The Importance of Teaching the History of Residential Schools in Elementary School
By Natasha Cooper
Just like Math, English and Science, History is a very important subject for students of all ages to learn. For generations of Canadians, we have learned about the history of our nation in schools. The curriculum often includes the founding of our country, the journey of becoming a British colony to an independent nation, the wars that brave Canadian men and women took part in, and much more. But it has not been until recent years that Canada as a nation is beginning to assess and reconcile the history of cruel treatment to Indigenous peoples and the residential schooling system.
Residential schools were a school system set up by the Canadian government often with church affiliations in the 1880s. The primary goal of these schools was to teach Indigenous children the customs and beliefs valued in White societies. In doing so, they separated their students from their families, and stripped them of their own cultures and languages. In these schools, children were abused, mistreated, and neglected, leading to severe trauma and even the death of many of these students. These schools continued to run in Canada all the way until the 1990s, meaning that there was over a hundred years of abuse facilitated in these schools, resulting in generational trauma, and a near cultural erasure of the Indigenous peoples of Canada.
It was not until the early 2000s that the Canadian government began seriously investigating all of the tragic misconduct that was taking place in these institutions. Now as a nation, it is time for us collectively to reconcile these atrocities, and much of this begins with educating not only ourselves, but our children on the darker parts of our history in relation to Indigenous peoples and its enduring legacy. Many may wonder why or how kids should be taught about such a sad topic in history, however children are extremely smart, and empathetic, making them a very important demographic to be learning about this.
While some Canadians did not even know of residential schools until well into their adulthood, as a society we now have the opportunity to properly educate young people about this matter in a respectful and caring manner. It is sad to think about having to tell today’s children about what the government has done in the past to kids not so different from them, but just because something is hard, does not mean it should not be done. Canadian curriculums have been able to teach elementary school children about the World Wars, and many other scary parts of history in an appropriate way, which proves that the same thing is possible when educating children about residential schools. Being honest with children and teaching our full history instills important values, and helps make children more culturally aware and sensitive to the land they are living, learning, and playing on. It is also an undoubtedly important step to be taken while mending our relationship with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
Most importantly, teaching children of all ages about the history of residential schools in Canada will help safeguard future generations, and ensure that such a thing can never happen again.