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On the Other Side of the Border: Spoken Word, Graphic History Novels, & Lit Trips from Canada in the Social Studies Classroom at the Chelan Conference 2013

Paulette Thompson, Escape to Gold Mountain

May 31, 2013

Originally posted: May 2013

“You have problems. Your neighbor has problems. Between the two of you is a fence. I am actually referring to the relationship between Canada and the United States….”

At most conferences the blurb underneath your session title is enough of a selling point. Not so at the Annual Spring Social Studies Conference presented by the Washington State Council for the Social Studies, the Jackson School for International Studies at the University of Washington and the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction held at Campbell’s Resort in Chelan, Washington over the weekend of March 15 – 17, 2013 where presenters are required to stand up before all assembled and give a brief introduction about their sessions. It is in this way that K – 16 educators at the conference are able to make more informed decisions about which sessions to attend.

This year’s theme was “Rethink, Recharge, Reflect: Enriching Your Role as a Social Studies Educator”. Although this theme did not mention Canada per se, I thought it was important to bring Canada into the picture. I maintain that when teachers bring multiple perspectives on social studies topics into their classrooms, they can include rich Canadian voices concerning civic ideals and controversies from Canadian contexts. Canadian literature is often the missing link in U.S. classrooms. Why not rethink, recharge, and reflect and enrich one’s role by bringing in these ‘new’ voices? Furthermore, when educators are inspired by such materials and make a practice of writing alongside their students, their students begin to see that reading and writing provides opportunities to rethinking, recharging and reflecting.

Eleven educators attended the session. We took time to discuss the quality and the variety of materials presented. The themes embedded in this literature were those issues that should not be taboo in social studies classroom: politics, race, ethnicity, poverty, class, gender, national identity, immigration, and the relationship between the U.S. and Canada. We talked about ways to use these primary sources in the classroom. It became clear that making room for Canadian content in their U.S. History courses, World History, as well as in Civics or Contemporary World Problems courses was manageable.

The teachers stated that the highlights of the session included selections from Canadian slam poet Shane Kocyzan ( “This is my voice” and “Grandma’s Got It Going On”, a piece from C.R. Avery ( a short version of “Pierre Elliott Trudeau” )and finally one song from dub poet Lillian Allen(“I fight back ”

I brought too much to share. I had hoped to use Chester Brown’s graphic history on Louis Riel to segue into the present day discussions surrounding the now worldwide “Idle No More” movement that started among Canadian First Nations activists last year. Towards the end of the session, we all wrote. There was only enough time to for one person to share what was created. Still, we crossed the border—together.

Paulette Thompson is a high school Humanities teacher at the Ida B. Wells School for Social Justice @ University of Washington. Along with being a graduate student in the U.W. College of Education, she is also a longtime supporter of the Canadian Studies Centre.