Including Thomas Moore in the Curriculum by Stephanie McCann for EDU 5101

Including Thomas Moore in the Curriculum by Stephanie McCann for EDU 5101

Canada is often portrayed as a very welcoming and hospitable country with an extremely noble and honorable past. However, what happens when reread Canada’s past as a grand narrative based on myths, settler ignorance and government manipulation? As Jennifer Tupper (2012) explains, ‘‘all nations depend on forgetting; on forging myths of unity and identity that allow a society to forget its founding crimes; its hidden injuries and divisions, it’s unhealed wounds’’ and Canada is no exception (p.149). Our most silenced, hidden and unhealed history is the colonization of our Indigenous Peoples. Five hundred years later, the ‘‘heritage of North America is still based on paternalism and racism towards Aboriginal Peoples’’ (Chambers, 1994, p.47). A great alternative to understanding the process of colonization in Canada might be the analysis of historical portraits. First portrait that comes to mind is that of student Thomas Moore who was admitted to the Regina Indian Industrial School in 1874. Through an autobiographical account of my educational experiences and with my limitations in mind, I will attempt to analyze the portrait of Thomas Moore as well as explain the importance of including and integrating such narratives in our curriculums.

My artifact is based on what Cynthia Chambers (2004) describe as finding a path with heart: ‘‘to be straight and truthful in your speech and action (…) telling the truth, requires courage and heart’’ (p.6). Thinking about Chambers (2004) statement, my path as a historian is to tell the truth. It is not an understatement when I say that Canada’s history is in dire need of a critical, reflective and narrative intervention. As a Canadian citizen and a History major, it pains me to see that our curriculum is still based on a grand narrative that reproduces ignorance and manipulation. However, I found that artifacts such as historical portraits are great alternatives to understanding history without constricting to cultivated stories included in Eurocentric textbooks. As Kanu & Glor (2006) explain, stories not only need to be shared, but also “understood’’(p. 109). The story of Thomas Moore is one that still needs to be shared and understood by all. The saying that a picture is worth a thousand words cannot be more relevant. The portrait of Thomas Moore not only represents five hundred years of oppression but also how history can be misinterpreted. Although the portrait of Thomas Moore is very significant in understanding parts of our past, it also brings with it a certain number of obstacles. One of the main obstacles, is that we often draw conclusions based our limited historical knowledge. In other words, the observer will make assumptions or reproduce stereotypes due to their prior lived experiences with the school curriculum. Here Dwayne Donald (2009) explains that our past experiences with the history curriculum sought to divide us and create a world of borders (p. 4). Our prior educational, political and social experiences as settlers settling land draws an invisible line between those who remain critical and skeptic and those who are limited by prior settler educational experiences. Although I try to remain as neutral as possible, my conclusions regarding the portrait of Thomas Moore are quite one sided. To understand my subjectivity, I apply the process of currere as explained by Kanu & Glor (2006). And yet, how might we embrace the concept of currere in our daily lives? ‘‘Currere is to commit,” Kanu & Glor remind us, “to continuous learning and reflection (…) which is the practice of skepticism toward all of one’s educational experience’’ (p.103). To begin, I must first regress back in time to my life as a high school student in the Conseil Des Écoles Catholiques Du Centre-Est. The notions such as genocide, colonization, globalization and more precisely the history of the Indian Residential School system were completely absent from our curriculum. I was in complete shock when these notions were first brought up in university. Where did they come from? Why was I not taught this in high school? As a proud Canadian and History major, I was extremely dumbfounded when I realized that the narratives included in our high school history rested upon settler grand narratives, which in turn reproduce a null curriculum.

Unless the Indian Residential Schooling system and the genocide of the Indigenous Peoples are exposed within the null curriculum, we will continue to relegate such historical narratives to the recesses of our historical consciousness (Tupper, 2012). If I was presented with the portrait of Thomas Moore back in my high school years, due to my limited education, I would believe that the portrait represented a positive and progressive transformation. This is justified as my mentality as a high school student was limited due to a certain kind of settler ignorant historical consciousness. However, my historical consciousness underwent a tremendous shift a few years later during my undergrad studies at the University of Ottawa. The Aboriginal Studies Program curriculum reoriented my consciousness toward learning more inclusive historical narratives. Our professors were not afraid of teaching against the grain and included very divergent and creative teachings such as portraits, oral histories, poems, songs and dance. Part of the process of currere calls us to reach toward a space of neutrality where we must distance and detach ourselves from the past and present in order to reimagine the future. Once I detached myself from my secondary teachings, my mind became more aware of my past subjective assumptions, it began to open me up to alternative future possibilities. The portrait of Thomas Moore represents ‘‘interconnections, connections between my life and someone else’s, between the past and present; between the stories of our lives and the stories of our teaching; between the larger narratives of a culture and the smaller narratives that make up a life’’ (Chambers, 1994, p.40). The portrait of Thomas Moore provoked me to realize the need to be critical of our past and present lived experiences with the school curriculum, and in turn each other.

