________________ CM . . . . Volume IV Number 18 . . . . May 8, 1998

Cover The Promise of Schooling: Education in Canada, 1800-1914

Paul Axelrod.
Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 1997.
155 pp., paper, $12.95.
ISBN 0-8020-7815-X.

Subject Heading:
Education-Canada-History-19th century.

Grades 12 and up / Ages 17 and up.
Review by Alexander D. Gregor.


Even though education has been a fundamentally important part of national development, it has been largely ignored in conventional history books, to the detriment of our understanding of the country's evolution. (Education is not alone in this; the sciences and the arts are all too often similarly ignored.) Paul Axelrod's brief study - the first volume of the new University of Toronto Press series, Themes in Canadian Social History - goes some distance toward correcting this problem for education, at least for the century preceding the Great War. The series itself is targeted at undergraduate students.

      Although it has not been a prominent part of "mainstream" history, education in the nineteen century has been a fertile area in the parallel field of educational history. The relatively short length of the book does not, therefore, permit much more than an overview and synthesis of that literature (including the full scope of education, from the elementary to the postsecondary). But in that task Paul Axelrod, himself an accomplished educational historian, does a nice job, giving students a well reasoned frame of reference, and a useful set of bibliographical references.

      Much of the historiography to date has been provincial in focus (following Canada's constitutional allocation of responsibility in this domain to the provinces). Axelrod does an effective job of pulling out themes and trends that characterize the country as a whole and allow meaningful generalizations about Canadian education as a whole: in such areas, for example, as the middle class's paternalistic efforts at social engineering through education; the educational experiences of the immigrant working class, the aboriginals, and the blacks; and the ambivalent relationship between education and religion. This was a period when schooling grew from something rather informal, sectarian and voluntary to a system of compulsory public and more-or-less secular education, administered by a complex bureaucracy and taught by credentialed staff. The book in effect traces the foundation of the modern system. It leaves us with a better understanding of the shape and issues characterizing that system; and a better understanding of the place education and schooling have had in our national history.


Alexander D. Gregor - The University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © 1998 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364