No Tanks or Guns for History lessons

Living History

For the past 19 years, students at an Ottawa high school have hoisted 10-pound military rifles to feel what it may be like to lug one around in the muddy trenches. They’ve met veterans and heard their stories, learning how their families were affected and what it was like to fight so far from home.

But this year — the year that was supposed to mark the 20th Remembrance Day Symposium at Notre Dame High School — they will get no such chance.

The traditional school event, scheduled for Nov. 10, has been cancelled because of a school committee decision to ensure there were “no tanks or guns” at the event, its co-ordinator told participants in an email last Friday.

History teacher Gene Michaud said he resigned when the committee of school staff decided there cannot be any kind of weaponry at the school — including military replica guns, disabled firearms or military vehicles.

“The idea of having real soldiers with their accoutrements, and vehicles, coupled with you the historians with your impressive displays are no longer possible in the present day schools,” he wrote in the email, obtained by the National Post.

“I could have continued the program by compromising what I have taken years to polish into a comprehensive experiential learning experience. The reason given for not having this program is, ‘no tanks or guns.’ ”

Wayne Mac Culloch, who has been on five tours overseas with the Canadian Armed Forces and participated in the event for years, said he was “shocked” by the cancellation.

“I’m sad for the students who won’t have the contact with the veterans that they were looking forward to,” said the retired major, who is a 40-year veteran.

“It’s felt as quite a blow to a number of veterans and historians who got to give the students a more hands-on appreciation of things that happened in conflict.”

During the day-long event, students would move from classroom to classroom, hear stories from veterans and historians and get to touch military uniforms and equipment. They often have many questions, he said, questions that can’t possibly be answered during a ceremony — which is still planned for Nov. 11 at Notre Dame High.

Mr. Mac Culloch doesn’t think that’s good enough.

“Monuments are wonderful, remembrance ceremonies are helpful, but if that was all that we needed for an education, then a teacher could stand up at the front and describe how arithmetic works and leave it at that,” he said.

“If it’s not good enough for arithmetic, why is it good enough for remembrance?”

The event was cancelled because some students who hail from countries touched by war raised concerns about it last year, said Lauren Rocque, a spokeswoman for the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

“There are many students in that school that come from war-torn countries and when they saw replica guns in the hallway, it did upset them.”

Ms. Rocque was unable to say whether the students had complained to the principal directly.

“The tanks on the front lawn, that upset them too, so the committee decided to take this different direction,” she added.

Mr. Mac Culloch said he doesn’t remember any tanks — just a variety of other military vehicles.

He thinks students from war-torn countries would be glad for the chance to talk to a veteran and to learn about the work they did on the ground — they may even be able to bond over shared experience.

“Of course, if you’ve emigrated to Canada from a failed or failing state, I would expect that there would be memories. But so are the memories amongst the vets, many of whom have operational stress injuries who are there telling these stories,” he said.

“Let no one be under the impression that any of this glorifies the horrors of war…. But if these folks from these other countries had not been helped by Canada, what situation would they be in?”

Mr. Michaud told participants he had tried to get a public school interested in the idea, but was also turned down.

National Post

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