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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Agriculture, the land, and education : British Columbia, 1914-1929 Jones, David C.


Canadian interest in a vanishing rural civilization before the First War was epitomized in the Agricultural Instruction Act of 1913. Encouraging agricultural education, the Act provided funds, expertise, and national determination in the quest to regenerate the rural areas. In British Columbia the Federal and Provincial Departments of Agriculture, the University, and the schools all offered agricultural education. Spurred by the Act, the schools in particular rode a tide of increasing influence as the key educative institution in society. The programme in British Columbian schools, established by J.W. Gibson, was unique in Canada for its "district supervisors" appointed to rural municipalities as beacons of light and missionaries to the hinterlands. Gibson's programme focussed upon school grounds beautification, school gardening, and livestock. At first the most important concern was gardening. The long drought, summer care difficulties, frost, marketing problems, marauding, vandalism and infestations of mice and cut worms all weakened the gardening mission by 1920. Skilfully the supervisors reshaped the gardening reality into a more viable livestock mission. Featuring agricultural clubs, school fairs, and the Coast exhibitions, the new activity also provided opposition to pre-established interests and other expanding agencies of agricultural education. When the Agricultural Instruction Act was discontinued, the fate of the work fell to the province. Unhappily, economic depression and the costly failure of agriculture and rural settlement strained educational finance. Even before the province withdrew support, however, the school's regenerative mission was faltering. The failure of agricultural education was related to what other educational institutions were doing, to the characteristics of teachers, to the social class views of parents and children, to economic conditions, and to the ability of the populace to finance the innovation. Moreover, at the heart of Gibson's mission lay a myth of the land. Gibson's fixation on the character immanent in the soil and his opposition to vocationalism meant that schools could not concern themselves with the practicality of revitalizing rural life. Clearly the solution to the hydra-headed rural problem was more than the school could accomplish. By 1929 the school had actually worsened the rural problem by facilitating the movement from the land. As the school became increasingly important in promoting middle class respectability, upward mobility, and professional orientation, there was increasing public awareness of a hierarchy of occupations at the bottom of which lay farming. The disappearance of district supervisors, school gardening, and Gibson's high school programme signalled a new, educational configuration in the province. Halted in a relentless process of assuming more and more educative functions of society, the school withdrew and dealt more exclusively with what had always been a primary focus--academic knowledge for professional preparation. If Gibson's programme failed, it offered important commentary on the nature and purpose of Canadian schooling. Recent Canadian educational historiography has neglected the history of teachers and teaching, and a number of radical historians have stressed social control as the fundamental purpose of schooling. Contrasting with their emphasis on the malignant influences of social class, racism, sexism, bureaucracy, and the failure of the schools to achieve equal opportunity, the experience of Gibson and his missionaries stressed the constructive purpose of schooling, the delight in learning, the often enthusiastic interchange between teacher and pupil, and the concept of growth.

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