Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Official and Unofficial School Inspection as Hegemonic and Counter-Hegemonic Struggle in Prairie Districts before 1940

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Official and Unofficial School Inspection as Hegemonic and Counter-Hegemonic Struggle in Prairie Districts before 1940

Article excerpt


This paper examines how state inspectors and 'visiteurs d'ecoles" (unofficial inspectors) shaped hegemonic and counter-hegemonic cultural practices in bilingual school districts in Prairie provinces before 1940. The study allows us to better understand why state inspection constituted a threat to Francophone cultural continuity, and why Francophones constructed a counter-hegemonic curriculum and named Visiteurs des ecoles bilingues" to negotiate their legitimacy in Anglo-dominant public schools. The presence of the visiteur in bilingual schools challenged the dominant group's hegemonic principles. Therefore, bilingual schools represent sites where Francophones and Anglophones carried on a hegemonic struggle to maintain and reproduce their language and world-view.

Dans cet article nous examinons comment les inspecteurs d'ecoles et les "visiteurs d'ecoles" ont faconne les pratiques hegemoniques et contre-hegemoniques culturelles dans les districts scolaires bilingues dans les prairies de l'ouest avant 1940. Cette etude nous aide a comprendre pourquoi l'inspection etatique etait nefaste pour la continuite culturelle francophone, et pourquoi les Francophones ont construit un curriculum contre-hegemonique pour negocier leur hegitimite au sein des ecoles publiques anglo-dominantes. La presence des visiteurs dans les ecoles bilingues remet en cause la suprematie ideologique du groupe dominant. En consequence, les ecoles bilingues represententdes sites ou les Francophones et les Anglophones ont luttte pour maintenir et reproduire leur langue et leur conception du monde.


In the past, public schooling in English-speaking Canada reflected a national purpose of Canadianization of all ethnic minorities. Educational goals of citizenship development were steeped in an understanding of British history and institutions, the transmission of the English language and culture, and the inculcation in all students of a sense of pride and loyalty to Canada and its British heritage (Green, 1994; McDonald, 1982; Osborne, 2000). Government appointed school inspectors, primarily gentlemen ofBritish ancestry, acted as guardians of the state's ideological hegemony (Curtis, 1992; Little, 1998). Curtis (1992), who studied the role of the first school inspectors in Canada West (Ontario) between 1843 and 1846, concluded that school inspection 'was about state formation: the creation, stabilization and normalization of relations of power, authority, domination and exploitation" (p. 32).

The system of public schools established in Manitoba and in the Northwest Territories in the early 1890s was used to speed up the process of assimilation of all ethnic populations (Barber, 1978; Curnisky, 1978; Huel, 1978; Jaenen, 1978, 1979; White, 1993, 1994). School laws specified that English was the official language of instruction in all public schools, including separate schools in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Provincial Departments of Education implemented educational policy to establish cultural conformity by rigidly controlling teacher training and certification, its program of studies and evaluation, and the supervision and inspection of schools (Hebert, 1998; Huel, 1978; Jaenen, 1979; McLeod, 1979).

Prior to the consolidation of small school districts into large units or divisions, which began in the 1930s and continued into the 1940s, trustees in rural school districts with homogenous ethnic populations had considerable power over the operation of their one-room schools and the hiring of teachers. It was thus possible for ethnic teachers in these districts to teach children their mother tongue clandestinely. However, when inspectors noted that children were not progressing in English, they rated these teachers incompetent in the teaching of the official language. In certain cases, trustees were ordered to replace them with English-speaking teachers (Curnisky, 1978; Gauthier, Kach & Mazurek, 1996; Jaenen, 1979; Kovacs, 1978; Lupul, 1992; Willmoth, 1978). …

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