via GG on Facebook; from news.nationalpost.com
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave ChidleyPrime Minister Stephen Harper addresses a crowd as he highlighted a manufacturers ten-year-tax incentive at a press conference in Windsor, Ont., on Thursday, May 14, 2015.
It’s a looping belt of tyranny that swoops from the South Pacific to Europe and all the way across the Americas. It controls three of the world’s 12 largest economies and the entire global supply of some key resources. It is, in the eyes of the world’s most important, and perhaps only relevant, demographic, a new axis of autocracy and it isn’t centred in Pyongyang, Tehran or Harare but in Canberra, Paris and, yes, Ottawa.
That demographic, of course, is the American teen. And if new U.S. test results are any sign, that all important group doesn’t think highly of us, if it thinks of us at all.
In recent results from the U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress — billed as the Nation’s Report Card — fully 33 per cent of American 8th graders said Canada, Australia and France are dictatorships of one kind or another.
Asked on a national standardized test what the current governments of the three countries have in common, 23 per cent of the 29,000 teens tested chose “they have leaders with absolute power” from the four options available. Another 10 per cent chose “they are controlled by the military” while 12 per cent picked “they discourage participation by citizens in public affairs.”
Fifty four per cent chose the right answer: They have constitutions that limit their power.
It would be simple, and perhaps correct, to dismiss those results, released in late April, as irrelevant to Canadians. After all, 54 per cent isn’t that bad. Only 23 per cent of teens scored at or above proficient on the civics portion of the test in 2014, from which that question was drawn; only 18 per cent did the same for U.S. history.
It might be more a case, in other words, of broad ignorance than it is a Maple Leaf-shaped blind spot in the American middle-school psyche.
One academic, however, believes the question and its answers should be cause for some concern, and not just about the U.S. education system. Kenneth Holland, a professor at Ball State University and the president of the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States, thinks they might be indicative of a larger failure to educate Americans about a key ally and trading partner.
“I think there’s a broader problem and that is that Americans know very little about Canada,” he said.
I think there’s a broader problem and that is that Americans know very little about Canada
Holland doesn’t think the problem is likely to get better any time soon, either. The Canadian government used to fund a program called “Understanding Canada” that provided grants to academics studying Canada around the world. “One purpose of those grants was to provide professional development for K-12 teachers,” Holland said. The federal government eliminated that program in 2012, however. “So there really is very little money now to train teachers who teach those middle schoolers,” he said.
What knowledge American teens do have of Canada is mostly limited to pop culture and a vague idea of Quebec separatism and Mounties, Holland believes. So when the 8th graders chose absolute power or military dictatorship on the test, they likely did so more out of ignorance than any specific knowledge of Stephen Harper or Tony Abbott.
For Holland, though, that is problem unto itself. “Canada is a very important ally of the United States,” he said. “You can see that all over the world right now. Ukraine, Iraq, Syria: Canada is right there fighting alongside the United States.”
That so many American teens think such a close ally is a civilian or military dictatorship — akin to the dastardly French, no less — is, to him, a significant worry. What it isn’t, though, is reason to believe Americans think our actual government, the one with a Parliament in Ottawa, no matter how neutered its members may be, is the next North Korea. It just means they have no idea about our actual government at all.