'It's not acceptable': Teachers, parents launch petition to change Quebec history curriculum

A coalition of parents and teachers, along with school boards, says that the revised version of Quebec's high school history curriculum is incomplete and that it is launching an online petition to call for changes.

High school curriculum ignores anglophone, immigrant and Indigenous contributions, critics say

Critics of the Quebec secondary school history curriculum say it falls short of covering the struggles of Indigenous people and ethnic communities. (Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

A coalition of parents and teachers, along with school boards, says that the revised version of Quebec's high school history curriculum is incomplete and that it is launching an online petition to call for changes.

"It's not acceptable," said Robert Watt, vice-president of the Kativik School Board in Kuujjuaq, Que. "That curriculum is not complete and it's only fostering ignorance, and it needs to be rectified somehow."

The new two-year history curriculum, which hit secondary 3 classrooms last September and will be introduced to secondary 4 students in the fall, had already been criticized as incomplete when it was launched as a pilot project in 2015.

Critics said it fell short of covering the struggles of Indigenous people and ethnic communities.

After some consultations with teachers and school board officials, a revised version was unveiled earlier this year.

Parents and teachers were still not satisfied.

Robert Green, a teacher at Montreal's Westmount High School and chair of the ad-hoc coalition called the Committee for the Enhancement of the Curriculum of History in Quebec (ComECH-Quebec), says a petition is necessary. The curriculum ignores ethnic communities and even demonizes others, he says.

[It's] a curriculum that renders many of my students invisible.- Robert Green, Westmount High teacher and coalition chair

"Ethnic minorities in Quebec were basically omitted from the historical narrative that we're offering to students," Green told CBC News.

Green says he used the search function to look for specific words in the program, including the words "Greek, Italian, Jewish, Chilean, Haitian, the list goes on. You'll find zero reference to any ethnic minorities in Quebec."

He says anglophones are only depicted as "elite," who tried to block the progress of Quebec society, and the history of Indigenous people is "outright revisionism."

"What I'm faced with as a teacher with this curriculum is a curriculum that renders many of my students invisible.… How is a student supposed to be engaged in that kind of program?" he said.

"What message is being sent to people who are not part of the non-francophone majority?.… It is sending a very clear message that some of us belong and some of us don't, and I find that to be an absolutely reprehensible message and one that is contrary to the democratic values of this society."

Program developed under former PQ government

The program was originally developed under the previous Parti Québécois government, which had campaigned in 2012 on a promise to emphasize Quebec's struggle for nationhood in the provincial school curriculum.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report, released in December 2015, recommended that Indigenous history, and in particular, the legacy of residential schools, be emphasized in school curriculums across Canada.

In light of that recommendation, Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters he would like the history of Indigenous Peoples and their contribution to the building of Canada to be taught in Quebec schools.

The program was revised to incorporate more about Indigenous history, but the contributions of First Nations communities are still lacking, critics say.

Response 'extremely disappointing'

Watt says his colleagues from the Kativik School Board who took part in the consultations, and made 10 recommendations to the government, feel ignored.

Board members suggested that the history book include information about how Inuit and Aboriginal communities started commercial activities, fought in wars along American and Canadian soldiers for the British Empire, and how communities were forced to relocate and go to residential schools.

"Our employees have been fully participating. They thought the recommendations to include certain aspects of our Inuit history within Quebec would be included … only to find out that the recommendations had not been considered whatsoever — to a point where the curriculum had already more or less been developed and Kativik School Board [employees] were there feeling like they were there to endorse what was already put in place."

Green says he reached out to the government in recent months, so that changes could be made by the next school year.

"The response was extremely disappointing.…The answer was basically, 'We think the changes that needed to be made were made,'" Green told CBC.

Watt hopes the petition will persuade the government to take a second look and make changes to the curriculum.

"This should not be about the francophones, or the anglophones, or the allophones. It should be about Quebec history. And if Quebec history is presented this way, it's not complete, it's not right, it's not acceptable," he said.

"To have my fellow Quebecers not know of my history, where I come from, is quite appalling. We cannot accept this."

Some support for new curriculum 

One of the history teachers consulted for the new curriculum says this latest version is far better than the previous one — which he says glossed over the province's major political issues.

Félix Bouvier said the majority of Quebec's history teachers are satisfied with the new curriculum. 

"It's trying to be objective and it's trying to be honest and it's trying to give a voice to the Anglo-Quebecers," said Bouvier.

CBC contacted the Ministry of Education, but no one was available for comment.

With files from CBC Daybreak