So what’s the point of teaching history, modern educators ask

Take a look at the political zoo that’s going on lately in Ontario, and you’ll soon know

It’s sad to behold the decline in the quality of modern-day political office-holders. Take, for instance, the position of premier in Ontario. It was once filled by such men of stature as Sir Oliver Mowat, Howard Ferguson, and William Davis– not to mention George Drew, who established a 42-year Tory dynasty in the government of that province, Now the premier’s office is to be distinguished by a man accused of establishing in his youth a brisk wholesale trade in hashish for the “with-it” generation in the wealthy Toronto neighbourhood where he grew up– an accusation he vigorously denies.

He is of course Premier-elect the Honourable Douglas Ford, brother and chief defendant of the late Robert Ford, who in his four years as mayor of Toronto’s gave the city’s ruling cabal of ultra-sensitive liberals a veritable cornucopia of misdeeds to be outraged about. Will Premier Ford keep the province in the same kind of unremitting turmoil to which his brother, Mayor Ford, reduced the city? It won’t be easy.

Consider, for instance, the circumstances that eventually forced Mayor Ford to resign. Following allegations, ostensibly backed by videotaped evidence, that he was regularly using crack cocaine, the mayor was ordered to resign. He refused. So the city council cut off his office expenses. He then confessed. Yes, that was he in the video all right, but he could justify this He was dead drunk at the time. He was given to binge drinking, he said.

That should do him in, declared his liberal critics. They were wrong. It only made him an international celebrity, loudly acclaimed as a true man of the people. Thus, cheered on by his adoring followers, he ran for re-election as mayor. But here fate intervened and struck a lethal blow. He died of cancer in the midst of the campaign. Brother Douglas replaced him and was defeated.

From the outside, there was little to distinguish the two brothers. Both were ardent fiscal conservatives, promising to cut back on government and slash taxes. Both took the parents’ side against the bureaucrats on sex education. Both served on the same city council, Doug as a councillor and Rob as the mayor. And both seemed to enjoy the helpless rage to which they intuitively reduced the more caring and sharing and socially aware Torontonians..

On some issues. the future Premier Doug was the more outspoken. Asked would he join a gay pride parade, he said no, and went on to describe it as “a bunch of middle-aged men, with pot bellies, running down the street buck naked.” How this would enhance the image of Canada’s queen city, Doug said he could not quite understand.

Like his brother, he lived in the midst of constant controversy, much of it provoked by himself. He left Toronto politics scornfully and, to great surprise, jumped into the leadership race for the provincial Progressive Conservatives. Four candidates contested the leadership — Doug Ford and three women. But this was not the year in which the idea of a woman premier might take off. It had already taken off five years ago and now it had crash landed. In the ensuing fact, the Liberals were to be wiped out– to lose, that is, party standingin th legisllature..

And Kathleen Wynne, the Liberal premier, had looked so promising. She had ideal qualifications — an educator, a psychotherapist, and (All bow!) a lesbian. I must be careful here. When one mentions a “sexual minority” the rule is: “If you haven’t anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” We are a country renowned for our tolerance. Therefore anyone who says anything hurtful about a sexual minority will be arrested, charged and thrashed until they scream for mercy. So we won’t go into detail on Kathleen’s personal life. Before she went into politics, however, she decided to be perfectly frank about it — make a clean breast of the whole thing, so to speak. So she divorced her husband and married another woman and they lived happily ever after.

They did? Well, maybe they did. But Ontario definitely did not. Her regime turned into a five year horror — the Hydro One scandal, the gas plant scandal, the budget scandal and all the other scandals, winding up with the worst defeat of a sitting government in Ontario history.

Let’s face it, Kathleen Wynne was not a good leader. She had a major deficiency, said Maclean’s magazine: People hated her. She was a “cold” person. How Doug Ford will make out, Ontarians will soon know. He may be accused of many things, but being “cold” won’t be one of them. So the question remains: How do we develop good leaders?

The answer is not mysterious. Producing leaders is a central purpose of history. And we don’t teach history. That’s our problem. But our current educators will do nothing about it, because thy don’t know any history either.


Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century, a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The, a web journal. He has recently authored two little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters and The Revolution Nobody Covered. You can order both copies here.

3 thoughts on “So what’s the point of teaching history, modern educators ask

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  1. While I am in full agreement with the imperative of teaching history—as real history, not a bunch of disconnected “social studies” topics (and, btw, real history as recorded in the Bible beginning with Gen. 1:1)—I’m nor sure that the purpose of history is to produce leaders.

    I would argue that the purpose of history, from the point when Adam ate the forbidden fruit some time shortly after day 7 until the birth of Christ, was, in fact, the birth, death and resurrection of Christ and the purpose of history for that time forward has been and will continue to be, the second coming of Christ.

    Leaders, such as they be, are incidental characters used—or not—by God to achieve these purposes.


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