Are History Teachers Up to the Task of Educating Students About War?

Roundup: Talking About History

Marissa Nelson, in Canada's London Free Press News (May 29, 2004):

Teachers are the key to keeping our country's history alive, but at least one noted historian questions their ability to handle the responsibility. "It's a bleak picture . . . I wish they were up for the job," says Jack Granatstein, chairperson of the Council for Canadian Security in the 21st Century. "Many teachers think war is something that should be taught as a bad thing, which neglects the heroism."

Schools teach children their rights in Canada, but not the responsibilities that come with citizenship, he says. We don't even know what opinions teachers are giving children, he adds, and whether they're sound.

"History is very important in a country that is as multi-cultural as we are. It's very important to understand the price we pay for that. "We teach a kind of human security, peacekeeping history, which strikes me as nuts, given all the violence. You need soldiers who can fight a war when you need to."

But Jonathan Vance, associate professor of history at the University of Western Ontario, is more optimistic because of the increased attention paid to history on television and in movies.

"They're tuning in more than we might imagine. I'm pretty optimistic about memory continuing," he says. "It's easy to make it boring but just as easy to make it interesting."

He says the key is making history relevant. He once grabbed a school's honour roll from the front foyer on his way into a Remembrance Day presentation and pointed out to the children that the men on the plaque sat in the same seats as them, 60 years ago.

"Suddenly they drew the connection with the past that seems so distant and the present they're living," he says.


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