Creating Schools: Part I

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Normal School, Winnipeg 1906. Archives of Manitoba via mhs.mb.ca

The notion of public schools in Canada is relatively novel. By the turn of the 19th century, there were only 40 schools serving 160 000 French Canadians and a handful of schools designed by the Anglican Church to serve the English population through the British colonies (Axelrod, 1997, pp. 5-7). And most of the schools were in no way or form created to serve large swaths of the population. In fact since the substantive arrival of Europeans to this continent in the early 17th century, school had been a means to offer moral instruction to a handful of privileged young boys. Schooling was soulcrafting for a select and lucky few

But prior to the calculated rollout of the Indian Residential school system, schools in Canada, particularly in Upper and Lower Canada following the Constitutional Act of 1791, merely sought to educate young men to become priests, be they Anglican or Catholic. At the beginning of the 19th century, survival, not schooling, was on the minds of settlers who were coming up from the United States or from Europe. Life in rural Upper or Lower Canada was harsh and farm work demanded the whole family unit. There was an intense vulnerability to this life — a simple accident with an axe could lead to a painful and drawn out death.

But by 1840, with the political merger of French and English through Lafontaine and Baldwin’s reform movement, there was a greater demand for some form of public schooling. The rebellions a few years earlier, led by Mackenzie and Papineau, also called into question the need for a more just and democratic society that needed educated citizens — or at least fewer rebellions (Axelrod, 1997, p. 25).

And as today, the purposes for schooling differed. Historian and educator Ken Osborne argues that by mid century, “Conservatives saw schools as a force for social stability, a way of accepting their place in the world,” and Liberals envisioned school “as a basic human right, a way of preparing people for peaceful change and progress.” (1999, p. 7).

Not much has changed in current discourse. We can often get trapped in the polarizing debate between the conception of education as a pipeline into industry or as citizenship education, or as a nation-building project. The continuity of this historical exchange informs us that everyone has a stake in education, that we care deeply about it, and that we want the best for kids.

But what did change by Confederation in 1867 and the responsibility of public schools being handed to the provinces, was that through “industrialism, nationalism, and democracy,” Canada began to develop a public education system that slowly began to include more and more people (Osborne, 1999, p. 7.) 

As more girls and boys were being schooled in basic literacy and religious instruction, Canada also began its genocidal practice of tearing indigenous children away from families — ushering in decades of oppression and marginalization that is still ever present in 2019. While the second article in this series will focus exclusively on the design and impact of the Indian Residential School system, it is problematic to separate it from a discussion on public schooling in this country. As indigenous leader Kevin Lamoureux argues, education was used as a weapon against the original nations of our country (2019).

But for settlers and newcomers to Canada, Confederation marked a specific time in our shared human experience where schooling and education moved from something only enjoyed by the aristocracy. Sections 92 and 93 of the British North American Act designated public education as purely provincial matter, enshrining ignoring language rights. Canadian public schooling was and is one of the only western countries that does not have a nationally regulated system — and yet somehow all provinces seem to teach very similar curricula.

Back in 1867, however, schooling was a haphazard experiment, even following the superintendency of Egerton Ryerson, who sought to develop a cohesive system of education through Canada West following the Act of Union in 1841. No two schools taught the same, teachers were ill prepared, deprofessionalized and poorly paid, and the students were subjected to religious teachings, rote memorization, and forms of direct instruction that would today seem oppressive. (Baldwin, 2008, p.77).

But what was clear was that schools, schooling, and education were no longer tightly controlled by the various churches. Ryerson and other advocates managed to snatch control and place it within the provinces and locally elected school boards. This ensured, according to political scientist Jennifer Wallner, that school systems were more responsive to the local community, that they were democratically run, and that far off administrations were not trying to manage schooling from afar (2014, p. 128).

And as the 19th century came to an end, more and more young people were included in schools. In 1867, for example, Canada had a public school enrolment of 682 000 learners; by 1915, this jumped to over 1.5 million. (Wisenthal, 2014).

As schools were becoming an option for more learners, so too did the debate over its purpose grow in intensity. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the coming of the First World War, the debate about the purposes of education began to take shape; arguments linking it to the pipeline into factories, arguments suggesting for citizenship making, and others around nation building, assimilation, and insidious systems of apartheid and genocide.

Schooling by the first decade of the 20th century was responding to the urbanization and industrialization of the country. For boys, the curriculum focused heavily on manual training and for girls it’s purpose was to imbue skills related to the home (Axelrod, 1997, p. 108). But, schools “were obliged to teach more students than ever…,” and “they were expected to enrich students’ minds, perfect their bodies, and attend to their health.”  (p. 126).

