Canadian Identity and Curriculum Theory: An ecological, Postmodern Perspective by Courtney Beaulne for EDU 5265 Internationalization of Curriculum Studies

Canadian Identity and Curriculum Theory: An ecological, Postmodern Perspective by Courtney Beaulne for EDU 5265 Internationalization of Curriculum Studies

The perplexing nature of attempting to describe the “isness” of Canadian identity makes me wonder if we can truly identify Canadianism. I find that we as Canadians don’t really know what we are. But, many of us know what we are not in relation to others. As I sit in my home office staring at my Crosby 2010 Team Canada Olympic jersey, reading and analyzing “Canadian Identity and Curriculum Theory: An Ecological, Postmodern Perspective,” my mind wanders toward trying to answer the following questions: 1) Can we find something quintessentially Canadian?; 2) Is Canadianism based on places within Canada?; and 3) Why is where we are in relation to who we are such a contested issue for Canadians? Canadian self-identification has seemingly become an outlet for cultural mythology in Canada. However, can we truly essentialize one Canadian identity? Can we only communicate what Canadianism isn’t and not what it is? How might we do both? Before tackling such questions, let us situate the concept of Canadian identity.

In trying to unearth Canadian identity, my train of thought quickly shifts toward two popular Canadian commercials from the early 2000s. The “I am Canadian Rant” and “I am Canadian Anthem” ad campaigns for Molson Canadian beer used nationalist narrative plots as a platform to attempt to depict what it means to be Canadian. Different images relating to a so-called “Canadian culture” were woven through both commercials, including the beaver, log rolling, bilingualism, the maple leaf, toques and hockey, to name a few. “Particular countries,” Atwood (1972) reminds us, “have specific and central symbols which identify their literature” (p. 37). However, for many Canadians, these stereotypical symbols add to the contestation in attempting to believe that identifying what is “here” is more important that “there” (Chambers, 1999; Atwood, 1972). In relation to our patriotic neighbours to the South, we have no problem telling people what we are not (Sumara, Davis & Laidlaw, 2001). I imagine that these commercials did more than just spark Canadian Nationalism. They further contest Canada as a monolithic place. Most of the stereotypes depicted a mythical Eurocentric national narrative of Canada. There was little to no reference of Aboriginal communities, the varying landscapes of our vast country or the many other languages and cultures that make Canada so diverse. This makes me wonder if the school curriculum is just as influenced by popular culture as the students themselves. Atwood (1972) describes this centralized domination when she states that the uniqueness of our Canadian values and artifacts often remain invisible to us. The illustrations of Canada shown by Molson Canadian, although meant to be nationalizing, are in fact aiding in the oppressive assimilation of our identity as Canadians (Wall, 2006). Can Canadianism be captured by a single image? As Sumara, Davis and Laidlaw (2001) ask, do we have essential qualities that we can weave through our curriculum to help provoke narrative diversity? At least for me, Canada as a place itself is not well defined. Where we are in relation to other places has too long been the focus of our identity as Canadians, impinging our ability to properly identify Canadianism.

The “I Am Canadian Rant” is a great example of the “evolving web of interactions that constitute human relations within the more-than-human world” (Sumara, et al., 2001, p. 149), as the stereotypical representations of Canada’s climate, geography and natural resources blend with the personal and collective national narratives that Canadians have constructed. The embrace of the ecological and postmodern theories have aided in the connection between the phenomenological and biological worlds, as well as the refusal to dissociate the two (Sumara, et al., 2001). Phenomenology is used in this paper as a lens to understanding how humans experience and interpret their lifeworld. This focus on the lived experiences of individuals is central in phenomenological studies and lends itself nicely to the ecological sensibility that the paper also brings out. These two frameworks act together to reconceptualize the relationships among actors and circumstance implicated with curriculum theorizing Canada as a dis/unified national narrative. Such theorizing represents what Sumara, Davis and Laidlaw (2001) refer to as ecological postmodernism. A focus on relationships between phenomenology and biology lends itself beautifully to where we in turn “…live with a certain sense of ambiguity, a belief that the nation and the identities of Canadians are continually being created (Sumara, et al., 2001, p. 151). But what are the (geo-culturally) diversified ecological stories of our nation state?

