What are Knowledge Gaps?
We live in what many call the "Information Age." Indeed, we may feel both saturated with and even overwhelmed by the amount of "information" available to us and directed at us through a range of media such as television, books, advertisements, news outlets, websites, and increasingly, social media. The sheer volume of information available, however, is profoundly deceptive. "In a world currently serving up fake news and post-truths, it’s easier than ever to consume falsehoods and spout them as fact" (Galileo Educational Network). Information does not become factual simply by being available. The presentation of information (the production and reproduction of "knowledge") remains deeply embedded in broad and far-reaching systemic processes and relations of power: whose perspective is told? to whom? how? to what effects and in whose interests? whose perspective is not told? why not? These kinds of critical questions are fundamental to anti-oppression work as they help us to see how certain assumptions are produced and reproduced to the extent that, for some (usually in privileged locations), they may become "normalized," "dominant," or even "obvious"—even as these assumptions and beliefs may be based on profoundly inaccurate, or partial information. (Click here to learn more about Critical Media Literacy; Scroll to the bottom of the webpage to see a useful video by Dr. Catherine Burwell)
Knowledge Gaps, Education, Citizenship
We often think of Social Studies, our education system, and the formal teaching of "History" when we think about where we have learned about past events and their impacts on the present and the future. However, our understandings of "history," "Canada," and even our relationships to each other are deeply influenced by other sources as well. Our understandings are shaped by what is said and/or represented as well as by what is not said or represented: for example, new outlets (CBC vs. Fox), our political system and practices, entertainment (music, film), literature, and sporting events.
In particular, we need to be attentive to how discourses of citizenship and national identity are produced and reproduced in ways that make certain assumptions and power relations appear "normal" to those they privilege (and in turn, whose privilege is reproduced and re-entrenched). In Canada, there are certain narratives or assumptions about national identity that are at once compelling, popular, idealized, reproduced both internationally and in our education systems, and yet, inaccurate. In his book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson influentially describes nations as "imagined communities," arguing that nothing really connects people within a state border except for the self-perpetuating idea that they form a community, a nation. (Click here to see Anderson's full book in PDF form)
Being Canadian, "Tolerance," Historical Amnesia
Some common themes in dominant Canadian nationalism include anti-Americanism, where it is common to hear statements such as "Canadians are different from Americans because we never had slavery here." (Yes, there was slavery in Canada; Click here to learn about Marcel Trudel's book Canada's Forgotten Slaves: Two Centuries of Bondage). There are also narratives of Canada being distinctive, and superior, because of our high level of "tolerance of difference." This notion of tolerance, however, focuses only on some advances in human rights. For example, we focus on how a Canadian helped create the League of Nations/UN, yet, completely ignored the ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples, the systemic racism inherent in the immigration system, and anti-immigration sentiment (often based on inaccurate information, such as the myth that immigrants "take jobs" from Canadians), the ready acceptance of racial profiling, and so on. The word "tolerance" itself is profoundly problematic, as, in practice, "to tolerate" means "to put up with." (See our definition of Multiculturalism). Instead, words such as "acceptance" should be used, as this is the "[a]ffirmation and recognition of those whose race, religion, nationality, values, beliefs, etc. are different from one’s own” (CRRF Retrieved 5/24/18). One way to think about this problem of intolerance of difference is to think about how Canadian national identity rests on a certain kind of historical amnesia, which focuses on, or remembers, certain aspects of Canadian history but (conveniently for some) overlooks others. Indeed, even the notion that there is no such thing as "Canadian Identity" is a convenient myth that overlooks Canada's implication in imperialism and racism and fails to recognize that dominant Canadian nationalism is grounded in both whiteness (and its sense of superiority and proprietorship over people and place) and imperialism/capitalism. (Click here to learn more about historical amnesia and Lisa Lowe's book The Intimacies of Four Continents)
Identifying Knowledge Gaps
We all have gaps in our knowledge. To assume that it is possible to "know everything" is a rather suspect idea. Yet, each of us have particular experiences, perspectives, and relationships to place and history that can contribute to a fuller and more equitable understanding of Canada and its history. Challenging racism in terms of deconstructing inaccurate perspectives on Canadian history and national identity, then, certainly requires accurate information. It also invites us to critically question how and why certain stories we tell ourselves and others about Canada hold sway and why other stories (especially those that counter the dominant image) are not told, not heard, or presented as an "aberration" in what is otherwise an idealized story. Our section called Learning Actions is designed to begin or support these processes, encouraging participants to identify and come to terms with the implications of gaps in our knowledge.