In Quebec, Canada, the Marois government just announced there will be a mandatory history class for all CEGEP, a form of post-secondary school, students starting this September. This new course would very likely be focusing on “contemporary Quebec history” from the 1970s to today, a period often neglected by high school teachers in order to prepare students for the ministry exam that contains basically 80% of “prehistory” knowledge, including details about Iroquoian traditions and hundreds of French-against-English battles. On top of mandatory classes in the areas of French, English, Philosophy, and Physical Education, Marois wishes to add another 2 units of history class, replacing one of the only two complementary courses outside of the students’ study field. Voices of dissent coming from students are being drowned out by the more favourable opinions from mostly baby-boomers: the question is, what may be behind this seemingly simple request of “better understanding a nation’s past”?
Considering the majority of CEGEP students have a part time job of at least 16 hours per week and the tight schedule already imposed by their ongoing programs, it’s very demanding to add another new course to the grid. But with youth disengaged from politics and social issues, the “Anglo-Saxon cultural invasion” from the last decade’s immigration wave, and the age of Facebook-Twitter-Instagram domination, what remains fifty years after the ambitious Quiet Revolution (révolution tranquille)? What future awaits Quebec’s younger generations? Can we completely get rid of the odor of centuries of religious domination and ethnic inequalities? The answer seems to be negative, as the presence of Bouchard-Taylor’s Commission on cultural and religious reasonable accommodation practices still lingers around us, as the most recent Quebec Charter of Values unites and separates Quebecois of all origins. The issues are still the same, only addressed differently, formulated with different words. The reality is that living together has never been so challenging: sometimes disoriented, sometimes unpredictable, the society inherited by our generation certainly requires much more taming and training to actually make it work. But does a simple study of past actions and events really provide the solutions?
If we want today’s students to first stay in school longer and, moreover, get inspired, we may start with a study of how humans have changed recent history: The Beatles’ ascension, first walk on the Moon, the Berlin Wall, disintegration of Ukraine’s political regime, the Rwanda genocide… Those landmarks are what truly interest young adults, giving them the motivation to push their curiosity and understand at a deepened level how the “real world” works. There are so many more interesting subjects to discuss, many more adapted to the modern context. On the other hand, some suggest the possibility of a political purpose hiding behind the Parti Québécois’s mandatory course. How can we ensure that the content taught will not be a biased version of history? A teacher even called the future course “a propagandist flavoured brainwashing” aimed to give the students a victimized vision of the French identity in front of Anglo-Saxon oppressors; therefore naturally guiding them to turn towards the precept of sovereignty as the only answer to the problems of our society. As you may find out, Marois’s PQ (Parti Québécois) government is separatist.
In a broader perspective, growing up surrounded by massive quantities of information flooding in from all directions, and the more or less apparent influences that tell us how we should think and act, critical thinking is getting harder. After all, history often leaves room for interpretation. “There’s the education given by others, and the other one, given by yourself, to yourself”, is something Plato wants us to understand with his “Allegory of the Cave”. Can we really retain and transform what we learned from the past and build a brighter future from there? It all starts with ourselves, rather than with history.