By Sean Graham
Teaching history in high school is a tough job. Teaching the history of Canada’s residential school system is a tough job. To combat this challenge, for years high schools simply did not talk about residential schools in history courses. Looking back on my own education in Ontario, the issue never came up. Part of this was a failure of the curriculum, but another part was the apathy me and my classmates had about learning anything outside the textbook. In high school, history was rote and dull, so there was never a motivation to go beyond the basic requirements – which we know now were not nearly as comprehensive as they should have been.
Fortunately, there are high school students who are more curious than I was. In Sylvia Smith’s class at the Elizabeth Wyn Wood Alternative School in Ottawa, a student who had read about residential schools on her own time asked why they weren’t covered in the class textbook. That desire to learn more spread through the class, culminating in a major group project to commemorate the legacy of the residential school system. With that, Project of Heart was born and has since spread across the country, bringing with it awareness in the spirit of reconciliation. Adaptable for classes anywhere between a five-year-old’s first day through high school graduation, Project of Heart has started to fill a major gap in history courses across the country.
In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Sylvia Smith, one of Project of Heart’s coordinators. We talk about the project’s origins, the learning process, and the different steps classes go through. We also talk about reconciliation in the classroom and the challenges of presenting difficult material to students.
Sean Graham is an editor with Activehistory.ca and the host/producer of the History Slam podcast.