HIST 3510 Portfolio

Documenting Research on the History of Childhood and Education

Welcome to My Portfolio!

Welcome to my ePortfolio! This portfolio serves as a reflection of my learning this semester regarding the history of childhood and education as well as my researching abilities. Use the menu above to navigate the different sections. Enjoy!

Welcome to the History of Childhood and Education

Here I have documented my learning throughout the semester including class lectures, discussions, readings, and outside learning. These aspects have contributed to my understanding of childhood and education in history. As well, the knowledge I have acquired about this topic has contributed to my ability to think historically, and therefore, better conduct research.  Keep scrolling to read about the different aspects of my learning  this semester. Enjoy!

Volunteer Experiences

Volunteering this semester at R.L Clemitson Elementary in Barnhartvale has contributed a lot to my outside learning in this class. Through my volunteer experience, I was able to make many connections to the different aspects of progressivism and traditionalism in modern elementary schools.

One thing that I did notice as a progressive aspect was the inclusion of Indigenous history and culture in the social studies curriculum. In the grade 5 class, we did a project on early Indigenous culture in British Columbia. The students participated in a cultural crafting activity, and then were given a topic to produce a power point on and share with the class. These topics included, the creation of totem poles and their cultural meanings, construction, use, and significance of pithouses, the history and significance of the medicine wheel, and hunting and gathering practices among other topics.  This was something that I do not recall learning in my own educational experience, and relates to our class discussions about ways that we can school for diversity. I think that this class project was a great introduction to Indigenous culture and history and I hope to see more of it in my own work as a teacher.

One thing that disappointed me about the curricula was the lack of emphasis on health and fitness education. I think that, considering the issues we face today around the growing problem of obesity, it is important to educate kids about the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and how to make the best decisions for one’s body. The students in the class I volunteer in have P.E three times per week. This usually involves games or activities to get the kids moving and exercising. Especially into the high school years, I think it would be more beneficial to include more learning about healthy eating habits, and finding fitness regimes that work for individuals rather than simply grading kids for their athletic ability and performance in a P.E class.

I think that as time progresses there will be changes to create a more progressive learning environment that promotes learning for children of all capabilities and circumstances. As a teacher, I hope to contribute to some of these changes to create better learning experiences for students.

Defining Childhood and Education

On our first day of class we defined childhood and education. In regards to the definition of childhood, I was reminded of a quote I had heard before that states, “Childhood is not from birth to a certain age, at which the child has grown and  puts away childish things. Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.” – Edna St. Vincent Millay. This quote made me think that childhood was defined by one’s experiences. Other answers included, the time in which we grow as individuals, a state that is measured by psychological maturity, or a stage of dependence on others for survival. As well, as a class, we came up with many definitions of education, and agreed that education differed depending on race, social class, gender, etc., something that could happen out of the context of a school, and gaining the things that are necessary for survival in the adult world.

Over the course of the term, I found that my ideas about childhood and education have changed as I’ve accumulated more knowledge of the subject both from this class, others, and my experiences volunteering outside of class. As well, my own personal experiences of childhood and education contribute this understanding.

In class we answered questions regarding how our thinking about childhood and education has changed over the course. I’ve included my answers below:

How have your definitions of childhood and education changed as we have explored different course topics this term?

Yes and no. My early ideas of “what is childhood?” included the idea that childhood was largely defined by innocence (ie., “Childhood is the place where nobody dies). My current view holds true to this early idea. After learning about how the ideas of childhood have developed over time, it is clear that there was a greater sense of childhood following the establishment of compulsory education and the reduction of children in the labor force. My learning this semester influenced my thinking about education, which I now understand for the ideas of Egerton Ryerson and its roots in the push for social control. 

What connections are you making between our course materials and other learning?

I am taking English 3180: Children’s Literature, in which we read a variety of early children’s novels. Looking at these stories’ content and messages in reference to their timeline illustrates how ideas of childhood and education have changed over time. As well learning in other history courses I am taking provides more historical context, which helps me to better historicize aspects of childhood and education. 

What are the main takeaways for you from this course?

This course has helped me develop better research skills, a firmer understanding of childhood and education including the foundations and evolution over the years, and how factors such as race, class, and gender can effect one’s educational experience. This course has also given me ideas for how I believe the education system could benefit from changes and more progressive teaching and inclusive curriculum. 

Improvements on Doing Research and Thinking Historically

A visual depiction of my ideas around “thinking historically” September 2016.

Over the course of the semester, I have noticed a large improvement in my research skills and my ability to think historically. In this class, as well as my other history classes (History 2480, History 2700), I was able to practice my research skills and historical thinking with weekly readings. In addition, many class subjects overlapped with each other. Because of this, I was able to gain background knowledge about specific subjects or the context of different time periods, expanding my ability to think historically. As well, having multiple weekly readings and research assignments helped me to develop my research skills simply through practice. My research skills have improved immensely this term through both my expanding knowledge of Canada’s history, and increasing development of my research skills. While I do still have a very far way to come, with more practice I hope I will be able to improve my ability to think historically and my research capabilities.

