Teaching Canada in the United States

Bryce Coon is a senior and an interdisciplinary social science secondary major. Bryce's essay emphasizes the importance of teaching Canadian history, geography, economics and government, and comparing and contrasting with that of the U.S.

Teaching Canada: Critical Curriculum for American and Global Social Sciences

Bryce Coon

A satellite image of North America will show the proximity and commonality of Canada and the Unites States, but beyond the physical characteristics, there is an extended network of historical, social, and economic ties. The importance of Canadian studies cannot be ignored in American classrooms. It is my aim to create units and lesson plans that teach the importance of Canadian history, geography, economics, and government, not only in how they relate to America's, but as a separate entity and as a world power.

When making any lesson plan engaging for students it is critical to make it relatable and interesting. Teaching Canadian history in American classrooms achieves these goals because of the similar history between the two nations. Drawing parallels from material students learned years ago in American History would reengage them and provide them with new perspectives.

I would teach my students about Canada's struggles with the British Empire - and would be sure to include the Rebellions of 1837. Canadian independence from Great Britain offers students an opportunity to deepen their understanding of the world as they compare and contrast Canada's struggle for independence with the struggles of other countries such as the United States and India. These common themes of colonization and independence will offer students a chance to reflect, with a larger world view, on the importance of freedom and individual human worth.

Canada's technological achievements throughout history are a major source of study as well - as they have contributed to advancements in transportation that helped the world connect. Any of my students who have watched a train go past have almost certainly seen a Canadian Pacific Railway car go by. This is because of the immensity of their company; the Canadian Pacific Railway owns about 14,000 miles of railroad track. In Canada alone their track stretches from Montreal to Vancouver. There are also fascinating illustrative stories of the railroad on the Archives of Toronto website, including one about teacher cars that traveled deep into Canada to educate the citizens hundreds of miles from a school.

Another technological feat in transportation is the St. Lawrence Seaway, including the Welland canal and the Soo locks. I would certainly use these topics because they have the potential to fully engage all of my students. These stories will engage my students who are more interested in the fields of math and science. It will give them an opportunity to study their favorite subjects through the lens of history.

Lessons on the conflicts between Canada and the United States would certainly excite students. I would introduce these topics by focusing on how close these topics are to us, both historically and physically. For some reason these histories have been almost entirely left out of American high school classrooms even though they are key to understanding America's past with Canada and Great Britain. Events like the Battle of York during the war of 1812, when America attacked the present day city of Toronto, would make the war of 1812 more relevant. I would teach about the confrontations concerning the American/Canadian border including the chant '54'40'' or Fight' and the Pig War. Both of these histories give concrete examples of the American expansionist movement, manifest destiny, and American/Canadian diplomacy.

Canada should be studied during lessons about the American Civil War. Although Canada was still under the leadership of the British Crown during this time period, they had already established their own laws one of which outlawed slavery. This placed Canada in a very sensitive spot with the United States. It is important for students to know the major role Canada played with the Underground Railroad. It has been declared to have national historic significance with numerous dedicated national sites. The Parks Canada website offers a large collection of resources and material on the Canadian Underground Railroad.

Canada has a lot to offer in the subjects of physical and regional geography. It has thousands of miles of coastline with the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic Oceans. Within its borders there is a physical diversity ranging from frozen tundra, to the fields that produce wheat and canola oil for the world. Students can learn about the fishing communities, or Churchill - the polar bear capital of the world on the Hudson Bay.

The teaching of Canadian geography should not be limited to World Geography in American schools. Because of all the similarities and connections between the two countries it is necessary to dedicate units to the geography of the United States and Canada. I would draw a lot of material for these units from one of my courses at Michigan State University, the Geography of America and Canada. A look at the shared mountain ranges and weather patterns show students the artificiality of national borders and will prompt them to think more globally. A lesson on the United States survey system would be incomplete without a discussion about the surveying error that resulted in the city of Derby Line falling in both countries. It would also be interesting to study two separate cities that interact with each other on multiple levels like Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario.

In a course with Canadian and American geography I would like to focus on the great lakes region. By looking at the great lakes region as one entity I would hope to expand how students think of land areas. I would supplement my lessons with John J. Bukowczyk's book 'Permeable Border' that breaks down the history of this region through time. He focuses on subjects like migration, national identity, and transportation. Bukowczyk's examples and stories would help support and enhance my material on these topics.

Diversity is a common theme for Canada, not only of the land but of the people themselves. A class on Canada would be incomplete without lessons on the cultural geography. Learning about the First Nations people would allow students to draw more parallels between their own nation's histories with which they have familiarity and those of Canada. Lessons could focus on the similarities of the First Nations people and Native Americans languages and cultures. Another lesson could investigate the similar struggles that they both had with colonizers and settlers moving into their territory.

Another indigenous culture to Canada is the Inuit. The Inuit are very interesting because of their unique history and culture, but also because of their location. They are located in the northern regions of Canada and Alaska, but mostly in the Quebec Territory of Nunavut. The climate is extremely harsh there, and their survival techniques are captivating and show the ingenuity and strength of the human mind and spirit.

