Exploring the experiences of refugee newcomer youth in a New Brunswick high school history class: a curriculum critique

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University of New Brunswick


Using critical discourse analysis, autoethnography, and qualitative interviewing methodologies, I examine the New Brunswick high school Modern History 11 curriculum and the experience of four Syrian newcomer youth who have encountered it. The thesis draws from a range of theoretical traditions, including critical race theory, performativity and gender theory, postcolonial theory and Foucault's ideas about the relationship between power and knowledge. Through my experience teaching the curriculum, I argue that it is Eurocentric and white supremacist, militaristic, and patriarchal. The existing curriculum emphasizes the history of European war, especially the two World Wars, which are sanitized and glorified, and valorizes military experience. I subject the History 11 curriculum document to a critical discourse analysis and compare these findings alongside the perspectives of Syrian refugee newcomers who have personally experienced war. I describe how four Syrian refugee youth experience a New Brunswick curriculum that portrays war as a geopolitical inevitability and technical problem without adequately considering its human consequences or moral dimensions. I consider how working critically with social studies curricula can enhance education about war for all students, suggest curricular reform that would encourage a commitment to peaceful conflict resolution, and recommend educational practices that focus upon possibilities for building awareness, empathy, and compassion among students from distinct cultures with widely divergent stories to tell.