Norman Rockwell was a Canadian artist. Neil Armstrong, the first
man on the moon, is also a Canadian.
Actually, both are American. But about one-third of young
Canadians believe the late artist was home-grown and another 10
percent identified the US astronaut as Canada's first man in space,
a national survey reveals.
Canadians do not yearn to steal American icons. The problem is
simply that Canadian history is poorly taught, says Rudyard
Griffiths, director of the Dominion Institute, a Toronto-based
nonprofit group promoting the teaching of Canadian history.
"The Canadian educational system has failed to impart to youth a
basic understanding of the country's past," he says.
But Canadians are hardly alone. Education critics see a "North
American" history crisis in which both Canadian and United States
school systems are "failing" to teach history.
On July 1, Canadians celebrated their nation's birthday. But who
knew the actual year the dominion of Canada was born? Just 36
percent of 1,100 Canadians surveyed by the Angus Reid Group, a
prominent polling firm, knew the date: 1867.
This lack of basic history knowledge may surprise many
Canadians. But not Anne Metikosh, a Burlington, Ont., homemaker.
From Grades 4 to 7, she says, her daughter's history lessons jumped
from Victorian Christmas (Queen Victoria's popularization of
holiday and Christmas trees) to the English Tudor period, leaping
then to the War of 1812 between Britain and the US, while visiting
the Canadian fur trade three times.
"It was very choppy," Ms. Metikosh says. And what history was
taught lacked context because it was submerged in a social studies
class called "Self and Society." "Basics have been shuffled aside,"
Still others point to history-deficient freshmen arriving at
Canada's leading universities. Joanne Harris Burgess, who teaches
Canadian studies at Glendon College at York University in Toronto,
decided last fall to test her arriving students to find out where
she should begin teaching them.
To her shock, she discovered only 7 percent could name the last
five prime ministers, and that 92 percent could not name the four
founding provinces - Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New
Brunswick. Nearly two-thirds could not name the first prime
minister - Sir John A. Macdonald.
"It was unbelievable," she says. "To me it represented the
complete and utter failure of the teaching of Canadian history in
Ontario high schools. …