Stefan recently wrote about my experience with
schools and Polish history. Following is a brief summary.
I am well aware that the ignorance in North America
about Polish history is staggering. There are a number of reasons, not the least
being that until recently there was almost nothing available for the
non-specialist in the English language. This
situation has improved in the past 10 years or so though much, much more is
Some years ago I founded a group in Montreal called
The Canadian Foundation for Polish Studies (CFPS). We embarked on an outreach
program with schools and universities here with the following results. Every
year we sponsor at least one lecture or conference at either McGill or Concordia
University. In every case we get the relevant department (usually
history) to be co-sponsors which means the university provides publicity through
its usual channels. Sometimes we cover all the costs, other times the costs
are shared. This year we will have a conference at Universite de Montreal with
all costs assumed by the university.
At the high school level, CFPS sent a
proposal to the English School Board suggesting a teachers' workshop using
the Zegota book and video, and also a dramatic presentation of the letters of
However, we were well aware that Polish history as
such is not a subject that any school will consider a priority. We accepted
this with equanimity. After all, in a country like Canada a school could be
overwhelmed with requests to highlight Armenian, Irish, Ukrainian etc etc etc
The reason CFPS was confident that Zegota and
Krystyna Wituska would be of interest is that they have a universal
significance. We recommended them for use in Moral and Religious Education, a
course that includes studies in human rights, anti-racism, moral courage and so
Consequently, Wituska and Zegota were both used by
teachers in some of their classes. Since the story of Wituska lends itself so
well to dramatization, this play has been presented in quite a few schools since
that initial introduction.
Our role, i.e. CFPS, was to bring this to the
attention of teachers, and we also contributed several books and videos for the
school's teaching resources. We know a number of teachers who have made use of
them though we are not in a position to follow this up.
So far as we know, these materials have been used
in several schools in Toronto, in Edmonton, in a number of schools in the US. At
the University level, at the U of Toronto, the U of Colorado and McGill --
to name just a few.
We have also helped present these
works outside educational institutions. For example, a presentation of
Zegota at the National Library of Canada was attended by senior administrators
from both the Catholic and the Protestant School Boards. Wituska was presented
at an Anglican Youth Synod and at World Youth Day in Toronto.
We also have screened documentaries on Polish
history which were quite well attended. Forgotten Odyssey was one, others
have included the excellent New Zealand Film, The Exiles; the biography of
John Paul II," Witness to Hope"; a wonderful history of Poland told through art,
architecture and music through with the rather dreary title, "A Thousand Years
of Polish History and Culture" and several others.
CFPS also donates books and videos to selected
libraries. All of this is on a fairly limited budget but we do what we
The main point is that we have to make the effort.
nobody will come asking for and looking for, Polish books and films. All
too often in the past, teachers, journalists etc of Polish background did not
want to get involved in any of this. What is encouraging now is that the
younger generation, more or less those under the age of 45, are both more
self-confident and far less reticent in wanting to get their story known. And
they know how to go about it.
Some PBS stations recently started broadcasting
documetnaries about Poland simply because several young Polish Americans made a
strong case for it. Without a demand, there's no supply.
All of this takes time, funds and most important,
networking. But it seems a start has been made.