As Kanu & Glor (2006) explain, unless we distance ourselves from our beliefs, our assumptions are based on previous positive and/or negative experiences. I researched the context of Thomas Moore as a student in the Indian Residential Schools. In a National Crime, Milloy (1999) titles the image of Thomas Moore as “before” and “after tuition” (p. 3). They describe the image as an ‘‘expression of what federal policy (…) policy of assimilation, designed to move aboriginal communities from their savage state to that of civilization and this to make in Canada but one community – a non-aboriginal one’’ (Milloy, 1999, p. 3). It is quite clear that the government’s policy was a policy of assimilation. Where the ‘‘colonial system assimilative strategy concentrate on the young, on the thousands of Thomas Moore, boys and girls, Indians (…) they were the vulnerable future of communities and of aboriginal culture’’ (Milloy, 1999, p.9). It is unmistakable that Thomas Moore underwent transformation. We can see that in the image. However our rationalizations differs from one person to the next. Some may call it progress. Whereas others call it civilization. While others call it whitewashing (Milloy, 1999, p. 199). History is a social construction. Therefore it is understandable that some believe that the portrait represents conformity. Unfortunately, the truth is that whitewashing did take place in the Indian Residential Schools. And here, ‘‘history is marked by the persistent neglect and abuse of children’’ (Milloy, 1999, p. xiii). Milloy (1999) describes the process of whitewashing as denying individualism, detachment of previous experiences. Or, what Kanu & Glor (2006) call, ‘‘soul-less standardization’’ (p. 102). The children were denied and detached from any previous experiences and forced to adopt and assimilate the Eurocentric mentality to be ‘‘transformed into useful Christian Canadians’’ (Milloy, 1999, p. xii). Colonization attempted to brainwash Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians into thinking that the ‘‘colonial Euro western knowledge was normal, natural, necessary while Indigenous cultural knowledge was delimited’’ (Tupper, 2012, p.150). The IRS system sought to create an ‘Indian Problem’ where Indigenous children were conceptualized as ‘savages’ who would be educated toward becoming civilized ‘‘useful members of society, intelligent, self-supporting citizens’’ (Milloy, 1999, p.25). As beliefs derive from experiences, it is evident that the Indian Residential Schools would play a big role in the assimilation policy. The system shaped the conscious of the children into believing that they were inferior and needed to adopt the settler lifestyle. The Indian Residential Schools strategies were that ‘‘discipline was curriculum and punishment was pedagogy’’ (Milloy, 1999, p.44). Their educational experiences shifted from time and place to European knowledge. One must understand that their educational experiences such as wayfinding and learning off the land became prohibited and viewed as inferior (Chambers, 2008). The process of brainwashing was necessary in order to attain their goal; colonize the students (Milloy, 1999, p.185). Like Haig-Brown reiterates (2008) a story ‘‘only has meaning if you take the time to listen’’ (p.10).

For my analysis, I took note of the numerous whitewashing elements. The most noticeable whitewashing signs are the physical elements such as appearance, clothing, attire, and landscape etc. In the first portrait, Thomas Moore is standing straight, dressed in traditional clothing, fur, long braided hair, and holding a gun. In the second portrait Thomas Moore is posing on a column wearing a a school uniform, haircut, absent of traditional symbols cultural objects. The educational system wanted to physically prove that the children underwent civil transformation, and in turn were ‘saved’ and conformed to settler society (Milloy, 1999). Was this to prove that the policy of assimilation was working? Looking further, I find that the first image is set in a natural setting such as the outdoors or maybe in a camp as the second is in a modern sophisticated setting. Thomas Moore seems to take a fictional pose for the camera when compared to the first portrait. The staging of the photographs works to make young viewers believe that the children went from a “savage” environment to that of modern civilized society. The juxtaposition of the portraits seek to convey that a state sponsored policy of assimilation was necessary. The physical whitewashing elements are easy to recognize. However, we cannot ignore the mental and spiritual ones. The standardization practices, the abuse and adaptation to settler lifestyle are hidden within the portrait. If we research a bit further we can also see various protocols such as disinfection, military routines, and most importantly prohibitions on the use of traditional lifestyles (Milloy, 1999). In all, my personal view is that Thomas Moore forced transformation from a traditional, surviving and thriving culture to that of the settler constitutes at the very minimum cultural genocide.