Much of these improvements have come from my developing ability to think historically. Lat year, in reference to another of my histiry courses, I wrote the following on what I thought it meant to “think historically”:

 

September 7, 2016

History is a chronical of life before the present time. Whether documented or not, it is what happened before now and how it has effected the present. You “do history” by interpreting the given documented information and deciding in what ways it has effected life in the present.

My view on this topic changed over the course of the semester:

November 24, 2016

History 1120 has supplied me, not only with knowledge of Canada’s pre-confederate history, but also with the valuable critical thinking skills required to “do history”. Thinking historically requires critical thinking skills and the ability to think about events in different ways. This kind of flexibility allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of someone in the time that we are studying, rather than thinking about events in an ethnocentric manner, or in the context of our modern lives. Participating in group discussions, attending lectures, completing reading logs, and writing a research paper has helped shape my appreciation for history, and helped me to practice and understand how to think historically.

Group discussions were a very useful aspect in learning to think historically. Discussion of the reading logs amongst the group allowed me to hear and share different thoughts and interpretations of the readings. This was useful because I was able to hear about the different perspectives of my classmates and it allowed me to think about the readings in different ways. Additionally, the questions asked in group discussion challenged me to think about the content of the reading logs in deeper, more holistic ways that related to the development of Canada as a whole.

Reading logs challenged me to think critically and understand the content on a deeper level. They also challenged my ability to scan for specific information. In addition to the content of the reading logs, I found that they helped me to understand how to use citations in Chicago Manual of Style, a skill that was new to me.

Lectures are a crucial component of learning history for a couple of reasons. Most evident is the content of the lectures which gives us general knowledge about Canada’s pre-confederate history. I was able to compare the information from lectures to reading logs and various readings required to write my research paper. The movies shown in lectures were also helpful as they served as a fresh new way of learning about the historical events of Canada.

Finally, writing a research paper served as an important component in my learning. The research paper required the use of all of the critical thinking skills developed throughout the course. It also allowed us to learn more about topics that we found most interesting.

To conclude, I can say that history 1120 has taught me a lot about what history is and how to do it. Coming into this class I was under the assumption that history was written down and accepted, and as historians we were required to know it. I now understand that this is false. History is always changing as we discover new sources of information and open our minds to new possibilities and interpretations of historical events history is done by taking into consideration as many different perspectives as we can and using them to interpret events of the past.

 

The evolution of my research skills and ability to think historically as contributed to my learning across many subjects in history. Through this practice, I am able to improve my ability to do research and think historically and relate subjects across classes and disciplines,

 

 

 

English 3180: Children’s Literature

Over the semester, we discussed the meaning of childhood and how this has changed over time. Many of my ideas regarding this topic were influenced by ideas from my English 3180 class, “Children’s Literature.” In the class we looked at a variety of literature from early fairy tales to modern children’s novels. This included many of the Grimm’s fairy tales (early 1800’s), Alice in Wonderland (1865), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), A Little Princess (1905), Anne of Green Gables (1908), Peter Pan (1911), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), and Holes (1998). Reading the novels in this order demonstrated the way that the ideas of childhood have changed over time. As well, the connections between this class and History 3510 indicate that our understanding of the past doesn’t always come just from articles, but sources such as novels can say a lot about the past as well.

In the early fairy tales, we see that many of the stories serve as tales of morality stressing the importance of obeying one’s parents through the consequences of rebellion and the rewards of obedience. For example, this message is stressed in many versions of what we know today as “The Princess and the Frog,” as well as many versions of our modern, “Little Red Riding Hood.” These early tales are often violent and themes can also include sexual maturity, or sexual predators, and the enforcement of traditional gender roles. Some critics argue that childhood in this time was seen as a time when moral guidance was needed to ensure proper upbringings. One critic, Bruno Bettleheim, argues that it was also thought that children possessed a more violent nature and therefore would respond better to violent themes and outcomes in stories. Though these opinions are based on literary analysis, they can suggest that the way children’s literature is written can reflect how children were seen in certain time periods. Given the research we have done in class regarding children in the early 1800’s (though in class we didn’t go quite as far back as the literature does), including their importance to the family economy, and the difficult circumstances faced by many at a young age, it can be assumed that it may not have been believed that children need to be sheltered from the violence of the world as it is today. In a world where real life hardship existed, perhaps violence in fairy tales was not shocking to children.

