THE MORALE OF THE PEOPLE: REFLECTIONS ON
ADULT EDUCATION IN
Gordon R. Selman
The Province of British Columbia, whose economy was based in large part on primary industries--forestry, mining and fishing--was especially hard hit by the Great Depression of the 1930s (Thompson & Seager, 1985).
Federal government policies adopted to combat the
Depression exacerbated the economic difficulties of the Canadian West, which
relied heavily on agriculture and the export of raw materials (Smiley, 1963).
By 1931, relatively early in the Depression,
Provincial elections in late 1933 brought to power a Liberal Party government which promised a "new deal" and which represented a distinct shift to the left in provincial politics. The Premier described his position as "socialized capitalism" and spoke in terms of a "war on poverty" (Thompson & Seager, 1985, p. 242). The government may properly be described as having a small "1" liberal point of view, and as combining "the philosophy of 19th century liberalism with its respect for individual rights and the point of view of the 20th century that planning must go into the new social order" (Ormsby, 1964, p. 460). (The new Premier of B. C., T. D. Pattullo, told his friends that Franklin Roosevelt, in preparing his inaugural address, must have been studying Liberal campaign literature in B. C.!)
Like most governments which place a great deal of
emphasis on social planning, the Liberal Pattullo administration attached
importance to the utilization of experts from outside government in developing
the "new social order" which it had promised (Ormsby, 1964; Thompson
& Seager, 1985). In selecting his Minister of Education (who was also
appointed Provincial Secretary), he was able to choose someone who was himself
an expert (not a common occurrence in the parliamentary system). This was Dr.
George Weir, the former co-chair of a landmark government commission of inquiry
which studied the B. C. school system in 1924-25 and produced a report which
had substantial impact for at least 30 years (Johnson, 1964). Weir had been
appointed professor of education at the
With respect to the field of adult education, Weir
already had in place in his Department two outstanding individuals. The first
was John Kyle, who had been in charge of technical education and night schools
since 1913, having previously given leadership to the pioneering work of the
Vancouver School Board's adult education program. The other was J. W. Gibson,
the director of correspondence education, who was in the process of
transforming the Department's work in that field into one of the most
outstanding programs of its kind in the world (Selman, 1988). Weir further
strengthened the team by hiring, again from the Vancouver Board, Mr. Ian
Eisenhardt, who was to lead in the creation of what became an
internationally-renowned provincial recreation program, "Pro-Rec" (
AIMS AND ACHIEVEMENTS
In those Depression years, to a degree which has not been achieved since, adult education became an important instrument of government policy. This is not to say that enormous sums of money were spent on it by today's standards, or that anything approaching today's variety of institutional programs was available. Rather it is intended to point out that there was a clear connection between the political platform of the government and its actions in adult education; between the rhetoric of its overall policies and that used to describe the new measures which it undertook in adult education. In many respects, other measures enacted in the early months of the new government's tenure--an increase in the "relief" payments; a Work and Wages Act which included a raise in the minimum wage; financial assistance to key industries which were in trouble; a start on economic planning and a study of an unemployment insurance scheme; negotiations with Ottawa concerning altered tax arrangements; and the launching of major public works projects--were clearly more spectacular steps towards "a new deal" than actions taken in adult education (Ormsby, 1964; Sutherland, 1960). But many measures were initiated in the field of adult education which were clearly aspects of an overall strategy on the part of the government intended to promote the desired "new social order": e.g., free courses of instruction in vocational subjects; courses in household arts (and free material to work with) for mothers of families on relief; and a vast new recreational program intended to build up the "morale" of the people. An indication of. the consciousness of the special quality of some of these measures was that in the reports of the Department of Education at this time, the new, special programs were dealt with in a separate section (called "adult education") and reported on separately from the traditional "Night School" and "Correspondence" work. As well, the Minister appointed an advisory committee containing community representatives, whose responsibility related only to the new programs being undertaken.
A second noteworthy and unprecedented feature of the adult education projects created by the new government was its general goal. The phrase most frequently used in the various government reports of the period spoke in terms of addressing "the morale of the people." Reports on the innovative recreation program organized by the province spoke of aiming "to build up the morale and character" of participants, and on another occasion of "maintaining morale" (British Columbia Public Schools Report [BCPSR], 1934-35, p. 75; 1938-39, p. 79). An overall report on adult education for 1934-35 referred to "the preservation of their skill, self-respect and morale" (p. 68). And a report on the Self-Help project, which will be described later, stated that it was aimed at "preserving the morale of the people" (BCPSR, 1936-37, p. 78).
