If you are a permanent resident who wants to become a Canadian citizen, you’d better start studying. That’s because you must pass a citizenship test to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of Canada’s history and political systems.
This is no simple task for someone who didn’t grow up in this country. Fortunately, Citizenship and Immigration Canada provides prospective citizens with a helpful resource. “Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship” is a 64-page guide that covers key events in Canadian history and explains how our political system works. Applicants who know the material in this study guide should have no trouble passing the citizenship test.
It makes sense to expect new Canadian citizens to demonstrate some basic knowledge about the country they would like to call home. Canada has a rich history and learning about it is a great way for prospective citizens to develop a better understanding of their responsibilities in this country.
Obviously, if we require new Canadians to learn about Canadian history, the same expectation should apply to citizens who have had the privilege of being born here. While Canadian-born citizens do not need to write a citizenship test, they do need to attend school, where one would expect them to learn at least the basics of Canadian history.
However, because education is a provincial responsibility, there are no national history standards. For example, instead of mandating a Canadian history course for high school students, both Alberta and British Columbia offer social studies courses covering themes such as ideology, genocide, nationalism, and globalization. While these courses address important themes, they are no substitute for a dedicated Canadian history course.
The reality is that if students do not learn Canadian history in school, they are unlikely to ever learn it at all. History is not learned by osmosis. It takes hard work, a lot of reading, and a fair bit of memorization. Most people aren’t inherently interested enough in history to put in the time and effort necessary to learn it well.
One of the challenges with any history curriculum is deciding what gets included and what gets left out. There is only so much time and it is impossible for students to learn every aspect of Canadian history. Things become even more difficult when various interest groups lobby for their stories to receive special attention. Add to this the ongoing pressure by some groups to portray Canada’s history in a negative light and it isn’t hard to see why some provinces put little emphasis on Canadian history.
This is why the federal government needs to get involved. Without national history standards, many Canadian high school students will be shortchanged. While the federal government cannot mandate a history curriculum, it can use its position of influence to encourage provinces to beef up their standards. It could also create a grade 12 history exam for all students and encourage provinces to administer it.
As for what should be included in these history standards, the “Discover Canada” study guide is a good place to start. In just a few short pages, “Discover Canada” provides readers with a synopsis of Canada’s early years with the three founding peoples: Indigenous, French, and English. The guide also outlines the beginnings of democracy, the factors that led to Confederation in 1867, Canada’s contributions to both world wars, the gradual evolution of women’s rights, and the patriation of the Constitution in 1982. Along with this, “Discover Canada” highlights major milestones in human rights and informs readers about great Canadian inventors.
Clearly, there are many things that are worth learning in Canadian history. There is no need for the federal government to create a comprehensive high school curriculum, but a set of national history standards and a grade 12 exam would be a significant step forward. If it is possible for a panel of experts to come up with a study guide for all prospective citizens, it is possible to use a similar process to create national history standards.
In addition, provincial departments of education should revise their history curriculum guides. Canadian history should begin in grade 1 for all students. Students love hearing stories and there is no better way to generate interest in history than to let them know about some of the great events in our past. For example, the way Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine overcame adversity and worked together in the mid-1800s to bring responsible government to the Province of Canada (as it was known as the time) is an inspiring story about determination, cooperation, and equity. Students should learn about these and other Canadian heroes.
Not only does a knowledge of our country’s history lead to significant academic benefits, it promotes Canadian unity. A shared history is an important way of keeping the country together. With a proper education, students will come to see that there is more that brings Canadians together than drives us apart.
All Canadians, whether born in this country or not, should learn a lot more about Canadian history than they do now. It is time for the federal government to take a lead role in this area.
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and author of the book, A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.