MONTREAL — A social sciences teacher at a Montreal English-language school was shocked to see the N-word printed in a history textbook used by secondary students in some Quebec schools.
The book, Journeys Through the History of Quebec and Canada, is published by Les Éditions CEC, and was translated from French. The N-word appears twice in English and once in French in a section about FLQ-member Pierre Vallières’ 1968 book White N*****s of America.
The N-word has been the topic of a heated debate in Quebec in recent weeks after a University of Ottawa professor was suspended for using the offensive term in class.
Robert Green, who teaches at Westmount High School, was shocked to find the word “without any context” in a textbook aimed at teenagers. He said his high school uses a different textbook but he found out about the excerpt through a retired colleague who stumbled across the entry by coincidence.
HuffPost Québec wasn’t able to confirm how many schools in the province use this textbook, or whether the original French version also uses the term, but the English Montreal School Board confirmed to the Montreal Gazette that it was used in some of its schools. Montreal’s Lester B. Pearson School Board also told CBC News the textbook was being used by some of its schools, but neither boards were able to say how many.
“The thing I thought about immediately was having a 15 year old kid in my classroom read that,” John Commins, the colleague who first spotted it, told HuffPost. “Everybody would have been very uncomfortable.”
Commins helped design the province’s previous history curriculum in 2003 and spoke out against the new program in the spring of 2016, shortly before it was rolled out in schools.
“Teachers are free to select the materials they deem appropriate for their teaching.”
Quebec’s Ministry of Education wouldn’t say if it approves of the use of the N-word in a textbook for teenage students. Quoting article 19 of the province’s Education Act, ministry spokesperson Bryan St-Louis said that teachers were entitled “to select methods of instruction corresponding to the requirements and objectives fixed for each group or for each student entrusted to his care.”
“Teachers are free to select the materials they deem appropriate for their teaching,” he said, adding that as a “complimentary workbook,” Journeys Through the History of Quebec and Canada had not been evaluated and approved by the ministry.
The book’s publisher did not answer HuffPost’s request for comment.
“Tip of the iceberg”
While he thinks this particular problem is “urgent” and the textbook “needs to be pulled right away,” Green believes it’s only the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to issues about how Quebec’s cultural minorities are depicted in the history curriculum.
He laments that the curriculum makes “no mention” of the province’s history of anti-Black racism. The history textbook he uses in his classroom, titled Reflections.qc.ca, only contains two references to Black people, he says.
“The first is a small mention of the first Black MNA that was elected, and the second is a reference to Rufus Rockhead’s jazz club in Little Burgundy,” he lists. “In that section, you don’t learn anything about the history of Black people in Little Burgundy, that they ended up there because it was the only place they could rent an apartment, or about the racism they faced in almost every facet of their existence in Quebec.”
This isn’t the first time Green has spoken publicly about the lack of representation of Black Quebecers in the province’s secondary history curriculum, which became mandatory in 2017, after a reform process that lasted more than two years.
“It was an ideologically-driven project that was basically aimed to focus only on the Quebec nation and, in so doing, send a message to every other person in Quebec that they don't belong in this society.”
He believes that the current course ignores the contributions made by Black people and other minorities in Quebec, as well as the racism they faced, while also offering “problematic representations” of First Nations.
In 2018, all the textbooks that had been created for the new curriculum had to be reprinted at the cost of $1.6 million, mainly because they used the word “Amerindian,” which is now widely recognized as racist, instead of “Indigenous peoples.”
Green sees this and the N-word issue as examples that the ministry of Education “only reacts to things.”
“Nobody there has the judgment to say ‘we shouldn’t do this’,” he says. “That, to me, is just the portrait of systemic racism.”
Watch: How can Canadian schools better support Black students? Article continues below.
“We hear all these voices in [Quebec] media saying ‘oh you don’t have to worry about blackface, it’s an American thing’ or ‘oh, the N-word, it’s different here in Quebec’,” Green says. “And part of the reason people can say that is that they don’t know the history of this province with respect to anti-Black racism.”
The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report recommends every provincial ministry of Education hire an expert in Indigenous history at a senior level. He says something similar should be done for Black history.
“[This curriculum] was an ideologically-driven project that was basically aimed to focus only on the Quebec nation and, in so doing, send a message to every other person in Quebec that they don’t belong in this society,” Green believes.
“We need to have a history curriculum that reflects the diversity of Quebec society. And we don’t have that right now. We have the opposite.”
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