"EDUCATION TODAY--ARE WE IN TUNE WITH THE TIMES?"
An Address by G. BLAIR LAING, B.A. Chairman, The Board of Education, Toronto
Thursday, October 26th, 1950
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Sydney Hermant.
MR. HERMANT: Members and Guests of The Empire Club of Canada: We are to hear an address today by G. Blair Laing, Chairman of the Board of Education of the City of Toronto. Born in Montreal, Mr. Laing attended school in Peterborough and Windsor, and graduated from the University of Toronto in 1935. An Art dealer, Mr. Laing is President of the Laing Galleries here in Toronto, and has been a Member of the Board of Education of this city for 7 years. During the past summer Mr. Laing attended the World Brotherhood Conference in Paris, and took the opportunity of visiting schools and meeting with leading educationists in 9 European countries. During his visit to England Mr. Laing was presented to His Majesty the King, an honour of which we are all proud. This year marks the Hundredth Anniversary of public education in Toronto. I would like to take this opportunity of expressing appreciation on behalf of the Members of this Club to the Members of the Board of Education and its fine administrative staff for the vitally important service that they are rendering to this community. We are indeed fortunate that so many able men and women of proven capacity and high character have devoted themselves to public service in this way in order to insure that we have a predominance of sound judgment and responsible administration on the Board. This is at least a partial answer to those who suggest that we do not have able citizens offering their services to the electorate in democratic communities. Mr. G. Blair Laing, the Chairman of the Board of Education, will now speak on the subject "Education today--Are We in Tune with the Times?".
MR. LAING: My term of office as a school trustee has been perhaps the most interesting period of my life, and so, at this time, I would like to share with you some of my experiences, my philosophy of education, and also tell you a little of the history and progress of education in our city, culminating in this year of 1950, the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the first elected public school board.
Lest anyone consider me an educationist, may I say, that no matter how flattering such a term would be, I am not, but I am an interested layman who has had the benefit of seeing our school system in action, in having an opportunity to study at close hand just what our system is accomplishing in its attempt to develop our children into mature young people either ready for university or to take their place and earn a living in the community. I have also had the opportunity of working with outstanding educationists associated with the Toronto Board of Education during this time, as well as with Members of the Board who have given unselfishly of their services and knowledge in the cause of education for many years.
Now, one hundred years is a long period of time, but 100 years in the life of a young city such as Toronto is an exceedingly long time. The population, according to the 1850 directory, was 25,166 persons. There were no school buildings, and classes were held here and there in small halls or rented houses. It was in the year 1850 that Ryerson passed his famous School Act. A Board of Trustees was elected, and the principle of free public education was established. Dr. Joseph Workman, a physician, was the first Chairman, and among the members were such men as William Gooderham, Joseph Ridout, and Alexander MacDonald, names well-known in the life of our city even up to the present day. These elected Trustees were, and I quote from the Act, "empowered to levy school taxes, appoint teachers, and otherwise to direct the management of the common schools generally." Now one of the reasons for this Act, just referred to, was that previously City Council levied all taxes, and Council was reluctant to supply the appointed school board with sufficient funds. In fact, the schools had remained closed for a whole year previously, because of lack of money. And so, by 1850, the two principles that hold right up to the present day had been established: first, the schools were to be free, and second, the elected School Board had power to levy its own taxes. Incidentally, this was done by a collector, who was paid a commission of 7 1/2 % for his services. Later, the school tax was incorporated in the general rate.
Now the free schools were not popular at first. Since attendance was not compulsory, only a fraction of the eligible children went to school at all. Absenteeism among young persons, and, indeed, actual animosity of many parents toward the public schools in general was a problem in the growing city. It took the united efforts of many wise people, and the passage of a number of years, to come to grips with this problem of school attendance, and to succeed in demonstrating to the people generally that there was no stigma in attendance at the free public schools.
It was not until 1871 that the Compulsory Attendance Act was passed, but this applied only to children between the ages of seven and eleven and for just four months of the year. In 1891, twenty years later, the law extended the age to 14 and made schooling compulsory for the complete year.
During the early years, examinations were often oral in character, and were conducted sometimes in the presence of the parents, clergymen, and city dignitaries. Many of the scholars refrained from attending such inquisitions but then the Board passed a regulation automatically expelling any scholar who was not present on these occasions.
In looking over some old examination records, I came across several interesting problems which were quite typical of the times--questions asked at examinations. The following are selected from an early text book:
1. Divide 41/2 gallons of brandy equally among 144 soldiers.
Answer: 1 gill apiece.
2. A hare starts 40 yards before a greyhound, (notice the quaint language), and is not perceived by him till she has been up 40 seconds; she scuds away at the rate of ten miles an hour, and the dog, on view, makes after her at the rate of 18 miles an hour; now the question--how long will the course hold, and what space will be ran over, from the spot where the dog started?
