For the recent years Canadian local governmental forces turned their attention to the educational field: “ Restructuring efforts and matters of school funding are among the top priorities of every provincial government. Some Provinces are taking a moderate approach to education reform, while others, such as Alberta, are making radical changes that will affect the very foundations of the education system” (Mcconaghy, 1994). The debates about Canadian education system reached the peak, a number of complaints, charges and countercharges and concerns raised social and political activity within the problem. The purpose and role of contemporary schools within the present day society is spoken all over the Canada, supported by local and state media sources.
Taking a short historical excursion into the past we should note that the pioneers of Canadian education (for example Egerton Ryerson) were seeking the cause of school for everybody. In this school there would not be place for gender, ethnical and social discrimination as it was supposed that education is above the racial, ethnic and social standing, thus it did not reach equal success. “Examination of the history of the Canadian Indian Industrial Schools policy and programs in Western Canada from an ethno-historical standpoint shows that the Indian peoples did not remain quiescent from the 1800’s to the 1940’s. They did not respond passively to government and missionary plans for them and their children” (Gresko, 85). The early Canadian educational programs and schools significantly differ from that we know now. It was the time of growth, social developmental process of the new nation, that is why it is essential that educational system suffered from this a lot, as it was the new experience for the new nation and it goes without saying that it was alike the first steps of a child, that caused certain mistakes within its experience. In the early 19th Canadians could not provide equality within the schooling area. A number of people were against sharing educational process with minorities and opposite genders. It was not like the present day mixed schools and certainly the ethnic minorities, lower classes did not have a wide variety of choice. It goes without saying what attitude was to the native minority from the side of Canadian government. The Canadian government took the native Indians away from their families and forced them attending church and regulated schools. Hence the attitude of Indians was not pasive: “They did not respond passively to government and missionary plans for them and their children. Rather, they persisted in their traditional patterns of life and resisted the industrial schools’ programs with their own educative program. In the 1870’s and 1880’s, government officials and missionaries, discouraged by the results of their efforts to convert the older generation of western Indians, sought to pull the Indian youths out of the tribal way of life of their elders and to immerse these youths in the arts and industries of Christian civilization in industrial schools” (Gresko, 85).
It goes without saying that the confrontation between the government and Indians who were not intended to provide the goods of civilization within their tribal lives were very sharp. Well known Canadian journalist devoted to the educational problem of the past his book Hidden Failure (1993), where he masterfully depicted how the young Indians were undergoing the demands of hidden curriculum, how they were pushed into the opposition to their ancestors’ beliefs. The beliefs and intentions of hidden curriculum have absolutely destroyed the native culture up to the present days. What is the most pitiful is the fact that the majority of Canadians do not understand “the education that was forced on them, under the premise of helping them to join civilized society, was not in conjunction with public education. Natives despite this being their ancestral land were not allowed to attend school with the dominant white class instead they were taken away to residential schools” (Axelrodd, 73). Hence it is a well known fact that the natives were not allowed to attend schools. The young Indians were educated within the charity of church, the result is not surprising. It is related as a mission school syndrome.
Nobody would say that the educative missions were completely evil and did not have any positive result. Hence the educative role is moved on the background, when it comes to the methods the church used to educate young and elder Indians. How oppressive in was towards the question of ethnicity and how it ruined the national identity and cultural diversity of the native dwellers of Canada, yet in the 20th century the Church leaders apologized for the fact : “In 1986 the Moderator apologized to First Nations peoples within the United Church for the times in which the church had linked acceptance of European culture and the corresponding suppression of First Nations cultures to the sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While there was no direct reference to residential schools in this apology, it is clear that the schools were an important part of the national policy of assimilation and suppression of spiritual ceremonies” (The United Church of Canada, 2007).
If we speak about the norms and values of the hidden curriculum we should not that there were no any word about respect to cultural and ethnic identity. The domination and oppression of the European educational view of that times was the one thing recognized. The church missionaries were actually killing cultural diversity of the Indians and other natives of the Canada. The principles they shared had nothing in common with the ethnic equality of the present day.
The thing it would be essential to mention is that church finally understood it faults, but too many people it cost lives to hundreds of natives lives.