There are at least two points to be emphasized in
this connection. The chief of these, for present purposes, is that the goal of
this work was conceived at the time as being related to the whole person. The
goal was not described, as is generally the case in adult education, as having
to do with one or more of the social roles of the adult--as worker, parent,
citizen, or homemaker-but with the person as a total entity-how adult citizens
felt about themselves and their society. This tends not to be the way we think
of the functions of adult education, and is certainly not the feature of it which
we use to "sell" the importance of the field. In the case of
The other point to be considered is that such language being used in reference to the goals of adult education is very much a reflection of the liberal point of view so typical of the Western democracies in this period (and since). The matter is seen very much in individualistic terms. Also, there was lurking behind such terminology the ever-present connotation that it was vital to help people be in better spirits, better "morale," in the then current times of trouble, rather than have them succumb to the blandishments of those advocating the overthrow of the system. Depending on one's inclination, one can see these programs, therefore, as arising from altruistic concern about the citizens' welfare, or from the fear that unless something was done to cheer people up, they might turn to the voices of the far left--or the far right--alternatives which were very lively specters during the thirties (Lower, 1953; Mann, 1978; Thompson & Seager, 1985). Most observers see a combination of altruism and political realism in the approach.
Although the worst years of the Depression brought a
falling off in the more traditional adult education activities such as school
board night schools (Wales, 1958), the new Liberal administration started a
number of new ventures and began to provide financial support for a number of
what it judged to be particularly worthwhile projects in the private sector.
Foremost among the activities under direct sponsorship were a range of
vocationally-oriented training programs which were offered free of charge
(mainly through school board night school programs) to persons who were on
relief or social assistance of some kind. The list of vocational subjects
offered is a long one, and concentrates largely on occupations related to the
industries of the province. Among these, incidentally, was a considerable surge
of interest in small scale and low tech gold mining procedures--a mark of the
times, and the region. Secondly, the Minister gave strong support to J. W.
Gibson, his able officer in charge of correspondence education, providing
increased resources and enabling his unit, which served both children and
adults, greatly to shift the emphasis to the latter. During this period, the
Correspondence Branch of the Department enhanced its already considerable
reputation in this work. An entirely new field of activity for the Department
was the sponsorship and servicing of local play-reading groups throughout the
province. By 1939, 177 adult groups were operating (in addition to an even
larger parallel service being run at the time by the University Extension
Department) (Selman, 1976). A major new venture of the period for the
Department was a "Provincial Recreation" program, known as
"Pro-Rec." This was announced in late 1934, was based on a
Scandinavian model, and was the first program of its kind in
1934-35, p. 75). And finally, in this list of directly-sponsored activities, reference should be made to the fact that the Department provided a number of teachers and a great deal of teaching material for educational work conducted within the "Relief Camps" for unemployed men which were being operated throughout Canada during this period by the Canadian government (Swettenham, 1968; Thompson & Seager, 1985).
The fourth noteworthy characteristic of the new
measures taken in adult education at this time was the willingness demonstrated
by the Department of Education to enter into various kinds of arrangements with
the voluntary sector in the delivery of new types of service. There had been a
There were a number of such partnerships created; four will be mentioned as examples. The Vancouver Council of Women, a coordinating and joint action vehicle for women's organizations in Canada, had created a project in early 1933 which involved forming small groups of mothers of families on relief for the combined purpose of providing social contacts and teaching the women how to stretch their resources by means of clothing remodeling, furniture repair and recovering, knitting, weaving, preparing nutritious meals on low budgets, and other household arts. Donations of materials from commercial companies arranged by the Council of Women made it possible to maintain the program at very low cost--and without charge to the members of the groups. This program was known as "Self-Help," and in addition to the regular weekly working meetings of the small groups which have been described, other clubs and activity groups formed-pottery making, choirs, play reading, and acting groups. Generally, the program had the effect not only of teaching practical skills, but also of providing a basis for new friendships and associations and a time away from household routines. By the end of the first year of operation, some 257 women were involved in the program. The Department of Education, seeing the practical and psychological value of such work and realizing that the project simply could not function without the volunteer leadership of Council of Women members, proposed that government funds be donated both to pay for the consumable supplies which were required for the classes (on an increasingly large scale) and to provide an office and coordinator for the work. This blend of voluntary effort and government support proved entirely satisfactory and continued until the early years of the War. At its peak (1937-38) the program involved 1,691 women, and when it was terminated in 1942, over 8,000 women had been involved (BCPSR for years mentioned).
