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James Miles teaches Social Studies, I.B. History, and Social Justice 12 at West Vancouver Secondary School, where he has taught for six years. He recently completed his MA in Social Studies Education at UBC. He is interested in incorporating local history, historical photographs, and other primary sources into his classroom.

Historical Wrongs and Political Wins

In this, my final blog post for the Historical Thinking Project, I hope to continue the conversation from my last post around the politics of the history curriculum. In this case, I am concerned with how students make sense of politicians’ attempts to redress historical injustices. More specifically, I have questions about how students consider the potential causes and consequences of politicians engaging in the ethical dimension of the past.

In British Columbia, the governing BC Liberal Party recently reignited debate over a proposed official apology to the “Chinese community for historical wrongs.” These historical wrongs included government policy and legislation that attempted to restrict immigration from China and promote discrimination against Chinese immigrants during the first half of the 20th century. In January 2014, the Government of B.C. began public consultations with community groups over the wording of an official government apology.*

This decision led to an immediate response from the news media about historical injustices, such as the Chinese Head Tax and their place in the curriculum: CBC Radio One interviewed a teacher and an academic on how the topic was taught in schools. Last week, Bill Chu wrote an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun entitled “Sham Apology Not Accepted.” And previously, Vancouver Sun writer, Douglas Todd, blogged about how an “unscientific poll” in the Richmond News revealed that 85% of respondents voted that B.C. should not apologize for historical wrongs. Also, Todd earlier had asked the question: “Can political apologies fuel a society of complaint”? In this article, Todd presents evidence from a University of Waterloo study (Blatz, Schumann, & Ross, 2009), which suggests that political apologies do not accomplish the goal of supporting the (in Todd’s words) “supposedly aggrieved minority group,” but instead are designed to please “white Canadians. “ 

This point itself raises interesting questions for engaging in the ethical dimension of historical thinking in the classroom. Following this thought provoking argument, the questions I want to pose to my students about historical injustices and official apologies are as follows: 

1) How should we think about official apologies and redress for historical wrongs that may be motivated by present political gains?

2) Who should be consulted, and to what extent, when governments craft official apologies?

3) What are the consequences for society at large when apologizing for the past?

4) Who stands to gain (politically, socially, economically, and culturally) when official apologies for historical wrongs are made? 

Unfortunately, I will not be able to blog about the thoughts and responses of my students here, but I hope to continue the conversation on the THEN/HiER blog “Teaching the Past” soon.

*The Federal Government of Canada apologized in 2006 and offered some financial compensation ($20 000 for living Head Tax payers or living spouses of deceased payers).

Blatz, Shumann, & Ross (2009). Government Apologies for Historical Wrongs.   Political Psychology. 30(2). 219-241.

What is a Benchmark?

<p>John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising &amp; Marketing History,<br />Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections</p>

A surveyor cut a "benchmark" into a stone or a wall when measuring the altitude and/or level of a tract of land. A bracket called a "bench" was secured in the cut to mount the surveying equipment, and all subsequent measurements were made in reference to the position and height of that mark.

The term "benchmark" was first used around 1842 to refer to a standard of quality by which achievement may be measured.

The foundation documents available through the Benchmarks site attempt to help teachers establish standards for assessing student learning of the modes of thought that constitute historical thinking.

John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History,
Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections