Wednesday, 8 March 2017

History Text Books - Are They Equal?

During recent years, I have come across several different Canadian History textbooks. Many have been left in classrooms during room changes or slated for disposal. Either way - as a teacher, I always seem to be drawn to keeping a copy of these texts for a "just in case" moment.

Sitting at my desk this week, I realised that I have 5 distinctive different Canadian History textbooks, and wondered how equally or differently they covered the same subject...so naturally, I select the largest subject possible - World War Two (excluding the War At Home) While I realize that teaching from a textbook is the least interactive way to teach history, I figured it would be interesting to compare.

Textbook #1 - Spotlight Canada 4th Ed. (2000)

This textbook features the usually seen visuals that are associated with Canada and World War Two. However, it is extremely limited on its information. Limiting the war to approximately a dozen pages. The most notable subjects that I believe are not adequately served are the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic, the Normandy Campaign, the Pacific War, and the Holocaust. These subjects are either mentioned in passing or not at all. 80,000 Canadians served in the Pacific, and this textbook mentions Hong Kong in 4 small paragraphs. The one positive note from this text is its clear explanation of the convoy system and the Canadian naval Corvettes.

Textbook #2 - Discovering Canada (1983) 

This is is the oldest textbook in my collection. Of all the textbooks I examined, this one has the clearest timeline and synopsis of major events during the World War Two. I enjoy this synopsis because one cannot accurately analyse Canada's contributions to the war without knowing what else was happening simultaneously. The text also provides a (very short) list of key terms, as well as a decent introduction with the invasion of Poland. Compared to textbook #1 - it has more detail on D-Day and Normandy, but again fails to discuss the Pacific, while limiting its discussion of the Battles of Britain and the Atlantic.

Textbook #3 - Canadian History: Patterns and Transformations (2003) 

Perhaps this is the weakest text if your intention is to teach how the war impacted Canada. This textbook does not focus on international events. It focuses solely on what was happening in Canada. Therefore, there is a single paragraph on Prime Minister King during the war years. I found this extremely surprising as Canada transformed dramatically during the war - how could a text with this title overlook the impacts of the Second World War?

Textbook #4 - Defining Canada: History, Identity, and Culture (2003) 

Similar to books #1 & 2 this text does a good job providing a basic summary of events. It does a decent job at explaining why the world was in conflict in 1939, as well as solid summary of the rise of Fascism, and the Western policy of Appeasement. The battles of Dieppe and Normandy are covered in slightly more detail than any other text, but again it has no coverage of the Pacific War.

Textbook #5 - Canadian History: 1900-2000 (2000) 

My biggest criticism with this text is that it claims to include Canadian history in 2000, yet was only published in 2000...However, it does the best at describing the lead-up to war (5 or so pages) as well as the causes of war (an additional 5 pages). It touches on the war in the Pacific, even mentions Pearl Harbour in addition to Hong Kong. This text also has the best section about Women at war (5 pages) as well as several pages on the legacy of the war and its effects on the global political sphere. Perhaps it is for these reasons that this is (from my experience) the most common history textbook in Canadian History classrooms.

Closing Thoughts: 
I never advocate teaching history out of a textbook. Experiential learning is the best way to engage students in History. Far too many students consider history to be boring and their least favourite subject. This honestly makes me sad. History is engaging by nature and should be taught through story-telling with critical and analytical thinking. Where a textbook comes in handy is for critical thinking activities and analysis of reliable sources for research. I found this to be an extremely interesting exercise, they are not equal in how they approach the subject matter.

I have not yet had the opportunity to work with any of the newly published/approved textbooks
  • History Uncovered: Canadian History Since World War I (2014)
  • Creating Canada: A History - 1914 to the Present Second Edition (2014)
  • Think History: Canadian History Since 1914 (2016)
  • Canadian Sources: Investigated (2014)
What are your thoughts?