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How Schools Worked

How Schools Worked: Public Education in English Canada, 1900-1940

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 512
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  • Book Info
    How Schools Worked
    Book Description:

    Between the 1880s and the 1940s, children in English Canada encountered schools and school systems profoundly different from today's. In How Schools Worked, R.D. Gidney and W.P.J. Millar map the contours of that world, retrieving it from the obscurity created not only by the passage of time but by fundamental shifts in organization, pedagogical values, and beliefs about the role of public education. Moving beyond the rhetoric on school reform that marked the period, How Schools Worked focuses squarely on schooling itself. How many children went to elementary or secondary school, how often, and for how long? What was the range of their educational attainments? How were their patterns of attendance influenced by social class, gender, and where they lived? What and how were they taught? How were they assessed and promoted from grade to grade? What were their teachers' qualifications and experience? What were their school buildings like? Who paid the bills and how much did they pay? How well or badly were children and young people served by their schools? And how did answers to these questions change over time? A sympathetic yet critical analysis, How Schools Worked is a portrait of a complex enterprise at work. Gidney and Millar offer a rich understanding of the period, a reappraisal of some major debates, and insights into educational issues that perplex us still.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8730-4
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-2)

    Between the 1880s and the 1940s, several generations of children in English Canada encountered a school system where the principles and practices, customary assumptions and institutional structures, were profoundly different than they are today. Dropped back, indeed, by the proverbial time machine into the classrooms of 1900, or even 1940, nearly all of those born after mid-century would find themselves in an environment that was, at the very least, disconcertingly unfamiliar, if not forbiddingly alien. Our aim is to map the main contours of that system. In doing so, we hope to rescue it from an increasing degree of obscurity...

  8. 1 Essential Contexts
    (pp. 3-11)

    We begin with three necessary “prefaces” that together provide the scaffolding upon which the rest of the text is built. The first focuses on the institutional infrastructure for public education in the early twentieth century. The second confronts the problem of accounting for provincial differences. And the third constitutes a brief overview of the kind of society that provided the context for schooling in the period.

    By the turn of the twentieth century, there existed a well-established legal framework common to most provincial school systems, and it would undergo few changes before 1940. Since all the chapters that follow assume...

  9. 2 Patterns of Attendance
    (pp. 12-50)

    Between 1900 and 1951, the number of Canadian children and young people increased from about 1,760,000 to over 3,500,000. Even in the first decade of the century most of them went to school for a few years, and in the years that followed, more and more stayed in school for longer periods of time. Thus school enrolments increased substantially, from something like a million in 1900 to nearly 2,400,000 at mid-century.¹ Most of this growth took place in the early decades of the century and was concentrated, indeed, in the first twenty-five years. In English Canada, from 1910 to 1915...

  10. 3 Explaining the Patterns
    (pp. 51-79)

    We have, then, patterns of attendance that included substantial though diminishing levels of grade retardation; early school-leaving and limited levels of educational attainment for the majority of Canadian children; significant differences between boys and girls, rural and urban children, and various ethnic groups; and, for a growing minority of youngsters, some exposure to secondary education. How are these patterns to be explained? They arose, in part, from internal characteristics of the school system itself, and some of the changes can be best explained that way.* Here, however, we want to focus on the social context — the circumstances of people’s lives...

  11. 4 Schools
    (pp. 80-123)

    When children went off to school in the early twentieth century, what kind of schools did they attend? What kind of buildings and classrooms could they expect to learn in? What other facilities and services were available to them, and what were the variations they might encounter?

    Consider, first, the character of one big-city school system throughout the first half of the twentieth century. In 1901 the population of Winnipeg was a modest 42,340; by 1921 it had swollen to 179,087. In the first decade of the century it had risen from Canada’s sixth to its third largest city, smaller...

  12. 5 Teachers
    (pp. 124-150)

    What of the teachers who staffed the schools of English Canada during the first four or five decades of the twentieth century? We begin with a brief overview of their numbers, then turn to a much more intensive analysis of the occupational characteristics of the workforce: the formal qualifications required for entry to teaching, the level of academic and professional qualifications teachers actually acquired, the amount of experience they brought to the job, and the ethnic and social composition of the occupation. Since teaching engaged both men and women, we will also explore how qualifications, experience, and some other pertinent...

  13. 6 Money
    (pp. 151-178)

    Does money matter? Obviously so. If children are to be educated, schools have to be built, equipped, and maintained, and teachers have to be hired and paid. Ultimately, the edifice of public education rests on dollars and cents, contributed, willingly or not, by the nation’s taxpayers. But more than that, financial resources are the final arbiter of the quantity and quality of schooling. Money underpins the ability to attract and hold good teachers, the breadth of the curricula and the other educational services schools offer, the pupil-teacher ratios in individual classrooms, the quality of the physical plant, the accessibility of...