There are many inferences we can make about the past from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Published in 1876, the novel has a lot to say about childhood and education, racism, and gender in that time period. The novel suggests that corporal punishment was used often, including in schools. This is often a cause for Tom’s rebellion throughout the novel. The depiction of female characters in the novel as helpless, and the evilness of the corrupt, “Injun Joe,” illustrates the traditional gender assumptions and racism in this time period. Once a beloved children’s novel, the book is now banned from many school libraries for its troublesome content, including the use d the word “nigger.” Not only does this illustrate the way our ideas of what is/is not appropriate for children, it also demonstrates how much our country has changed.

A Little Princess (published in 1905) and Anne of Green Gables (published in 1908) demonstrate how our treatment of children has changed. As well, with schooling being a central part of the plots, also make suggestions about schooling in this time. A central theme in A Little Princess is that of class difference. The main protagonist, Sara, looses her father suddenly to some unnamed “jungle fever'”. We find out that his enormous fortune, which previously afforded Sara much of the luxurious goods, is lost, and Sara is left a penniless orphan. Immediately, Sara is downgraded from a student at her boarding school to a lowly scullery maid. Here, Sara and another maid her age, Becky, are mistreated, and no longer recognized by the adults as children, but as lowly servants. This demonstrates the impact of class in this time. Contributing to this theme, when Sara’s fortune is returned, she returns to her luxurious lifestyle and Becky comes with her, not to enjoy the luxuries as well, but to be her hand maiden. The fact that Becky is unable to gain upward mobility suggests that she is expected to remain in the class that she was born in to. In Anne of Green Gables, the Cuthbert’s send for a little boy to adopt for the purpose of helping out on the farm. Through a miscommunication, they receive Anne instead. They are very displeased, and decide to take her back. This illustrates how important children were in contributing to the family economy. Because the Cuthbert’s sought out a child for the purpose of help on the farm indicates how vital children’s work could be. As well, because of their desire to have a boy, we see that boys’s work was valued over girls. As well, in the novel, Anne mentions that many of the townspeople didn’t approve of the new school teacher because of her progressive methods of teaching, such as providing “field days” and having the children write creative stories.   This relates to our class discussion regarding progressiveness in schools.

In Peter Pan we see prominent gender roles expressed through the difference between the boys’ roles n the island and Wendy’s. While the boys spend all days pretending and having adventures, Wendy’s role throughout the novel remains that of the “pretend” mother for the boys. She makes pretend dinner, gives them pretend medicine, and spends much of her time knitting. This illustrates the larger gender ideologies of the time which designated women and girls to the home and boys and men to the public sphere. As well, the novel, which was originally titled, “The Great White Father,” also displays a large amount of racism regarding the depiction of Tiger Lily’s tribe and their admiration for peter whom they call, “the Great White Father.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reminded me a lot about our readings regarding children’s schooling during the industrial revolution through Charlie’s poverty, and the emphasis on factories as a main source of income. However, the story was published, and takes place in the 60’s. The difference in economic circumstance between Charlie and the other children, representing how class differences effected children in this time period. As well, we see how class differences and bad parenting effect how children turn out. Because the novel serves as a morality tale, outlining the consequences of parents who do not properly parent, or spoil their children, and over-indulgent children. This fits in to our discussions of the regulations around parenting in this time, and the emphasis on the importance of a “scientific” upbringing.

Among other things, the novel, Holes reflects how children can be taken advantage of by adults. The corrupt adults in the novel, the Warden, Mr. Sir, and Mr. Pendanski, use the children to find buried treasure, and constantly mistreat them, demonstrating how children can be taken advantage of by corrupt adults. What is the significance of this moral and what does it say about or attitudes today?

My learning in English 3180 influenced my thinking about childhood and education. As well, it showed me an alternate source that can be used to make interpretations about the past and think historically about the literature I’m reading based on when it was published and the time period it represents.

 

Weekly Discussion Questions

Where do our ideas about childhood and education come from?

At the beginning of this course, I answered that our ideas of childhood and education come from our personal experiences and knowledge. My own experience of childhood and education influences how I think about how children should be treated and what they should be taught which may differ from someone with a different experience. These experiences are effected by a number of factors including race, socio-economic class, geographic location of upbringing, and demographic conditions. Through my learning in History 3510, I have realized that time period is also a large factor in one’s experience of childhood and education. Throughout the semester, we have looked at how early regulations made it difficult for children of racial minorities and low economic status to obtain an adequate education. In later year, we looked at how changing perceptions influenced the ways that school what taught and what the curriculum looked like. A good example of this is the prevailing ideas of “scientific” methods of efficiency that accompanied the industrial era and persisted into the inter- and postwar eras, and their effects on teaching methods and ideals of “proper” parenting techniques. In modern times, as our ideas about childhood and education continue to change, we see new techniques emerging in the classroom, and new ideas about what children should be taught. I have been volunteering this semester at R.L Clemitson Elementary school. Here, I was introduced to many changes recently made in the curriculum regarding the mandatory subjects of education, s well as new regulations regarding feedback. For example, a new subject of teaching has been added called “applied skills.” To fulfill this learning outcome, teachers can do a lesson on cooking, gardening, or any other applied skill they can think of as a fun activity or presentation. As well, new regulations requiring teachers to provide comments for each subject on report cards were also enacted. These changes to education over time reflect the changing ideologies of education “experts.” We saw that much of the early ideals surrounding schooling revolved around ideas of social control, or “Canadianization” of the citizens. As our ideas of what education is meant to provide and techniques regarding the best way to provide them change, so do our experiences of childhood and education. 

