UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The rural school problem in British Columbia in the 1920s Stortz, Paul James


This thesis examines rural schools in British Columbia in the 1920s. Part I (Chapters I and II) discusses difficulties in reforming rural schools generally, and offers an overview of conditions teachers faced in the province's one-room schools. Part II (Chapters III and IV) is a case study of a region in north-central interior of the province. School conditions and the isolated communities in which the schools were located are studied, bringing to the fore the complexity of rural school reform. A wide range of sources was used, primarily Department of Education documents both printed and manuscript which were authored by officials, reformers, inspectors, and teachers. All of these documents are available in the Provincial Archives in Victoria. Local histories, Census of Canada, and a limited number of oral interviews with former teachers were also used. The rural schools in British Columbia in the 1920s were "inefficient." Pupil retardation in one-room schools was rife, and Department of Education officials saw the teacher, the manager of the schoolhouse, as responsible for the problem. Her unpreparedness for remote school work prompted officials to advocate the creation of "rural-minded" teachers who could readily adapt to rural living. This proposal was ultimately stillborn, seriously flawed by the reality of rural school teaching. The majority of teachers were young, single, female teachers placed in a working and living environment which required physical strength and stamina to meet hardship, as well as mental agility in sensitive inter-personal relationships with community members. The normal school had no hope for success in training teachers to overcome such obstacles. Reform was especially misguided because the remote communities in which the schools were located were often impoverished, scattered, and transient, and school conditions were greatly affected by the resulting lack of money and fluctuating pupil enrolment. The pervasiveness of these circumstances was largely overlooked by the inspectors whose brief visits to each school was for pedagogical supervision, and especially by officials viewing the province's hinterland from offices in Victoria. This thesis raises some important questions as to the lack of knowledge urban-minded administrators exhibited of economic and informal political activity in rural communities, and the many problems associated with implementation of Department of Education policies at the local level. As well, the role of community members is highlighted, in particular the influence of their actions on school conditions. Significantly, much of the thesis takes the perspective of the teacher. Her experiences give context to the study of school and community and demonstrate that the solution to the rural school problem was much more complicated than their merely becoming "rural-minded."

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