ERIC Identifier: ED291666 Publication Date: 1987-12-00
Author: Nugent, Helen Jean M. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching about Canada: ERIC Digest No. 44.
The United States and Canada share the world's longest undefended
border. The United States also trades more with Canada (exports and imports)
than with any other country. Yet, the American public is largely uninformed
about Canada, Canadians, and their unique culture. This digest considers (1) why
United States students should study about Canada, (2) where content on Canada
belongs in the curriculum, and (3) what useful strategies and resources can be
used to improve the teaching of Canadian Studies.
WHY STUDY CANADA?
The United States annually trades twice as much with Canada as with Japan,
and as much with Canada as with all the European Economic Community nations
combined. For example, in 1984, the United States accounted for 75.6 percent
($82,796 million) of Canadian exports. During that same year, the United States
was responsible for 71.5 percent of Canadian imports.
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Canada and the United
States have been military and diplomatic partners in maintaining stable and free
governments. Canada, like the United States, is a member of the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO). Canadian troops are currently members of the United
Nations peace keeping force stationed in the Golan Heights (the disputed
borderland between Israel and Syria).
Canada's large area and valuable resources make it a very significant
country. Canada includes 3,851,809 square miles and ranks second in land area
among the countries of the world; only the U.S.S.R. is larger. However, Canada's
small population of only 26 million (10 percent of the United States) influences
some outsiders to underestimate the importance and potential of the Canadian
Canada and the United States have much in common. Both countries have
cultural links to Western Europe and the British Isles. Canada and the United
States also have a common commitment to the core values of democracy.
Although similarities between the two nations are very evident and most
easily stressed, the differences are equally evident. Culturally, Americans must
be willing to recognize the development of a unique, but fragile, Canadian
identity that is distinct from that of the United States. Canada has chosen to
stress its bilingual founding (English and French) and multicultural existence,
based on a constitutional dedication to "Peace, Order, and Good Government."
Maintaining this existence has not been easy. National unity has been threatened
at several points and remains a source of concern. French-English tensions,
economic imbalances among the regions, East-West differences, and
federal-provincial power struggles all pose serious questions to which Canadians
must find a satisfactory compromise. Informed Americans can play a helpful role
by eliminating the unintentional but persistent threat of American domination
that would destroy Canada's existence.
Through learning about the evolution of Canadian independence, the validity
of a social mosaic cultural pattern, the importance of regionalism, and the
design of the parliamentary balance of federal-provincial power, Americans may
come to know and appreciate the character of Canada.
WHERE DOES CANADA BELONG IN THE CURRICULUM?
Teaching about Canada is appropriate at every level of the curriculum, and
can easily be integrated into any subject. Classroom content about Canada is
largely hit-and-miss across the United States. In most states, a priority needs
to be put on establishing university-level courses which include sufficient
Canadian content to provide future teachers with adequate knowledge to deal with
Canada in their own classrooms.
New York, under the leadership of the State University of New York at
Plattsburgh, has developed a curriculum which mandates a unit on Canada in
elementary and middle school and includes additional high school options. North
Carolina, Washington, Maine, and Michigan have also made efforts to encourage
the teaching of Canadian topics in elementary schools. SUNY-Plattsburgh, West
Washington University, and Duke University have developed text materials
appropriate to the curriculum in those states. Michigan State University and the
University of Maine at Orono have published resource guides for teachers in
Learning about Canada can easily begin prior to any education. The "next
door" location offers a convenient opportunity for young people to visit a
foreign nation. Pre-school children can easily recognize the Canadian flag and
national anthem as different from their own. In the primary grades, truly North
American holidays can be noted: Christian, Jewish, and Islamic communities
celebrate in both nations; national independence days are observed on July 1 in
Canada, July 4 in the United States; Thanksgiving, of English origins, is
celebrated in mid-October in Canada, late November in the United States; both
nations commemorate November 11 (as Remembrance Day in Canada and as Veteran's
Day in the United States); Labour Day is celebrated the same although spelled
In upper elementary or middle school years, the geographical regions of
Canada can be compared with those of the United States; Atlantic Canada to New
England; Central Canada to the Mid Atlantic/Old Northwest; Prairie Canada to the
midwestern wheat belt; Cordillera to the Northwest/Alaska. Folksongs and
folklore of each region can be compared to form a background for later
examination of cultural differences and similarities.