Other projects will be more briefly described. The
Vancouver YWCA began a series of three-month programs to train unemployed women
who wished to get jobs as maids or housekeepers. The government approached the
organization and arranged to cover some of the costs of the training, while
leaving the operation of the program in the YWCA's hands. An
interdenominational men's Christian organization, the AOTS (As One That
Serveth) was financed by the Department so it could operate a "polytechnic
school" for unemployed men in downtown
The other dimension of liaison with the voluntary sector took a different form. It was the decision on the part of the Minister to appoint an advisory committee to give the Department advice on the development of its adult education activities. This was the first time such a committee had been established, and it appears to have been concerned not with the longer-established work (night schools, correspondence courses), but only with the special measures being taken to respond to the Depression emergency. The committee was made up of a mixture of Department officials and representatives of community organizations. It remained in existence for only three years-during the depth of the Depression. (Such a committee was not appointed again by the Department until 1978.)
In these four respects--adult education as a significant instrument of government policy; the philosophical thrust behind its measures; the creation of new adult education services; and new kinds of partnerships with the private and voluntary sector--the approach of the Liberal administration and the responsible minister, George Weir, were innovative, and may appropriately be seen as a clear response to the traumatic Depression conditions. Certainly they stand out in sharp contrast to the activities of the preceding Conservative government. A few dimensions of this work, such as the Self-Help program and the recreation program, carried on into the World War II period, but by the end of the War no trace remained of either of these special programs or the philosophical and policy stance which had been adopted by the Liberal government. (Pattullo and Weir left office in 1941.) Of course, the wartime conditions of full employment removed the need for many of these measures.
How are we to see this phenomenon which took place during the Depression years, and which presumably was duplicated in at least some of its aspects in other jurisdictions? As has been suggested earlier, there are at least two views which can be taken. On the one hand, the measures adopted by the Liberal government and the Department of Education may be seen as a case of government responding to the desperate needs of many persons and families who were at risk in the bleak conditions of the Depression years. Others have preferred to stress the view that such "new deal" approaches were based primarily on fears, on the part of Western governments, that if things were not done to alleviate the desperate conditions in which many citizens found themselves, they would espouse radical ideas and seek the overthrow of the present system. As one student of education in the province in these years has put it, this was a case of the state looking to its own "protection and perpetuation" (Mann, 1978, p. 105). These two views concerning the motivation of governments in this period are not mutually exclusive.
Both of the projects undertaken, and the language used to describe and justify them, appear to fall in the classic liberal philosophical tradition. The approach was in terms of promoting individual welfare and was not directed at the social system as a whole. The concept was one of providing "relief" and boosting the morale of individuals, not addressing the nature of the society which had produced the crisis. (Other elements in society were of course taking this other approach.) The emphasis was on getting people through the crisis, not on transforming the society in any significant way. The goal was the stability of the state, not changing it (Macpherson, 1965).
This having been said, however, one of the most intriguing elements of the story of these Depression years is the fact that, to a degree perhaps unequalled at any other time in the modern adult education movement, leaders in government and public service had a purpose for their efforts in adult education which involved the whole person. Whether it was rhythmic gymnastics, English as a second language, vocational training, or skill courses for homemakers, the reasons stated for delivering the services were consistent: to improve the morale of the people. The intention here is not to engage in polemic about the appropriateness or justifiability of such an aim, but rather to point out its unusual character. To a degree unequalled in any other period since the emergence of the modern adult education movement, the purpose of the public authorities in the field were stated in terms of the total sensibilities of adult persons and how they felt about themselves and their society.
REFLECTIONS FROM THE 1980s
The B. C. Context
The passage of some 50 years since these events makes possible considerable perspective on the nature and uniqueness of the actions of the Liberal administration in that earlier period. We see their initiatives now out of our experience with a vastly expanded, considerably professionalized and institutionalized field of adult education. Also, we now have the context of a society with a welfare "safety net," which was not in place during the desperate thirties.
It is reasonable to ask whether the significant actions taken during the thirties were built upon in subsequent decades or in any way can be seen to have influenced subsequent actions by government. Such questions do not lend themselves to precise or definitive answers. But it is likely reasonable to state that there has been little, if any, influence that has carried over. The reasons are not hard to find; conditions have altered greatly. The Depression was followed by the crisis of World War II, and, in many respects, the wartime experience obliterated the conditions which had been brought on by the Depression. In the post-war period the economy was booming, and employment was at a high level, at least until the late fifties. By that time a conservative government was in power in the province (Social Credit Party) and, except for a brief interlude in the early 1970s, has remained in power ever since. Economic conditions have varied over the years, but we have not experienced a Depression of the depth and duration of that of the thirties (though the one of the early 1980s was severe), and when such times have come, most people have been protected to some degree by the welfare measures in place. So conditions have been different, and the social philosophy of the governments in power have been different.
