CRUXTON, J. Bradley; WILSON, W. Douglas. Challenge of the West: A Canadian Retrospective from 1815-1914. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1997. 182p. Resenha de: HORTON, Todd. Canadian Social Studies, v.39, n.1, p., 2004.
Ostensibly a social studies textbook for high school (back cover), Challenge of the West is written and presented in a style that makes it suitable for a number of grades from junior high up to and including high school. As well, the content corresponds with several social studies and history curricula across Canada including the strand entitled The Development of Western Canada found in the grade seven history curriculum of Ontario.
The front cover of the textbook is a reproduction of Adam Sherriff Scott’s The SS Beaver off Fort Victoria, 1846. The painting depicts two aboriginal persons in the foreground with their backs to the viewer. They are looking across the water to a British fort on the opposite shoreline. In the water between is a British ship and a smaller boat filled with, presumably, residents of the fort. As the two aboriginal persons are in the foreground, the viewer is encouraged to interpret the painting from their perspective. The dominant impression is one of watching from the sidelines. The aboriginal people are not participants but observers, surveying activities that will change their worlds.
Change is very much what this textbook is about. In the introduction, the authors encourage students to think about change, how it comes about in their worlds and how it has come about throughout Canadian history. As Cruxton and Wilson state in the Introduction, sometimes change just happens. Other times, we make a change happen. When we set out to make change, it can involve conflict or struggle (no page). These words are a foreshadowing of the conflict and struggle that has been a part of Canada’s historical development.
The textbook is divided into six chapters: 1) Rebellion and Change in Upper and Lower Canada; 2) The Road to Confederation; 3) Exploring and Opening the West; 4) Manitoba and British Columbia Enter Confederation; 5) Preparing the West for Settlement; 6) Settling the West. Though the content is never extensively detailed, the chapters do cover what are often considered the main events in Western Canadian history from 1815 to 1914. The building of the CPR is captured in chapter four, the Red River Rebellion, Northwest Rebellion and the trial of Louis Riel are highlighted in chapter five while the Gold Rush is explored in chapter six.
However, as the chapter titles suggest and as is the pattern of history textbooks designed to meet the requirements of history curricula, the content focuses on the changing West from the perspective of Europeans whether British soldiers, French politicians or Mennonite settlers. Even the notion of the West is a reference to territory west of earlier European settlements in Newfoundland, the Maritime colonies and the Canadas. Rarely is the history told from the perspective of aboriginal peoples. Their voices are silent and their histories, separate from those that are entwined with European colonists, are absent. This is not to suggest that aboriginal peoples are missing. They are very much present in the historical narratives and biographical inserts provided. Almost the entirety of chapter three is devoted to the First Canadians, who they are and where they live. Nevertheless, their histories remain distant and aloof from the perspective suggested-forever illustrated as the other, standing on the outside watching as their worlds are changed by the main event which is the development of a nation called Canada. The painting on the cover is indeed metaphoric.
Liberally peppered throughout the chapters are charts, maps, timelines, paintings, photographs, poems, songs, cartoons and reproductions of original documents. There are also a number of inserts that are separate from the main body of text. These inserts offer interesting biographies of people such as Qubec political reformer Louis-Joseph Papineau and author Susanna Moodie. All of these features combine to give the textbook a sense of variety and offer students different ways of learning the content. One problem to note is the serious dearth of passages which permit the historical actors to speak for themselves. Though there are a few, offering students more opportunities to read what William Lyon Mackenzie, Sir John A. Macdonald, Catherine Schubert or Crowfoot actually said would bring an increased impression of humanity to the historical narratives and elevate the textbook’s overall sense of credibility as a source of historical information.
Each chapter includes at least one developing skills section. The foci of the developing skills sections include creating a mind map, decision making, cause-and-effect relationships, interpreting political cartoons, interviewing, using maps as visual organizers, preparing a research report, debating, making oral presentations, and analyzing bias. These sections are divided into numbered steps that include easy-to-follow instructions and examples. The result should be the development of skills that are transferable to other courses of study.
Also included at the conclusion of each chapter are a series of activities. The activities sections are divided into three parts: Check Your Understanding; Confirm Your Learning; and Challenge Your Mind. The first part focuses on comprehension questions that refer to the chapter completed. The second part encourages the use of information in the answering of broader questions. The third part challenges students to analyze situations and consider questions and statements from a number of perspectives as well as synthesize information in the formulation of their own views. These parts are well written, progressive in complexity and offer teachers a range of choice to use in meeting the learning needs of students that have a range of abilities. One criticism of the developing skills and activities sections is that there needs to be better integration between them. Only occasionally are students expected to use the skills developed in one section to complete the activities in the other. Students need opportunities to refine the skills they learn. By explicitly and purposefully providing students with activities that encourage the use of newly developed skills there is greater possibility that the skills will be internalized and endure.
While the book may not be deemed adequate by some teachers as the sole text to use in their junior high or high school social studies or history courses, the authors must be given credit for hitting the high spots of the mainstream history narrative of the Canadian west, developing important skill sets and providing students with a number of interesting activities. Until the time when history curricula value aboriginal perspectives as much as they do Europeans, textbooks like this are meeting their mandate.
Todd Horton – Faculty of Education. Nipissing University. North Bay, Ontario.