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UBC Theses and Dissertations

To be and build the glorious world : the educational thought and practice of Watson Thomson, 1899-1946 Welton, Michael Robert


"To Be and Build the Glorious World" examines the educational thought and practice of Watson Thomson, the most passionate and controversial of the activist educators who worked in Canada from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s. Using a contextual biographical methodology, the evolution of Thomson's motivational structure and world-view is examined. The opening chapters identify the educative forces that shaped Thomson's transformative-communitarian educational philosophy. Subsequent chapters analyze the interplay of Thomson's transformative- communitarian vision with the Canadian context—Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. A critical examination of Thomson's educational thought and practice shows that he adopted a consistent modus operandi. For Thomson, study-groups were to be spearheads of social change. Guided by the vision of a new, fully co-operative society, these groups would gradually initiate a social and intellectual revolution. Thomson's spearhead theory, put into practice in many contexts, was most successful in Saskatchewan. There he found support in a left populist culture. Thomson's accomplishments as an adult educator were many. First, he had a significant impact on many individual lives, helping people to see life as an indivisible whole. Second, Thomson participated in, and initiated, a remarkable range of educational ventures, some successful, others not. Thomson's educational thought and practice raises important questions on the relationship between nonformal education, social movements and policy outcomes. Indeed, a close study of Watson Thomson's career reveals the existence of a gentle, but persistent movement towards cultural revitalization in Western Canada in the 1930s and 1940s. Further, it suggests the presence of some unexpected avant-garde themes in the life of the Canadian left. This thesis, then, "explains" Watson Thomson's educational thought and practice contextually. In so doing, it also offers an explanation of the previously undocumented histories of adult education in three prairie provinces.

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