All high school graduates should be able to pass the citizenship test

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Appeared in the Epoch Times, May 6, 2024
All high school graduates should be able to pass the citizenship test

If you aren’t a Canadian citizen but you want to become one, you’d better start studying. That’s because you need to pass the Canadian Citizenship Test before you can take your oath of citizenship.

You will only pass this test if you have a decent knowledge of Canada’s history, geography and system of governance. Fortunately, the Canadian government has published a 64-page study guide called Discover Canada, which devotes 10 pages to a chronological overview of key events in our history. Along with learning about the founding peoples of Canada (Indigenous, French and British), prospective citizens must become familiar with the War of 1812, the Rebellions of 1837-38, the 1867 British North America Act, Canada’s role in the two world wars, and many other key facts. There’s a lot of historical content packed into these 10 pages.

But if people who immigrate to Canada are required to know these facts about our history, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect Canadian students to know as much when they graduate from high school. Unfortunately, according to a recent analysis of two provincial history curriculum guides, this is not likely to happen—at least in Ontario and British Columbia.

For example, the Ontario social studies curriculum guides include very little in the way of specific Canadian history content. While K-8 students are expected to compare life today with life in early Canada, there’s no requirement for students to place major historical events in chronological order. The curriculum expectations are so vague that it’s basically up to individual teachers to decide what topics they will cover.

Once students get to high school, only one required course covers Canadian history—Canadian History Since World War I, which is required in Grade 10. Most of the outcomes in the curriculum guide are overly broad. Stating, for example, that students should be able to “describe some key social changes in Canada during this period” and “describe some key economic trends and developments in Canada during this period” leaves much open to interpretation.

Things are even worse in B.C. where the new curriculum focuses on “big ideas” that are, in fact, so vague they’re largely meaningless. For example, a big idea from Grade 2 is that “Canada is made up of many diverse regions and communities” while a big idea from Grade 9 is that “Collective identity is constructed and can change over time.” These vacuous statements are so open to interpretation they provide no guidance to teachers who genuinely want to ensure that their students learn what they need to know.

In B.C. schools, the only repeated Canadian history outcome with any specific examples is the requirement for students to learn about past discrimination— residential schools for Indigenous students, the Chinese Head Tax, the Komagata Incident, and the internment of various people. Interestingly, students in grades 9 and 10 are required to learn about these very same examples of discrimination. One can only wonder why anyone would think this content must be repeated at least three times during a student’s time in school while omitting most other details (many of which are positive) about our country’s history.

Like in Ontario, what B.C. students learn about Canadian history is left almost entirely to the teacher’s discretion. This is unacceptable.

Teachers must help students become critical thinkers. However, critical thinking is not an abstract skill but rather is heavily dependent on subject-specific knowledge. For example, people can only offer an informed comment about the appropriateness of erecting statues of Sir John A. Macdonald if they know about Macdonald’s life and the cultural context of his era.

If we want an educated citizenry that can think critically about the challenges facing Canada today, we must ensure they graduate from high school with a solid understanding of Canadian history. Unfortunately, both Ontario and B.C. students are poorly served by their governments’ curriculum guides.

Instead of wondering who killed Canadian history (as renowned historian Jack Granatstein asked more than 25 years ago), we should ask how we can restore Canadian history. First, we should give teachers more comprehensive and balanced curriculum guides in history.

All high school graduates, whether born in Canada or not, should be able to, at minimum, pass the Canadian Citizenship Test.

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