Women & Confederation

It seems that all students of Canadian History are taught about the causes of Confederation and about the Fathers of Confederation. It’s a neat little package that helps educators get to the next “unit” and then issue report cards at the end of the term. I find that it’s almost a rite of passage – that is that we must learn this stuff before we are issued our passport, or something.


Taken from CBC.

But what if we looked at Confederation in a more critical light? What if we looked at it from a Chinese or First Nation perspective? What if we put ourselves in the position of women, or as feminist historians? Dr. Lorna Marsden, a former Senator, University president, and currently a sociologist at York University, has attempted to do just that. In her book Canadian Women & The Struggle for Equality, she focuses a great deal on how women were not being considered persons 150 years ago, and that this caused one of the most incredible social movements in modern history.

In Chapter II, Marsden refers to the “Great Flaws of Confederation.” What were these and why is it important to critically analyze them? Why is it important to look at history from all perspectives? Are we obliged to do so? Is it unethical not to do so? How does this relate to Zinn’s understanding of radical history? Let’s discuss!

Here is a review of her book from the Winnipeg Free Press by a former SJR parent, Brenlee Carrington, that might help us. I also find this topic intriguing, firstly because I consider myself  feminist, but also secondly because the CBC is currently running a series entitled The Mommy Myth. Have a look. How does looking at the role of women in history help us deconstruct some of the barriers they face today?

Teachers Need to be their Own Resource

Students at Legislative Building

I don’t know about you, but I love getting out of the classroom. As much as possible, I like to take students to archives, conferences, legislative buildings, museums, and even on walks around the neighborhood. Sometimes “place” can be the curriculum. I love getting out so much, that I suspect I annoy colleagues who are trying to plan assessment tools and wrap things up at the end of a term. For this, I apologize – sort of.

Place is just one resource that many teachers use as a means for making the learning experiences educative, meaningful, and transformative for students. Many teachers use authentic and global events to direct the learning that goes on in their learning communities. Others collect real-life resources through guest speakers – an easier feat given new technologies and a shrinking world. There are still amazing history teachers who I adore who use their stories and storytelling abilities to make learning about imagination, empathy, and progress. Desmond Morton graces us a few times a year, and we could listen to him all day.

What all these strategies come down to is the idea of teachers collecting their own resources to make the teaching and learning process as exciting and engaging as possible. Two recent events started me down this path of how it is we create resources for and with our students. The first was an article printed in the Winnipeg Free Press entitled Human Rights Lessons not Easy. In this article, it was revealed that almost 50% of teachers across Canada do not feel that they have the resources to teach about human rights.  

Immediately, I had a few issues with these findings. The most alarming was that there are teachers out there who feel that their schools, divisions, and provinces should be creating resources for them on any given topic.

Part of being a professional is doing research, not only on teaching and learning, but on what you are supposed to be teaching. In the case of human rights,this might involve going to a library and reading a book, looking at Aljazeera, or as my teacher-friend Marc Kuly said, “driving through Winnipeg with a video camera.” Isn’t the onus on teachers to know, deeply, about our subject areas? This practice, for me, involves getting rid of my cable, not watching the NFL or the Bachelorette, using Spring Break for study and not Vegas and actually participating in discussions related to the fields that I teach. The excuse of “not enough time” is played out. Make time.

The second event which was a catalyst for this reflection about resources was the release of the viral video which involves a student in Texas telling his teacher that simply putting packets of worksheets together is not teaching. His outburst is a cris-de-coeur and clearly he is an engaged learner who is frustrated by mediocre teaching. My heart broke for this kid, Jeff Bliss, because we have all been there. My Grade 11 Canadian History class in 1993 was not much different – I just wish I had the gumption to challenge teachers whose notion of teaching was slapping together random “resources.” The student in the video demands excellence from this teacher and this excellence comes down to sound pedagogy, subject matter knowledge, passion, and a joy with connecting with young people through the curriculum. all of these elements are resources which we must think deeply about.

As teachers, we need to strive for excellence, even though on most most days, I know for myself, we shall short. Part of this journey, however, depends on research, thinking, and hard work in order to amass resources, tools, and ideas that engage students in the learning process and the joy of knowledge we are creating and contributing to.

The alternative is to complain that we don’t have enough resources and that it’s someone else’s fault. We can no longer moan and groan in staff rooms about how governments, administrators, and parents “don’t get it”; that we’re too busy. Teaching is hard work, demands sacrifices, and consumes almost all our energy. We also get paid very well to do it.  Jeff Bliss, the kid in Texas is right: “You want a kid to change and start doing better, you gotta touch his freakin’ heart…You gotta take this job serious. This is the future of this nation.”