Manitoba History: Review: Rosa Bruno-Jofré and Natalia Aponiuk (editors), Educating Citizens for a Pluralistic Society
by John C. Lehr
Since Confederation the central institutions of Canada have been concerned with creating citizens who subscribe to some central though as yet poorly identified ideals of what is Canadian. In the nineteenth century when the Canadian West was in the process of being settled by polyglot immigrants, there was a firm conviction that becoming Canadian entailed the denial of any non-British heritage. For “foreign” immigrants to become Canadian meant that they adopt the attitudes and social mores of the mainstream; become English speaking, Protestant and loyal to the British crown. Schools were seen as the vehicles to promote notions of nationhood and to inculcate the values of the Anglophile ruling elite. In school, pupils were subject to an approved curriculum using officially approved textbooks taught by officially certified teachers who were overseen by officially appointed inspectors and tested by officially organized exams all with the aim of producing loyal Canadians. Little has changed in the last hundred years or more. Schools are still seen as vehicles to promote citizenship. We still expect children to speak one of the national languages to be familiar with our national literature and to be aware of the nation’s history and geography. Education was, and arguably still is, a vehicle to promote ideological and cultural homogeny. Canadians are not always born; they can be created.
This volume edited by Rosa Bruno-Jofré and Natalia Aponiuk addresses the ways that Canada educates its citizens for a new society that is based upon recently adopted values of cultural pluralism. As the editors remark in their introduction, there is a need to deal with a new acceptance of diversity and situate the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in light of the ethnic characteristics of the new wave of international migration into Canada. Furthermore, diversity is now entrenched into any consideration of the national question in Canada because Quebec and the Aboriginal First Nations add a special dimension to being Canadian. The debate has thus shifted over the past century and in many ways has become more complex. In recent decades the market economy has come to penetrate almost every aspect of life in Canada, including the educational system, which is by no means immune from its effects.
The present volume presents ten chapters or articles that address various aspects of this important debate. Their genesis lay in a research project entitled “Educating Citizens for a Pluralistic Society,” in which the chapter authors were involved. All are distinguished educators, most of whom are based in Manitoba and hence many write from a Manitoba perspective. All address issues that are of national concern even if their particular focus is upon a Manitoba example.
The volume opens with a concise introduction by the editors who offer a précis of the major themes addressed in each chapter. They divide the book into four sections, with each section focusing on a specific theme. The first section, “Historical and philosophical perspectives on the impact of globalization,” consists of four papers that review the changing roles of public schools and citizenship education, the impact of globalization on citizenship education, and the growing role of corporate influence in the educational system.
In the second thematic grouping, three chapters tackle the issue of group rights and schooling. The 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has had a major effect on the provision of educational services for Francophone students, but as Romulo Magsino, John C. Long and Raymond Theberge point out, religious minorities who have explored the extent of their rights in the courts have received mixed messages. This issue will continue to be contentious in Canada as religious minority interests come into conflict with those of the secular mainstream. Exactly what these “mainstream” views are, or will become, is open to speculation and there is a realm need for some theoretical refinement of some very complex but vital issues. The role of the visible minorities within this debate is well reviewed by Beiyle Mae Jones who argues that although potentially contentious issues have been addressed in a quintessentially Canadian way that stresses co-operation and compromise there is still scant provision for citizenship education in Canadian school systems. Perhaps the most powerful chapter of the volume is a very personal “White paper on Aboriginal education in universities,” in which Beverley Bailey, as a white female university educator, confronts her own euro-centric views. She offers no solutions but her honest analysis gives much to think about.
The book’s third section addresses multicultural and anti-racist education. John Young and Robert Graham explore how the changing discourse of race, culture and diversity have been articulated in policy statements and are reflected in the Manitoba school system. The final section is a single article that tackles the issues of decoding cultural images in a classroom setting. The volume concludes with a select bibliography assembled by the volume’s editors.
It is rather unfair to the authors to comment on specific chapters within this book. The quality is uniformly high and all chapters address issues of equal concern, not only to Manitoba, but also to Canada. If a common theme emerges from the many issues considered here, it is that the best form of citizenship education lies in a strong liberal education. Governments, however, seem to be fixated on supporting a “practical” technologically oriented education. Yet what is more central to a nation than the unity of its people and the establishment of core values of tolerance, justice, and equality of opportunity? As many of the chapters make very clear, we ignore citizenship education at our peril.
This volume will probably not appeal much to the casual reader but anyone with an interest in the history of education in Manitoba will find it rewarding reading. In its comprehensive multi-disciplinary approach it offers much food for thought for anyone concerned with education and citizenship, and the role they will play in shaping Canada’s future.
Page revised: 4 December 2022