Canada: A Nation Unfolding – NEWMAN et al (CSS)

NEWMAN, Garfield; AITKEN, Bob; EATON, Dianne; HOLLAND, Dick; MONTGOMERY, John; RIDDOCK, Sonia Riddock. Canada: A Nation Unfolding (Ontario Edition). Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 2000. 428p. Resenha de: DANNETTA, Vincent. Canadian Social Studies, v.37, n.2, 2003.

Of the seven textbooks that were produced for the new Ontario Grade Ten Canada in the Twentieth Century course, Canada: A Nation Unfolding is the best organized, the most visually appealing-from the perspective of a student-and the text that has the best accompanying unit and chapter activities.

What I found enticing at first sight, while looking at the table of contents, is the manner in which the units are organized. Unlike most of the other efforts, in which the first unit covers 1891 to 1928 (way too much terrain to be covered in one unit), the first unit in Canada: A Nation Unfolding begins at 1896 and ends at 1914 with the beginning of the First World War. The second unit encompasses the First World War and then the third unit covers the 1920s and 1930s. These time periods are a much more logical manner in which to structure the first three units. This not only makes the most sense but it is how teachers have been teaching the curriculum for years in this course. The themes that are intelligently woven throughout the text also strike a familiar chord. They are in a chronological format and include macro-level themes such as French/English Relations, Canadian/American Relations, International Relations, and Multiculturalism, and micro-level themes such as technology through the years in Canada.

What I call the second table of contents showcases Garfield Newman’s strength as a textbook writer. He entitles this section Tour of the Book. Put simply, it is a visual road map of the special features that are contained within each of the units. Humour in History, for example, attempts to highlight one of Canada’s strengths in character, the ability to laugh at itself throughout the years. With feature spots on Wayne and Shuster and comedy characters Bob and Doug MacKenzie, one also starts to think of the exports in humour that we have had (e.g. John Candy, Martin Short, Mike Myers, etc.). I only wish that the authors had included the gang from This Hour Has 22 Minutes to set us further apart from Americans-a theme that is recurring throughout the text-as this is intelligent humour at another level, the political.

There are other features that make the text unique such as pieces on technology and the sections on Methods of Historical Inquiry. The feature that I personally like that sets this book apart from other efforts is the photo essay in each of the units. These essays symbolically and literally capture the essence of being Canadian in each of the historical eras in the text. My personal favourite photo essay is the last one that focuses on the symbols of Canada from 1968 to 2000. In it the reader sees the standard symbols like the beaver, the mountains, the maple leaf and maple syrup. However, the symbols which brilliantly capture the essence of Canada are the photos of canoeing on a lake in cottage country, kids playing road hockey, a mother and child tobogganing down a hill, and the doughnut.

I think the one big criticism I have of Canada: A Nation Unfolding is the writing in certain time periods. For novice teachers, it certainly leaves some unanswered questions that they may have to grapple with when they have a particularly inquisitive student. An example of this is the manner in which the Schlieffen Plan is handled. Readers learn that the plan was actually developed nine years before the war actually broke out, so why was it not executed in 1905? There is no answer in the text. Equally disturbing is the fact that the authors neglect to tell us why the plan failed and who finally executed it. For such an important turning point in the war, this was really botched. The answer that the French rallied their troops and defeated the Germans at the Battle of Marne is offensive to any historian. How could the French beat such a formidable opponent? My comments about the Schlieffen Plan are included only to serve as an example of that which is prevalent in many textbook efforts. Many teachers who use textbooks, use them as a foundation and supplement the text with other resources. The only problem with this approach is that errors such as the one mentioned above are sometimes hard to detect.

I think that this is symptomatic of how textbooks are written for the history curriculum and is a flaw that is not insurmountable. I never think the strength of any textbook is the history content that is being given. The strength of this textbook, therefore, is not the history content that it contains but rather the supporting learning activities that are firmly grounded in Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

Vincent Dannetta – Markham District High School. Markham, Ontario.

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