CRUXTON, J. Bradley; WILSON, W. Douglas; WALKER, Robert J. Close-Up Canada. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, 2001. 322p. Resenha de: ALLISON, Sam. Canadian Social Studies, v.38, n.3, p., 2004.
The Canadian market for school history textbooks is fragmented because we have no standard national curriculum or examinations. The grade level to study history varies widely as does course length. Arguably, Quebec’s French language Canadian history texts are the best in Canada because such texts are based upon standardized factors that create a market. In addition, schools divert money from books to computers, and school textbook writers are difficult to find. Provincial subsidy rules often favour poor textbooks printed inside a province, thus restricting the market even for the very best of books printed elsewhere.
Close-Up Canada displays some of the virtues and many of the vices found in French language school textbooks. There are thoughtful, stimulating illustrations and activities throughout the book. Care has been taken with reading levels, about grades 8 and 9, while there are sufficient vocabulary and computer activities to satisfy both traditional and progressive teaching methods. Materials on Black Canadians and Jewish Emancipation fill gaps all too present in Canadian schoolbooks. Every Canadian history teacher would benefit from reading the vast range of teaching and learning activities in this work.
This book has many eye-catching, colourful side-bars, appealing to the video generation, however, sections non-continuous to the main narrative are difficult to edit using modern, electronic printing. Sadly, editorial difficulties mar the book. An ambitious book such as this requires editorial and writing teams larger than the market can support. Be that as it may, basic pedagogy also requires accurate dates, numbers, and place names in a textbook. Close-Up Canada has some obvious typos and inaccuracies such as 1740s Louisbourg flourishing in the 1840s (p. 105) and the claim that James Wolfe arrived with 39 000 soldiers and 25 warships (p.114). One can imagine Freddy raising his hand to ask how big the ships were. In reality, Wolfe had approximately 9 000 soldiers and 225 ships. Another example has Ezekiel Hart contesting Trois Rivieres (p. 277) rather than Three Rivers, the official name of the riding and the town at that time. This illustrates a major difficulty in writing Canadian history textbooks. Various federally funded agencies and projects such as Heritage Canada, Canada Post, and the Dictionary of Canadian Biography have taken to replacing official, historical English names such as Three Rivers in order to use more politically correct French ones. Does one write for historical accuracy or for political correctness in a Canadian textbook? Close-Up Canada encompasses a three hundred year period from 1539-1849 and is consequently not a good buy for provinces teaching all of Canadian history in one year. New France blends into Upper Canada in this version of history so it is probably designed for the Ontario market. There is a skewed distribution of space. Approximately 20% of the 322 page book is devoted to the 12 years from 1837-1849. Topics are also skewed. Western and Lower Canada are conspicuous by their absence and the fur trade stops at 1763. For example, William Lyon MacKenzie, the 1837 Rebel, has 7 pages whereas Alexander MacKenzie, the First across the Continent, and arguably one of the greatest explorers in North American history, is absent from this book. We Canadians complain that Americans glorify Lewis and Clarke yet ignore MacKenzie. So do we.
Skewed intellectual balance is the largest problem with the overall content of this book. As in French language books, by measurement of space distributed to him (7 pages), Papineau is now the most important figure in Canadian history. Canadians are no longer sturdy fur traders, we are sturdy rebels in this version of history. Our rebellions of 1837 are to be compared and contrasted to the American Revolution (p. 293). The Conflict and Change section (p. 247-300) has too much conflict and not enough change. While negative factors about Canada must be aired, positive factors such as the radical franchise rules for Lower Canada would throw a more balanced light upon Canadian democracy than is presented in this book.
This brings us to the necessity for balanced treatment. Children understand that issues have several sides. They actually like debating both sides of an issue and understand that history is not simple. Unfortunately, the often shallow, unbalanced, and anti-British tone so common in French language textbooks, is all too prevalent in Close-Up Canada. On page 283 we read, Papineau was not always a Reformer. In his early life he was an admirer of Britain. Tighter editing would have replaced Reformer with Rebel, a more intellectually accurate and defensible description. Rather than present a balanced account of the 1837 Rebellion (for instance, there are no biographies of Chateau Clique members such as Richardson: founder of Canadian banking; supporter of Jewish Emancipation; opponent of slavery); the book presents what can only be called a Quebec nationalist perspective. For instance, the book asserts that the British cut out Chenier’s heart and displayed it in a tavern for several days(p.293). There is little contemporary evidence that this took place. Rather than explain that this incident was probably Patriote propaganda, or, alternatively, balance the incident with the fact that the Patriotes murdered British prisoners such as Jack Weir, a one-sided viewpoint is stated as truth.
It is difficult to review a book such as this. Textbooks are important because they promote knowledge and literacy. While textbooks should be free to discuss any point of view they should not promote one, debatable point of view. We are losing, perhaps even have lost, the pool of talent needed to produce school history texts. The United States has a vast market, and teachers often choose from a range of books and adapt their curriculum to the book. The British have their National Curriculum and a range of history examinations for 16 and 18 year olds. British teachers can choose the exam and a textbook for that exam. Canada has neither the market size nor the standardization to create a history textbook industry. We produce the textbooks we deserve.
Sam Allison – Centennial Regional High School. Greenfield Park, Quebec.