Over a century later, we can celebrate that more students than ever attend our schools, that we have incredibly diverse classrooms where all are or should be included, and where the schools assume a community and societal role greater than in 1914. Schools in Manitoba and Canada have become places where educators work with families to mitigate the effects of poverty and colonialism and where outcomes, within the curriculum and beyond, are met to ensure everyone has the basic means for a decent life.

References

Axelrod, P. (1997). The promise of schooling: Education in Canada, 1800-1914. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Baldwin, D. (2008). Teachers, students, and pedagogy: Selected readings and documents in the History of Canadian education. Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry and Whiteside.

Lamoureux, K. (2019, October). The Circle of Courage. Talk presented at the Seven Oaks School Division Admistrator’s Conference, Hecla Island, Manitona

Manitoba Education and Training (2019). A comprehensive review of Manitoba’s Kindergarten to Grade 12 education system. Retrieved September 26th, 2019 from https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/educationreview/docs/public-discussion-paper.pdf

Manitoba students a year behind other provinces, finds OECD | CBC News. (2016, December 6). Retrieved September 27, 2019, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/student-assessment-pisa-oecd-manitoba-1.3883344.

Osborne, K. (1999). Education: A guide to the Canadian school debate — Or, who wants what’s done why? Montreal: McGill Institute Books.

Wallner, J. (2014). Learning to school: Federalism and public schooling in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Wisenthal, M. (2015, July 2). Historical Statistics of Canada, Statistics Canada. Retrieved September 30, 2019, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-516-x/sectionw/4147445-eng.htm.

 

China: An History of Shared Human Existence

This year in the History of Modern China class, we have narrowed our understanding of history into two ideas. the first is what Hegel might call a quest to understand human existence, and the second, as according to Desmond Morton, sees history as a shared human experience.

If this is the case, that history can be qualified by what both Hegel and Morton offer, how does your inquiry into Modern Chinese history help us understand either or both our existence on this planet and how we might conceptualize our shared human experience?

Can you use examples from news articles in recent weeks to help you argue your case? What specific events, movements and people might be fodder for your claims? Read the following article and watch the film from this Aljazera article to help you: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/05/china-cultural-revolution-50-media-blackout-160516050538313.html

Taiping Rebellion

117159-004-AF41477AFor Reading Reflection 5 in the History of Modern China course, we examine arguably one of the most significant events in China’s modern history. We were shocked to find that we new little about this event and very little attention is paid to it by western historians.

We decided to investigate this rebellion, using many of the historical thinking concepts. Here is a sampling of our thinking:

 

https://create.lensoo.com/embed/bv3Z

https://www.showme.com/sma/embed/?s=9FJJG7M

https://www.showme.com/sma/embed/?s=kfu32DA

Myth & History: #Warof1812 #sirJAM

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Taken from the Toronto Star

This week, we have looked a great deal at how Canada’s history has often been transformed into mythology, for better or for worse.

We have analyzed a number of historians, events, and positions related to the supposed mythologies of the Winnipeg General Strike, the War of 1812, and Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. Mcdonald.

We investigated what Desmond Morton referred to in his book Canada: A Short History as the christening of the War of 1812 as Myth (2006, p. 38). From there we looked specifically at the Battle of Queenston Heights from the perspective of two historians, Robert Vineberg and Donald Hickey, who argued that the heroes at Queenston Heights were really Sheaffe and/or Norton, respectively. We then questioned why the Government of would spend $28 Million on commemorations of the War of 1812, when historians, like Morton, seem to deem it not so significant.

Here is an article from the New York Times which looks at the War of 1812 and its politicization. Andrew Cohen is featured in this article and I would encourage you to read his linked article form the Ottawa Citizen (although republished in the Calgary Herald). He suggests that the Harper Government mythologized the War of 1812. Why would the Government do this? Do you agree with Cohen?

Next, as the 200th anniversary of John A.’s birthday is approaching this weekend and all the major papers will be full of “history buffs” explaining why John A. is a hero or villain. (Watch in Saturday’s Winnipeg Free Press.) We read in class Richard Gwyn’s essay on why we should commemorate John A. and we also researched how the Numbered Treaties were essentially negotiated under duress and how the Canadian Government under John A. arguably committed genocide and other atrocities. Here is a review of Daschuk’s book Clearing the Plains which we referenced in our student-led seminars on Big Bear and Riel/Dumont. How is it that John A. can be deemed the Father Figure of Canada, and at the same time have caused such harm?

So…Here we have a few events, people, and positions which have been arguably trumped up as myth. Why do we do this? Why do we create interpretations of history that might be embellished? What does this type of “history” serve? What is our task as critical and historical thinkers when it comes to myth and history?

