Invitation to Minister McCann

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A different ticket at the start of the day. Pause in the frenzied coverage of the 2020 campaign to reflect on a decision Minister McCann is expected to endorse regarding the mandatory history course soon to be offered to students in the Humanities program.

As a historian and professor of history, I am worried about the imminent demise of the current compulsory course. We are currently offering a course, the last history course for several students since the others are not compulsory, which covers Western history from Antiquity to the present day.

The new version of the compulsory course would eliminate two of the four great historical periods, Antiquity and the Middle Ages. When you think that the compulsory history course was designed to fill the gaps in the general culture of our young people, I can only be saddened by the change made.

I am not the only one to deplore the disappearance of a course centered on the development of a general culture which constitutes a valuable support for other learning in general education or for other courses in the human sciences.

Already, colleagues have written a letter to present our position. I am sharing it with you this morning, hoping that the minister has already read it or that she will eventually do so. If she considers it appropriate to extend the reflection or to review the implementation of the course, it goes without saying that my colleagues and I would be very open to discussing it with her.

Here is the letter from my colleagues Rémi Bourdeau and Nathan Murray, which is already supported by more than 250 signatories, students, professors, researchers and associations.

Letter to Minister of Higher Education Danielle McCann

As part of the updating of the Social Sciences program at the college level, an editorial committee suggests replacing the introductory course in the history of Western civilization by a course on “the foundations of the history of the world of XVe century to the present day ”. We historians, professors, researchers and students are opposed to this decision. We ask that the initiation into ancient and medieval western heritages be maintained and clearly stated in the competency elements.

The stake is major: the present revision of the competence in history will determine the level of general culture of the students of CEGEP in Human Sciences for many years. Currently, apart from those enrolled in a profile whose path requires a second history course, students generally only take one course in this discipline during their college studies, namely the history of Western civilization course. This course, anchored in the long term, offers a coherent, thoughtful history, made up of continuities and ruptures, from ancient Greece to the 20th century.e century. Students discover both foreign and curiously familiar worlds, roots, but also a fascinating diversity of social, political, economic and cultural systems.

This course retains all its relevance in the eyes of practitioners of history, and it responds to the humanist ideals of our education system. It strictly respects the orientations determined by your ministry. Indeed, the current ministerial competence asks teachers to “recall the significant contributions of the civilizations which are at the origin of the Western world”. The student must have “an adequate knowledge of the origin and development of Western civilization”. Ancient and medieval legacies are among these “significant contributions”. In short, the history of Western civilization is relevant and the study of the distant past essential.

Unfortunately, an editorial committee, made up of history professors from CEGEPs, decided that it was no longer necessary to introduce students to Antiquity, preferring to leave this role to professors of philosophy and – in the few CEGEPs. where this discipline still exists – to teachers of ancient civilizations. He also decided to exclude the Middle Ages from the study scope. To give just a few examples, this means that this committee proposes to no longer teach Athenian democracy, the birth of Christianity, Romanization, the birth of Islam and feudalism. This decision follows an online consultation carried out last spring, in full confinement, a consultation which had several methodological weaknesses: the survey was partial and biased.

At the start of the consultation process, your ministry requested that the updating of the competence of the course meet a fundamental criterion: it had to take into account the “profile expected of students graduating from the pre-university studies program in Human Sciences upon their admission to the ‘university”. This “expected profile” is presented in the Belleau report (2017), in which representatives of the university community defined certain “general orientations”. […]. On the subject of expectations which relate more specifically to historical knowledge, we can read that history training should allow students to “distinguish the great periods”.

Madam Minister, we agree with these expectations. It is precisely for this reason that we wish to express our opposition to the proposed new competence: in our opinion, it contradicts this “expected profile”. A course that removes the ancient and medieval legacies of its core competence will not allow the student to acquire a comprehensive understanding of the four major periods. Moreover, the proposal to widen the geographical framework to the whole world risks overloading the content of the course. Given the great flexibility that skills allow when drawing up master plans, learning is likely to go in several directions. […] In this context, we find it difficult to understand how university professors will be able to anticipate the achievements of students when they are admitted to university.

The mission of the introductory course is to allow students to acquire historical references on decisive contexts, through the study of the West over the long term, so as to reuse them in a more specialized history course. , in other Human Sciences courses, then at university. For now, only the Initiation to the History of Western Civilization course can fulfill this mission.

We ask that the Initiation to the History of Western Civilization course be maintained and improved, so as to guarantee a common base of general culture in the network; limit the object of study to the West (while addressing the interrelations with Eastern Europe and the Muslim world); make reference to the legacies of Antiquity and the Middle Ages; take into account the expectations of universities, but also those of students.

* This text is supported by 225 signatories, historians, professors, researchers, students and associations, including professors Guy Rocher and Georges Leroux.

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