By Robert Green | Published by Montreal Gazette June 1, 2016
Earlier this year, Quebecers learned of a reform to the province’s history curriculum that provoked a great deal of concern. Not only was the role of Quebec’s anglophone community reduced to that of a comic book villain intent on impeding progress, indeed the contributions of all of Quebec’s minority groups seemed to be systematically excluded. There was nothing about the anglophones who participated in the 1837 rebellions or organized some of Quebec’s first labour strikes; nothing about the struggles against discrimination faced by Jewish and Italian immigrants; nothing about the contributions of more recent immigrants, like the Vietnamese or Haitian communities.
However, perhaps the most significant omission had to do with the First Nations. This reform was being developed at the very moment the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made its recommendations. Specifically the TRC recommended that all levels of government “Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.” Quebec had a real opportunity to be the first province to implement the recommendation. Instead, by ignoring the TRC and refusing to engage in any meaningful consultation with First Nations communities, Quebec instead chose to reinforce the colonial pattern of relations that has existed for hundreds of years.
In mid-May, Education Minister Sébastien Proulx announced that the proposed reform would be revisited. Many, including the Gazette’s Editorial Board, expressed relief that the minister was listening to the concerns of Quebec’s minority communities.
However, since that announcement was made, signs have been emerging that yet another Education Ministry flip-flop is in the works. The first such sign came when one of the companies Quebec contracts to produce its textbooks posted on its Facebook page the following response to questions it had been receiving about whether the delayed implementation of the course would result in delayed production of pedagogical material: “The answer is no. The ministry maintains its request for educational publishers to make all possible efforts to publish instructional materials consistent with the new program in time for back to school.”
Then, history teachers in the English Montreal School Board received an email from the board’s Social Sciences consultant stating unequivocally that the new history program was not cancelled and that teachers would be required to attend mandatory training sessions for the new program at the end of June.
All of this raises several important questions for the Couillard government: Why has the minister told the public the reform was delayed while teachers are being told the opposite? If the reform was to be changed to address the concerns of First Nations and minority communities, why was the production of pedagogical material not delayed? Did the minister think that the concerns raised about the curriculum were so insignificant that they did not need to be reflected in the textbooks being produced? Or are contracts with publishers more important than the need for minority communities to see themselves reflected in the history of the society in which they live?
Questions also need to be asked of the English school boards. Every time the existence of school boards is thrown into question, as it recently was with the debate over Bill 86, the boards’ leadership respond that these institutions are essential for protecting the educational interests of the English community. Yet here is a clear example of the interests of the English and other minority communities being attacked. The English boards seem to be acquiescing to the ministry’s demands rather than standing up for their community.
Quebec needs a history curriculum that is focused on its francophone majority, yet inclusive of the significant contributions of its minority communities. It also needs a curriculum that addresses the long-standing injustices endured by First Nations communities and identified by the TRC. The English school boards should refuse to implement any curriculum that systematically excludes the contributions of Quebec’s minority communities.