning what is true. History is a matter of learning to understand what you see, and to understand the many ways it can be understood."

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