TEACHING HISTORY-Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen 1804)

BY: Roger Callow employeescasecanada.ca  2020  RECENT 7 oct Sub-heading above



1) As a retired high school history teacher, I viewed the historical process as one in which the past was defined in the culture of the past to the present in terms of the prevailing culture. For example; was Canada's founder, John A. MacDonald a 'racist'? Not in terms of his day but definitely in terms of the present. As to the destruction of statues (in general) including those of Sir John A? Every civilization has built its new edifices on top of the destroyed ones as a clear physical message as to whom rules supreme.


2)Northanger Abbey (annotated) excerpts:

a) The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars of pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing and hardly any women at all - it is very tiresome: and yet I often think of it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention. The speeches that are put into the hero's mouth, their thoughts and designs - the chief of all this must be invention, and inventions is what delights me in other books. (novels)

b) Historians are not happy in their flights of fancy. They display imagination without raising interest...If a speech be well drawn up, I read it with pleasure, by whomsoever it may be made.

c) If people like to read their books, it is all very well, but in filling great volumes which nobody would willing to look into, only for the torment of little boys and girls...I have often wondered at the person's courage that could sit down on purpose and do it. I use the verb 'to torment' as being synonymous with 'to instruct'.


3) While the above truncated historical definition is unique; it serves as a springboard for my own observations such as a cynical interpretation of authors 'known for their historical textbooks' designed to gain acceptance (and money) by being accepted by their local school boards.

Until the 1970's, the 'text Bible' ruled supreme i.e. Canada. In the 1970's, controversial sources such as Canada-Challenge & Survival, The North West Rebellion were officially introduced in the school system. As a counter-point to the political history of war, I introduced such novels as All Quiet on the Western Front, one of the very few novels written by a soldier (most war novels are by journalists) '...a  hospital alone shows what war is about. On both sides there are hundreds of thousands...' In brief, I used personal experiences to underscore the political message which glorifies warfare with the not to be under-estimated theme of '...every country has an army; if not yours, then someone else's.' In short, I did not underestimate the political message as we need young people to fight for their country. Of course, both sides to a conflict believe that they are in the right. The glorification of war, is questionable, but necessary however that be defined. Today, Canada's Joint Task Force II is conducting a CIA-type venture in Mali unknown to the Canadian public (whom would be disinterested in any event) without the kind of oversight found in the U.S. or in Britain with SAS. 'Guantanamo Bay' is a blight on the U.S. where I declare 'water-boarding' as a new U.S. Olympic Sport. But then, transferring prisoners to Third World countries where torture is a 'cottage industry' is common. Try and build patriotism on those terms which Napoleon would label as...God is on the side of the strongest cannon.' A side note: In evaluating teacher popularity, I have found the focus on the teacher's personality as opposed to his or her resources.


4) In 1992, as a Supply Teacher in Ottawa, I was dumb-founded to see a classroom poster labeled 'Dieppe 1942' illustrating the body of a dead Canadian soldier on a French beachhead. The raid was an admitted disaster explaining, no doubt, why the task was assigned to 'the colonials'; a common practice in WWI, 'the war to end all wars'. That is until WWII broke out. The 1942 poster was no doubt in counter point to WWI which introduced jingoism in a big way with such propaganda posters as 'My daddy died for me' or 'What did you do in the Great War, Daddy?' (he didn't volunteer to be a soldier). It takes about 5 years for a history specialist to get his feet wet and yet schools will oftentimes assign history to P.E. people without the qualifying specialty as a means of filling in a vacant teaching position. The other problem is that far too few teachers are what I qualify as 'readers' (I read on any topic which is well written and subscribe to National Geographics which has made the shift from a strict description of the environment to a cultural definition: e.g. the October 2020 edition has an article on human trafficking of pre-teens (in the tens of thousands in India/Bangladesh).


5) I was asked to give a speech to a Grade 5 class as a guest lecturer 20 years ago focusing on the difference in warfare technology between WWI and WWII which is easily understood at that level. As 75% of the students came from war torn countries, I introduced the topic this way: 'How many have come from war-torn countries? (75% of hands shot up). Leave your hands up if you agree with me that video games glorify warfare? (same hands stayed up). Now leave your hands up if, in fact, war is exciting. (All the hands shot down). So there in a nutshell is the disconnect between Canada, part of the 12% of labeled democracies versus the remaining dictatorships in the world; dictatorships which mercantilism (e.g. Britain, U.S., China) have fostered to the current time.


6) As a history teacher, I always commented on current events, oftentimes taking them from the newspaper. On snow days, I would remind non-driving high school students of the extra precautions required in walking the roads. In one Supply Teaching special needs of a class of 10 boys, (20 years ago) the P.A. announcement warned against racism in the school so I asked the class: 'Is there racism in the school?' All the white boys answered in the negative while, after a pause, the one black student spoke up...'Of course there is.' Being a Supply Teacher and not knowing this class, I chose not to proceed further. (I have always believed that Supply Teachers should be former experienced teachers but they are in very short supply plus Schools are encouraged to hire University grads as potential future appointments. Today, I do not recommend anyone taking up teaching primarily because of the lack of administrative oversight to back up a teacher. He or she is now 'on their own' which is a short path to burn-out with teachers out-competing with other teachers in lowering the bar for behaviour problems in this 'race for the bottom'.