HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PUZZLE LIKE ‘O CANADA’? by Ashley Reaume for EDU 5101 Perspectives in Education

HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PUZZLE LIKE ‘O CANADA’? by Ashley Reaume for EDU 5101 Perspectives in Education

Official ‘O Canada’ Lyrics

English version

O Canada!

Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

French version

« O Canada! Terre de nos aïeux,

Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux!

Car ton bras sait porter l’épée,

Il sait porter la croix!

Ton histoire est une épopée

Des plus brillants exploits.

Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,

Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.

Protégera nos foyers et nos droits. »

(Government of Canada, 2015)]

In my previous analysis paper, I argued with the help of Smith (2015) that the lyrics of “O Canada” created a dichotomy, a divide between us and them. I also argued that the anthem itself could be considered a pedagogical tool which (re)enforces this narrative of us versus them. Here, I wish to explore more in depth the repercussions of these dichotomous narratives with the help of various educational theories studied previously in this course. I will investigate even further the problems these narratives and their repercussions pose for all Canadians, and their implications for us as educators of the next generation.

Growing up, going to French Catholic schools, I did not understand the lyrics to ‘O Canada’ which I had been tasked to memorize. However, because of certain words like front (forehead), croix (cross) and foi (faith), I assumed the tone was a religious one, for I was sure these were references to God or Jesus. Once I learned the lyrics in English, this was confirmed – “in all thy son’s command”. At the time, I did not interpret this lyric to be gendered, but religious. Add to that the use of old English similar to that which I was accustomed to hearing at church – “thy” – I never questioned that perspective. It was reflected in my curriculum, in my family, in my community and in the masses I was forced to attend. We were never, as far as I can remember, explicitly taught the intended message behind the lyrics or what the words themselves actually meant. Mostly, my feelings at the time towards the anthem were comparable to how I felt about the Catholic prayers I mindlessly regurgitated. It was a mantra I had to memorize in order to please my teachers, family, and community. Nevertheless, it did not take much time to internalize the feelings of “banal nationalism” (Billig, 1995, as cited in Smith, 2015, p. 3) everyone and everything around me had encouraged having been raised in a small, predominantly white, Southwestern Ontario town. I rarely questioned the validity or ethics of this nationalism, and simply never considered any other perspective.

According to Apple & King (1977), “the forms of knowledge (both overt and covert kinds) one finds within school settings imply notions of power and of economic resources and control” (p. 343). As previously argued, schools impose this knowledge, at least in part, by means of pedagogical tools such as Eurocentric textbooks and, of course, the national anthem (Smith, 2015). If we are to examine this last artifact more closely, we might ask ourselves: what is the covert message? Who fits within the category of us, and who is labelled as them? What does this mean for us/them? “Whose meanings are collected and distributed through the overt and hidden curricula in schools” (Apple & King, 1977, p. 343)?

The covert message, or what Flinders et al. (1986) refer to as the null curriculum, is, “whether recognized or assumed, an educational issue of the first order” (p. 34). Here, let us bring it out of the depths of the null so that it may no longer remain comfortably invisible and unquestioned. Based on the references and images in both languages of a Christian God and of war, it is fair to deduce that the implicit narrative of the Canadian anthem is one of a Christian, European settler. This is the colonial we, our dogmatic national identity. The institutions I attended embodied this Eurocentric ideology of the colonizer. Hence, I was and still am an acting part of the us. Conversely, if we are the colonizers, they must be the colonized, the marginalized, anyone who does not fit our particular vision of who we are. While our children sing proudly of their forefathers, they are silenced. Though the lyrics have changed over the past century (Payton, 2016; Pruden, 2016), the message of O Canada remains the same: there is a clear divide between us and them, and we are more important, so our narrative prevails.