Why have young people been compelled to attend school and should this still be the case?

This week, we looked at the effects that mandatory attendance laws had on the working-class family economy and the ability of children of low-income families to attend school. Mandatory attendance laws were enacted to ensure that all children would be compelled to go to school. Among extreme problems in truancy in schools, especially among working-class children, it was assumed that compulsory attendance laws would ensure the goal of instilling Canadian values in all members of the younger generation. What the creators of these truancy laws did not understand was the importance of children to the working class-family economy. While many families were happy to send their children to school, often circumstances did not permit them to do so. Today, we no longer see such economic factors from prohibiting as significant an amount of working-class children from attending schools. Still, there continue to be issues with truancy in many modern schools. Learning from the past, I think that a good solution to solving problems of truancy would be to firs discover the reasons for it. By understanding what keeps children from attending school we  can create more accommodating ways to ensure that all children have the opportunity for an education While I believe that all children should be compelled to obtain an education, I don’t think that this necessarily has to mean attending a public school in the traditional sense. While the traditional school setting works best for some learners, I thi that it is tie that we realize that this approach does not work for all students. 

How do the historical causes of the feminization of teaching relate gendered expectations for girls and boys?

When I was younger, I had a clear understanding of what different jobs were suitable for males and females. I considered being a medical doctor or dentist  to be a male profession, even though I new one or two female doctors, and I considered professions like nursing or teaching to be female professions, though I had a male teacher as well. Gender assumptions that exist and are advocated in our culture have a large influence on how we define and perceive a variety of things, including professions. I think that by reinforcing careers for women that emphasize stereotypical gender assumptions about women’s nurturing qualities contribute to the ways we perceive the abilities of girls and boys. I think that dissociating presumed “gendered attributes” from success in one’s career, we can start to eradicate expectations for girls and boys based on gender, and start advocating expectations for girls and boys to realize their abilities.  

How is separate schooling today similar and/or dissimilar to segregated schooling in Canadian history?

In this week’s readings and lecture we learned about the effects of segregated schooling such as Japanese internment and residential schools. In these instances, we saw how racial discrimination effected many children’s experiences of education. These experiences were largely negative, and often put children in situations that made them victims to corrupt adults and practices. In these cases, their segregation impeded their abilities to gain proper education, and left them damaged. Today, we do not see practices of segregated schooling in this form. One thing we do see is segregated schooling in the form of boarding schools it is arguable that this kind of segregated schooling may provide a better quality of schooling, and more opportunities for sports, academics, and extra curricular activities due to increased private funding. These schools, and therefore the opportunity for a high quality of education is not available to all citizens due to steep tuition rates. In this way, the economic elite still possess an opportunity to a better quality of education than those of poorer classes. 

How can we school for equality or decolonize education based on lessons from the past?

Through volunteering in a grade 5 class this semester, I have noticed some attempt to include Indigenous culture and history, but I believe that this subject remains largely unrecognized as a part of the social studies curriculum. In my  own experiences, I recall learning about some aspects of Indigenous culture in elementary school, such as the potlach, and we focused a bit on Indigenous culture in Social Studies 11 and touched briefly on residential schools, but other than that, my elementary and high school education contributed little to my understanding of Indigenous culture and history. I think that by educating children on the history of Canada’s indigenous people and the discrimination they’ve faced throughout history, such as the Indian Act, residential schools, government neglect of reserve conditions, and social prejudice and mistreatment, we can help to eliminate the prejudice and social stigma that continue to effect the lives of Indigenous people today. By understanding what it has meant t be Canadian in the past, we can work to create a better, more tolerant idea of what it means to be Canadian in the future. 

How have “experts” defined the healthy/normal child and what remains of such definitions for school policies?

Experts have defined the “healthy”/”normal” child to be one that falls under a standardized norm of behavior, sexuality, and intellectual capacity. By setting these kinds of standards to help define “deviant” children from “normal” ones, we create designated places for children in society based largely on the experiences and circumstances that influence their place on a spectrum or score on a test. I think that this method of measuring human worth persists in our schools today. Getting good grades in school, for myself, has never meant being the “smartest.” Getting good grades in school depends on one’s ability to conform to a specific form of “learning.” The ability to learn in a classroom, memorize and apply written information, and produce work that reflects the teacher’s standards and preferences. I think that accommodating alternative learning styles and understanding the influences that might limit some students’ ability to learn in the classroom can help more students to excel in school. 

