Education, History and la Survivance

By Levine, Allan | Winnipeg Free Press, March 26, 2014 | Go to article overview

Education, History and la Survivance


Levine, Allan, Winnipeg Free Press


For French-Canadian nationalists and sovereigntists, the teaching of history has always had a special place in Quebec. Framing the past three centuries as a valiant struggle to survive -- la survivance, as it has been christened -- against English domination can be a powerful propaganda tool.

Hence, one of the first the issues Premier Pauline Marois and the Parti Quebecois tackled when it came to power in a minority government in September 2012 was the province's high-school history curriculum.

"Less English in school and more room for the sovereignty question in history courses," was how PQ Education Minister Marie Malavoy put it in an October 2012 interview with the Le Soleil in Quebec City. She regretted the sovereignty movement had been relegated in the classroom to the same status as teaching about capitalism, feminism or multiculturalism.

During the past year and a half, an extensive educational consultation has been undertaken and its findings and recommendations were released at the end of February. Should the PQ win a majority on April 7, the government would begin to implement its new senior-high history course with a decidedly nationalistic slant in September. Out would go the course introduced by the provincial Liberals in 2006-07 that focused on skills, citizenship and diversity and in would come one that puts at the forefront "Quebec's singular experience" in Canada.

The PQ strategy is nothing new. Shaping (and twisting) young minds have long been an objective of dictatorships and democracies. And while teenage students might not always see the value of studying the past, political leaders certainly have. It is merely a matter of degree and subtlety.

The three great tyrants of the 20th century, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong all understood education and propaganda were one and the same -- their sole purpose was to serve the state as they and their regimes strictly defined it.

"Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed," Stalin told author H.G. Wells in 1937. During much of the Soviet era, education was rigid and authoritarian. History textbooks were rewritten to emphasize the Communist revolution's primacy in Soviet life to the point teachers were forced to utilize curriculum they knew to be false.

Hitler and Mao held similar attitudes and adopted similar policies. "Youth belongs to us and we will yield them to no one," declared Hitler's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. In Nazi Germany, indoctrination of the young started early and true to a totalitarian system touched every aspect of a child's day-to-day life. The education system was "purged," the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum notes on its website, and teachers were compelled to teach Nazi dictates. Most were happy to do so.

"In the classroom and in the Hitler Youth, instruction aimed to produce race-conscious, obedient, self-sacrificing Germans who would be willing to die for Fºhrer and Fatherland," the website states.

"German educators introduced new textbooks that taught students love for Hitler, obedience to state authority, militarism, racism, and anti-Semitism."

Likewise, Chairman Mao regarded education as paramount. "Our educational policy," he said in 1957, "must enable everyone who receives an education to develop morally, intellectually and physically and become a worker with both socialist consciousness and culture. …

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