Lesson Plan: For Teachers: Evaluating Bethune's Legacy
In the half-century since his death,
Dr. Norman Bethune's memory has been carefully preserved in China, and his
grave in the Cemetery of Martyrs remains an important site for many Chinese. They
honour him for his selflessness and his contributions to their struggle for
liberation from the Japanese invaders. But Bethune only received recognition in
his own country during the past few decades, and he remains a figure of some
controversy to this day. While his achievements in medical care are widely
acknowledged, his radical political views and some aspects of his personal
character remain problematic for many of his fellow Canadians.
Bethune's birthplace in Gravenhurst, Ontario, was turned into a memorial site in the 1970s and attracts many visitors, especially delegations of Chinese officials who want to see where the man who means so much to them was born and spent the early years of his life.
A balanced and even-handed evaluation of Bethune and his significance for Canadians would take both his positive achievements and his personal failings and political allegiances into account.
Using print, visual, and online resources, students will work in groups to research the life, times, achievements, character, and legacy of Dr. Norman Bethune and prepare and present a round-table discussion that reflects critically on the man and his lasting significance for Canadians.
Students will begin by researching, on the CBC Archives website and other on-line resources, the following:
His achievements in medical science and technology
His concern with health care and social conditions in Canada during the 1920s
His development of a mobile blood-transfusion service in Spain during the Civil War
His allegiance to the Communist Party of Canada
His personal life and his relationships with friends and colleagues
His contribution to the Chinese communist struggle against Japan
How his memory has been preserved in China, and the purposes for which it has been used
The reasons for his belated recognition in Canada, which began in the 1970s
How his life has been dramatized in film
Recent revelations about the reasons for his departure from Spain
Students can present their evaluations to the class in the form of a round-table discussion. One or more students will focus on one of the above aspects of Bethune's life and legacy. After each presentation, have the class discuss the information presented. Students can offer their opinions of Bethune and whether he deserves the designation "hero" or "Canadian of national historical importance."
Ask students if they have changed their views about Bethune as a result of the information and the critical evaluations they have heard. Ask students to define, in their own words, what they would consider to be the qualities of a "hero" or a "Canadian of national historical importance." Does Bethune, in their opinion, meet that definition? Have students write a critical response to these questions, stating their opinions of Bethune and his importance to them.