  14. 7 The Crisis in Educational Finance: 1930–1939
    (pp. 179-196)

    The Great Depression began with no more than modest cuts in spending, and the national totals obscure even these, since the first reductions in the three most westerly provinces were countered by increasing expenditure everywhere else through 1930 or 1931.¹ There was, in other words, no sudden catastrophic reversal of fortune, and the full impact was slow to make itself felt. By 1933 or 1934, however, the damage was obvious everywhere. In 1930 total provincial revenues for education peaked at close to $97 million; by 1935 they had fallen to $79 million.² Per capita spending on the schools dropped from...

  15. 8 The Organization of Instruction
    (pp. 197-222)

    How did teachers know what to teach? How did they know if their pupils were learning what was taught? How indeed did they knowhowto teach or what constituted exemplary pedagogy? How did anyone else know if the teachers were earning their keep by providing effective instruction? In the early twentieth century or at any other time, these questions went to the heart of the educational enterprise: What is it that children are to be taught? How are they to be taught? How is their progress to be assessed? How is public accountability to be achieved? And it is...

  16. 9 The Examination System and Its Fate
    (pp. 223-243)

    At the beginning of the twentieth century, indeed well before that, instruction in Canadian schools was organized not only through a graded program of studies, but also by a set of rules and conventions governing the adjudication of pupil progress through the grades and teacher accountability for efficient instruction. These formal and informal rules established the criteria for promotion from grade to grade, the approved tools for assessing achievement, the guidelines for rates of promotion, and the prerequisites for the award of provincial certificates testifying to the completion of particular grades or programs.

    Unlike the prescribed curriculum, tidily laid out...

  17. 10 The Secondary School Program at Work
    (pp. 244-270)

    In the elementary schools there was a high degree of congruence between the prescribed program of studies and what was actually taught. The nature of the elementary curriculum made it the common base for all subsequent learning, so that, within the core subjects at least, schools large or small, urban or rural, and those in different provinces all taught pretty much the same thing. Was this equally true of the secondary school? Especially after 1920 provincial programs were broadened through the creation of new course packages and subject options. But just how widely were such innovations introduced? And even when...

  18. 11 The Teacher’s Work
    (pp. 271-299)

    If the organization of instruction was largely directed by the provincial departments of education, it was teachers who translated regulations, policies, and programs of studies into classroom practice. In this chapter we turn to the teacher’s pedagogical work. The weight of the chapter, however, falls upon the work of the rural teacher. While we devote some attention to the urban classroom, it is mainly to highlight the contrast between the urban, multi-grade school and its rural counterpart.¹ We begin, nonetheless, with the commonalities and more particularly the way in which law and custom determined the work routines that all teachers...

  19. 12 Supervisors and Their Work
    (pp. 300-339)

    To what extent was the work of the teacher supervised, how was it done, and by whom? These three questions provide the focus for this chapter. We title it “Supervisors ... ” rather than “Inspectors” for two reasons. First, we are dealing not only with the provincial inspectorate but with other kinds of supervisors as well. More important, there is the dual connotation that supervision carries: on the one hand, the quasi-police or surveillance function implied by inspection; on the other, the notion of assistance, support, and the improvement of instruction. Across the period, and however subsidiary it might have...

  20. 13 Questions of Quality
    (pp. 340-360)

    At least one important question remains: to what extent did the schools serve children well or badly, or not serve them at all? We begin with the quantity of educational provision; it is, after all, a prerequisite for quality. So we ask how much schooling was available to children in the first four or five decades of the twentieth century, and how inclusive was it? Next, we try to assess the quality of instruction: how well or badly did teachers do their jobs? Finally, both questions raise a related issue: the extent to which the schools lived up to the...

  21. Epitaph
    (pp. 361-364)

    We have tried in this book to portray a complex enterprise at work, to illustrate its operational assumptions, organizational structures, and pedagogical practices. Originating in the middle decades of the nineteenth century and reaching maturity in the two or three decades on either side of the turn of the twentieth, this quintessentially Victorian school system was already beginning to fray at the edges. New currents of opinion about what constituted an appropriate education for the modern age were one reason, but no less important was a series of changes in the social and economic environment. There had always been inequalities...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 365-486)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 487-512)
  24. Index
    (pp. 513-518)
  25. Appendices
    (pp. 1-82)