This message becomes deeply ingrained in the psyches of all who are subjected to it, whether they belong to the group which is valued or devalued:

It is into an environment permeated by notions of cultural inferiority, previously unheard of relations to authority and rapid social change that many adults in contemporary Inuit culture were born. (McGregor, 2010, p. 60)

McGregor goes on to articulate, “This embedded in many Inuit youth a sense of shame about their own culture and heritage” (p. 66). For Dewey (1938), the “principle of continuity of experience means that every experience both takes up something from those which have gone before and modifies in some way the quality of those which come after” (p. 35). If we align Dewey’s (1938) theory of experience with McGregor’s (2010) investigation into the troubling history of the Eastern Arctic, we can understand how the horrors many Indigenous youth experienced at the hands of the residential school system and the Catholic church had such a profound impact on any experiences they might have later in life, for:

Every experience affects for better or worse the attitudes which help decide the quality of further experiences, by setting up certain preference and aversion, and making it easier or harder to act for this or that end. (Dewey, 1938, p. 37)

Thus, any experiences we encounter while occupying the space of us or them have the potential to either (re)enforce identities, perspectives and attitudes, or trouble them. Given what has been considered above, this means that due to our experiences in school in regards to the Canadian national anthem, either our existence as valued citizens will be legitimized, or we may question our place in Canadian society. It is clear, then, that the national anthem has the ability to validate the identities of the powerful while marginalizing the powerless. We must also be mindful of “the potency and staying power of these particular social meanings” (Apple & King, 1977, p. 343). All of these facets have “serious implications for citizenship education and the ways that Canadians are able to think of themselves as citizens of this country” (Tupper, 2012, p. 146).

In my last essay, I posed many questions as to how to address the issues the anthem presents: Is it possible to have an anthem accurately represent the diverse/complex/ intertwined/opposing peoples, cultures, religions, histories, beliefs, values and perspectives that exist within a single country? What might that song sound like? What might the lyrics be? Is the existence of an anthem even appropriate, given that it does not acknowledge the wrongs that have been committed within the country? I have not stopped asking myself these questions, and have also begun to ask: (How) can we reconcile these wrongs through an anthem which tells a story in which we all have a place? However, Egan (2003) claims, “While we ponder how questions, another child has learned two things where our children have learned none, and our educational backside remains bare” (p. 16). Let us not, then, remain exposed; let us, instead, take immediate action while keeping all we have seen above in mind. It is time we begin to “unsettle” these narratives (Ng-A-Fook & Milne, 2014; Regan, 2010) and teach our students to question racialized assumptions. According to Kanu & Glor (2006), teaching our children to be “skeptical of mainstream political and social trends and [to] raise moral issues” (p. 101) will cultivate ingenuity and creativity. These are qualities which will be necessary for the new generation to challenge social norms which primarily serve themselves. A new generation which is encouraged to “interrogate […] worldviews” will, in turn, be connected to “the multiplicity of historical accounts” (Ng-A-Fook & Milne, 2014, p. 101). For, indeed, there are always multiple accounts.

Donald (2009), for one, insists that our duty as educators involves “reframing curriculum so that it better serves the needs and priorities of Aboriginal communities” (p. 4). For Tupper (2012), treaty education is both “corrective to the foundational myth of Canada and […] a means of fostering ethically engaged citizenship” (p. 146). I wholeheartedly agree with these suggestions and certainly do not wish to diminish our responsibilities in affirming the histories and identities of our Indigenous students and citizens. I would, however, like to add to these prescriptions the responsibility of ensuring that education also serves the needs of other marginalized groups which find themselves bound to the category of them. I feel that it is our responsibility to reconcile the varying perspectives of our foundational story while also welcoming and validating immigrants who do not necessarily see themselves reflected in this story. This is the chapter we are in the midst of writing as a nation-state. As the narratives we are accustomed to hearing carry the “weight of decades of acceptance behind them” (Apple & King, 1977, p. 343), giving a voice to all of these differing perspectives will certainly not prove to be an easy task.

