The study of Western civilization and its distant past is essential

Letter to Minister of Higher Education Danielle McCann

As part of the updating of the Social Sciences program at the college level, an editorial committee suggests replacing the introductory course in the history of Western civilization by a course on “the foundations of the history of the world of XVecentury to the present day ”. We historians, professors, researchers and students are opposed to this decision. We ask that the initiation into ancient and medieval Western heritages be maintained and clearly stated in the competency elements.

The stakes are high: this review of competence in history will determine the level of general culture of CEGEP students in the Humanities for many years. Currently, apart from those enrolled in a profile whose path requires a second history course, students generally take only one course in this discipline during their college studies, namely the History of Western Civilization course. This course, anchored in the long term, offers a coherent, thoughtful history, made of continuities and ruptures, from ancient Greece to the 20th century.e century. Students discover both foreign and curiously familiar worlds, roots, but also a fascinating diversity of social, political, economic and cultural systems.

This course retains its relevance in the eyes of historical practitioners, and it responds to the humanistic ideals of our education system. It strictly respects the orientations determined by your ministry. Indeed, the current ministerial competence asks teachers to “recall the significant contributions of the civilizations which are at the origin of the Western world”. The student should have “an adequate knowledge of the origin and development of Western civilization”. Ancient and medieval legacies are among these “significant contributions”. In short, the history of Western civilization is relevant and the study of the distant past essential.

Unfortunately, an editorial committee, made up of history professors from CEGEPs, decided that it was no longer necessary to introduce students to Antiquity, preferring to leave this role to professors of philosophy and – in the few CEGEPs. where this discipline still exists – to teachers of ancient civilizations. He also decided to exclude the Middle Ages from the study scope. To give just a few examples, this means that this committee is proposing to no longer teach Athenian democracy, the birth of Christianity, Romanization, the birth of Islam and feudalism. This decision follows an online consultation carried out last spring, in full confinement, a consultation which had several methodological weaknesses: the survey was partial and biased.

At the start of the consultation process, your ministry requested that the updating of the competence of the course meet a fundamental criterion: it must take into account the “profile expected of students graduating from the pre-university studies program in Human Sciences upon admission to the course. ‘university’. This “expected profile” is presented in the Belleau report (2017), in which representatives of the university community defined certain “general orientations”. […]. On the subject of expectations which relate more specifically to historical knowledge, we can read that history training should allow students to “distinguish the great periods”.

Madam Minister, we agree with these expectations. It is precisely for this reason that we wish to express our opposition to the proposed new competence: in our opinion, it contradicts this “expected profile”. A course that removes ancient and medieval legacies from its core competence will not allow the student to acquire a comprehensive understanding of the four great periods. Moreover, the proposal to expand the geographic scope to cover the whole world risks overloading the course content. Given the great flexibility that skills allow when drawing up master plans, learning is likely to go in several directions. […] In this context, we find it difficult to understand how university professors will be able to anticipate the achievements of students when they are admitted to university.

The mission of the introductory course is to allow students to acquire historical references on decisive contexts, through the study of the West over the long term, so as to reuse them in a more specialized history course. , in other Human Sciences courses, then at university. For now, only the Initiation to the History of Western Civilization course can fulfill this mission.

We ask that the introductory course in the history of Western civilization be maintained and improved, so as to guarantee a common base of general culture in the network; limit the subject of study to the West (while addressing the interrelationships with Eastern Europe and the Muslim world); make reference to the legacies of Antiquity and the Middle Ages; take into account the expectations of universities, but also those of students.

* This text is supported by 225 signataires, historians, professors, researchers, students and associations, including professors Guy Rocher and Georges Leroux.

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