Book Club Guide
Questions for Discussion & Reflection
Chapter 1: Meaningful Learning: Imagining a New “We”
What is the “grand narrative” of Canada? How is it the same or different than the grand narrative of Canada that you hold onto? How does the grand narrative influence what you expect to teach in a Canadian history classroom?
This book speaks of youth living in Canada as transnational and (post/neo)colonial youth and argues that transnational and (post/neo)colonial experiences must be more present in how we understand the Canadian past and present. How do you understand this categorization? How do the youth you know fit the categories of “transnational” and “(post/neo)colonial”? How does thinking of the Canadian past and present as “transnational” and “(post/neo)colonial” shape your understanding of the Canadian nation?
This introduction identifies bodies of theory that shape how we could come to history education; specifically, Critical Race Theory (CRT), intersectional feminism, critical pedagogy, and poststructuralism. Are you familiar with these theories? How would you define them? Have you applied them to your teaching before? Do you see ways they can be applied to your teaching in the future?
In introducing the concept of critical pedagogy, the author writes: “A teacher should facilitate learning, not just teach well….” What do you think is meant by this? What is the distinction you see between facilitating learning and teaching well? Can you teach well but not facilitate learning? How does critical pedagogy help us understand this distinction?
Chapter 2: The Present of Today’s Past: Current Trends and Curriculum
The author writes that there is a distinction between three different aspects of contemporary Canadian identity: Narrow conservative commemoration, transnational multicultural celebration, and inclusive (post/neo)colonial reconciliation. Do you see these aspects of identity in contemporary conversation? How do they, if at all, enter discussion related to the proposed removal of statues or the renaming of buildings?
Despite 13 different history curricula across Canada, there are similarities that can be found in these history curricula, such as the links to citizenship education, social studies, and critical thinking. Can history education ever be separated from these things? How might citizenship education, social studies, and critical thinking look different in different provinces and territories? Should there be greater consistency to history curricula across Canada? If there was, how would that change your practice?
Have you encountered the critiques to Historical Thinking that the author lays out in this chapter? What has your relationship been with teaching curriculum aligned with Historical Thinking? Have you found that there is room for the “emotional, visceral, and redemptive” study of the past that the author advocates for? Do you think this should be the purpose for teaching/learning history?
Chapter 3: Students Speak: A Desire for Connected, Complex Canadian History
In this chapter, the author uses the voices of students to advocate for connection, complexity, and care in history education. How would you define connection, complexity, and care and are these definitions similar or different to the definitions presented?
How many times have we ignored or rolled our eyes at students saying they “hate” boring Canadian history and/or the textbook? These are such common statements it is hard to do otherwise; however, in this chapter, the author digs a little deeper and suggests that through these statements the students are asking for more work and challenge, not less. Think back to when your students said or acted in ways that “hated” boring Canadian history and/or the textbook. Reflecting on this moment with a more critical eye, what might the students needed/wanted in this statement that they didn’t have words or agency to express otherwise? How might you respond to these statements in the future?
Many teachers already foreground connection and care in the classroom; but the author identifies that without complexity, these connections and expressions of care may not have the impact teachers want. What is “complexity” to you? How is complexity more than additional details about the past? What is the relationship between complexity and counterstories? How can you bring greater complexity to your history classroom?
What is the relationship between connection, complexity, and care that the author presents in this chapter and the ideas of Critical Race Theory and Critical Pedagogy that was introduced in chapter 1? Does connection, complexity, and care look the same in every classroom?
Chapter 4: Teaching the Others in the Room: Limiting Connection, Removing Complexity
This chapter focuses on the case study of one high school Canadian history teacher, but the author comments that this case study was chosen because of the familiar patterns of practice she has seen with other well-meaning teachers across the country. Do you know someone like “Erin” whose actions undermine their intentions? Are you a bit like Erin? What was something you found familiar in this case study?
The author identifies that the teacher “pathologized” students and characterized them as being so different from her that there was no common ground for learning Canadian history together. What does it mean to “pathologize” students? How does “edu-speak” limit the connections we can make with our students and the connections they can make with the content?
The teacher in this chapter uses the concept of chronology to remove complexity from the Canadian past, arguing that students needed that first before more nuance could be brought to the past. What is the role of chronology in teaching history? How can the reverence of chronology undermine the types of histories students want to learn and the types of histories we want to teach?
Erin often asks “who’s history should you teach?” in a multicultural 21st century Canadian history classroom. The author writes that the idea of this question is problematic because it holds a static concept of racial/cultural “groups” that divide more than bring together. Have you asked this question yourself? Have you thought of the ways it binds a certain vision of the population as separate from each other rather than providing space for common ground? What does this question, and the challenge to it, shape how you understand diverse histories and diverse students?
