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Making a Middle Class

Making a Middle Class: Student Life in English Canada during the Thirties

Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Making a Middle Class
    Book Description:

    Using a rich array of archival and quantitative sources, and oral testimony from ex-students across Canada, Axelrod explores the characteristics and significance of university life during a trying decade. He describes who went to university, what they were taught, how they amused themselves, how they responded to the pressing political issues of the day, and what became of them after graduation. Axelrod argues that these students shared the aspirations of middle-class communities elsewhere. Dreading the prospect of downward social mobility, they craved the status a university degree and professional credentials might produce. Accordingly, they forged an associational life on campus that challenged the control of paternalistic authorities, perpetuated the values of middle-class culture, and helped them cope with the stresses of the time.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6242-4
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-5)

    Historians traditionally have devoted little scholarly attention to the institutions within which they live their professional lives. There is no shortage of university histories, but so often they take the form of encyclopedic testimonials, are written by retiring administrators with scores to settle or records to defend, and attract more library dust than intellectual excitement. But in different hands employing creative scholarly tools, the study of higher learning is a promising, interesting, and significant field of inquiry. As historian Konrad Jarausch observes, “The history of higher education is too important to be left to the vagaries of anniversary tributes to...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Youth, University, and the Canadian Middle Class
    (pp. 6-19)

    Throughout history universities have unfailingly expressed their devotion to the “pursuit of truth,” yet they have engaged this task neither unconditionally nor in splendid isolation. The varieties of knowledge they have sought, the social conditions under which they have laboured, and the responsibilities assigned to them by outside forces have shaped their character and changed over time.¹ The first two English Canadian colleges – both called “King’s” – were spawned in the Maritimes at the end of the eighteenth century by Christian loyalists seeking to demonstrate both their commitment to “British tradition” and their aversion to American republicanism. As cultural...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Who Went to University?
    (pp. 20-38)

    During the 1930s Canadian universities, like other institutions, trembled in the wake of economic depression. Unlike the economy’s worst victims, however, the universities quavered without collapsing. They and their skittish but determined students were resolved to make the best of a bad situation. For some aspiring graduates, financial obstacles did indeed prove insurmountable, preventing them from enrolling or forcing them to drop out. Those fortunate enough to continue and complete their studies were realistic about their prospects. Modestly middle class in their social origins, most took neither security nor affluence for granted. They craved status and material comfort, though they...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Academic Culture
    (pp. 39-64)

    Nothing is more exalted than the lofty rhetoric of university presidents. Virtually on demand, they can turn convocations and businessmen’s luncheons into grand celebrations of the university’s historic and enduring importance. Facing a fickle public whose view of the university combines deference with scepticism, the effective president, like the trusted preacher, gently but earnestly proselytizes on behalf of a noble and righteous cause.

    As paragons of social respectability, presidents and principals in the 1920s and 1930s attempted to cast universities in their own image. Whether they represented the large, multifaceted schools like McGill and Toronto, the “provincial” institutions like Saskatchewan...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Professional Culture
    (pp. 65-97)

    Professionalism entrenched itself in the halls of higher learning at the end of the nineteenth century. As we noted in chapter I, this development arose from a combination of economic and social pressures that led to both the broadening of the university’s training function and the middleclass search for new means to ensure status and respectability. Traditionally, scholars have portrayed the emergence of professionalism as an organized and efficent process through which specialized talent was provided to consumers in a complex industrial society.¹ Revolutionary changes in science and technology, according to this view, required welleducated experts to absorb and sort...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Associational Life: The Extra-curriculum
    (pp. 98-127)

    In the university of the 1930s learning was not merely an academic exercise. Values and culture considered essential for the full development of the Canadian student found expression in the pervasive and varied extra-curriculum. Students cherished these activities and poured enormous energy into sustaining them. While periodically forced to rein in extreme manifestations of student recreation, university officials were fully aware of the purpose and merits of campus associational life. Conflict between students and faculty periodically erupted, and the potential for confrontation was always present. But it was limited by a number of factors, not the least of which was...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Politics and Social Change: The Student Movement
    (pp. 128-148)

    Canadian students placed a high priority on campus social life, but like previous generations of youth they were not oblivious to politics and world affairs. Throughout history students have participated fervently in reformist and revolutionary movements. The 1930s provided conditions particularly conducive to student activism in Europe and North America. Collapsed capitalist economies, the rise of fascism, and the imminence of war threatened to deface or destroy the world that youth was preparing to enter. Even privileged, educated youth could not be insulated from these enormous pressures. How would they face the challenge? To what degree did their responses involve...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Making a Middle Class
    (pp. 149-166)

    During the Great Depression one could have done worse than be a university student. Unemployed workers, impoverished single mothers, and desperate prairie farmers endured far greater material deprivation than that experienced by typical college youth. And however bleak their immediate prospects, university graduates were armed with credentials that were expected, at some point, to pay rewarding dividends. But as this study has suggested, most students took nothing for granted. Unquestionably determined to enjoy the rich campus social life, they knew that occasional bouts of adolescent frivolity would soon give way to the more serious business of earning a living and...

  14. APPENDIX A: A Note on Methodology and Sources
    (pp. 167-173)
  15. APPENDIX B: Classification of Occupations
    (pp. 174-178)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 179-260)
  17. Index
    (pp. 261-269)