What has been and continues to be required of students and teachers during times of national crisis and uncertainty?

During times of national crisis and uncertainty it has been required of students and teachers to be prepared for emergencies. We saw though our readings and class discussion that this was especially prominent following the attacks on Pearl Harbor and into the Cold War. Students in this time often had to participate in drills to prepare for nuclear threats. These drills were often accompanied by instructional videos that encouraged them to “duck and cover,” and relayed questionable facts about nuclear bombs. Today, along with fire drills, we now see lock down drills, which are put in place to prepare for threats such as school shootings and other invasions. With an increase of school shootings in the United States, there has been more and more precaution taken in schools such as door lock policies, and strict procedures on children being excused from school or leaving school property with adults. In my home town there was a murder when I was in the 5th grade. Until the murderer was found, our school doors were locked fro the inside while we attended classes, and there were other measures put in place to protect the students while at school, and to make sure thy got home after school. In times of national crisis in history, and today we see an effort to ensure the safety of all students. 

In what ways do our education systems show the roots of progressivism and traditionalism?

Today we see many traditional ideals of schooling as still largely popular in our schools today. Some of these similarities include the classroom structure, evaluation, and dealing with misbehavior and truancy. T think that in these areas, our approach to schooling needs to improve, and attempt to disassociate from traditional ideologies. I think that modern schools show their progressiveness through their changes to teaching methods and curriculum. I think that as we continue to challenge traditional teaching ideologies we can push for a more progressive educational system that will benefit a larger portion of the student population. 

What have been the results of education reforms on diversity in Canada’s education systems?

I believe that, while education reforms on Canada’s diversity have had a positive impact on Canada’s attitude toeards diversity, and the messages we send to the younger generation regarding diversity I think that this part of the curriculum still needs work in this area. By providing more education about different cultures, we can increase our knowledge of diversity and help to create a more open-minded Canada.   

 

Welcome to My Research Project!

Throughout the semester I have been working towards writing a research paper on an aspect of childhood and education in Canadian history. Below I have included my Research Project Proposal, my Primary Document Analysis, and my final Research Paper. Click on each heading to see comments I’ve left on each regarding how they have contributed to my ability to do research and my understanding of the history of childhood and education, as well as the trials and tribulations I encountered along the way. Enjoy!

Welcome to Reading Analyses!

Throughout the semester, we completed weekly readings and analyses outlining how they contributed to our understanding of the history of childhood and education. These readings were an important tool in my learning because they presented new ideas about childhood and education, and they gave me a place to jump off from when finding literature for my research project.  Below you will see a collection of the reading analyses I have completed this semester. Click each heading to see comments I’ve left regarding how the readings contributed to my learning of how to do research and my understanding of the history of childhood and education.

Research Paper

“Free Schools”: The Restrictions That Economic Factors Put on Access to Education for Working-Class Families,

1840-50

Socio-economic status in nineteenth century Canada was an important factor that could have an impact on one’s opportunities. This included the opportunity to obtain a proper education. Due to economic hardship among many working class-families and children’s responsibility to contribute to the family economy, one’s class served as a factor that limited the opportunities for children of poorer classes to obtain an education. The paper will outline how the establishment of free schools increased the number of children from lower classes who could attend school, and the resistance that accompanied that movement. Based on evidence from The York Commonwealth, the paper will outline how this resistance, caused by prejudice on part to the wealthier public, was combated in the media by the encouragement to reduce judgement against poorer classes and advocate education as a major component in the progress of the country. The paper will explain how this suggests that the push for free schools threatened to radically alter the class division. Despite the establishment of free schools, the essay concludes with evidence that suggests that poverty continued to affect the ability of many working-class children to attend school. Together, this evidence indicates that socio-economic status had a large impact on one’s experiences of education in this time.