Canada's evolution to independence presents an interesting contrast to the
American revolutionary beginnings, which may be examined in standard United
States history courses. The high school history student can examine the French
colonization period and notice that French culture is more evident in Canada
because of the French heritage of Quebec. Canadian roles in the War of 1812 and
in the American Civil War have interesting ramifications in both countries.
Canadian participation in World War I and World War II also offers useful
comparisons to United States history students.
Government classes may benefit greatly from comparison of the political
institutions of the two countries--the similarities and differences of
presidential and parliamentary systems. The electoral process, systems of
federalism, and constitutional development in both countries should also be
valuable objects of comparison.
In world history courses, emphasis upon Canada's assumption of a leading role
in the British Commonwealth and LA FRANCOPHONIE is an effective way to
illustrate the transition of former colonial possessions into independent
nations. The political positions of Canada also more often reflect "third world"
interests than do he United States.
Sociology and economics courses can use a Canadian unit to illustrate the
struggle of "small" nations faced with impending domination by larger neighbors.
The retention of ethnic diversities in the "social mosaic" as opposed to the
"melting pot" is a valuable sociological concept, and the reality of "economic
imperialism" is also easily displayed.
Aside from incorporating Canada into existing courses, separate
interdisciplinary Canadian Studies courses could include non-social studies
elements of Canadian literature (both Anglophone and Francophone),
French-Canadian culture (Quebecois and Acadian), Native culture (Indian, Inuit
and Metis), fine arts (music, painting, architecture, drama), science (ecology
and environment, especially of the North), technology (transportation and
communication, mining, oil sands exploitation), and mathematics (metric measure,
computer program development). Such courses could build upon and emphasize
concepts of geography, history, government, economics, and sociology. The
feasibility of a capstone field trip to experience the unique quality of
Canadian life is a great advantage to a study of Canada.
WHAT ARE USEFUL STRATEGIES FOR TEACHING ABOUT CANADA?
Emphasize comparative analysis. Caution is necessary, however, to avoid
creating the impression that either "our way" or "their way" is superior. The
underlying fact is that Canada has an image of being a less significant nation
only because her development has been adjacent to that of the United States. On
any other continent in the world, Canada would be a prime example of a stable
nation with an efficient economy and freely elected government, which has
contributed throughout her history to the establishment and protection of free
and independent societies at home and abroad. Only "next door" to the superpower
image of the United States do Canadian accomplishments seem less significant.
Require students to examine issues from the Canadian perspective. This will
develop a better understanding of Canadian-American relations and the diplomatic
difficulties which occasionally result from opinions created by different
national experiences. By understanding international relations between two
nations that are seemingly so similar, the complexities of the relationahip
between obviously dissimilar nations become more evident.
Use a variety of resources. There are many excellent resources available to
help teachers integrate Canadian studies into the classroom. Consulates
throughout the country respond readily to requests addressed to the Public
Affairs Officer. The government of Quebec also maintains offices in major cities
in the United States for those interested in that province.
Canadians studying or working in the United States are numerous. They are
usually pleased to visit the classroom with a personal viewpoint on Canadian
Many excellent films are also available about Canada, and they can be found
in the FILM CANADA catalogue. It is available upon st from the Center for the
Study of Canada, SUNY-Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, NY 12901.
The teacher can serve as a prime resource. Teachers should be aware of the
Canadian perspective on the world and world events. The lack of Canadian topics
in the American media causes difficulty. However, visits to Canada can be very
rewarding, especially if contact with Canadian sources is a prime objective.
Avoid major "chain" motels, campgrounds, and restaurants. Patronize local
establishments or, better still, travel "bed and breakfast" as Canadians
themselves often do. Visit Canadian museums, libraries, and places of
achievement. Read Canadian newspapers and magazines that are also available by
subscription in the United States. Watch Canadian television programs rather
than American reruns.
These teaching suggestions, coupled with renewed emphasis on teaching about
Canada in United States classrooms, will enable students to realize the
importance of Canada in the world today.