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Opinion

LITTLEJOHN: Replace Social Studies with History

Our children grow up in a world lacking context and rich history that can feel like a vacuum. They need to understand history’s battles with Goliath’s past to face their own today.

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PragerU recently released a video asking University students to rank pictures of famous people including Hitler, Stalin, Donald Trump, and Jesus, from “worst” to “best”. For some, this was difficult because they couldn’t identify these famous people. They didn’t know history. Others had been so indoctrinated that they ranked Trump as worse than Hitler and Stalin. This was filmed in the United States, but one suspects it wouldn’t be much different at a Canadian university.

Canadian students aren’t taught history. They are taught social studies; a smorgasbord of history, geography, ecology, economics, law, philosophy, political science and other social science disciplines. This mélange is so ambitious that it’s impossible for students to get more than a cursory overview. It’s a mile wide, and an inch deep.

Social Studies jumps around through space and time with no clear rhyme or reason; ancient Athens one year, confederation the next, and finally the Renaissance. Stories are easiest to understand when they start at the beginning and finish at the end. Events do not happen in isolation. It is difficult to understand the present, to think critically about the issues facing the world without understanding how we arrived here in the first place. How can one understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without some knowledge of the Second World War, the Holocaust, the Ottoman Empire, and the Roman Empire?   

When people cannot make sense of events in the world around them, fears arise and individuals seek security in belonging to a tribe. This tendency towards tribalism means dividing the world into us versus them. Hutus versus Tutsis, or Muslims versus Jews. ‘Us versus them’ thinking is the first step in dehumanizing others. One need look no further than Antifa thugs on our campuses that regularly employ violence to silence others they view as less than human. 

There’s reason totalitarian societies both real and imagined limit what history may be studied or published. As Orwell said in ‘1984’, “Who controls the past, controls the future.” Our democracy is poorly served by failing to teach history, producing less than informed voters. Knowledge of history doesn’t lead everyone to the same conclusions, but it equips students with the ability to reach independent judgments on current issues. When citizens in a democracy lack knowledge and understanding, rational thought is the first casualty. Elections devolve into popularity contests based on who has the best hair, looks or charisma. It also leaves people vulnerable to demagogues who use emotional appeal to promote their own interests. Debates degenerate into ad hominem attacks, polarizing and dividing nations into hostile camps. 

Teaching history is not just equipping students with a series of facts. It provides context to measure today’s challenges, giving meaning and richness to life, and provides motivation to do good deeds and act with courage. As Malcolm X said, “History is a people’s memory and without a memory man is demoted to the lower animals.” 

In contrast, Isaac Newton, said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” He was referring to the idea that with knowledge of the past we are like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants. We can experience a more expansive view than our predecessors, not because we have greater height or keener vision, but because we are lifted high on their colossal stature.  This is only true however, if we are familiar with our predecessors and their thoughts, insights and discoveries. In short, only if we’re familiar with history.

When David faced Goliath, he was likely comforted by his belief in God, but also in recalling the courage of Moses facing down the Pharaoh. 

The Roman historian Livy said, “The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings; fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid.”  

Our children grow up in a world lacking context and rich history that can feel like a vacuum. They need to understand history’s battles with Goliath’s past to face their own today.

Opinion

LETTER: Stop repatriating ISIS fighters to Canada

A reader says that Canada must shut the door on returning ISIS fighters.

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RE: Calgary man charged with terror crimes after allegedly training with ISIS in Syria

The arrest of a Calgary man by the RCMP on terror-related charges linked to his time with the Islamic State should be a stern reminder to Canadians that the old foe of Islamic extremism hides beneath current tensions. The RCMP say there are 190 Canadians linked to Islamic terror groups. Sixty have returned to Canada. The most notorious organization, Islamic State, butchered its way across nations and conquered sizable territory and resources.

We should never forget that these groups intend us harm. ISIS, more than any other, seduced many individuals into committing crimes for them – many of these persons were never officially linked to Islamic State. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is right to counsel Ottawa to never allow the repatriation of ISIS fighters back into this country. Last month, Human Rights Watch accused Canada of abandoning some of these people inside prison camps variously controlled by the Kurds and the Turks.

The problem of terrorist repatriation is a global one. The Kurds and the Turks, by turns, have demanded their return and an end to their unwanted global responsibility. Britain’s appellate court has been lambasted by critics for allowing its former citizen, dubbed the Jihadi Bride, an ISIS member, to return home. Shamima Begum left Britain for Syria and stayed with the terror group for three years. Now sitting inside a refugee camp, she apparently begged to be repatriated. Britain’s Conservative MPs argue her return sets a dangerous precedent. They are correct in saying so.

