Teachers opt for new Quebec history course amid confusion over pilot project

The text books are at the printers, and many high school teachers say they are planning to teach the province's controversial new history course this fall, despite "mixed messages" from Quebec's education minister about delaying its implementation.

Education Minister Sébastien Proulx has given 'mixed messages' about curriculum reform, teacher says

Quebec Education Minister Sébastien Proulx announced last week he would hold off on fully implementing the Secondary III component of the new history curriculum. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The text books are at the printers — and many high school teachers say they are planning to teach the province's new history course this fall.

That's despite Education Minister Sébastien Proulx's decision to shelve the controversial new curriculum, or at least delay its implementation until changes are made to better reflect Quebec's cultural diversity.

Josée Scalabrini, the president of the Fédération des syndicats de l'enseignement, which represents 62,000 teachers in the province, said teachers have been anxiously awaiting the new course and would teach it next year.

Even at English-language schools, where many teachers have been critical of the course's content, some say the new course is better than the status quo, and they'll go ahead with the new program.

The course, which was originally slated to be in all Secondary III classrooms next fall, has been criticized for focusing too heavily on a single narrative — the rise of Québécois nationalism — at the expense of the experience of women, minorities and Aboriginal peoples. 

The Secondary III curriculum was tested out in some 30 high schools this year. 

Mixed messages

The Education Ministry said last week high schools have the option of using the new curriculum, which is still being piloted.

Chenelière Éducation has published a sample of its new history text book online. (Chenelière Éducation)
Marie-Ève Dion, a spokesperson for Proulx, told CBC News that Quebec's Education Department will work to make the curriculum "as representative and inclusive as possible."
Money, time and resources have been put into developing this new course.- Andrés Canella, Loyola High School

But on Saturday, Proulx told Le Devoir the delay was only for "the sake of consistency," as the province tests out its Secondary IV curriculum in the same 30 schools next year. He told the newspaper the changes would be minor and not "substantial."

Proulx's assistant, the MNA David Birnbaum, said on Thursday that the normal step at this stage would have been for the minister to sign the program into obligatory use.

"He's not done that, which means that there continues to be a period where changes can be made," he said. 

Birnbaum says schools wanting to use the new program are free to do so.

Robert Green, the head of social science at Westmount High School, said the Ministry of Education has been sending "mixed messages."

"I'm very concerned," Green said, adding that he wants to see not just "tinkering" but a complete "overhaul" to include a greater focus on First Nations and minorities.

Meanwhile, publishers, including Chenelière Éducation, have already produced French-language text books based on the new curriculum, with samples available onlline.

The English version, which is subsidized by the provincial government, is also nearing completion.

'More flexibility'

Many teachers believe the new course is an improvement, however, and are eager to see the old one replaced.

Andrés Canella, a Secondary IV history teacher at Loyola High School, said "delaying a superior course" because it's far from perfect is "nonsensical."

In Canella's view, the new two-year course, which runs chronologically from the 1500s to today, allows teachers "more flexibility to cover Aboriginal and minority issues."

"Money, time and resources have been put into developing this new course," he said. 

"The outline and pilot projects for the first half have already been completed."

The old curriculum, introduced in 2006-2007, consists of two separate courses for Secondary III and IV students. 

The first year covers the province's history chronologically, while the second focuses on various themes over time, in a setup some teachers found repetitive and dense.

Some teachers are still hopeful the new curriculum will find a happy medium, balancing an improved structure with multiple points of view.

Holly Hampson, the executive director of the Quebec Association of Independent Schools, which represents private English-language elementary and high schools, said she was pleased by the minister's decision to delay the new curriculum, even if the Education Ministry's position is less than clear. 

"We agree with the general sentiment that there should be more diversity," Hampson said.

"We're really glad to see that the minister has decided not to give the final seal of approval."

Michael Cohen, a spokesman for the English Montreal School Board, declined to comment on the curriculum, saying board members hadn't yet met to discuss the situation.

About the Author

Benjamin Shingler covers politics, immigration and social issues for CBC Montreal. Follow him on Twitter @benshingler.