Oh, Canada


 

Canadian Press looks back on the outrage concerning that principal who didn’t play the national anthem each morning.

Conservative MPs on the floor of the House of Commons, bloggers and media pundits provoked a raging national debate this spring over the decision by a single school in rural New Brunswick to curtail the morning ritual of O Canada. The furor drove Erik Millett, principal of tiny Belleisle Elementary, from his job and resulted in death threats against him. New Brunswick subsequently made it mandatory to sing O Canada daily in the province’s schools, starting this autumn. No fewer than five federal Tory New Brunswick MPs – including two cabinet members – publicly pounced on the anthem issue. No other party’s MPs in Parliament intervened.

Contrast that with a national study this month by the Dominion Institute that found the teaching of Canadian history is woefully inadequate in high schools from coast to coast … Alberta and Saskatchewan, home to 40 federal Conservative MPs, both received Fs from the institute for failing to require a single history course to graduate.

Yet not one Tory MP raised the issue in Parliament. Their silence was doubly perplexing because the absence of history education dovetails with a push by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to improve what he calls “civic literacy” among Canadians – essentially the understanding of our national history and symbols.

And you’ll never guess what Mr. Millett’s teaching now.


 

Oh, Canada

  1. If you click on the link to the article, and scan just below the section that Aaron has posted, you'll see thatKenney has some excellent points in response to the criticism which Aaron has chosen to highlight. (General rule: when a Wheery posts uncritical excerpts of an article criticizing the government, there's often reasonable points made in the government's defense in the same article, which are never included in Aaron's excerpts.)

    Two more points:

    (1) Singing the national anthem and studying national history are complimentary.
    (2) I've read a lot of reports citing the Dominion Institute study, but seen nothing at all about its methodology. From what I gather, they came up with some measures on their own of what should students should be taught, and then 'graded' provinces on that basis. But what guided their original standards? Moreover, simply looking at the curriculum isn't enough: so, they say that Ontario's curriculum is better than Alberta's. Alright. But its also true that Alberta students perform significantly better than Ontario students. So even if the Ontario curriculum is better, Alberta students could still be better served overall.

  2. Presumably Mr. Millett will be less pig-headedly po-mo about overt displays of nationalism in the future, knowing how juicy it would be for critics to crucify him all over again. He's also lost his authority position, and has what is probably the most junior, probationary teaching position in that new school. I'm going to call that good enough, as a deterrent.

  3. "Singing the national anthem and studying national history are complimentary."

    If only orthography were likewise on the house, our nation's former youth would not be in such a sad state.

  4. Well, if we want to improve Canadian History knowledge, perhaps we can start with a mandatory course on "How parliament Works". You know, the boring bits about electing MP's, not governments or Prime Ministers. That would be a start.

    Hello? Is this thing on?

  5. Well, if we want to improve canadian History knowledge, perhaps we can start with a mandatory course on "How parliament Works". You know, the boring bits about electing MP's, not governments or Prime Ministers. That would be a start.

    Hello? Is this thing on?

  6. Well, if we want to improve Canadian History knowledge, perhaps we can start with a mandatory course on "How Parliament Works".
    You know, the boring bits about electing MP's, not governments or Prime Ministers. That would be a start.

    Hello? Is this thing on?

    • Um, there is, in Ontario high schools. It's called Civics, and it's mandatory to graduate. So is a 20th century Canadian History course.
      Oh, you mean for adults.
      Yeah, we need one of those.

      • Didn't Stephen Harper graduate from an Ontario high school? I believe that he received very high marks, so presumably he did well in the Civics course…..maybe he was ill on the day that they learned about the topics to which M_A_N refers, or maybe the course didn't exist way back then.

        • I think it was made mandatory fairly recently, so it's entirely possible that he missed it.

      • I went to high school in Ontario and the only time I was given an education in Civics was when I went to a Honda dealership.

  7. "good enough"… "massively excessive"

    You say tomato…

  8. I'd like to hear avr, or the Tory caucus, try and sing "O Canada" in French. No? Oh.

  9. God, this issue is stupid. BC children, if I understand rightly, have never sung O Canada every morning, as I was forced to do in Ontario (thus robbing the song of all meaning for me, which is just as well since when you grow up and actually look at it you realise what an incredibly terrible national anthem it is). Are BCers therefore shamefully unpatriotic? Au contraire. What bombast. Get us a new national anthem, one that's worth singing and that features more than platitudes, and sing it once a week.

