One of the central themes for this year’s tour is narratives. This theme is timely with Canada celebrating its sesquicentennial with an abundance of activities across the country. Inside Canada’s 150 is the Vimy centennial, Passchendaele battle and the unveiling of the Hill 70 monument. Each ceremony comes with a specific story and these contribute to an overall national narrative.
Narratives are important because they give citizenry an identity. But narratives can also be dangerous. To work, narratives are quite often over-simplified which means that parts of the story that might not fit perfectly into the intent of the narrative are removed. Emphasis is given to specific elements in an effort to overshadow other elements. Each narrative has supporters as well as detractors. Each narrative is promoted by groups with special interests and potentially economic benefit. In relation to the WCE PD tour, participants explore several narratives but three are central to our work: Vimy, Dieppe, and Normandy. For Vimy, the dominant narrative given to Canada can be challenged by evidence. The same is true for Dieppe. The dominant narrative for Normandy emphasizes the first day – 6 June 1944 - which overshadows the other 71 days of the campaign where other issues and events that occur rarely get explored. For me as a teacher, exploring and challenging these narratives is fertile ground for students to understand their complexity.
Narratives are important for students to understand because they are everywhere. Challenging how they are developed, who benefits from the promotion of a specific narrative and what aspects are omitted to give a narrative greater prominence better prepares our students as critical consumers in this complex world. Simply feeding a pre-set narrative to students that leads them to a pre-determined outcome minimizes potential student thinking around manipulation of facts, propaganda, perspective, evidence and other concepts of historical thinking. Challenging narratives provides teachers with an opportunity to work with students and investigate competing narratives.
In his book on the American involvement in the Iraq war, investigative journalist Robert Woodward wrote about how easily the American public was persuaded to support the sending of troops. His message “Oversimplification is essential in a sound bite culture” means that we must foster in our students the ability to lead themselves to their own conclusions rather than lead them ourselves. This is important when we consider that pre-set narratives dominate our history classrooms and quite often we lead students to adopting that narrative rather than investigating to develop their own.
- Submitted by Blake