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Clark, Penney Irene. “Take it away, Youth! Visions of Canadian Identity in British Columbia Social Studies Textbooks, 1925 – 1989.” Ph.D. Diss., The University of British Columbia, 1995.


This dissertation examines the way British Columbia social studies textbooks have portrayed particular world views and perspectives over time, both by what they include and what is omitted. This study considers the conception of the ideal Canadian in the texts in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, class, age, disability and how the texts identify and teach civic values. The study also looks at the conception of Canada as a nation inherent in the texts, specifically in terms of conflict and cooperation in Canada’s past and present; Canada’s relationship with Great Britain and the United States and the accomplishments and qualities in which Canadians take pride. It also considers the conception of the student reader, primarily through an examination of pedagogical approaches employed.

This study is a qualitative analysis of 169 textbooks approved by the British Columbia Department of Education for use with British Columbia elementary and secondary social studies curricula in three periods between 1925 and 1989: 1925-1939, 1960-1975, and 1970-1989. These periods correspond to three educational turning points: the 1925 Putman-Weir Report, the 1960 Chant Report, and the 1970 establishment of the Canada Studies Foundation. Social studies textbooks were selected for study because this curricular area has been generally recognized as having “good citizenship” as its ultimate goal. The texts were examined in the context of social, economic, political and educational events in each period.

In the Putman-Weir era, Canadian identity involved a sense of increasing independence within an enveloping allegiance to Great Britain and its empire. Textbooks encouraged the adoption of characteristics of good citizenship such as loyalty to country and empire through the use of heroic figures. The concept of Canadian identity was both inclusive and exclusive. It was a gendered concept, excluding women. It was inclusive of most immigrants because they were needed to people the land. It was exclusive of Asian immigrants because they were viewed as unable to assimilate. It also excluded Native people, who were seen as being unable to contribute to national progress. In the Chant era, Canada’s independence from Great Britain began to be taken for granted. Textbooks were more concerned with Canada’s relationship to the United States and its role on the world stage. Textbook authors saw a thriving anti-Americanism as an important part of what made Canadians Canadian. “Canadianness” included women only in peripheral roles. Most immigrants received a joyous welcome in these texts. These “new Canadians” were expected to contribute to the ongoing tide of progress in which Canadians were engaged. A negative tone pervaded discussion of Native peoples. The Canada Studies era was characterized by two dominant movements. These were promotion of Canadian nationhood and a greater inclusiveness. Ironically, pride in Canada, as well as optimism for its future, was less evident in the Canada Studies era texts. Inclusion was the watchword of this era.

This study demonstrates the value of the textbook as cultural artifact. The text is an important historical data source because it provides evidence of world views deemed suitable to place before students.

The study supports George Tomkins’ theme of stability and change. Stability is reflected in the view that the purpose of social studies is citizenship education. What has changed is the degree to which the concept of Canadian identity has become one of inclusion rather than exclusion and the way in which citizenship education is interpreted in the textbooks. With respect to the conception of Canada as a nation, this study supports other findings that a consensus version of Canadian history is presented in the texts. Conflict, except for high profile incidents (such as the Riel resistances) is glossed over. This study also found that texts in the Canada Studies era were much more bland than previous texts due to the presence of an ‘omnipotent narrator’ and resistance to making what could be construed as negative statements about certain groups of people.

This study calls for changes in the nature of textbook narratives. Textbook authors, for example, might include themselves in the narrative by describing their own perspectives on historical events, allowing student readers better opportunities for engagement with text content. Textbooks should also aim, Clark concludes, to present events as the result of choices made by fallible human beings, rather than “inevitable” occurrences. Student activities could be provided which assist students to consider possible consequences if different decisions had been made at key historical turning points.

In terms of implications for pedagogy, the thesis makes the point that teachers need to take up the task of tearing down the edifice of truth as represented by textbooks and assist students to learn to probe beneath the surface of textbook discourse for the latent messages they deliver.

Penney Clark