It is a well knows fact that Canadian government proclaimed for racial equality and racial assimilation of the native nations: “During the 19th and early 20th century, federal policies were undergirded by a conviction that First Peoples needed to be assimilated into Western European culture. Residential schools, which removed children from their families and communities and often discouraged the language and practices of First Nations cultures, played an important role in carrying out this policy of assimilation. There were day schools in some communities, but due to isolation and seasonal movements of First Peoples, it was often deemed more suitable to establish a large residential school in a stable settlement” (The United Church of Canada, 2007). The description of the Canadian schooling ideas supposed racial, gender and national equalities and it meant that the children of the rich people would be educated with the poor ones, racial minorities and collectively boys and girls, the parents actually disagree: “Intense aversion to schooling has a long history. It hit massive proportions when Egerton Ryerson, probably the best known of Canada’s fathers of education, set up a school system for all of Ontario in the mid-nineteenth century. Ryerson saw free and compulsory schooling as a great act of democracy, but many parents didn’t agree. They resented that their children were legally forced to attend and noted with reason that many teachers were incompetent, drunk, or child molesters. School burning was not uncommon and some teachers were literally chased out of town by angry mobs of parents and students” (Contenta, 1993). It goes without saying that society was not ready for such democratic ideas provided by Ryerson. We should deal to the Canadian realities of that time to find the roots of social protest towards the mixed educational system, where everyone is equal. We should not forget that the term middle class was not common for that times and people were mainly divided on rich and poor, white and colored and it certainly created some kind of discrimination. We should not forget that neighboring United States racial discrimination lasted even in the 19th century and it won’t be surprising that mental understanding and social attitude of the rich Canadians did not let them indifferent to such policies provided by the innovators. The were not ready for such changes: “When teachers punished children by keeping them after school, the parents vehemently protested and often broke into the school to free them. School administrators branded these rebels as bad parents for undermining the school’s authority and refusing to replicate its stiff, often brutal, discipline at home. Corporal punishment was officially sanctioned and meted out with the zeal and self-imposed burden of those who believe they know best” (Contenta, 1993). We should not forget that the skin color meant a lot in the 19th century and racism was dominating on the continent the “white kings” was pure reality of that times as all the responsible and leading places where occupied by the representatives of dominating white race. They treated the black minority and the native minority like beats but not people and even the poorest sailor looked haughtily on the Indians and the blacks. The reforms were held not at the suitable time and did not celebrated cultural diversity, xenophobia and racism were flourishing at that times, it was the time of white oligarchy: “The reproductive role of schools dates back to Egerton Ryerson. His time was the twilight of the Family Compact – the oligarchy of aristocrats, merchants, bankers, and clergymen who ran colonial affairs – and the common folk were getting restless. In fact, it was a period of major social and political upheaval that culminated in the rebellion of 1837, which threatened the powers that be”(Contenta, 1993). Who were all these people? I dare to suppose that each of them had white skin color. None of them was either black or Indian, that was the time, when ill-treatment to the racial minorities was common. It goes without saying that educational programs provided by Canadian government were not reducing inter-ethical conflicts but made them more severe, people were divided on white and non-white. There was no word about racial equality. Children of Indians, were separated from their parents and educated within the closed special educational establishments: “Consequently, the schools were deliberately located away from reserves so that parental influence on the inmate would be reduced to a minimum. The academic program occupied less than half of the day, while the remainder was devoted to work and work training. Boys learned trades and farming while girls learned domestic skills. It was hoped that male graduates of the program would marry female graduates and establish themselves as farmers or tradesmen outside of reserves. Officials of both church and state confidently predicted that if the entire native population underwent this process, Canada’s Indian problem would quickly be solved” (Titley, 55).
The racial equality was not a single question and social inequality could be also signified as one of the most significant problems of that time. The core idea of the educational program suggested was not accepted by the social layers. But the idea itself had really democratic intentions: “By education I mean not the mere acquisition of certain arts or of certain branches of knowledge, but that instruction and discipline which qualify and dispose the subjects of it for their appropriate duties and employments of life as Christians, as persons of business and also as members of the civic community” (Contenta, 1993). The ill treatment and confrontation of the social layers in industrial and developing Canada was undergoing serious developmental processes. Hence there have been no word about any revolutionary ideas. The class inequality meant that children of the lower classes and children of rich people should visit different school and there would not go about any class equality. From the confrontation at the working place, it was removed to the school. The educational reforms were not actually accepted by the representatives of different classes and did not have positive developmental effect.
Gender equality is another significant question of that time and Canada was not the single country that did not observe the equality between men and women. From the early childhood women were taught to be a mother, a loving and caring wife. There was not word about significant scientific achievements and women within any class had one direct aim to devote their life to family, husband and children. This educational reform should suppose to re-open the gates for women and their intellectual abilities, hence, the time did not suit for that. The society was not ready to recognize that women are not a “property” of a man but a comrade with equal rights, with manner of thinking and personal opinion, that woman has equal intellectual possibilities as men have and could be successful businessmen. Even in the present day world some men do not recognize this universal truth.
In the end I would like to note that the educational reform did not provide equal rights as it turned out to be too early for such radical changes. It was not accepted by social layers and racial minorities too. Hence I am persuaded that those who developed it had positive intentions.
1. Titley E. B. Red Deer Indian Industrial School: A Case Study in the History of Native Education. Early Conflicts
2. Gresko J. White ‘Rites’ and Indian ‘Rites’: Indian Education and Native Responses In The West, 1870-1910. Minorities
3. Contenta S. (1993). Rituals of Failure: What Schools Really Teach. Between the Lines
4. Axelrod R. (1985). The Evolution of Cooperation. Basic Books
5. The United Church of Canada (2007/06/04). The History of Indian Residential Schools and the Church’s Apologies. Retrived February 22, 2010 from the official United Church of Canada
6. Mcconaghy T. (1994). Canadian Education: Voices in Conflict. Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 75