For freedom in the human and social sciences

In 2019, Katherine Russell cited the most famous essay by Pierre Vallieres, America’s White Negroes, talking about a 1972 experimental film about this author, she gives in cinema class at Concordia. A few months later, a petition demanded that she no longer teach the course because she had used the racist name contained in the title of this essay, a word whose first letter is N.

In 2020, the Lester-B.-Pearson (CSLBP) and English-Montreal (CSEM) school boards removed the English version of the history textbook from Secondary IV classes. Quebec and Canada route, because it also mentions the title of this 1960s work, which had a great influence on Quebec political thought. In August 2021, nearly thirty books, including a biography of explorer tienne Bruelle, were cremated in Ontario schools after they were accused of spreading stereotypes about Aboriginal people.

These events fueled a fierce debate over the fight against racism and freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, human rights and freedoms in principle guaranteed by the Quebec Charter.

In this view, the government of Quebec set up an independent Scientific and Technical Commission on the Recognition of Academic Freedom, which published a survey on September 29, 2021 showing that many academics practice self-censorship.

As teachers of social disciplines or teacher educators in this field, this debate concerns us for several reasons.

First, considering the mandate we have to train people who teach history and geography, especially at the primary and secondary level, we find it necessary to take into account the epistemological needs of these interpretive subjects of the social, in which a Against the backdrop of tensions arising from social interactions, differing perspectives are encountered and conflicting narratives develop. The historical discipline, in particular, prompts us to question and examine various aspects of the human past from sources, knowing that the historical sources upon which the study of history is based are subject to controversy over the force of things. .

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Particularly in the field of history, we must train teachers of the future to teach students to ask questions, to find arguments and evidence based on traces of the past, which do not escape criticism of sources.

We work to train in the teaching of the discipline and its method, not in memorizing particular stories, whatever they may be.

It therefore seems important to us to protect freedom of opinion and expression in universities and schools in general, with academic freedom being a specific case, which requires being able to name and analyze artifacts, sources and situations of conflict. human journey.

Looking away from these realities is completely contrary to the spirit of the historical approach and limits the freedom of those who wish to apply it, whether in school or university. Given the public nature of state-funded universities, this independence is of particular importance in the Quebec context.

This debate also raises a number of questions. Are there any reserved usage words? Are there actors for whom, alone, we would recognize the right to define the meaning of words? Can the practice of censorship shed light on difficult conditions for human experiences?

Why should we refuse to debate, when refusing to debate often results only in holding positions?

In this context, we wish to reaffirm the objectives of intellectual and methodological training of our subjects, which are our anchors in the field of our intervention.

Of course, the stakes are twofold for us. We need to find the words and means to address these sensitive realities in teacher training, but we must also prepare the people who teach in the classroom to approach these sensitive realities, and develop empathy, perspective, rigor, With ethical concerns, but also necessary debate.

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* Members of the Quebec Association for Didactics of History and Geography (AQDHG), Jean-François Cardin, Marie-Claude Larouche, Virginie Martel, Julia Poet, Michel P. Letter co-signed by Trudeau and Felix Bouvier

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