In “Motherhood and Public Schooling in Victorian Toronto,” Christopher Clubine suggests the 1840s marked the beginning of compulsory schooling as we recognize it today in Canada.[1] He states,

During the decade of the 1840s Ontario legislators passed a series of acts aimed at enlarging the province’s public school system. These schooling promoters looked at the day when every child in the province would attend regularly a school with a centrally designed pedagogy and curriculum.[2]

This statement indicates a desire to see all citizens educated regardless of economic status. In “Teachers and Schools in Early Ontario,” Harry Smaller agrees that 1840 marked the “beginning of the universal state common schools in [Ontario],”[3] and suggests that dominant attitudes before that time failed to accommodate children of lower classes. He states,

To be sure, government funding for some local schools had been provided before that time. However, this support was clearly limited in nature and never intended, by those who were in a position to make such decisions, to provide schooling to the general population. Rather, much of the legislation that existed in the first two or three decades of the nineteenth century was enacted in order to support a limited number of schools for children of the more privileged parents.[4]

Here it is suggested that schooling reform in the 1840s presented a massive shift regarding who had access to education. In “Edgerton Ryerson and the School as an Agent of Political Socialization,” Neil MacDonald suggests that this shift would result in the “elimination or reduction of class conflict.”[5] He indicates that schools were seen, by some, as a means on enforcing social control and creating an educated and ‘moral’ population to ensure society’s success which was seen to depend on the “harmonious and sympathetic relations among various classes.”[6] Neil also argues that the implementation of free schools was also thought to be important in encouraging the working classes to “accommodate themselves to the values of the higher classes.”[7] In “Reform, Literacy, and the Lease: The Price Edward Island Free Education Act of 1852,” Ian Ross Robertson agrees that the implementation of free schools would serve to challenge the class division. Robertson explains that in this time in Prince Edward Island, “leasehold and tenure [was the] predominant mode of production,”[8] meaning residents were either landowners or tenants. Tenants with little to no literacy skills were at a disadvantage when it came to managing their livelihoods. Robertson states, “Many ordinary Islanders in the middle decades of the nineteenth century were incompetent to manage their affairs.”[9] Robertson suggests that the access to education for all was “a means to redress in part the imbalance in power between the landowners who controlled most of the Island, and the working settlers,”[10] indicating that access to free education for all could greatly alter the class division.

Articles in an edition of The York Commonwealth from January 7, 1856 indicate that prejudice towards lower income citizens created a problem in the acceptance of the establishment of free schools. This lack of support limited the ability of some to gain access to government funded public education. The article, “Free Schools” describes, “[t]hose who take the negative side of the question assert with great plausibility, and some reason that Free Schools are not wanted and what costs us nothing is valued little.”[11] The arguments here indicate an assumption made by higher classes that the poor do not possess the same appreciation for education. These arguments, which employ stereotypical assumptions against the class who could most benefit, indicate prejudice towards people of lower classes. These assumptions are reiterated in the ‘Special Notice’, “To Fathers and Mothers,” which emphasizes the importance of parent’s healthcare and how it can affect children. The article states, “[h]ow frequently do we see feeble parents dressed in mourning on account of the death of their beloved children…”[12] The fact that the word “feeble” is used here to describe the parents who suffer these tragedies indicates their tribulations to be a result of their ‘feebleness,’ or lack of strength of character. The article continues, “[w]hat a pity it is, when, by proper care and remedies, all these trials and troubles can be avoided.”[13] The article goes on to advertise a book which contains the afore mentioned proper care techniques and remedies. The fact that this article seems to attack these “feeble parents” for failing to employ adequate health care techniques indicates a large ignorance surrounding the different aspects that may inhibit many families’ ability to acquire health care. For instance, the article encourages the purchase of “Dr. Morse’s Almanac [to] read how diseases are cured,” without taking into consideration that many may not have the means to purchase the book, nor the education to read and comprehend it. This suggests a large degree of prejudice towards lower classes which assumes that inadequate health care is a result of ‘feebleness,’ and not economic circumstances or lack of education. With a nation driven to see the education of all its members, yet restricted by prejudice towards its poorer classes, education for all threatened to radically change the class division. To combat the refusal of these preconceptions, media often made efforts to encourage reconsideration. Efforts to convince society to help the lower classes can be seen throughout the paper.

Many aspects found throughout the newspaper indicate a desire to rid society of the prejudices towards the impoverished and begin to alter the class division. This is prominent in the article, “Free Schools.” After stating the afore mentioned arguments against free schools, the author successfully cuts these points down and persuades the reader of the importance of the free school system. The author urges the reader to see things from the point of view of the impoverished stating, “They have large families and perchance sickness to boot, and to take the merest trifle from such is to take bread out of their mouths, such will not, and can not pay for instruction…”[14] Here the author takes notice of the financial incapability that restricts lower classes from acquiring education, contrasting the notion that they simply do not want education. In addition, the author draws on evidence regarding the success of free schools elsewhere stating, “the attendance is invariably more than a third greater in these localities where Free Schools exist than in those places they do not,”[15] contrasting the argument that “what costs nothing is little appreciated.”[16] Finally, the author urges for the acceptance of free schools by encouraging the idea of community. Focusing on religious sensibilities, the author states, “The right to bear each others’ burdens is a divine law, and requires no comment,”[17] implying that free schools are a Christian responsibility. The argument concludes, “We hope that each and all will look at the subject on its merits without prejudice, and then we have no fear of the result.”[18] By drawing on the audience’s religious beliefs, as well as promoting a lack of prejudice as part of the larger argument for free schools, it is apparent that a change of ideology was needed in order to persuade people to accept the idea of free schools. This push for social change is supported by encouragement to no longer blame the poor for their situation, and to try to help those less fortunate. This is evident in the poetry section which includes a poem titled, “Humble Worth,” which emphasises the equality of man despite economic factors. Aspects of the poem, including the lines, “Is his word to be relied on! / Has his character no blame! / Then I care not if he’s low born – / Then I ask not whence his name…”[19] indicate an encouragement to judge people by their character, and not by their socio-economic status. The poem concludes, “And, if others will disown him / As inferior to their caste, / Let them do it – I befriend him, / As brother to the last”.[20] Here the poet also draws on religious ideas of helping one’s fellow man. The fact that this poem is included in the paper amongst evidence of a large societal prejudice against lower classes and the struggle to achieve free schools, indicates a want, on part of the newspaper, to persuade society to rethink its attitude towards the impoverished. This encouragement to look past socio-economic difference contributes to the push to change society’s views regarding class division.