A further point which should be made is that there has been little in the way of permanent' or declared official policy in the field of adult education in the province. Several pieces of legislation authorize or allow public institutions to be engaged in adult education, but little is said beyond that. There has been lots of administrative action in support of adult education activity but very little stated policy. A concerted effort to correct this situation was launched by government in 1979, but was in the end overtaken by the economic recession of the early eighties and government's determination to downsize the scope of government action (Cassidy, 1984; Selman, 1984).
The first characteristic of government action in the
1930s, which was identified above, was that government utilized adult education
as a significant instrument of government policy. This has at no time been the
case in the subsequent period. Adult education has been a thriving enterprise
The proclivity of government in the thirties to see the role of adult education as supporting the overall outlook of the citizen has not recurred. The conditions have not ever been the same as in the thirties, and governments in the province have been business-oriented and conservative in their views. Certain national cultural institutions such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film Board have seen themselves in such a role, but government at the provincial level has not. The closest we have come to it, perhaps, has been in the approach adopted by continuing education leaders in the Ministry of Education in the late seventies in their efforts on behalf of certain disadvantaged groups--the undereducated, those in need of English as a second language, older people, and single-parent families below the poverty line (Cassidy, 1984). What was true of the continuing education unit in the Ministry was not true of the government as a whole, however.
In the category of innovation in the types of adult
education services provided by government, certainly there have been
significant developments in the subsequent decades, and very great expansion,
but except for the measures just mentioned, this has
not been an outstanding feature of the field. The school boards, colleges and
institutes, and universities have been enabled to expand their offerings over
the years, and participation rates in adult education in B. C. are among the
The fourth remarkable feature of the thirties was the variety of alliances which were created between the public and private sectors. There has been comparatively little of this since that time. During the progress of a comprehensive study of adult education in the province which was conducted by a government-appointed committee in 1976 (B. C. Ministry of Education, 1976), some committee members wished to submit recommendations in this area, but were steered off this course of action by Ministry officials, who said it was out of the question and would get in the way of implementing other proposals. The matter was shunted to a category "requiring further investigation" (which it has not received). When a Ministry Advisory Committee on Adult Education was created in 1978, its membership was made up entirely of professional educators from the public educational institutions.
The Broader Context
Looking back on the 1930s from the present period,
one is struck by a link between the grounds for policy which were expressed in
It should be mentioned by way of introduction to this discussion that there has been a thread running through the literature of liberal adult education for some decades which comes close to reflecting the philosophical position being identified here. The same can be said of some elements of the human potential movement. What we are focusing on here, however, are attempts to develop or propose a public policy which is grounded in a view of the whole person rather than the person in his/her various (usually compartmentalized) social roles.
In the early 1960s Alan Thomas, who was Director of
the Canadian Association for Adult Education (CAAE) for most of the decade,
burst onto the Canadian adult education scene as a thinker of dynamic and original
ideas. He drew on the ideas of John Dewey, Marshall McLuhan, and Roby Kidd. If
his message were to be summed up in a phrase, it would be the one he used as
the title for his address to the landmark National Conference on Adult
Thomas' views, which may be described as liberal in philosophical terms, were based on the transforming power of learning in the lives of individuals and on the "saving" potential of learning if it is harnessed to public and social purposes. At a time approximately a decade prior to the more internationally visible final report of the UNESCO Faure Commission, Learning to Be (UNESCO, 1972), Thomas was exploring many of the same ideas. A few brief quotations from some of his writings will convey the direction of his thinking:
The only human, dignified way to respond to change is by learning (1961).
Learning, the true currency of post-industrial society. . . . (1961).
Learning together always breeds effective relationships among men (1964).
. . . a whole new moral code, of which learning and competence are cornerstones (1965).
Morality lies in the learning, in the activity itself, and not in the effect of the subject matter (1966).
In every act of learning there is both an act of surrender and a great release of energy (1970). (quoted in Selman, 1985, pp. 11-12)
The point being made here is that in the work of Thomas, an approach to public policy and adult learning was being developed which shared some elements--in terms of the relevance to "the whole person"--with the position adopted back in the 1930s. Some of the same ideas are found in the work of Roby Kidd in the sixties as well, especially in his text for the field, first published in 1959, and in his remarkable lectures delivered in Saskatchewan in 1966 (Kidd, 1959; 1966). In the case of both Kidd and Thomas, we see a shift in focus from education to learning, from pedagogy to mathematics. And in the work of both there is an emphasis on the impact of the act of learning on the total human personality.
