conversations on gaps in historical significance

Why do we study the things that we study?

So many years spent griping about content in our textbooks/ curriculum about being boring and useless and ‘how is knowing how to plot the inverse of cosine going to help me with my taxes in the future??’.. I remember those days! Needless to say, it wasn’t too shocking when the same textbook students are using now was the one that I used when I was in social studies 10. The curriculum, however, in draft form, opens up an opportunity to delve a little deeper and more significantly into parts of the past as they relate to the present and future- or, that’s how I interpreted it. Very lucky to be allowed the opportunity to play with the new curriculum as it informs lessons for my socials 10 class – a group that is in a specific program (kind of like a mini-school) that encourages more inquiry-based, project-learning approaches to push students to achieve their fullest potential.


The lesson for the day was planned around ‘historical significance’. What does this term mean? When students walked in, they were prompted to list 5 events in their lives that they would deem important or significant to them. Birthdays, loss of a first too, first crush, entering high school, winning a soccer tournament.. it was hard to pick and choose the top 5.


What about top 5 events in BC or Canadian history? Even trickier.


We debriefed, brainstorming responses on the board. What were some commonalities in the personal top 5 lists? Mostly, ‘firsts’, moments that had never occurred in the past, moments where something to be proud of was achieved, moments that affected the students’ lives and those around them, moments of learning. And of Canadian history? Moments that created change, that reflected how society functioned at the time, that shaped how things are in society today, things that affected the personal, local, national, and international.  We managed to create  a loose criteria for evaluating events that were deemed ‘historically significant’

unpacking the criteria for what is deemed ‘historically significant’

But, most strikingly, looking at the second list that students had brainstormed, I was admittedly impressed and disappointed with the responses. “What else is missing on this list?” Students had curated a Euro-centric history, and that’s not their fault. That’s the product of what they’ve learned over the years, what the textbooks focus on, and so what they focus on too. And so slowly, answers like: residential schools, Chinese head tax, immigrants building the CPR came through.

I recognize that my sentiments come out of one class with one particular group of students from one particular school. So yes, my sentiments might be extremely localized in that sense. Still, I have a  hunch that if the same exercises were to be explored in other socials 10 classrooms throughout the city, we’d get the same sort of results. But, I’d very much welcome the opportunity to be proved wrong!

What does this particular exercise say about the gaps in which we learn ‘our’ history? Whose history? Who gets to choose what is historically significant? (A return to the age-old truth about how powerful the role of the teacher is in the classroom).

I have my work set out for me, but surely I can’t be the only one.



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