“I do believe he achieved his goal in having students have a more open mind on different cultures, and to see and understand both sides of the story.” – Trent University Student (2015)
My university education forced me to reconsider my ideas of other cultures. Gazing into the eyes of my students, I now see a reflection of my former self; I am reminded of my initial excitement and fascination with difference as I encountered past civilizations in writing. When I teach history, I invite my students to accompany me on a similar journey into the past, one that crosses both chronological and cultural barriers to new lands inhabited by diverse peoples. I emphasize that history—created by men and women from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds—must be presented in a multicultural framework to fully appreciate the complexity of both human actions and historical events. As we study the multiple voices of the past together, I lead my students to the point where they can recognize their own forms of ethnocentrism. By learning to appreciate cultural diversity in the past, students are inspired to open dialogue and discussion in the present.
“He has taught me the importance of critically engaging documents and not taking them at face value.” – Brock University Student (2009)
This cross-cultural journey into bygone societies is as much about self-reflection and discovery as it is about intellectual development. As an instructor, I seek to demonstrate that history—far from being the rote memorization of dates and “facts”—is a creative and imaginative interpretation of the past achieved through both meticulous research and persuasive storytelling. I encourage my students to exercise their own historical imaginations by examining their primary and secondary sources in a careful and critical manner. As they join in the interpretive process, I stress that the work of the historian is by nature incomplete, which means that they can bring new light to historical documents that have been studied for centuries. But as much as I empower them to engage imaginatively with their sources, I remind them that they cannot invent whatever they choose. My goal as a teacher of history is to help my students develop a critical art of reading that challenges both their own assumptions about the world and those of the authors they are investigating.
“I got to exercise my research skills. We took time to learn how to use the Stacks at the library too.” – University of Toronto Student (2017)
Beyond responsibly learning about the past and how to interpret it, I want my students to acquire the information literacy skills they need to succeed in their professional lives. In my courses, I foster an appreciation for academic libraries and the integral role they play in the development and preservation of historical knowledge. Part of my instruction takes place within these physical spaces because students need to understand how scholarly materials are organized. It is important for me that they learn that searching is an art form and that properly citing their sources reflects their generosity and moral character.
“Jason . . . never put down anyone’s idea and instead took them and incorporated them into the lesson.” – Trent University Student (2015)
Stressing the multiple voices of the past and information literacy skills implies openness and humility on my part as an instructor. At the beginning of my classes, I emphasize that I am a co-learner with my students. I tell them that I am excited about what they are going to teach me in both discussions and in their written work. It is important for students to recognize that no instructor knows everything about any given subject, even if they are an expert in that field.