It is quite clear that there is a need to be skeptic about our educational experiences. The greater lesson that I take from this analysis is the importance of understanding the limits of one’s historical consciousness and the need to understand different narratives than those taught in the classrooms. As Jennifer Tupper (2012) describes brilliantly, our curriculum demonstrates the ‘‘lack of historical understanding demonstrated by Canadians’’ (p.143). Many historical events have been cultivated by European scholars and have yet to be confronted. We cannot deny that we are not ready to accept the truth of our past as it is ‘‘difficult to relinquish the more comfortable stories of Canada that they have been told and grown accustomed to telling’’ (Donald, 2009, p.4). If we assume then we continue to propagate the lies. To avoid assumptions is to understand that ‘‘nothing has been learned in totality’’ (Chambers, 1994, p.49). As Robinson (2010) explains, we need to reorient our educational systems towards a more progressive and divergent environment whereas ‘‘skills should be learned in environment where the skill is to be practiced. Not learning by reading about them in a book in classroom’’ (as cited by Chambers, 2008, p.119).  The importance of introducing the portrait of Thomas Moore in the classroom is twofold: 1) It demonstrates five hundred years of oppression while confessing how ‘‘Canadian conceptualize their past/present relationships with Aboriginal Peoples’’ (Donald, 2009, p.3); 2) If we do not acknowledge the oppression, fear and abuse, we will continue to further the lies of our past. Our society needs to be aware that these forced transformations were at the expense of a culture, a history and identity. However the notions of superiority and inferiority are still apparent in the 21st century. Can we still see subtle elements of whitewashing in our curriculums today? Are we still trying to canadianize our students? Certainly not to the extent of the Indian Residential Schools but I believe that the main goal has remained. One solution might be able to ‘‘rethink our teachings, and decolonize educational approaches’’ and include our hidden curriculum (Donald, 2009, p.1). Or, as Kanu & Glor (2006) stress, become aware ‘‘of how the system has shaped lives and consciousness’’ and apply the process of currere into our daily lives (p.113). The educational system used and still uses fear and dominance to shape the lives and conscious of our children. Canadianizing the curriculum is still present today. As theorists, scholars and educators, we have a responsibility towards teaching students what and what not to learn. To this end, ‘‘teaching is a responsibility and an act of kindness’’ (Donald, 2009, p.19). In turn, students can be critical and reflective without being limited by the settler borders constituted within their historical consciousness. As educators, we are in dire need to reorient the curriculum and include different narrative interpretations of the images such as Thomas Moore that are put forth in the school curricula.

Cynthia Chambers (2004) reminds us ‘‘beliefs and feelings are drawn from particular places, events and experiences’’ (p.3). The process of currere is primordial to achieve consciousness and to avoid judgments. In my case, it was only in university that I fully understood and realized how brainwashed we are as Canadians about our own history. Society continues to ‘‘inevitably ignore persisting colonist relations’’ (Haig-Brown, 2008, p.17). This goes to prove the importance of reorienting the curriculum by including narratives such as the story of Thomas Moore. As previously mentioned, assumptions that are based on beliefs will either debunk or further the lies of our past. I cannot reiterate enough the need for theorists, scholars and educators to reorient the curriculum to one that is inclusive and to pursue a path of debunking Euro Western cultivated myths. Our society has a responsibility towards our children to teach them how to learn and the need to remain critical and inclusive. The need to reconcile relationships with our Indigenous Peoples has been more urgent than ever. Only once we fully acknowledge our past will the wounds start to heal. Then and only then can we achieve the ‘‘necessary and urgent process of reconciliation’’ (Tupper, 2012, p.144). In essence, that is the importance of including Thomas Moore in our curricula.


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