Analogous to the education system itself, Canadian identity is seen as different based on where “here” is in Canada. There are many overlapping histories, geographies, memories and languages that encompass Canada, as our knotted pasts are differentiated depending on where you are in Canada (Sumara, et al., 2001). This idea of differentiation is what has made us weary of calling anything truly Canadian. I argue that the distinguished features of the many areas of Canada make up a mosaic of Canadianism, and not a melting pot of symbols and stereotypes. A “Canadian patchwork of identities” is formed from the changes in geography and language as you make your way across our country. And, I believe this is what Canadian identity is (Sumara, et al., 2001, p. 151). We cannot essentialize one Canadian identity. The problem with Canadian identity formation is getting Canadians to embrace this mosaic and set themselves apart from the ignorance of place that some consciously and/or unconsciously demonstrate.

Chambers (1999) calls for a Canadian curriculum theory that “begins at home but journeys elsewhere” (p. 148). However, a mash-up of theories that begin elsewhere that we try to bring home and call our own is not feasible. We then risk losing ourselves to the shadow of others, especially if our curricular focus is on American ideals put forth through their respective popular culture mediated Hollywood narrative machine. Such overshadowing can impede our ability to survive the curricular world specific to a Canadian geography. As an educator, understanding the importance of theorizing, designing, and facilitating a curriculum with more Canadian content, is essential if we want students to understand both who they are and where they come from. And yet like the articles suggest from last week, such curricular designs are not guaranteed? Nor should they be! Having said this, we should also to include international work to help bridge what we know as our own, and how this work relates to curriculum scholars, administrators and teachers working in other countries.

As Mansfield (2005) reminds us in Geography and Schools: Projecting Geography in the Public Domain in Canada, “we need to teach to our students in a way that they can develop the eyes through which they can view the world as a geographer does”, as if there is no place like here- home- Canada (p. 6). Our challenge as educators is then to create more space for teaching Canadian geographies in the school curriculum. This can be done by creating a clearer image of what elements of geography are taught and the amount of time in the curriculum devoted to these elements, to help strengthen the national ethos of our country. Here it is vital for students to learn to become critical geographers of a Canadian landscape. This attention should not only be given to typical suburban students, but also to newly landed immigrants, and to the First Nation, Inuit, and Métis who live within a historically contested geographical territory that for now is still called Canada. If students can begin to read our Canadian landscape in a different way, maybe they too will see the contested issues of Canadianism portrayed in the “I am Canadian” videos. Then, we may begin to explore curriculum as a fluid verb, not yet predicated on the fixity of an essentialized noun, and live the complex geographical territories of Canadian curricula.


Atwood, M. (1972). Survival: A thematic guide to Canadian literature. Concord, ON: House of Anansi Press.

Chambers, C. (1999). A Topography for Canadian curriculum theory. Canadian Journal of Education, 24(2), 137-150.

Mansfield, T. D. (2005). “Geography and Schools: Projecting Geography in the Public Domain in Canada: A Position Paper”. Presented as a part of the Canadian Association of Geographers Annual Meeting. University of Western Ontario: London, Ontario.

Sumara, D., Davis, B., & Laidlaw, L. (2001). Canadian identity and curriculum Theory: An ecological, postmodern perspective. Canadian Journal of Education, 26(2), pp 144-163.

Tompkins, G. S. (1981). Stability and Change in the Canadian Curriculum. In Donald Wilson’s (1981) Canadian Education in the 1980s, pp 135-158, Alberta: Detselig Enterprises Limited.

Wall, J. (2006). Lecture Slides. GEG 2109: Canada and its Regions. Ottawa, ON: The University of Ottawa.