Thinking critically, creatively and collaboratively about Remembrance Day

Published: Nov 7, 2017

Official stories: the ones we learn from schools, memorials, the news and museums celebrate the same heroes often ignoring more full and more complicated narratives. There are other powerful stories outside of the official versions – and they exist freely on their own.

-Jeff Thomas, artist

During the school year, following the excitement of Halloween, educators are sometimes left unprepared for Remembrance Day. Perhaps this is one reason why November 11th is often commemorated in conventional and predictable ways in schools. While there certainly is value in tradition and ceremony, Remembrance Day can be even more significant and worthwhile if students are asked to think deeply about different aspects of war and peace, conflict and remembrance.

How does one approach critical thinking in an appropriate way when it comes to remembering Canada’s war dead? Teachers might invite students to reflect on various historical and/or contemporary reactions to our participation in conflict or even Remembrance Day itself. For instance, the White Poppy movement is an example of students and other Canadians expressing their resistance to participating in, what feels to some, a celebration of Canada’s violent participation in international conflict. From the perspective of those who endure the challenges of war injuries or the loss of loved ones, these protests or refusals to acknowledge their sacrifice, during but one calendar day of the year, can be perceived as profoundly disrespectful and hurtful. One can see the potential for thoughtful and respectful analysis of these two divergent views.

For some educators, creating a thinking classroom might involve examining various perspectives of our government’s acquiescence in the British war effort in WWI; others might examine Canada’s refusal to participate in the American invasion of Iraq (2003); others might use a comparison of the 1917 conscription crisis from Indigenous, English and French viewpoints.

Using primary and secondary documents would be a worthy way to invite critical, creative and collaborative responses to questions such as:

  • How have Canadians successfully protested war historically?
  • What are three meaningful ways to show one’s support for soldiers and veterans?
  • What is a powerful way to commemorate Remembrance Day?
As students explore questions such as these, they begin to understand the solemnity and complexity of a nation’s wartime decision-making, and can start to shape the traditions of remembrance and commemoration in their own lives.

Extend the discussion

Check out the primary and secondary documents in the History Docs set, Canadians’ reactions to the start of WWI, including photographs, interviews, letters-to-the editor, newspaper articles, pamphlets, speeches, political cartoons, journal articles and websites.

The Strategies for investigating historical documents section of our website contains ideas to help students develop the tools to critically investigate historical documents.

Let us know your thoughts.

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