For the Historical Thinking Project, 2013-14 was the best of times and the worst of times.
It was the best of times because two of Canada’s largest provinces made the most concrete and comprehensive headway in adapting the ideas of the Project for their curricula. Ontario implemented a new K-12 curriculum that embedded the historical thinking concepts as a core element of the history program. British Columbia released a draft social studies curriculum heading in much the same direction. As a result, the demands for professional development and materials in historical thinking have skyrocketed.
It was the worst of times because the Project, as it has taken shape over the past seven years, is coming to an end. The immediate trigger is the end of funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage. Since 2008, the Department has provided the bulk of the Project’s support through its Canadian Studies Program. That Program has now been re-branded as “The Canada History Fund,” and will focus on “projects that celebrate key milestones and people who have helped shape our country as we know it today.”
As an organization dedicated to promoting “critical historical thinking for the 21st century,” the Historical Thinking Project has never espoused “celebration” or nationalism as goals for history education. Rather, it has sought to promote students’ competencies in making knowledgeable, rational contributions to current debates about our common pasts and common futures. Whether the topic is land claims or resource use, nation building or globalization, origin stories or tales of migration, monumental heroism or collective historical crimes, we have sought to enable teachers and museum educators to help students master the difficult tools of thoughtful, critical, evidence-based historical understanding.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time before the funders and their beneficiaries would part ways.
We have had enormous successes since the Project’s inception in 2006. We have built a vibrant national network of history educators. We have enabled unprecedented conversation among provincial and territorial ministry officials responsible for history education across Canada. We have sparked a new generation of textbooks and classroom materials that promote active historical thinking. We have developed a substantial cohort of teacher leaders able to enrich the work of their colleagues. And we have earned recognition for Canada’s history education accomplishments in an international community of history educators.
Undoubtedly in Canadian history education, there is still too much rote memorization and aimless discussion, inadequate training and outdated resources. The job is not finished.
On March 31, 2014, the salary for National Coordinator Jill Colyer, whose hard work, good humour, wise decisions and creative inspiration have been absolutely central for the successes of the Project since 2009, will come to an end. Between now and then, we invite you to join us in deliberations about how best to extend the impact of the Project and further expand the number of people trained to implement historical thinking in classrooms across the country. We look forward to your input.
Le projet de la pensée historique est mort, vive la pensée historique!
Peter Seixas is the Canada Research Chair in Education and Director of the Centre for the Study of Historical Consciousness at the University of British Columbia
The impact of the project and web site is not confined to Canada. It has been a great value to teachers in Australia as we attempt to reformulate our national approach to the teaching of History.