Warrior Nation vs. Peaceable Kingdom: Ian McKay on Understandings of History in Canada
Posted by Mary Chaktsiris
Ian McKay asks teachers: “Do you really want to be answerable to the interests that… will be teaching your students how great, romantic and exciting war can be?”
As featured in THEN/HiER’s podcast series, I recently spoke with Professor Ian McKay, Queen’s University, about understandings of history in Canada. Understandings of Canadian history, McKay argues, are focused around a new set of Canadian heroes that reinforce understandings of Canada as a warrior nation at the expense of understandings of Canada as a peaceable kingdom and welfare state. This new focus corresponds to a what McKay calls a “durastic dumbing down of Canadian public discourse at the hands of a very consistent, coherent elite that wants to push us into an ever more militarized posture, and that’s what we’re trying to warn Canadians against.”
During our twenty-minute conversation we discussed the construction of the past in Canada, and the increasing importance of militarism in this construction as reflected in the new Canadian citizenship guide and school curriculums where, for example, the First World War is revered in high school text books as definitional of the whole country while most events after the 1960’s are brushed aside. McKay argues that “the function of an education system is to create critical, aware citizens rather than unthinking spouters of the party lines.” Yet by teaching students myths about the Canadian past, such as the Battle of Vimy Ridge as the birth of the nation, McKay argues teachers are distorting the past and engaging “not in education, but in propaganda.”
“We are in a moment of intense danger here, and I would like teachers to step back from these very easy, sweet deals that are put forward by interests outside the educational system and at the very least have a countervailing voice….shouldn’t we be giving enough attention to peacekeeping as a Canadian ideal, as a peaceful solution to the world’s problems? This was for a long time seen as a fundamental part of the Canadian idea, that Canadians were not in fact an imperialistic, warlike people. Do we really want to trade in that model for the new one? Or do we want to think more critically and imaginatively about the old model?”
In the last question (at the 19:50 mark), McKay discusses his conceptualization of the Liberal Order Framework and other strategies that can be used by teachers and the public to critically think about the construction of Canadian History.
McKay ended our podcast with an appeal to Canadian teachers:
“My core thing I would love to leave with your audience is – okay – maybe this is our book writer’s image of a Canada that is becoming progressively militarized. So, as an educator read tomorrow’s newspapers. Read the issue after that and the issue after that, tune into the television, watch the world around you, watch the highways of heroes promotions, watch the national defense advertisements and come to your own conclusion. Is this the same Canada you lived in five years ago, is it the same Canada you lived in ten years ago, or has something fundamental changed? And if something fundamental has changed, by these signs of the times that come around us, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to become complicit in this change, or are you going to fight to expose it and to stop it?”
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