Quebec high school history textbooks are “fundamentally flawed” and should be removed from all schools across Quebec, an expert committee formed by the province’s largest English school board has concluded.
Students in the Grade 9 and 10 Canadian and Quebec history classes are being taught a “skewed, one-sided view of the past that distorts the historical record,” according to the committee report, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press.
The report is the result of work by three historians commissioned by the English Montreal School Board last June to review the controversial history program, which has been criticized by Quebec’s Indigenous, anglophone and other cultural communities.
The program, compulsory in all high schools across the province since September 2017, “focuses narrowly on the experience of and events pertaining to the ethnic/linguistic/cultural group of French Quebecois from contact until present day,” the report says.
It says Indigenous peoples are presented throughout the course as “other and antagonists, rather than human beings whose place was colonized by outsiders.”
The texts largely ignore the contributions of Irish, Italian, Greek, Portuguese, Haitian and other immigrants while offering “no indication these groups helped to transform the city of Montreal,” it continues.
Black history is virtually ignored, the report says, “and women are relegated to a few sidebars or disconnected paragraphs in both textbooks.”
The report concludes the textbooks “are fundamentally flawed and must be withdrawn from all high schools.” Recognizing that students cannot be left without any texts, it recommends continued use of the current books until June 2021 when corrected versions can be introduced.
A source with ties to the school board told The Canadian Press the report, dated October 2018, was submitted to board members Wednesday night. Board spokesman Michael Cohen declined comment on the board’s next steps.
The expert committee members were Terry Copp, professor emeritus of history at Wilfrid Laurier University, Jennifer Lonergan, a Canadian historian and social entrepreneur, and John Zucchi, professor of history at McGill University.
Zucchi said in an interview that the course should teach students more about Canada.
“It’s quite striking how so much of the significant aspects of Canadian history are left out,” he said.
The new history program has been criticized since it was first implemented as a pilot project in 30 high schools from September 2015 to June 2017.
Its conception in 2013 under a Parti Quebecois government was overseen by Jacques Beauchemin, who was at the time interim president of the Office quebecois de la langue francaise – the province’s language watchdog.
Anglo-rights groups, Indigenous organizations and history teachers were among the harshest critics of the new program, saying it reflected a rigid nationalist ideology and diminished the role of non-francophones in Quebec history.
Criticism was so strong that the Liberal government earlier this year spent $1.6-million to replace the word “Amerindian” in the textbooks and modify other Indigenous content.
An Education Department spokesman told The Canadian Press last September that in addition to the references to Amerindians or Native Americans being replaced with terms such as “First Nations,” “Inuit” and “Indigenous,” other Indigenous history content was changed.
For example, images depicting Indigenous people in a stereotypical way were altered, biographies of Indigenous historical figures were added and more attention was paid to the Indigenous role in key historical events.
A spokesperson for Quebec’s Education Department was not immediately available for comment about the English Montreal School Board report.
Here are some highlights from the expert report on high school history for the English Montreal School Board:
- “There is virtually no discussion of the Irish cultures of Montreal or Quebec. Other than a ‘Take Note!’ inset regarding typhus and Grosse Ile (where Irish immigrants were quarantined), there is no narrative dealing with the second largest ethnic community in the province in the nineteenth century!”
- “There is no development of Black history, which dates back to the French regime, and the issues of Black and Aboriginal slavery are conspicuous by their absence.”
- “There is no indication that immigration transformed Montreal into a complex multicultural city … The arrival of thousands of Jewish immigrants and the creation of new Jewish community institutions is an important story, totally neglected in the text.”
- “The lack of integration of women into a cohesive narrative is problematic on many levels, and constitutes a significant misrepresentation of the period.”
- “There is but one ideological bent in the textbooks rather than a more objective approach or an attempt to explain history from various ideological perspectives. For example, economic and social developments are presented through a Marxist lens, using Marxist terminology, without any contextualizing or defining of terms.”