UBC Theses and Dissertations
Progressive education and the depression in British Columbia Mann, Jean Simpson
With the onset of the depression in 1929 the Province of British Columbia found itself almost immediately in economic difficulties. As a province dependent to a very great extent on exports of raw and semi-processed products it faced by the winter of 1930 mounting unemployment, with which it was ill-prepared to cope, and declining revenues. The efforts of the Conservative government in power to meet the situation by attempting to implement the policy of a balanced budget were unsuccessful and by 1932 the province was facing a severe financial crisis. In the ensuing failure of morale the Conservatives allowed representatives of the business community, chiefly concentrated in Vancouver, to inspect the activities of all government departments and make recommendations which would help to improve the condition of the provincial treasury. The resultant Kidd Report, as it became known, threw education into high relief and in the subsequent election it became an important issue. The controversy over education brought out a number of issues which had been the cause of debate and dissension since the turn of the century. The question of the best means of financing the schools was the most pressing and.obvious one. Every economic recession in the past had highlighted this problem as schools under such circumstances usually suffered from inadequate local revenues and reduced government grants. In addition the problem was generally exacerbated by an increasing school population. But other questions disturbed educations: what subjects should be taught in schools, what emphasis should be given to traditional academic subjects and what to the more practically oriented ones, what structure of schools was the best, what was the function of public education, and most fundamentally, what was the philosophy of education which should be adopted in the changed and changing world of the twentieth century? Until very recently it has generally been stated by historians and educators writing about education that the changes which were proposed and implemented during the decade of the thirties were the product of a genuinely humanitarian impulse, a desire to make education more democratic and egalitarian, and dedicated to the cultivation of the worth of each individual child. However, the developments in the field of education which occurred under the Liberal administration cast serious doubts on this interpretation. The Liberal victory in the fall of 1933 brought to power in British Columbia a party which under the leadership of T. Dufferin Pattullo was, at least in stated social and economic policy, considerably to the left of the federal Liberal party, but nevertheless strongly committed to the preservation of the capitalist system. Pattullo appointed as Minister of Education G.M. Weir, head of the Department of Education at the University of British Columbia and coauthor of the Putman-Weir Survey, an exhaustive survey of education in the province written in 1925. He was widely known as a progressive educator, one who was in favour of the innovations of the "new education". Such innovations were not new to British Columbia but the reasons for their adoption during the first two decades of the century suggest primarily a desire for the production of a socially and vocationally efficient citizenry, a theme which is also basic to the Putman-Vfeir Survey. Similarly through the years from 1933 to 1940 the sane motivation seems apparent in the words and actions of those educators most responsible for educational change. Both the King Report on School Finance in British Columbia written in 1935 and the extensive curriculum revisions of elementary, junior and senior secondary schools undertaken in 1935, 1936 and 1937 give ample evidence of this. In addition there appears during these years an overriding concern with the preservation of the state. Fearful that the democratic state as they understood it had been placed in jeopardy by an unbridled individualism, educators in British Columbia sought to make the schools primarily the vehicle for what they tented the socializing of the student. In effect this amounted to conditioning him to retain those values which were deemed vital for the state's survival, and to reject those which seemed to act as a barrier to necessary social and economic change.
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