It was a uniquely Canadian event. More than one-third of our country gathered in front of screens across Canada on Saturday, August 20th to watch The Tragically Hip perform their final concert in Kingston, Ontario. In mid-July I joined a hockey arena full of fans for an event, as they began their tour across Canada, that was far more than just a band playing a concert. For my non-Canadian readers, it is hard to fully give context to the tour and the culminating concert, here is one of many tweets from the final night that attempted to share some perspective:
Of course dozens of newspaper columnists, bloggers and others have tried to give some context to what has happened this summer. Whether it is drawing connections to Terry Fox, or the power of our uniquely Canadian identity, much has been said.
I tend to see events like this differently, through my education window. So, in the afterglow of the summer the Tragically Hip engaged the country, just what are my takeaways, lessons and reminders for our schools and learning. Some good ones, I think, as we start a new year.
We love to gather as a community. While the final concert was broadcast on television, radio and across the internet, people tended to gather together to watch it rather than on their own. Whether it was at community centres, parks, or neighbourhood parties, people wanted to have the shared experience of watching the concert together. Just as while learning can more and more be something done online and alone, the great power of school is that they are gathering places in our community.
Canadian History is Cool and Worth Learning. As a Social Studies teacher, of course I am a little biased. I have always thought this. I often find that students struggle to see Canadian history with the same “cool” factor as US or European history. And those of us who have taught Canadian history may be somewhat to blame. The Tragically Hip regularly sing about Canada and its history with songs like Nautical Disaster (war) to Wheat Kings (crime and punishment) to Fireworks (hockey and the Cold War). Fans probably did not realize they were getting regular history lessons. You can find the stories behind all the Hip songs on A Museum After Dark: The Myth and Mystery of the Tragically Hip.
We have an obligation to be sure our children learn the history of First Nations people in Canada we didn’t learn in school. Lead singer Gord Downie spoke directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the final concert saying:
We’re in good hands, folks, real good hands. He cares about the people way up North, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there. And what’s going on up there ain’t good. It’s maybe worse than it’s ever been, so it’s not on the improve. (But) we’re going to get it fixed and we got the guy to do it, to start, to help.
This work we take exceptionally seriously in our schools. Even within the last five years there have been massive changes to the way we work with local First Nations and how we teach history in schools. Many of us are invested in the work that has come from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and continuing to move this forward. So Downie’s challenge to the Prime Minister is the same challenge that we are taking on in schools.
Music connects people. There is an amazing power of music to bring people together. It was interesting to see the concert on right in the middle of the final weekend of the Summer Olympics. If there are two things that connect people together across geography, culture and language like no other, I think they are music and athletics. This video from the CBC nicely ties together the Olympics and the Tragically Hip. And again, it is just a nice reminder for us in schools that yes reading, writing, math and a host of other academic pursuits matter, but so does music. Music brings communities together and we need music in schools to help connect us.
No dress rehearsal. There are a lot of lyrics one can take from the Tragically Hip to reinforce life lessons. The final song they played at their Kingston concert was Ahead by a Century. And to borrow from the song “No dress rehearsal, this is our life”. Of course given Downie’s medical diagnosis, it was particularly powerful. And again for schools a reminder that grade 1 is not a preparation for grade 2, and grade 7 is not a preparation for high school, nor is high school a preparation for university. Grade 1 is grade 1. We need not live in a continual state of dress rehearsal.
Uniquely Canadian. In our house the final concert opened up a great conversation about the CBC. Why do we have it? Why didn’t they play any commercials? Who owns it? Does the United States have something like the CBC? It was a reminder of some uniquely Canadian institutions that we need to explain, and understand if we want them to be preserved. And of course that was just one example. The online response from inside and outside Canada was that the “event” was something that would unlikely happen elsewhere – which opens up a series of good questions about what is unique about Canada and being Canadian.
I am far from an expert on the Tragically Hip. Including the show in Vancouver, I have now seen them perform live once. I did love to be part of something bigger than me. It is something I think we all thirst for – and something we try to do in schools each day, for us and for our students. The Hip and their tour across Canada helped remind me of some of the core principles of what we are trying to do in school.