    • The French version is way cooler.
      Actually, forced to sing it every day in the bilingual version, it makes no sense. It goes from "In all our sons command", to, erm, "Your arm carries the sword so that it may carry the cross"
      I've never thought it was terrible- despite singing it every day, on days when it is special, such as Rememberence Day, it has never failed to move me to tears.
      That said, if we need a new one, can it be: "Can-ahh-daaaaaa"?

  10. Sorry to disappoint, Jack, but I did in fact attend a French Immersion program throughout my formative years. I remain impressed by its significantly more martial tenor in the original French, and would have little complaint with with a slightly more fiery set of English lyrics.

  11. The problem with Canadian history is that it contains as essential elements:

    (a) the French getting whooped by the British (horrible!)
    (b) no slavery (but how can we teach collective white guilt without it?)
    (c) the RCMP treating aboriginals fairly (more problems for collective white guilt)
    (d) glorious military victories against bad guys (but how can we teach pacifism?)
    (e) a preponderance of achievements by white males (damnation!)

    Also, lots of cute furry animals get killed for their skin. Much plus ungood.

    In other words, it's incompatible with every other social studies focus in high school and university. There is a danger that teaching Canadian history might turn students into free-thinking Canadian patriots rather than passive propaganda-fed subjects of the CBC.

  12. Yeah, that's true about the French lyrics — which are the original ones, surprise surprise — and delighted to hear that you know them. But I maintain that the Tory caucus — along with the other caucuses — would be quite incapable of singing the national anthem in both languages and, I'd go so far as to bet, might well stumble over the English lyrics.

  13. The Maple Leaf Forever! Wait, it's a bit platitude-laden, isn't it? (I have the oddest sense of deja vu — have we had this debate in a previous comment thread?)

  14. As a wittier man than myself once wrote: "National anthems only ever have one verse. Or, rather, all have the same second verse, which goes “nur…hnur…mur…nur nur, hnur…nur…nur, hnur” at some length, until everyone remembers the last line of the first verse and sings it as loudly as they can."

  15. I dunno, Gaunilon. I think you're right (rhetoric aside) that curriculum-setters have a politically correct agenda, but methinks the reason nothing has been done to improve the quantity of Canadian history on the curriculum (from whatever angle) is simply materialism, i.e. society's general disinterest in anything not strictly utilitarian. Otherwise governments, driven by voters, would have acted by now. The Dominion Institute has been showing up our collective ignorance for ages, everybody like us decries it ritually, and yet we are still at square one in terms of the biggest issue, the curriculum. You have to admit that if we had Premiers of the Michael Ignatieff stamp, or of the Michael Chong stamp, we'd get somewhere; but somehow both left and right seem to come together in despising our history.

  16. I dunno, Gaunilon. I think you're right (rhetoric aside) that curriculum-setters have a politically correct agenda, but methinks the reason nothing has been done to improve the quantity of Canadian history on the curriculum (from whatever angle) is simply materialism, i.e. society's general disinterest in anything not strictly utilitarian. Otherwise governments, driven by voters, would have acted by now. The Dominion Institute has been showing up our collective ignorance for ages, everybody like us decries it ritually, and yet we are still at square one in terms of the biggest issue, the curriculum. You have to admit that if we had premiers of the Michael Ignatieff stamp, or of the Michael Chong stamp, we'd get somewhere; but so far no premier has made this issue a pet project, AFAIK.

  17. Er, yes, in my case down to the last comma. : )

    The Maple Leaf Forever is awesome! As a piece of poetry, I mean. I'd say it's more full of clichés than of airy generalisations, especially in the later verses, e.g. —

    At Queenston Heights and Lundy's Lane,
    Our brave fathers, side by side,
    For freedom, homes, and loved ones dear,
    Firmly stood and nobly died;

    That last line is a bit weak, I'd say; better would be "The onslaught of the foe defied" or something.

    But, of course, the problem is that the song has negative associations for our Quebec brothers & sisters, what with the second line. Still, if we can't have the actual Maple Leaf Forever, something like The Maple Leaf forever would be perfect. Musically, it's a song you can really enjoy singing, whereas O Canada always sounds a bit like a dirge to me.