I would also enjoy teaching about the Metis people of Canada. They are an ethnic group who are descendants of both First Nations people and Europeans. This combination of cultures has lead to a fascinating group of people who speak a variety of languages and practice varied religions. The Metis people have had an interesting past trying to keep their culture and fighting for equality. Presenting students with an esoteric group of people allows them to study the group and their history with fewer preconceived notions and bias. Students would be able to form objective conclusions about human rights issues and progress. Introducing students to fresh material would open their minds that may otherwise be resistant to change in regards to Native Americans in our personal history. I believe that students would be more engaged with a subject like this because it allows them to make their own discoveries.

I also think it is important to look at the immigration policies of Canada. The amount of immigrants has increased in the last few decades and includes large populations of Asian immigrants, primarily from China. An investigation into Canada's immigration policies and its implications would be very interesting, especially as America is struggling to determine its own immigration policy. I would also want to focus on the affects of immigration on the economy and culture. Canada's past and current immigration policies allow the amazing opportunity to be completely submerged in different cultures, only blocks apart. I would describe to my students the remarkable experience I had walking through Toronto's Chinatown and feeling like I was on a different continent. This would open discussion for students' similar experiences in America where there are large pockets of homogenous immigrant culture, and how that is a critical part of America's identity as a nation.

I will also certainly be using Canadian examples and statistics in my economics courses. At some point while teaching economics I will ask my students which country is America's largest trading partner. I am sure that many of them will guess China, India, Japan or even major oil producers in the Middle East, when it is actually Canada. I will encourage my students to pay attention to license plates when they are traveling on our east and west bound highways, and if they do they are bound to see large semi trucks with Ontario plates. This image will help my students understand the interconnection between these two countries' economies.

Another economic topic I will surely be teaching about is the North American Free Trade Agreement that both The United States and Canada are members of with Mexico. NAFTA is a very important topic to be covering in an economics course. A lesson on NAFTA would need to include the benefits that free trade offers, such as cheaper products, larger markets, and increased specialization. To balance this lesson it would be important to show students the criticism that NAFTA has received over the years, mostly with concern of job security and labor equality.

NAFTA is just the latest agreement in a trade partnership that has been growing over decades. To illustrate the historical depth and strength of these agreements I would start by teaching about the Reciprocity Treaty of 1855 which created free trade between the United States and the region of British North America, which is now Canada. It would also be constructive to teach about the times of tension and distrust between the nations and their trading. America eventually voted against the Reciprocity Treaty and a new agreement was not officially announced until the Canada - United States Free Trade Agreement in 1988. The CUFTA marked a great improvement in trading relations and was expanded to include Mexico with NAFTA.

I would also do a unit in what makes up Canada's economy. Although many students generalize that Canada is always a cooler climate because of its location north of the United States, I would introduce them to Canada's central plains. Students would learn about the massive wheat and rapeseed production in this region. I would also introduce them to the Salmon War which just recently came to an end and battles over cod fishing territory and quotas. This would work to show more of the economic interdependencies between the United States and Canada.

I also believe Canada has a lot to offer when I begin teaching about population pyramids and the replacement rate. When you compare Canada's population pyramid to America's it tapers off more at the bottom - meaning they have a declining younger population. Canada is below the natural replacement rate of 2.1 children per every two adults. Although this is generally used as a sign for a more developed nation, Canada would like to see their pyramid widen at the bottom so they offer a baby bonus. This baby bonus legislation would be great to look at in contrast to China's One-Child Policy. Both countries have very similar population pyramids, but their reasons and goals are completely opposite. Making comparison of Canada's population growth with others would help students examine the economic and social factors that come from different population sizes such as unemployment, environmental concerns, and urbanization.

My government lessons would include Canada because of the unique structure of their government. While Canada won its independence, it is interesting to examine their continued connections to the Queen and the rest of the monarchy. Lessons would introduce my students to the rest of their system including the parliament system with the Senate, House of Commons, and the Supreme Court of Canada. It would be rewarding to introduce my students to the excitement of the legislative process in Canada. I would draw on my personal experience of viewing the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in Toronto. The energy and passion of the assembly was something I did not expect having viewed the American Senate before. I think that showing clips of their meetings which include liveliness, shouting, and humor would interest them and display the love and enthusiasm for government that many people believe politicians are lacking today.

Following Canadian politics would present a great variety of case studies for my students to examine. Canada has been involved with many of the same controversial legislation as America and other countries in the world. Students could study the history and implications of legislation on topics such as nationalized healthcare, same-sex marriage, and medical marijuana. This would be especially helpful for American students because of all the commonality the United States and Canada share.

Teaching social studies courses will give me many opportunities to use Canadian examples with the material I am covering. All my subjects and examples will have direct ties to my students' lives. Showing these ties is a responsibility of mine, because if I do not I would be ignoring a country with so many valuable connections with America and the World. I will show these ties and connections by presenting my students with a variety of engaging materials from texts and graphs to my personal experiences with the country. As a teacher, my passion and goal is to help my students see beyond their cities and states and think globally. Lessons on Canada would achieve this goal.


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