Aspects of The York Commonwealth also suggest education to be a mandatory component in the progress of the country. The introduction of the paper reads, “The York Commonwealth will always be found to contain the latest and most important Foreign and Provincial news and Markets…”[21] From this we can assume that the content of newspapers in this time, one of only a few credible sources of information, was taken seriously by its readers. Because of this, it can be considered significant that the newspaper contains a number of articles regarding education. Because the introduction states only to include the “most important”[22] news, and because education is discussed so frequently, it can be assumed that education was encouraged as a significant topic of interest.[23] An article titled, “Victoria Square” describes an event in which “[t]he friends of Sabbath schools”[24] were celebrated in Vitoria Square. The article states, “There were about for hundred persons sat down to an excellent tea, and after that was over, the children belonging to the schools recited several amusing and instructive pieces. It is impossible to speak too highly of the nice manner in which the various pieces were recited.”[25] It is clear here that the author viewed the students in very high regard. As well, it is significant that the doings of these school children were considered important enough to be included in a newspaper, an honour regarded highly at this time. This indicates a desire to present education as an important component of society’s progression. Similar to this article, a letter to the editor titled, “School Examination,” discusses results of recent school examinations. The writer states, “It affords me much pleasure in being able to say that the Examination conferred great honour on both teacher and pupils; and far surpassed what many present expected to witness…”[26] Again, the fact that these results were thought important enough to be included in the newspaper speaks to the value put on education and illustrates an interest in many regarding the activities of schools. The letter goes on to list the subjects tested, indicating an interest in school curriculum by adults. The letter concludes, “we may fully believe that, as a whole, we are not behind any nation or people of civilization, education, religion, and liberty.”[27] The fact that the writer uses the success of students in their examinations as evidence to justify the statement, “we are not behind any nation,”[28] suggests that education was enforced as a determinant of the progress of a civilization. This point is echoed in the article, “Free Schools,” which states, “for on the successful education of our children and our youth depends in a great measure the stability and progress of our country,”[29] again, establishing the importance of education in the progress of civilization. This progress is seen to come from building a society that recognizes the needs of its poorer members.

In this time in urban Ontario, many children of working-class families were required to work to support to the family economy.[30] This meant that, regardless of the enactment of free schools, poverty remained a factor that prohibited many children from attending schools. It is suggested by various sources that many children were a vital component of the family economy.[31] This is represented in a photograph of a young girl titled, “Bringing Home The Coal.” The girl appears around 5-7 years old, and stands next to a small cart containing a bag of coal.[32] In the photograph, the girl appears relaxed and comfortable as she leans next to the cart, suggesting that this chore was mundane and that one she is accustomed to doing. In, “Hidden Workers: Child Labour and the Family Economy in Late Nineteenth-Century Urban Ontario,” John Bullen explains the various ways children of lower-class families were expected to contribute to the family economy.[33] He explains that children were often assigned domestic duties within the home which included tasks from cooking[34], and cleaning to looking after younger children or ill family members.[35] As well, children often took on work outside of the home in factories, sweatshops[36]. Some, such as “newsboys,”[37] worked on the streets. In Schooling in Transition: Readings in Canadian History, Sara Burke, et al., suggests that “[a]s public schooling developed after the 1840’s, school administers had to compete for children’s time with the demands of the family economy.”[38] This created new problem of attendance that emerged with the expansion of schools and students,.[39] In reference to this, Clubine draws on the diaries of W.C Wilkinson, “the first and only truant officer appointed in [Ontario] at that time,”[40] and illustrates how many of these incidents of ‘truancy’ occurred amongst children of working class families who were compelled to stay home to help support their families.[41] Clubine draws on examples of excuses as recorded by Wilkinson:

Saw his mother who stated that she kept him at home to bring chips as she was out of wood but would send him in the afternoon.