    • Hmm, so you are looking for a piece of poetry to represent Canada? How about one that describes our political culture:

      Liberals are red,
      Conservatives, blue.
      Other than colours,
      They have differences few.

      Or, perhaps a limerick:

      There once was a man named Dion,
      Whom his party could not agree on.
      Fearing election,
      They skipped the convention;
      And insisted that Stephane be gone!

  18. The problem with O Canada is that nur-hnur-itis strikes after the fourth line.

  19. You're absolutely right about utilitarianism causing the curriculum-setters to neglect arts courses in general. It is a real problem.

    However, my point was more about the 'history' that does get taught.
    For example, in my high school (Ontario) one had a mandatory Canadian history course in Grade 10. In it we learned nothing about the Plains of Abraham, the RCMP, Fitzgibbon/Brock/Secord, the fur trade, the Underground Railroad, Vimy, Billy Bishop, Banting and Best, Juno, Kapyong, etc. Nothing
    We did learn about Dieppe, since that was a Canadian defeat. Beyond that the course focused on how wonderful aboriginal life was before Canada came into existence, the Riel Rebellion, and the Charter.

    So I think the reason for the minimal history requirements is utilitarianism, and the reason for the history requirements containing very little actual history is political correctness. It's also not unlikely that the teachers themselves know very little genuine Canadian history.

  20. You're absolutely right about utilitarianism causing the curriculum-setters to neglect arts courses in general. It is a real problem.

    However, my point was more about the 'history' that does get taught.
    For example, in my high school (Ontario) one had a mandatory Canadian history course in Grade 10. In it we learned nothing about the Plains of Abraham, the RCMP, Fitzgibbon/Brock/Secord, the fur trade, the Underground Railroad, Vimy, Billy Bishop, Banting and Best, Juno, Kapyong, etc. Nothing .
    We did learn about Dieppe, since that was a Canadian defeat. Beyond that the course focused on how wonderful aboriginal life was before Canada came into existence, the Riel Rebellion, and the Charter.

    So I think the reason for the minimal history requirements is utilitarianism, and the reason for the history requirements containing very little actual history is political correctness. It's also not unlikely that the teachers themselves know very little genuine Canadian history.

  21. I know, right? I mean, like, why can't all those pesky aboriginals just become white already and forget about the culture that was wiped out?!!?

    • Which culture from 300 years ago hasn't been wiped out? Can you say British culture bears any resemblance to the culture that existed there 300 years ago? The French? China?

  22. You're absolutely right about utilitarianism causing the curriculum-setters to neglect arts courses in general. It is a real problem.

    However, my point was more about the 'history' that does get taught.
    For example, in my high school (Ontario) one had a mandatory Canadian history course in Grade 10. In it we learned nothing about the Plains of Abraham, the RCMP, Fitzgibbon/Brock/Secord, the fur trade, the Underground Railroad, Vimy, Billy Bishop, Banting and Best, Juno, Kapyong, etc. Nothing .
    We did learn about Dieppe, since that was a Canadian defeat. Beyond that the course focused on how wonderful aboriginal life was before Canada came into existence, the Riel Rebellion, and the Charter. Oh, and evolution. For some reason that was taught as Canadian history also.

    So I think the reason for the minimal history requirements is utilitarianism, and the reason for the history requirements containing very little actual history is political correctness. It's also not unlikely that the teachers themselves know very little genuine Canadian history.

    • Gaunilon, two absolutely stunning posts! Stunning!

      Wow.

  23. "BC children, if I understand rightly, have never sung O Canada every morning as I was forced to do in Ontario"

    You understand wrongly. They don't sing it every morning, but they are forced to sing it semi-regularly, at least at some schools.

  24. If they have never sung O Canada every morning, I understand rightly, since that was what I said. This principal was not fired because he objected to ever singing O Canada, he was fired because he was against using our national anthem as a crowd control technique.

  25. If they have never sung O Canada every morning, I understand rightly. This principal was not fired because he objected to ever singing O Canada, he was fired because he was against a brainwashing technique that turns our national anthem into a mere technique for crowd control.

  26. First, we need a Canadian version of Lies My Teacher Told Me.

    Then we can talk about history in schools.

