EDUCATION IN UPPER CANADA
History is a race between education and catastrophe.
Ontario's last Royal Commission On Education vowed to usher us into "the mystique of the 21st century" by ensuring that young people emerged from our schools as "knowledgeable, creative, imaginative, thoughtful, reasoning adults." In Upper Canada some two hundred years earlier, the expectations for education pertained more to character development than educational achievement. Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe was concerned less with mystique than with morals. Simcoe's aim for education was the creation ofIn His Own Words
"loyal, virtuous and religious" citizens.
Simcoe was certain that the younger generation was "rapidly returning to barbarism" and he offered as proof of this, youth's zealous search for any source of amusement on Sundays instead of observing the Sabbath as a day of devotion. Why, bemoaned Simcoe, even the Americans recognized the importance of schools and churches. He feared Britain's failure to fund these institutions in Upper Canada would inevitably result in respectable settlers being lured to the United States for the education of their young.
It was, said Simcoe, a national priority to make provision not only to begin, but also to complete the education of people in the province by providing them with schools and with a university.
A liberal education was needed to inculcate upright principles, habits and manners into the rising generation. Only then, maintained Simcoe, could they be expected to fulfill their birthright: the assumption of the leading functions of church and state in the new country.
The Governor had no intention of encouraging multi-culturalism. On the contrary, he felt it was the function of education to consolidate the different customs and ancient prejudices of European settlers into one newly modelled nation, obedient to His Majesty's authority. He feared that failure to see that this was done would doubtless result in students from Upper Canada attending schools in the United States, where their British principles would be perverted and their loyalty undermined.
Simcoe's educational blueprint was not meant for everyone. It was intended solely for bluebloods. Grammar schools were to be built for the children of the principal people in the province. Only the sons of those in the superior classes would be eligible to take advantage of the educational opportunities Simcoe so eagerly sought for his colony. In all the Governor's voluminous correspondence there was no mention of common schools. He believed children of those from 'lower degrees' of life, needed very little learning, and most of what they needed could be picked up as they went along. If something more was necessary it would be provided, but at minimal expense. "Such education as may be necessary for people of the lower orders of life, necessarily requiring but little expense, may at present be provided by their connections and relations."
In England the writer Thomas Hardy railed against such discriminatory attitudes. "The sufferings of honest men are due to the avaricious extortions of that haughty and luxurious class of beings who wanted us to possess no more knowledge than to believe all things were created for the use of that small group of worthless individuals." Outraged reactions like this were slower to occur in Upper Canada, where the "lesser orders" seemed prepared to accept their lot in life, at least for the time being.
Simcoe's educational plans depended on the benevolence of the British government. Upper Canada had no revenues for education until the province's Crown lands began to increase in value. Once they did the land could be sold and the money used for such public expenditures. In the meantime Simcoe pressed the British government for approval of funding for education in Upper Canada, arguing that if Britain was prepared to spend 20,000 pounds to found a university in the Bermudas, why should she not be willing to spend even more for Upper Canada?
Simcoe requested a grant of 1000 pounds annually for buildings and the salaries for two school-masters, whose schools were to be located at Kingston and Niagara. In addition he requested funding for a university at York. All staff for the university - excepting medical professors - had to be clergy of the Church of England and they must be English, not Americans. Only the former had the refinements he considered necessary. He demanded also that they have a thorough knowledge of the 'dead' languages, that is, Latin and Greek, both of which were so essential for their sacred profession.
Simcoe's anxiety about higher education in the colony was not shared by his superiors. Henry Dundas, the secretary of state, saw things differently. With regards to the necessity for a university, he tersely told Simcoe that "the country must make the university, not the university the country." Undaunted Simcoe responded that while Upper Canada was a new country, its settlers were not new people and if they were to assume their rightful place in the Empire, they must have access to adequate facilities for a civilized existence. The views of Dundas prevailed and Simcoe's plans for a university joined the long list of Simcoe's >"public disappointments". It was decreed that for some time to come in the colony, only schools would be required. One of these was to be a first-class preparatory school which the British government was willing to help finance once the province had established it.