…she had been kept at home by her mother to assist in domestic duties.

She told me she had been in this country only nine months and her husband were not very successful in maintaining the family, consequently she had to work to assist and of necessity, the elder girl had to be kept at home to mind the children. [42]

Here, Clubine makes it clear that, in many instances, economic factors often prohibited children of lower-class families from attending school, regardless of the enactment of free schools. As well, it can be suggested that these truancy laws threatened the working-class family economy,[43] indicating that the ways that free schools challenged the class division did little to actually alter it.

Despite efforts to alter the disadvantages presented by the class division, socio-economic status remained a large factor that effected the ability of children of working-class families to attend school. The fact that the public showed such resistance to free schools despite campaigns that encouraged sympathy towards the poor and suggested education to be a major component in determining the progress of the country, the establishment of free schools did not change the class division in the radical way that that might have been anticipated. Though the enactment of free schools and truancy laws pushed to broaden the number to students who attended schools, factors of class continued to affect this opportunity. In today’s schools there are a number of systems in place to help support students of lower income families such as lunch programs and after school homework programs for those who do not have a quiet place at home to study. Still, it is arguable that economic factors continue to effect children’s experiences of education.

[1] Christopher Clubine, “Motherhood and Public Schooling in Victorian Toronto,” Schooling in Transition: Readings in Canadian History (2012): 115.

[2] Ibid., 115.

[3] Harry Smaller, “Teachers and Schools in Early Ontario,” Schooling in Transition: Readings in Canadian History (2012): 24.

[4] Ibid., 24.

[5] Neil Macdonald, “Edgerton Ryerson and the School as an Agent of Political Socialization,” Schooling in Transition: Readings in Canadian History of Education (2012): 48.

[6] Ibid., 48.

[7] Ibid., 49

[8] Ian Ross Robertson, “Reform, Literacy, and the Lease: The Price Edward Island Free Education Act of 1852,” Schooling in Transition: Readings in Canadian History of Education (2012): 59.

[9] Ibid., 59.

[10] Ibid., 59.

[11] York Commonwealth, 1856, 2.

[12] Ibid., 3.

[13] Ibid., 3.

[14] Ibid., 2.

[15] Ibid., 2.

[16] Ibid., 2.

[17] Ibid., 2.

[18] Ibid., 2.

[19] Ibid., 4.

[20] Ibid., 4.

[21] Ibid., 1.

[22] Ibid., 1.

[23] Clubine’s article supports the suggestion that schools were held in high regard. She describes that “compulsory attendance legislation was first enacted in Ontario in 1871,” which was enforced by a “truant officer.” The fact that the issue of keeping children in school was supported by government intervention by means of legislation supports the notion that the importance of schooling was recognized by the Canadian government and illustrates the encouragement to value education.:

Christopher Clubine, “Motherhood and Public Schooling in Victorian Toronto,” Schooling in Transition: Readings in Canadian History (2012): 115.

[24] York Commonwealth, 1856, 2

[25] Ibid., 2.

[26] Ibid., 2.

[27] Ibid., 2.

[28] Ibid., 2.

[29] Ibid., 2.

[30] Tracy Penny Light, “Children, Work, and Compulsory Schooling,” (lecture, Thompson Rivers University in “History 3510: The History of Childhood and Education,” Kamloops, BC, September 26, 2017).

[31] It is mentioned in Susan Houston’s, Schooling and Scholars in Nineteenth-Century Ontario, Toronto, that ‘poor children, and those not so poor,” had to work to contribute to the family economy.:

Susan Houston, Schooling and Scholars in Nineteenth-Century Ontario, Toronto, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988): 40.

[32]Bringing Home the Coal. Credit: Public Archives of Canada IPA-1I8224.

[33] John Bullen, “Hidden Workers: Child Labour and the Family Economy in Late Nineteenth-Century Urban Ontario,” Labour / Le Travail 18, (1986): 163-187.

[34] Ibid., 166.

[35] Ibid., 167.

[36] Ibid., 173.

[37] Ibid., 179.

[38] Sara Burke, et al., “Compulsory Schooling and the Family Economy,” Schooling in Transition: Readings in Canadian History, (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2012): 113.

[39] Christopher Clubine, “Motherhood and Public Schooling in Victorian Toronto,” Schooling in Transition: Readings in Canadian History (2012): 115.

[40] Ibid., 116.

[41] Ibid., 117.

[42] Ibid., 118.

[43] Tracy Penny Light, “Children, Work, and Compulsory Schooling,” (lecture, Thompson Rivers University in “History 3510: The History of Childhood and Education,” Kamloops, BC, September 26, 2017).

 

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