By the end of the sixties, there was emerging in the work of the Council of Europe and UNESCO a very similar point of view. The Council of Europe's development of the concept of education permanente put particular emphasis on the cultural and personal impact of lifelong learning (Kallen, 1979; Simpson, 1972). Although UNESCO's sustained work on lifelong education had relevance to many schools of thought about adult life and educational policies, they have come to be strongly identified with a liberal-humanistic view (Knapper & Cropley, 1985).
Paul Lengrand was the chief architect of UNESCO's early work on the concepts of lifelong education and lifelong learning. Rereading his first published statement on the subject, An Introduction to Lifelong Education (1970), one is reminded of the "sense of crisis" to which he was clearly responding. Although the nature of that crisis at the end of the 1960s
was very different from that of the 1930s, there was somewhat the same sense of rallying people to the nature of the urgent situation and of the need for maintaining morale in the face of the forces at work. Lengrand expressed concern about the human condition and the many challenges facing society. People must go on learning "if they do not want to find themselves on the losing side" (p. 9). In words very reminiscent of the Depression, Lengrand speaks of the need "to help humans to become more fully themselves" and of the dangers of boredom; "boredom is to the soul as perilous, as fatal an evil as is a virus to the organism" (pp. 21-22). He emphasized the role which learning can play in man "resuming control of himself" and in putting the emphasis on "being rather than on having" (pp. 40-41). It would be possible to push too far with the attempt to see connections between the mentality of the Depression and that of the emergence in recent decades of the current concept of lifelong learning, but there is certainly a similar sense of response to crisis and a clear thread of liberal or liberal-humanist ideology present in both cases. Further insight into the sense of crisis prevailing at the time is provided by works such as P. H. Coombs' The World Educational Crisis: A Systems Analysis, which had been published in 1968.
In 1972 the report of UNESCO's International Commission on the Development of Education, entitled Learning to Be in the English version, burst upon the world of educational planning. As in the case of Lengrand's earlier work, the seven commissioners were obviously deeply impressed by the dangers facing contemporary society and, as well, by the varied critiques of existing educational systems which had appeared on the world scene in both the developing and the more industrialized countries. In terms which spoke clearly to the experience of the 1930s, the report pointed out that education had been "the select instrument by means of which existing values and balances of power have been maintained" (UNESCO, 1972, p. 55) and that no political system could "forego securing its foundations through its educational systems and other means" (p. 150). The report developed the notions of lifelong learning/education and that of "the learning society," professing a belief in "scientific humanism" as a basis for action. It emphasized as well the need to shift from a pedagogical perspective to one of mathetics. Among the basic assumptions stated at the outset of their report was that "only an over-all lifelong education" could allow the individual to cope in the modern world and that the aim of the person must be "to build up a continually developing body of knowledge, all through life—‘learn to be’" (p. vi). Although the various roles which the adult plays in life were fully acknowledged in the report, the focus kept coming back to the individual man and woman, their view of themselves and of their society.
Following the publication of Learning to Be, UNESCO
asked its Institute for Education in
Only two other studies which have emerged from
UNESCO's explanation of the concept of lifelong education will be referred to.
In a volume edited by A. J. Cropley, Towards a System of Lifelong Education (1980),
a number of themes dealt with are relevant to the experience of the 1930s. One
is the elaboration of the "lifewide" as well as the lifelong
dimension of such a system and the redefinition that is required of public and
private elements of the field. The reaching out for new relationships with the
voluntary sector, which we saw in
It may be pointed out, in conclusion, that while in recent years such humanistic views have influenced or infused much of the literature of lifelong education/learning, we have at the same time been hearing a somewhat complementary view from the analytical philosophy school of writers about adult education. In an early statement of the analytic school, Values, Education and the Adult by R. W. K. Paterson (1979), the author states the case: "Education. . . directly touches our personal being, tending our identity at its roots, and ministering directly to our condition as conscious selves. . ." (p. 15). Another prominent proponent of the analytical approach, Kenneth Lawson (1982), comments that "education implies a concern for moral and evaluative issues consistent with a humanistic approach" (p. 97).
It is clear that in many ways over the last 30 years, the literature concerning lifelong learning and the learning society has devoted considerable attention to themes which were prominent in the "new deal," Depression years of the Liberal government in British Columbia. It is of course not the intention to claim any causal relationship between the two phenomena, but rather to note some common themes--most notably the emphasis on learning's impact on the whole person and the new kind of relationship between the public and private sectors of providers which is required in "the learning society."
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