In case some of you haven't the answer, it is 60 5/22 sec. and 530 yrds.
Is it any wonder that in the early days education was no attraction for children, and school attendance a serious problem?
It is interesting to note the change that has taken place in the position of women in education generally, since those days. For example, in 1859, the Superintendent of Schools in Upper Canada writes in his official report:
"Few females possess that mental ability and decision of character which are so essential to the successful teacher. The framers of the School Law committed a grave error in authorizing females to teach at all."
Not until 1871 were girls admitted to high school, legally that is. Some went previously, but only to take a few lady-like subjects, such as French, English and Music, and Art. Incidentally, for the purposes of the Government grant, which was determined by enrolment, two girls counted in the attendance register as one boy.
One can see that in the old days education was a cut and dried process. All students were taught the same basic subjects, and each student, no matter what his abilities were, was treated in the same way.
But today the aim of education is to develop the potential ability and skill of every child attending school. We have devised special kinds of education to suit special abilities and needs, e.g., there are classes for Crippled Children, classes to meet the needs of Deaf and Hard-of-hearing children; Sight-saving classes for children with limited eye-sight, and Auxiliary classes for slow learners. Our Commercial, Technical and Vocational schools provide specialized instruction in almost every subject that you can think of. The trend, then, has shifted from standardized education to attention to individual needs. Along with this has gone greater freedom for teachers, and more emphasis on local initiative.
Formerly, the Provincial Department of Education set the course of study, prescribed the text books and entrance examinations. But, today these things are left almost entirely to the discretion of the local authorities. For example, entrance examinations have now been abolished, and this year, for the first time in 80 years, our children may pass from public school to high school in the same way as they pass from class to class. Actually there is no reason for artificial barriers between public and secondary schools. A further example of this trend is an experiment conducted in a Toronto Public School, which eliminates report cards and substitutes meetings with parents instead.
All these things then, are remarkable improvements in our educational system. Education has been attempting to fit the individual to fit his responsibility in the modern world. In fact, I think I can say that the main purpose of education has been Democracy. And as the basis of our democracy is respect for the individual, so our educational system has come to emphasize the importance of training and developing individual personality and aptitude to the fullest extent.
All this is good--but now in the last half of the 20th century, we have come to a fresh stage in man's development. The past fifty years have been an age of great scientific discoveries. I need only mention three of them--the invention of the aeroplane and jet propulsion, the discovery of radio, and television, the splitting of the atom, and the development of the Atomic Bomb to which I will refer later. These discoveries have faced us with new problems and revolutionized our attitudes towards them.
The discoveries and inventions I have spoken of have one thing in common--they have tended to reduce the size of our world in terms of space and time. A century ago--even 50 years ago--no one in Canada cared much what happened in China, in Korea, in India--or even in Russia. But today, how different things are! The darkness separating us from other peoples has vanished. We live side by side with our neighbours, whether we like them or not. Everything they do, affects our lives.
In this shrunken world, we are called upon to face new and urgent problems of government, welfare, peace and war. The Western democracy of which we are so proud is regarded with hatred by gigantic forces that have overrun large parts of Europe and Asia. After two world wars to save democracy from Fascism, we find ourselves faced with afresh struggle to preserve it from Communism. The challenge in both cases (Communism and Fascism) is levelled against the very basis of our system--against that respect for the individual that we cherish so dearly and against the educational system that tries to develop the capacities of the individual to their utmost. We are pledged to resist this totalitarianism which is indeed a revival of age-old despotism that man should have outgrown by now.
How is education to adapt itself to meet this new situation? Education for democracy in the old sense is not quite enough. We need, I think, a new concept of education--which I shall call education for World Brotherhood or World Citizenship. We have taught ourselves how to live peaceably within our own community. We now need to learn how to live in peace in a united and democratically organized world.
Of course, our youth must continue to learn to be good Canadians. Our Children must be taught to understand the history and traditions of our own country, to appreciate its achievements and aspirations, not merely on the material side, but also on the spiritual side--in the arts, in literature, in music and in architecture. Unless and until we Canadians have developed an appreciation of these things, we cannot be considered as a mature nation. And it is only as a mature nation that Canada can make its contribution to the solution of the problems of world brotherhood and world citizenship that I have just referred to.
Now what do we mean, in a practical way, when we speak of Education for World Citizenship? Is it just a vague phrase, or has it a reality. I think something of its reality can be seen in the changes that are taking place at this moment, both here in Canada and in Europe.
One example is the increased emphasis laid on Social Studies in our curriculum, and the expansion of its scope. Our children are now learning more than ever before about the lives and problems of the peoples of other lands.
