From citizens to workers

28th November 2003 at 00:00
Educational Regimes and Anglo-American Democracy

By Ronald Manzer

University of Toronto Press

Distributed by Plymbridge pound;48

Ronald Manzer could have subtitled his study of educational regimes in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia "Plus ca change, plus c'est pareil". For, not only have the 76 jurisdictions of the Anglo-American world seen similar debates, the debates themselves have persisted over more than 150 years. Written for historians of education and students of comparative politics, this encyclopaedic work will also interest anyone who seeks to understand the background behind such questions as religion's place in public schools, how schools deal with minorities and the place of vocational training in schooling.

None put the relationship between public education and religion more pungently than the Scots, who in 1709 funded elementary schools in the Highlands "where error, idolatry, superstition and ignorance do abound", but each country's public education system began by - and continues - wrestling with this relationship. In some cases the legal regime was explicit; Canada's constitution recognised Catholic and Protestant boards in Quebec, for example.

Elsewhere, the religious aspect of schools was less formally legalistic but no less real. In 1839, Sir John Franklin, governor of Van Diemen's Land (later Tasmania), converted the Church of England schools to a nondenominational curriculum. Following the Irish national model, however, he provided for nondenominational religious teaching at the start of each day. Horace Mann, who virtually created the North American model of nondenominational schooling, wrote in 1837 that the "fundamental principles of Christianity may and should be inculcated" through the schools. In practice, Manzer rightly underlines, both regimes were mainline Protestant.

Readers familiar with America's constitutional wall between church and state will be surprised to learn that it is anything but fixed.

In 1930, the United States Supreme Court upheld Louisiana's right to distribute free textbooks to students in private Catholic schools. In 1968 it ruled against this practice only to reverse itself in 1977. Funding for other than Christian schools is available in most of the Anglo-American world.

In the late 19th century, the main purpose of education shifted from the creation of "virtuous citizens andor believing Christians" to the supplying of "appropriate vocational training". New Zealand's Liberal party responded to this economic definition of education by expanding the number of high schools. The UK response included establishing "junior technical schools" in 1913.

In 1939, Ontario had 62 technical and industrial schools. Fifty years later, the justification for Australia's heritage language programme shifted from the nation's multicultural policy (adopted in the late 1970s) to the "economic utility of learning languages" in a global marketplace.

The quest to produce students who can compete in the post-industrial information economy of the global market place has pushed educators across the Anglo-American world to increase emphasis on maths, science and technology. The business ethos of recent years has, Manzer notes, been used to justify the erosion of local school authority powers.

Manzer's book is a significant achievement. Still, there are lapses. He is wrongheaded when he claims that the Committee of Ten (1894) report that called for every US child to receive education in the same subjects was elitist. The committee's rejection of differentiated education was, rather, a manifestation of its, albeit elite, members' belief that no child should be deprived of the common heritage of mankind. Likewise, Manzer's apparent disappointment that at the beginning of the Second World War 75 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls in New Zealand were in the matriculation stream looks more like a Kiwi manifestation of what David L Angus and Jeffrey E Mirel discuss in The Failed Promise of the American High Schools: 1890-1995 (reviewed in Friday magazine, October 8, 1999); that every time working-class parents have been given the chance, they've voted to keep their children in academic programmes.

Nathan M Greenfield teaches at Algonquin technical college, Ottawa, Canada

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