To explore this case study, the author draws on other studies that look at the ways white teachers can (unwittingly) undermine the potential of Black and brown students in their classrooms. How does race come into play in teaching and learning Canadian history? How does your own understanding of whiteness and anti-racism shape your reading of this chapter and your work in Canadian history education?
Choose one scenario or comment listed in this chapter. What would be a different approach for practice related to this moment or idea if one was to better privilege learning over teaching? In other words, paraphrasing Maya Angelou, ‘when we know better we do better.’ What would be ‘better’ in this moment?
Chapter 5: Meaningful Sites of Teaching: The Need for Time, Space, and Place
While the teacher has a lot of power to direct the actions in the classroom, the author argues that if the classroom is to be a place of meaningful learning then the school has to be a place of meaningful teaching as well. What does a “meaningful teaching” environment mean to you? Are you currently in a “meaningful teaching” environment? How does the environment you work in affect your work in the classroom?
The author draws on her teacher participants to highlight that teachers need time to not just learn new histories but to “embrace” them and allow them to shape their understanding of the topic and how they could teach it. Reflect on the notion of “time” in education. Where does your time go? Is there time for deep thinking? Is there something you can do to create more time for deep thinking for yourself? Are there suggestions you can bring to your department head, administration, or even a group of supportive teachers to create more of this time for you?
The author makes the distinction between “bitching,” venting, and meditative deliberation. Do you think this is a useful distinction? Do you engage in one of these actions more than others? The author argues that the right space needs to be available to move to more reflective deliberation. Where do you engage in these actions? Are there spaces you can be part of that invite more meditative deliberation?
A key element to understanding the role place has in engendering meaningful learning for students was the difference the author saw between mainstream schools and alternative schools. She argued that there were more places for students and teachers to get to know each other outside of class time in alternative schools and therefore more relationships were created in these schools for meaningful learning. Where are the places you get to know your students outside of class time? How do these relationships translate into a teaching and learning relationship during class?
Chapter 6: Historic Space: Meaningful Learning in Canadian History
The author says that Historic Space invites teachers to lessen the control of teaching. Do you see this poststructural approach to understanding history interpreted through concept learning being a less didactic strategy for organizing a unit? Why and in what ways? What would it mean to lessen control of teaching in your classroom?
When the author writes about the first ‘mapping’ step of Historic Space she identifies that there are three mini-steps: gather, group, and label historical concepts. She relays a story where students placed the post-war concepts of “potatoes,” “Newfoundland becoming a province,” and “Queen Elizabeth II” together in a group labelled “Key People.” How would you have responded to this grouping if these were your students? Why did the author/educator not correct them? What was gained by not correcting this group? How does this example support another student’s reflection that with the mind and concept maps, “there is no wrong, really”?
The author was surprised by a student’s connection between riots during the French Revolution and heavy metal concerts. Ask your students to connect the last song/movie/meme/tv show/Tik Tok they watched/listened to, to something being studied in class. Are they able to make these connections? Are you surprised? What do you learn from the connections students are making? How can you bring more of that surprise to your teaching experience? How do students’ connections demonstrate greater complexity of the content that you may not have thought of?
The second step of Historic Space, “Expanding,” asks teachers to teach a finite and compact amount of lessons to give students key content of a historical period, but only as an overview for the more complex challenges that could come. How can you rework a set of classes you currently teach on one topic, into a compact overview in one class? Where and when are you holding onto content? To who and what does this content serve? What is lost if you teach less of this content? What is gained?
The author writes that the point of Historic Space is to get to the challenge part of teaching/learning history where students do not just learn less familiar stories about the past but engage with them in ways that can challenge how we normally think about the past and present. How is this idea of “challenge” different from an “add and stir” approach to diverse histories? How is this idea different from ensuring a diversity of perspectives are heard? What is the relationship between “challenge” and “counterstory”? What is the relationship between “challenge” and “deconstruction”?
Choose a historical period you teach in your classes. How could you plan your unit using Historic Space? What are challenges that you think might work for your students?
To quote the conclusion: What would your practice look like if you entered your history class believing that all the students were interested and willing to explore the national narratives of the past and present in order to use this knowledge for the future? What if you believed that all students held connections to Canada that they wanted acknowledged and explored in the classroom? What if you walked into class wanting to understand how complex your students were and how this complexity could be connected to national narratives? What if you privileged learning in your classroom, not teaching?
In reflecting on the book as a whole, what does imagining a new “we” mean to you? How can you bring these ideas to your classroom? Share them on social media using the hashtag #imagininganewwe