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School names aren’t the problem — it’s the education

Remembering our past is the only way to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario passed a motion last week calling for school districts to rename schools and buildings named after Sir John A. Macdonald. The reasoning behind this motion is that Canada’s first prime minister played a key role in developing residential schools.

It seems that after centuries of honouring former politicians, inventors, and explorers, society is suddenly realizing their faults — and determining they should not be celebrated. Confederate statues across the United States are being torn down and/or removed after protests and political activists pointed out they are associated with white supremacy and European colonization.

As a history major, I’m well aware there are parts of Canada’s past that are unsavoury. America’s history as a whole is bloody. Our ancestors, as much as we would like to deny it, did some truly horrible things. But, can we acknowledge this past without erasing or ignoring the many accomplishments that helped shape our country? I guess that is the big question nowadays.

For example: John A Macdonald may not have been the ideal role model, but he was integral to the creation of Canada and its first government. Is that not something that should be honoured and recognized?

Residential schools are a part of Canada’s past that is embarrassing, tragic, and simply horrifying, but changing the name of a school won’t erase the pain and suffering they caused. The teacher’s union has said they want this motion to create a conversation — but as teachers, can this be done in a more effective way? It’s a teachers job to make sure children learn their history, science, art, and math. Wouldn’t it be better to incorporate these omissions into a curriculum rather than change the name of a sign in front of a building? As someone with friends who went to a school called Étienne Brûlé, I can attest to the fact that very few knew, or cared, who he was.

I am sure there are many qualified and deserving people in Canada’s history who should be honoured with their name on a school. I agree there should be statues of women, people of colour, and Indigenous leaders in front of schools, hospitals, and government buildings. But, I don’t agree that history can be changed just because we are ashamed of it.

Ultimately, a school name is just a name. If the teacher’s union really wants to make an impact — maybe they should focus on education and not media grabs like this one.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!