Global, indeed Middle Eastern, security has always depended on a powerful alliance between the U.S, Israel, and a few Arab nations. States like Egypt and Jordan share military and economic partnerships with Israel. The American withdrawal from parts of the Middle East like Syria was a mistake. They enabled the Taliban to rebound and Hezbollah to resume attacking Israel. The China-Iran alliance could enable the tracking of Western forces. 

Christopher Mansour
Barrie, ON

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Opinion

LETTER: There won’t be any accountability for WE in this Canada

A reader says that Canadians shouldn’t hold their breath that any accountability will come in the wake of the growing WE Scandal.

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The Kielburger brothers are like the prime minister; they think most people would believe the WE charity along with the founders wouldn’t benefit from administering a near $1 billion dollar program. The Conservative’s have called for a RCMP investigation of WE and Trudeau’s involvement. I can’t see that happening.

Brenda Lucki, the RCMP Commissioner in the SNC-L affair, could have applied to the courts for release of cabinet documents, but she chose to hide behind the PM’s cabinets privilege. The Ethics Commissioner has no teeth to impose any real penalty on these ministers who again, abuse Canadian finances. This is a failed federation, lead by a corrupt PM and finance minister along with the PMO that has its head in the sand.

On another point.

WEXIT is sounding better, every day, for Albertans, but I don’t think Premier Kenney had any intention of taking the next step to give Albertans a say. Premier Kenney changed his tune after he was elected to the Premiership. I am not impressed with him as he was all fire and brimstone prior to the election, but now I feel he is just another politician who pulled a bait and switch on his real intensions. To bad I didn’t hear him tell Albertans that he was a committed Federalist prior to saying he was fighting for Alberta. I would have changed my vote for sure. 

Steven Ruthven
Calgary, AB 

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Opinion

BARNES: Time to replace the RCMP with an Alberta force

Drew Barnes writes that Alberta should immediately begin the process of creating its own police force.

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Guest opinion column from Drew Barnes, MLA

In the Fair Deal Panel report, it was recommended that Alberta create its own police force. It is what we heard loud and clear from Albertans across the province. It is imperative, now more than ever with the overreaching policies of Ottawa, that we have control over policing in our own land. Premier Kenney – in the government’s response – has committed to conducting a further analysis of the panel recommendation to move to an Alberta Provincial Police. This analysis will support why we should have our own police force that is overseen by a directly elected Alberta Chief of Police. An Alberta Provincial Police force is a constitutional right that we have, and it should be exercised. 

Historically, Alberta had its own police force from 1917 to 1932. During that period, Alberta saw an increase in arrest rate and conviction, and a decrease in movement into Alberta by those with criminal intent. The reason for this increase has been attributed to the institutional difference in focus and priorities of a national vs an Alberta entity. 

This history serves to underscore why we need a police force that is familiar with the Alberta experience. One of the issues the RCMP have that makes it difficult for them to effectively police the province is the constant in-and-out of its members in communities, which nullifies the benefits that come with being familiar with an area and its particular challenges. An officer raised in Jasper, Ontario will be less familiar with the issues and concerns of Jasper, Alberta, than an Albertan. While some RCMP recruits may be from Alberta and may land a position in Alberta, that is too often not how it works. The lack of familiarity with community, and short-term posting protocol of the RCMP is an ongoing, acknowledged hinderance, for both the officers and the community.

The costs to operate the RCMP increase at a higher rate than provincially run police forces. A study comparing these costs found that over the span of eight years, the cost of operating RCMP detachments rose an average of $44.50 per capita. The costs for the Ontario Provincial Police force rose only $37.10 per capita on average during the same period.

We can cancel the contract with the federal government and the RCMP with two years notice. Providing notice that we will cancel the contract can take place as early as March 31, 2021. This would allow us to terminate the contract as of March 31, 2023 at no cost. Within that two-year gap, we can work out the details, such as settling accounts over buildings and equipment, which the current contract provides a road map for.

As a province, we even have a basic template in place that make this easier. The Alberta Sheriffs already perform many police duties in our province with 950 sworn members and 16 stations. We would simply need to look at expanding them into the areas that presently utilize RCMP service. 

The RCMP is a proud and iconic symbol of Canada, made up of proud, hardworking members from across Canada, however, it is time for Alberta to consider taking back it’s policing, to create local ownership, accountability, and to hire Albertans to police Alberta. Albertans should determine their own policing priorities based on their particular needs. It is time to bring back the Alberta Provincial Police.

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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