One Hundred Years of History Teaching in Manitoba Schools: Part 1: 1897-1927

By Osborne, Ken | Manitoba History, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

One Hundred Years of History Teaching in Manitoba Schools: Part 1: 1897-1927


Osborne, Ken, Manitoba History


Ken Osborne

Winnipeg

INTRODUCTION

This essay is the first of three which are intended to examine the teaching of history in Manitoba schools over the last hundred or so years, from the 1890s to the present. They will deal with both the "what" of history -- the content of curricula and textbooks -- and the "how" -- the ways in which it was taught and learned, though the evidence is much firmer for the first than for the second.

For the sake of convenience, I have divided the teaching of history in Manitoba into three periods. The first runs from the 1890s to the late 1920s, when a series of wide-ranging curricular revisions were introduced following the 1924 Report of the Murray Commission on education. The second runs from the revisions of the late 1920s to the mid-1960s, when a new history programme was adopted in the aftermath of the 1959 Report of the Macfarlane Royal Commission on Education. The third runs from the mid-1960s to the present and encompasses three major revisions of the history curriculum, the first in the mid-1960s, the second in the mid-1980s, and the third just getting under way in 1998, with results as yet unknown.

There is a certain logic to this classification in that it rests on major changes in the content and organization of the history programme in the schools, but there is also a certain arbitrariness. Education is notoriously slow to change, and even when a new curriculum is introduced it can take years before it begins to affect what happens in classrooms. Indeed, in some ways the classroom might not change at all if teachers simply adopt new subject-matter, say American history instead of British, but keep on teaching it in the same old way. Thus, the three periods around which this essay is organized should not be taken too seriously. They are useful organizational tools, but little else. The history of history teaching in Manitoba over the last hundred years is marked more by continuity -- some would say inertia -- than by change.

The 1890s to the mid-1920s was of course the period when the Manitoba public school system was reorganized and consolidated. In 1890 the Greenway government abolished the dual system created under the Manitoba Act; in 1897 a new Education Act incorporated the terms of the Laurier-Greenway Compromise that ended the Schools Question; and in 1916 the Norris government abolished the multilingual framework of the school system and made school attendance compulsory until age fourteen. As a result of these three measures, Manitoba's original system of confessional and bilingual -- and for a period multilingual -- schools, at which attendance was voluntary, was replaced by a secular, unilingual and universal system of public schooling, where private schools were permissible but had to follow the public school curriculum, and which at least in theory brought all children within its embrace, except for those aboriginal children who were under the control of the Dominion government. Overwhelmingly, however, children left school somewhere between Grades 6 and 8, school attendance remained erratic in rural areas right into the 1930s, and only a minority of students went on to high school.

THE CONTENT OF THE HISTORY CURRICULUM

In 1930, the Deputy Minister of Education, Robert Fletcher, described the curriculum changes of the late 1920s as the first "real" revision of the Manitoba curriculum since 1890. (1) Certainly, the content of the history curriculum remained fairly constant throughout this period, with only two revisions of any note, one in 1911, which affected mainly Grade 5 and Grade 9, and one between 1919 and 1921 which made fundamental changes in Grades 9-11. The other grades, 1-4, 6-8, and 12, remained largely untouched except for occasional very minor adjustments, usually having to do with changes in authorized textbooks.

Throughout this period there was no systematic or formal study of history as a subject in Grades 1-4. …

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