I argued in my reader response that the classroom should be a space where we foster what Pinar (2011) calls a “complicated conversation” (p.49). As educators, we must perpetually strive to create “an alternative intellectual space away from the center of mainstream teacher education” (Guillory, 2011, p. 26) for, as we have seen, limiting ourselves to the mainstream has concerning implications for our students’ future experiences. In this space, we must work to present differing perspectives which challenge our students’ assumptions and challenge the -isms. Guillory (2011) focused on feminism, its shortcomings, and her search to find a “functional feminism” (p. 23), a feminism which encompassed all of the contradictions she experienced as a hip hop generation Black woman. I shall like to broaden this notion to emphasize the need for a functional nationalism which speaks to all of our complexities as Canadians. This need not be interpreted to have the same meaning for each of us. On the contrary; rather than becoming complacent with narratives of “Either-Or” (Dewey, 1938, p. 17), of us and them, I would like to reiterate the need for pedagogy that plays with the “subtle, intriguing shades of gray” (Morgan, as cited in Guillory, 2011, p. 28) which exist between constructed binaries. I believe Chambers (1994) was speaking to this gray area when she wrote, “the pieces are not unconnected but neither do they easily interlock” (p. 30).

After having carefully considered the wealth of perspectives and educational theories put forth by the various authors referenced in this analysis, we should have arrived at the conclusion that, when it comes to the issue of the Canadian national anthem, “there are no quick fixes” (Guillory, 2011, p. 28). Dewey (1938) himself suggested that the task of a progressive educator was an enormously complicated one. Again, I pose the question: Is it at all possible to create an inclusive anthem which affirms and uplifts all of us; which captures the complexity of Canada, in all its beauty and sorrow, loss and progress, faults and strengths, peoples and perspectives? This is a conversation, I believe, we must have with our students.

We have seen that the Canadian national anthem, thus far, has served to exalt the powerful and silence the powerless. This has serious implications for the identities of all Canadians and the quality of their future experiences. Can we recognize/reconcile the differences in our foundational stories while also welcoming and validating immigrants who are not reflected in this story? If so, how? Questions such as these shall be the first pieces of the puzzle we must lay with and for our students. Though not all the pieces may connect at first, with enough care and dedication to creating spaces for the various shades of gray, I believe that future generations will be able to contribute more and more pieces to the puzzle that is Canadian identity.


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Billig, M. (1995). Banal Nationalism. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. Chambers, C. (1994). Looking for Home: A Work in Progress. Frontier: A Journal of Women Studies, 15(2), 23-50. Retrieved from

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience & Education. New York, NY: Kappa Delta Pi.

Donald, D. (2009). Forts, Curriculum, and Indigenous Métissage: Imagining Decolonization of Aboriginal -Canadian Relations in Educational Contexts. First Nations Perspectives 2(1), 1-24.

Egan, K. (2003). What Is Curriculum?. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 1(1), 9-16.

Flinders, D., Noddings, N., & Thornton, S. J. (1986). The null curriculum: Its theoretical Basis and practical implications. Curriculum Inquiry, 16(1), 33-42. Government of Canada. (2015, November 25). Anthems of Canada. Retrieved from

Guillory, N. (2011). What’s a Hip Hop Feminist Doing in Teacher Education? A Journey Back to Curriulum in Three Acts. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 27(3), 20-32.

Kanu, Y., & Glor, M. (2006). ‘Currere’ to the rescue? Teachers as ‘amateur intellectuals’ in a knowledge society. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 4(2), 101- 122.

McGregor, H. E. (2010). Inuit Education and Schools in the Eastern Arctic. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Ng-A-Fook, N., & Milne, R. (2014). Unsettling our Narrative Encounters within and outside of Canadian Social Studies. Canadian Social Studies, 47(2), 88-109. Payton, L. (2016, June 15). Dying MP present as House votes 225-74 to change ‘O Canada’. Retrieved from

Pinar, W. (2011). What is curriculum theory? New York: Routledge.

Pruden, J. G. (2016, June 30). Is this the end of O Canada as we know it? Retrieved from it/article30724666/

Regan, P. (2010). Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada. UBC Press.

Smith, B. (2015). The Making of Our Home and Native Land: Textbooks, Racialized Deictic Nationalism and the Creation of the National We. Ottawa.

Tupper, J. (2012). Treaty education for ethically engaged citizenship: Settler identities, historical consciousness and the need for reconciliation. Citizenship Teaching & Learning 7(2), 143-156.