Do some reading. Do some thinking. Call a classmate and have a conversation about the idea of myth and history, referencing specially the War of 1812, John A. and or the Winnipeg General Strike. Upload your conversation to Soundcloud and tweet it out ususingsirJAM, #Warof1812, and #sjrcanhis. Be sure to use the historical thinking concepts to help you analyze and create arguments. Please tweet out your phone calls by Sunday evening.

“Myth basically serves four functions. The first is the mystical function,… realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery….The second is a cosmological dimension, the dimension with which science is concerned – showing you what shape the universe is, but showing it in such a way that the mystery again comes through…. The third function is the sociological one – supporting and validating a certain social order…. It is the sociological function of myth that has taken over in our world – and it is out of date…. But there is a fourth function of myth, and this is the one that I think everyone must try today to relate to – and that is the pedagogical function, of how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.”

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

A Tale of Two Countries

IMG_1824Canada is a perplexing concept; our country can often be conceptualized in shimmering positivity, and then, upon closer inspection can be dragged through the dusty and bloody streets of reality. This has often been the case when we teach history or have been taught history — we try to dichotomize issues, cultures, and versions of history as an experiment in critical thought or controversy. MacLennan’s Two Solitudes is an obvious example of cultural paradoxes within the “narrative” of Canada, as is the the story of the Winnipeg General Strike.

In Manitoba we experience this in the divide between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. Many Winnipeggers are placing their hope in our new mayor to help bridge these colonial divides and painful scars — a most difficult task to say the least. A recent CBC poll suggest that the divide between indigenous and nonindigenous on prairies and in Red River is considerably and alarminging wide: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/people-on-the-prairies-less-tolerant-cbc-poll-says-1.2831876

In recent weeks, I have also been struck by an increasingly larger divide in Canada that is often left unarticulated – that is our image as a massive expanse of natural beauty contrasted with our 400 year history of resource exploitation. This really hit home when I attended the Hudson Bay Company Archives’ screening of Kevin Nikkel’s film Romance of the Far Fur Country . Nikkel has managed to splice together two hours of original HBC footage from 1919 and curate this silent footage in such a haunting way that the viewer really is able to situate themselves in the fur trade at the beginning of the 20th century.

As beautiful as the film is, however, there is a striking recognition that as the HBC enters into indigenous communities and encounters the immense landscape, that there is only one agenda: resource exploitation, both natural and human.

What follows in the film is a shocking barrage of the treatment of the first peoples of Canada and the land itself. Created by the HBC in 1919 as a celebratory film and ultimately an advertisement for its first department stores, the Company was simply not aware of its savage devastation of all systems on earth – at least this is what I hope.

 

As the film ended and everyone left the Archives of Manitoba, my friend (who I dragged out) and I silently sat in our seats trying to process what we had just witnessed.

A few days later, I came across this photo essay in the Globe and Mail encapsulating life in Fort McMurray. I was astounded at the level of consumerism, greed, and resource exploitation that is completely unabashed.

You will notice one photo of a gentleman in a cowboy hat drinking a Coors’ Light. At first glance I thought nothing of it, and then my uber critical thinker of a wife alerted me to the paradox: A cowboy hat is a symbol of freedom. It conjures up imagery of connection to the land, notions of freedom and autonomy, and a recognition of the interconnectedness of the natural systems that sustain the land. . The fellow in the coffee shop, however, who works for Suncor, is part of a  system of resource exploitation that destroys these vast and wild lands. He’s a slave to consumption and a dogged drive for wealth accumulation above all else. This is not the wild west. This is as well-engineered money generating machine with little room for cowboy antics.

But this does fit with our history. It sounds like the HBC in 1919.

And so, as Canada delves further into oil sands development, pipeline construction, and dependence on fossil fuels, so too continues the dichotomy of Canada. On one hand we have a country jam packed with scientifically-literate, empathetic citizens who cherish our land, water, and air. On the other, we are complicent in an economic and political system that is bent on exploiting natural and human resources. These are  the new two new solitudes of our time.

As Slavoj Zizek suggests, the ecological catastrophes of the present and future will not be solved by free markets and corporations. No, Canada’s sick duality can only be synthesized into a sustainable vision through social and political action. This begins in the homes in Fort McMurray, at the kitchen tables of local constituency associations, and ultimately at the polls in 2015.

Canada’s reputation in the global community has soured as of late; we no longer lead in peacekeeping (we are ranked 65th), we rank first in deforestation, and our record on treating our indigenous peoples speaks for itself. I would reckon that we have an opportunity to build a better Canada — one that is sustainable, innovative, compassionate, and inclusive. Our first step, however, is to take an honest look at what we we have become. Let’s take off our cowboy hats for now. We have to earn the right to wear symbols of freedom. First we need to take the collective action necessary to shed the dichotomies of the past and create one singular and positive vision based on respect for the land and each other.