As for school masters for the grammar schools Dundas agreed to provide for their maintenance, but given the "nascent state of Upper Canada," he felt that they needed to be competent to teach only reading, writing, accounts and measurement. In keeping with their competence, their stipends were to be modest and intended simply to supplement whatever they received from their scholars. The higher order public schools in which Latin and Greek were taught were to be located at Quebec City or Montreal. Dundas informed Simcoe that there was a good seminary in Nova Scotia which could provide cultivation in the Arts and Sciences, and that during the infancy of Upper Canada this would have to do.
Simcoe knew Upper Canadians would not attend these schools, but would instead send their children south to the nearest American schools. It turned out that Simcoe was right. He would have been horrified to know that not only did the children of Upper Canadians attend American schools, they also studied out of American textbooks in schools in Upper Canada. The availability of British texts was scanty in the early years of the province, and the shortfall was filled by books from the United States. An article that appeared in the Kingston Gazette in 1815 lamented this "unfortunate fact." In addition to the Bible, the only books available to Canadian children were Morse's Geography, American Preceptor,, Columbian Orator, and horror of horrors, The Lives of the Heroes of the Revolution - all American textbooks.
From these books the Canadian students learned that the American Constitution was "the only free constitution,", that their government was "the happiest under Heaven," and "that all others were arbitrary and despotic." American texts taught that all Monarchs, especially George III, were tyrants and monsters and all British subjects were slaves or bondsmen. Not unnaturally it was feared that Upper Canada's future citizens would "insensibly imbibe these repugnant sentiments" and grow up knowing nothing but malicious slanders regarding their sovereign.The editor urged the Provincial Legislature In His Own Words
"to make immediate regulations regarding imported school books and imported teachers" before "we shall all become American citizens in sentiment and custom."
Simcoe's fears were well founded, but he failed to persuade his superiors that his ambitious plan would produce rich dividends for the little settlement in the centre of the continent. In April of 1795 a despondent Simcoe undertook the task of finding a few pious "learned men of zeal and primitive manners" who could be persuaded to accept cheerfully "honourable banishment" to the backwoods of Upper Canada. He asked only that each of them display a religious disposition and proof of morality for which he was prepared to pay a salary of 100 pounds per annum.
Despite receiving a negative response from the Colonial Office, Simcoe persisted respectfully in urging action on his proposal for a university. In a letter to Dundas, he suggested "with all respect and deference," that when money became available from the sale of Crown lands, some of it be used to erect and endow a university which would foster a loyalty, morality and religion that would flourish throughout the province. Over the next fifty years this proposal was regularly revived.
When grammar schools were established in 1807 it was quickly recognized that they were a step in the wrong direction. They were accessible to very few and their courses of study were unsuited to the conditions and needs of the province. Instead of schools to aid the middling and poorer class of his Majesty's subjects, public money was used for the few wealthy inhabitants who reaped the benefits of the grammar schools, students whose parents were sufficiently able without public assistance to support a school in every respect equal to those established by law.
At the opening session of the Legislature in 1816, Sir Francis Gore, Lieutenant Governor frankly admitted what was needed was a system of township schools accessiblt to children of the settlers. From these elementary schools it was expected that a very few woule proceed on to grammar schools and few of the latte would go on to university. Introduced in February 1816, the bill became the Common School Act, the first in a series of decisions establishing common schools in the province. In each of the ten districts into which the province was divided there was to be a board of education charged with responsibility for the courses of study, textbooks and all school rules. Within the district any community having twenty or more children could form a school section with three trustees. These trustees could appoint and dismiss teachers who had to be British subjects or have taken the oath of allegiance. The Legislature voted the sum of $24,000 annually to be apportioned among the districts and the district boards would distribute this among the school sections and if additional money was needed this was to be raised by fees.
Two minor American influences caused concern: American teachers and American textbooks. The latter aroused anger because of "their insidious influence on the minds of the children." History texts were particularly suspicious because of their biased viewpoints. They were used, however, because they were available and nothing else was. Teachers of the time were described by one observer as "ill-fed, ill-clothed and ill-paid." This may have been the case but these individuals came into the remote settlements and gave the children the only instruction they would ever receive.
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