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Reading that Changed my View of History: Canada’s Grand Narrative in History Education

Posted by Angelica Radjenovic
25 January 2015 - 8:43am

One year can have the power to change everything; and this past one has changed my view of history education in Canada. As a graduate student studying Canadian history education, I am grappling with the question: What type of history is taught in Ontario classrooms?

Ken Osborne’s article “Teaching history in schools: a Canadian debate” argues that the Canadian history debate in part derives from the conflict between political and social historians (Osborne, 2003, p. 586). He presents history education as a dichotomy, reflecting a conflict between the political (politics) and social (culture, gender, race, ethnicity) historians. I agree with this view, and as a practicing educator I see a need for high school teachers to strike a balance between the teachings of social and political national history in the classroom.

Osborne's article outlines four criticisms of history education in Canada that has altered and focused my view of how history education is practiced. One, Canadian history education is in danger of disappearing from school curricula as a distinct subject either by blending into social studies or eliminated completely. Two, history no longer tells a coherent story of Canada. Three, the replacement of social history has emphasized issues of class, race, and gender by dwelling on conflict, difference and disunity. Four, history education has opted to teach skill rather than knowledge.  

As an experienced teacher, I agree with Osborne that history teaching should cultivate a students’ interest, sense of connectedness, awareness of behaviour, sense of agency and choice, and an understanding of the world—while being historically minded (Osborne, 2003, p. 613).

On the other hand, I often see the need to balance the political with the social aspects of Canada’s national narrative. Granatstein’s 1998 book, Who Killed Canadian History? brings to light issues of Canadian history education, arguing that history matters. 

History matters, but that doesn't ease the difficulty teachers have in determining which history should be taught.

Osborne suggests that Canadian jurisdictions need to find a balance between unity and diversity (Osborne, 2003, p. 604) in its curricula. And that social history, which has typically celebrated ethnic and cultural heritage, should not be at the expense of teaching Canada’s national identity. As a practicing history teacher, I continue to reflect on how I can make history meaningful, relevant and engageing for all students. There are many resources to draw from when making such important decisions in the classroom, but the ultimate idea is to be aware of this potential political and social history divide.

Therefore, Ken Osborne presents a historical look at history education in Canada, and his engaging work has changed the way I have thought about history education.

What have you read that changed your view of history education?


Granatstein, J. L. (1998). Teaching Ignorance: History in the Schools. In Who Killed Canadian History? Toronto: Harper Collins.

Osborne, K. (2003). Teaching history in schools: a Canadian debate. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35(5), 585-626.