Thursday, March 5, 2015

March 5: My Times and Transcript delivery.....

...., not for the first time, is some five hours late. So I'll begin with a topic I only touched on yesterday. This is for school boards and for high school teachers.

Do not teach any national history in elementary or high school. There are two reasons. One is that any national history is such a broad subject that it can be taught only as memory work (rote learning), and it is a waste of time because rote learning is soon forgotten.

The other reason is because the only history you are allowed to teach in the public schools is "feel good" history. If, in particular, you try to teach Canada or the US - and to be truthful - you will get fired. School boards see history (wrongly) as a way to teach patriotism. Anything that doesn't do that is "unCanadian". It's even worse in the US where almost all  history, at any level, is pure hokum. The reality is that there is much in Canadian history - as in any national history -  to be ashamed of.

One of them is Columbus and all that "the world is round stuff". Columbus didn't prove the world was round. That was as well known in 1492 as it is today, and had been known for  thousands of years - by everybody. Nor did he discover America. The discovery happened at least 70,000 years ago when people from Siberia crossed into the Canadian north and spread southward. And there were other "discoveries" of America by Pacific islanders, possibly by black Africans, by Phoenicians and, as Columbus and most of Europe knew, by Vikings.

Nor was there anything savage about the native people he saw here. They had all the characteristics of civilization. They had advanced religions. They had forms of government quite superior to Europe which was government largely by rich fools who were the sons of rich fools. They were also far, far ahead of Europeans (and of us even today) in the status of women. They were far less warlike and cruel than Europeans. Their health was far superior. It was common for native people to live to be grandparents - but very rare for Europeans in the time of Columbus.

Columbus, on the other hand, was a thorough bastard. He murdered people who had welcomed him and helped him[. His armies were well-equipped with dogs trained to kill,  and he used them freely. He slaughtered thousands, destroyed native nations. He demanded natives produce gold and silver for him with a quota set for each person. Anyone who failed to meet the quota had both hands chopped off.

Oh, and there's a strong possibility that native people learned about scalping from the Europeans. It was an old, Scandinavian cusrom.

I did not learn any of the above in high school.

Anyway, you don't want to use history just to pump information into heads. After all, there is no "truth" in history, not even in the sense that science is truth.  Every day, there is new research to question what we thought we knew as fact. It's not about information. It's about how to think - and that has a general use for the rest of a student's life.

A good way to start is with what the students see around them every day.

For example - who was Beatrice McNaughton? Why is a school named after her? What did she do? (And good luck in finding anybody on the schoolboard who knows.)

Why does a school named after her have a symbol that is a raging, MALE, Scottish warrior? She must have been one, tough bird. Indeed, so far as I've been able to tell, all the schools have symbolic MALE figures for their school team names - including girls' teams. Why?

Don't tell the students all this. Tell them how to get the information. Once they have it, then lead discussions on what this information means.

Oh, while at BMHS, and perhaps others, check out the pictures in the hall of graduating years. For the early years(about 1960) the students will surely notice the absence or scarcity of female grads. What does that suggest? Perhaps students might check out the registration records to see what they tell us. (Surely,  the school board has such records.)

The school board should also have copies of contracts for teachers in, say, the 1920s. Get a look at the forms and the terms, especially for women. What does that tell you about the perceived role of teachers, and the social status of women?

Then there are the street names in Moncton. There is a Church St. with some very expensive churches on it. Notice when they were built. Notice the Capital theatre, a most impressive (and expensive building, and also built in the same period as the churches. Notice some of the older houses in that area. What does all that tell us about the history of Moncton?

Then there are the street names the children see every day. I once got a whole year of broadcasts out of that in Montreal. Who and what are they named after? (City hall should have these records.) Why do we have a Highfield? Why so we have a street called Mount Royal where there really is no mountain? Or anything royal?  And the same for Westmount St.

(hint - I think both those names were taken from Montreal. If so, why would Montreal street names be in Moncton?)

Why do we have a Falklands St.? I would guess it originated about 1960, at which time the only thing worth knowing about the Falklands was that they are Islands near which a sea battle was fought in World War One. It  had no connection whatever with Moncton.  City hall records might be useful here.

The first point is to let children learn the historical meanngs of things familiar to them. That gives meaning to things that they see every day, and gives them a sense that history is all around them.

The second point to to help to students to know how to get this information - and to actually get it - from computers, school records, city hall.....

The third point is the thinking part, judgement about the sources,  (how reliable are they? how complete are they?), and the discussion of what they tell us. Here, the teacher should lead - but not lecture. Let the students deal with the thinking process.

All business wants out of the schools are trained robots, not original thinkers. All government wants is unthinking patriots. All school boards want is history that won't annoy business, governments, or parents.

And what children need is to have something they will remember, that will make them aware of history and, above all, develop their ability to make judgements and to think.

There are all sorts of areas to look at. A high proportion of pro hockey players come out of high school. A high proportion of pro football players come out of university.  Why the difference?

The Stanley Cup and the Grey Cup are supposed to be for amateur champion ships. Why?

When did the first shopping centre in Canada appear? Why did it appear at that time? (It was about 1948).

National histories are a waste of time. They can only be taught be rote - memorization - and that's a waste of everybody's time. In case, school boards have never allowed the truth to be told about national histories - and I see no sign of that changing.

So, teach the history of what has meaning to things the children see every day. And, most of all, teach what history is all about - finding information, making judgements about it, and thinking.

I apologize to readers who were expecting a blog about the news. I had intended to do that with the history part written this morning. But the day turned chaotic just about noon; so I couldn't finish. I'll be a good boy tomorrow.


  1. Good article, too bad none of the answers to your local questions are to be found in the Moncton Museum, or whatever some idiot has decided to call it.

  2. There's an old church near the museum that is not at all exploited for its tourist and educational value. Those buildings, the placement of the pews, the design of the pulpit, things like that tell us a lot about the people.

    the church also seems distant from what must, at the time, have been a tiny settlement on the river It would be interesting to see maps or surveys of the period.

    It might also be useful and interesting to create a walking tour of the area around Church St. with placards telling features of some quite interesting, turn of the century houses in that area, and including the interior of the Capitol Theatre - a real gem of history.

    But the only "historic" building the Irving press every seems to talk about is that ghastly, tasteless, pretentious faux-castle apartment building on the other side of Mountain - of building of no historical importance whatever.