Here let me stress the importance of the latest gifts of science to our educational techniques. I refer particularly to the classroom uses of radio and the film--and I hope, before long, of television. These media have a special value in bridging the gaps of time and space that separate the peoples of the world from one another. They directly help the student in the classroom to widen his sympathies, as well as increase his knowledge.
Another new entry into the field of social studies is the United Nations--and the vast network of activities in world government, which it comprises. This great new experiment in world democracy forces us to think globally on such fundamental matters as food, health, education, finance. Our young people are keenly interested in the United Nations. So much so, that visits to the United Nations headquarters in New York are arranged from time to time by the Toronto Board for students to learn at first hand how the organization works.
In the title of my talk, the question was asked, "Is Education Today in Tune with the Times?" This was the question uppermost in my mind, when this summer I had the opportunity to attend a conference called in Paris, to create an international organization for World Brotherhood. This Paris Conference was attended by representatives of twelve countries, largely in North America and Western Europe. Leading educationists, business men, scientists and statesmen took part in the discussions. The Conference was divided into three sections:
1. Industry and Labour.
Naturally the basis of the whole conference was educational. Everyone agreed that improvement of intergroup relations must come through a wider knowledge of the social sciences, the cultivation of an insight into philosophy, an application of the techniques of sound teaching, and the strengthening of religious motivation. My concern was particularly with the impact of these factors on the modern school.
The conference was chaired by the Chancellor of Washington University, Arthur Compton, who in 1942, as an atomic scientist, was present when the first nuclear chain reaction was accomplished. Compton foresaw in 1940 the coming of the atom bomb and fortold the momentous possibilities for good or evil of releasing the energy locked up in the atom. It was he who had a voice m making the momentous decision whether or not the atom bomb was to be dropped on Japan. He described to us his decision as one which required considerable soul-searching, because he is a deeply religious man. He told us how he reconciled the fact that the atom bomb should be used, with his own religious beliefs and concern for human brotherhood. "Those who love peace may have to use the atom bomb to preserve the kind of world fit for God-loving people to live in--a society of free men."
During the last day of the conference, I had the honour of giving an address of thanks, on behalf of the Canadian and United States delegates, to our French hosts, in the palace at Versailles. I pointed out that we, in Canada, occupy a unique position with our education and culture rooted both in France and Great Britain, which are old countries, but our social system and our economy closely united with the United States which is a new country like Canada. In this way, we think that we share the best of both the old and the new worlds.
After the Paris conference, I had the opportunity of visiting schools in eight different European countries. While in England we also visited schools and talked with some of the leading educationists. A new British Education Act, the basis for which was made before and during the war, is now being put into effect.
I also had the great honour of being presented to His Majesty the King, and spent a few minutes discussing education generally with him. I was struck with his keen knowledge and interest, and it seems to me that His Majesty is well aware of the role of education in the world today, and the need of greater international understanding in the future.
My general impression of Europe is that they have much to offer us, not only from the standpoint of a rich cultural background but also in watching the results of interesting experiments going on all over. I was also struck with the friendliness with which people in various countries looked upon Canadians. Canada today is considered to be a first-class power. People look to us generally with a feeling of great respect and admiration. Our diplomatic corps throughout Europe (which has increased greatly since the war) is doing a splendid job in public relations for Canada. On returning home, I felt a glow of pride in being a Canadian and discovering for myself how high a place in the world Canada has gained.
I now come back to the question I asked at the outset. Is our Canadian Education in tune with the times? Looking around us, and looking back over the past century, we are certainly entitled to feel proud of our Canadian schools and their teachers, and of the progress that has been made. However, legitimate pride is no excuse for complacency.
Much remains to be done to put our educational house in perfect order. Much has to be learned from other countries, especially those of Western Europe, where the spirit of experiment is still very much alive and is producing astonishingly good results. It is our duty as educationists to keep abreast of these experiments, and to adapt their results to our own use.
Above all, we must realize that education as a whole is bound to change a great deal during the next fifty years--as much, or even more, than it has done in the past one hundred years. If the nations of the world are to learn to live together in peace (as we all earnestly pray they will), then our educational system must find some way of effectively cultivating international understanding. In Canada, this implies the necessity of stressing the humanities as an element essential to the proper development of a sense of world citizenship.
The cost of the necessary changes will be great--but not great in proportion to the issues involved or to the ends to be attained. For what is at stake is nothing less than the survival of civilization itself. Is there any effort we educationists can afford to spare, any cost we can afford to shirk, in making our contribution to this supreme cause? I believe we shall prove worthy of the responsibility laid upon us--of safe-guarding education for democracy, education for a free and united world!
VOTE OF THANKS, moved by Past President the Hon. Dana Porter.