    If we're talking about an exercise in flag waving, I'll bow to Einstein's wisdom –
    "Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind. "

  27. "as a crowd control technique"

    Seems to me that if you're forced to sing it at every school assembly, that's more of a "crowd control technique" then singing it in a classroom. Either way, they're forced to sing it at regular intervals, at least at some schools.

  28. But, Sisyphus, Lies My Teacher Told Me was written to counter the deification of American historical figures like Washington, Lincoln, et al., which continues. We, by contrast, have acted to counter outdated myths by completely gutting our history or making it the vehicle for contemporary cant. Neither approach can serve to cure nationalism, as history should.

  29. The grade 10 Ontario history course was called history but was actually Civics — the focus was on how government works and the Charter, with actual history being taught for context. IMO, it was good to have a mandatory civics course, especially for kids about to reach the age when they become politcally active.
    We covered the Plains of Abraham, the RCMP & the Riel Rebellion in earlier years (gr 5-8).
    I don't know if the "new" curriculum is the same in this regard.

  30. That this fellow tried to move the anthem to a monthly assembly rather than each morning is as lost today as it was during the original media/political broohaha. According to the accounts and interviews I've seen, the parents of some students didn't want them to sing the anthem fro religious reasons (whatever). Rather than make a spectacle of excusing those students each and every morning, this fellow sought to replace the morning anthem with other lessons about community, citizenship, etc. The anthem would still be sung at school assemblies. The kids with the objecting parents could be excused from the anthem and return for the balance of the assemblies. Good idea or bad, none of this "nuance" made it through the histrionics of the press, politicians and public … then or now.

    That his own townspeople thought themselves such superior examples of civic duty and patriotism that they threatened him with bodily harm and death (including in his office in front of witnesses) … ultimately driving him from his job … was and remains disgusting. If the press were doing their job on this front, they would — today — track down everyone who made a fuss, identify them publicly and ask their positions on vigilantism, quiz them on history and the law, etc. That includes local yahoos, school administrators, bandwagon politicians … and sleazy local reporters. Then ask the local cops whether they investigated these threats.

    Come back when you have some news.

  31. His pedagogical methods made him a walking caricature of cultural cringe (exacerbated at the height of the furor, when he stubbornly turned up the volume to cartoonish Stuff White People Like dimensions), in a way that enraged the public for very understandable reasons.

    The solution to this is not to demand a better public that appreciates his supposed brilliance, or to punish specific members of the community for their objections to his poor choices.

  32. I'll meet you on the Highway of Heroes. We can talk about it.

  33. Case in point, eh? Instead of calling it the Panjwai Highway or something, i.e. something specific and historic and memorable, we get a generalised epithet. People who don't care about history can't even recognise it when it's happening.

  34. I didn't say he was wise — or wasn't annoying. I pointed to the absurdity of supposedly civic-minded people threatening him with bodily harm and death. Roll the tapes, play back the call-in shows, read the letters to the editor. Then track down all of the parties involved and interview them today. That might approximate journalism.

  35. The poor guy went against a cardinal rule in social development – (101) Ferengi Law of Acquisition = no good deed goes unpunished!

    • Tsk, tsssk, Wayne!

      Clare Boothe Luce deserves the citation, I believe, regardless of how Ferengian the expression may seem at first.

  36. The Age of Treason

    It is a very insecure country, indeed, that needs its devotional theme song sang to it daily. All the more so when it needs to beat its apotheosis into the minds of its most jejune conscripted votaries.

    I suppose expecting our schools to abstain from the manufacturing of unthinking and indoctrinated automatons would be asking of them more than they have proved capable of. And, if our schools were to, even slightly, loosen the leash on their ferocious dogmas, who, then, would we have left to threaten death upon those who dare display irreverence towards our consecrated signs and symbols?

    In whose hands will we be able to entrust the triumph of modernity against primitive, escahtological ideologues, if we do not have a fresh set of young minds sculpted in the sanctity of anthem and flag, and which know the difference between what is right, and what needs to be killed for?

    • Hands ? I was thinking more along the line of , oh , axcillae ?

  37. That was a good compromise he made and I admire him for sticking to his conviction in the face of community bullying. The out of touch, Conservative Party once again align themselves, or should that be are led with bullying behaviour? Patriotism. Right.