Mark Perry Transcript

In 2007, I was able to go on a Canadian battlefield tour. It was led by eminent historian Terry Copp. It had a great impact on me as it has with a lot of people, and when I came back I wanted to do something special around that. 

And so, I began to engage students in primary document research, which led to then doing the stories researching the stories of actual people from our area — from Southern New Brunswick. And one of the students said along the way, “Listen why don’t we write the key moments of Canadian history while we do this?” So, we began to do that and we started with those who were killed overseas. 

And then, one of the students said, “Well, why don’t we do the survivors as well — World War I, World War II, men, women?” And, so, that set us on a path to do interviews with family members, with veterans, to do primary document research to delve into secondary sources over a 10-year period. 

It wasn’t a year, it was a 10-year period, maybe 10 to 12 years actually. And the end product were five books and three of the books were published and one ended up being being sold at Indigo in Saint John. So, my students became published authors before they’d finished high school. When that particular cohort of students graduated, the brothers and sisters came in and said, “we’ve heard about this project.” So it led to another set of research and product being a book and then another and another. So we built kind of a program. It was a program of historical thinking and kind of in-depth research.

Everything that I’ve tried to do in teaching history has been centred around the concept of authenticity. I figured if we can mirror the work of the historian in the classroom, students can become historians. So one moment we had students who had interviewed — we’d gone in and done actual interviews in kitchens and living rooms and so on, excavated attics and basements. And during one interview we learned about a man named Charlie Ray and Charlie Ray told us his story. He actually watched a friend die on the the kind of the front of a tank one night. 

So he’s telling this story and one of the students in the living room said, “Mr. Perry, that sounds like the person who I researched.” So what we discovered was Charlie Ray and this man who had died they were friends. But they didn’t know, our students didn’t know, and this person’s surviving daughter didn’t know that Charlie Ray lived in the same city. 

What the students did, was that they introduced Charlie Ray and Murray’s daughter, right? And for each Remembrance Day for another eight years they would meet, have tea and then go to the Remembrance Day ceremony in Saint John together. 

For me, that encapsulates history, is that, if history is just the events of World War I, World War II, the Korean War and so on. It’s really not education. It’s really not where the passion lies. We need to use that as the backdrop and then find our way to the human stories — and that’s what the kids did. 

Students’ abilities in general — you know research is clear on this — their ability to online reason, to find their way to credible sources, to determine what is credible and what is not. It’s challenging for them, right? Their ability to do this is not great. The research is clear on that. 

I see history teachers as, to a degree, the guardians of the human stories. We see the rise of — and I don’t want to be overly serious, but I need to answer the question — we see a rise in antisemitism, for example. Well history teachers can take the lead in making sure that we teach the skills and the content to get students to a place where they can evaluate sources to find themselves close to as accurate a story as possible. If we don’t do that and take the lead on that, it’s at the peril of our civic health. 

There aren’t too many disciplines in the school experience that really authentically, again, problem-solve. There’s a great kind of platform to think critically, to actually teach critical thinking skills, to do the analysis, to compare and contrast concepts, to cross-reference, to triangulate information, right? 

There aren’t too many disciplines where all of those critical thinking skills are kind of home, right? So without a strong history program and people that I think, think this way — and there’s a huge community of people who think this way now — thinking about, thinking historically. Not just teaching history but knowing how history comes to us. Knowing who controls it, what biases we can detect within it. All those skills without the discipline we lose all of — that we lose a great deal of that. 

I shouldn’t kind of overdo it and say that, you know, we are everything, but history educators play a huge role, as I said. You can be leaders in kind of developing citizens that are civically competent, knowledge and skilled or and engaged.