English for Canadians

Dear Exchange Teacher,

I hope you like The Tragically Hip. They are a treasured Canadian rock band. I see them a bit like U2. What U2 or the Beatles are to the world, The Tragically Hip are to Canada. They seem to really represent something. However, there are a lot of people that dislike them too. This illustrates an important point. You will learn quite quickly that Canada is a vast country. While there is pride in and throughout the entire country, there are also many different feelings, viewpoints, and even nations that make up Canada. In just four weeks you could never understand everything about a country so diverse, with so many different landscapes and perspectives. What you might start to gather though, is an overall sense. Perhaps you will start to see some different squares of the cultural mosaic coming together in front of you. When you step into my English class, you may want to teach some work by treasured Canadian authors. I fully recommend you do. Alice Munro has some incredible short stories. There are great Canadian poets, like Leonard Cohen, Michael Ondaatje, and Earle Birney. Or maybe you want to lean toward someone new and experimental, check out Christian Bök, he’s mind-bending. Even though it’s a high school class, they might want to relax a bit with a children’s novel. Robert Munsch is truly fantastic. Or you might want to take on a full novel. How about Yann Martel, or Stephen Galloway, or Lynn Coady, or Joseph Boyden, or Malcolm Lowry, or Mordcai Richler. I could recommend something by all of them and they are just the tip of the iceberg. Some of those writers are not even born in Canada you might say. That might be your first lesson. You will see some of the students in your class are also not born in Canada. This does not mean they are not Canadian. That is not how Canada works. That being said, it is very important to consider the history of our First Nations peoples. It is a sad and shameful history for the nation, like the Chinese Canadian Head Tax and the internment of Japanese Canadians. There are rich stories to be told though. Since “the terms knowledge and belief have different meanings for different people and in various contexts today” (P.558), you are never going to be able to pinpoint a particular statement about what being Canadian means. You could probably write quite the tome on that topic, even after just four weeks here. This all might seem vague, or even daunting. I would love to give you something more concrete, but I do not think it is possible. There are reading lists for English classes, but I will be totally honest with you. They differ from province to province, and it really is a matter of what you do with the readings you choose. Follow your heart, be passionate, be open-minded, and you will learn, and people will learn from you. If all else fails, put on a Hip song, and talk about it with my class. You will get many different thoughts and ideas, some very positive, some probably downright vitriolic. I would not have any other way either.

All the best,

Paddy Watson



Smith, M. U. & Siegel, H. (2004). Knowing, believing, and understanding: What goals for science education? Science & Education, 13(6), 553-582.

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