Historical significance as a tool to understand high school students' identity in a bilingual setting

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University of New Brunswick


This research aimed to better understand the implications of having a dual educational system on students’ sense of national identity. It was centred on questions like, do high school students’ identities influence their perception of what they consider historically significant? And, is there a discrepancy between high school students from Anglophone and Francophone districts when asking them to consider what is historically significant in Canadian past events? The historical thinking concept of significance was used to probe how students’ linguistic identities shaped their understanding of Canada’s past. Twenty-six high school students from the Francophone and Anglophone sectors were asked to draw, sketch or write what they considered the ten most important elements in Canadian history. Then, participants explained their thoughts during individual semi-structured interviews. The results were analyzed through Social Identity Theory and phenomenography. Although students’ identities influenced their ascription of historical significance, similarities rather than differences were more common between participants from the Francophone and Anglophone sectors. While students demonstrated an awareness of Indigenous issues in Canadian history, they shared a European centered narrative focused on the participation of Canada in both World Wars and the consequences of this for the country’s independence.