Ryerson School Bill Of 1871

FROM 1850 to 1871 no wholly new principles relating to the Common Schools were adopted by the Legislature, although some changes were necessarily made. The legislation of 1850 had, from time to time, to be supplemented by amendments in order that the spirit of the previous legislation should be made applicable to the needs of a rapidly growing community.

An Act passed in 1853 * provided further machinery for the working of Trustee Boards ; gave a liberal annual grant for an educational museum ; set apart £500 a year toward teachers’ pensions, and increased by £i,000 a year the grant to Normal Schools.

An Act passed in 1860 t more clearly defined the powers of trustees, the manner of conducting elections, and auditing school accounts.

The free school was the natural complement of the Act of 1850. The permissive legislation then enacted allowing trustee boards and rate-payers to establish free schools had been so generally acted upon that by 1871 the abolition of all rate bills upon parents seemed to come as a matter of course. The Iogical corollary of free schools is compulsory attendance, and the Act of 1871 fixed penalties to be imposed upon parents and guardians who neglected the education of their children. It may be doubted whether this compulsory clause has ever been of any real advantage to the cause of education. The real forces that move human beings are always moral forces. Many a man has unwillingly sent his children to school because of public opinion, but few because of fear of the law.

The Act provided for county inspectors who should be experts and devote their whole time to the work of inspection. Ryerson’s first Report had foreshadowed such action, and the fact that he had to wait a quarter-century to realize his plan shows how impossible it is to legislate much in advance of public opinion.

The County Inspector, together with two or more qualified teachers, were to form a County Board, with power to license second and third-class teachers upon examinations prescribed by the Council of Public Instruction. In this way the Superintendent had at last secured a uniform standard of qualification for teachers throughout the whole Province.

The small annual grant made for teachers’ pensions in 1853, and increased a few years later to $4,000 per annum, had enabled the Superintendent to dole out pittances to a few score of worn-out teachers whose need was most pressing. Ryerson wished to establish a system such as was in operation in Germany–a system of compulsory payments by teachers in service sufficient to give a substantial pension for old age. He hoped by this means to secure a body of teachers with a professional spirit, and to enable them to spend their declining years in independence.

The Act of 1871 required compulsory payments from male teachers of four dollars per year. At a later date County Inspectors and all first-class teachers were required to pay six dollars a year. This payment guaranteed an annual pension upon retirement of four or six dollars for every year’s contribution. Female teachers were allowed, but not forced, to sup-port the Pension Fund. The compulsory payments aroused much opposition from some teachers, especially those who were making temporary use of the teachers’ calling as a stepping-stone to some other profession. t Ryerson thought that this class might very properly be taxed a trifle for the general cause of education.

Minor provisions of the Act of 1871 gave trustee boards power to build teachers’ residences and to secure land for school sites by arbitration, The Act also authorized the creation of Township Boards of Trustees, where public opinion favoured them.

During its passage through the Legislature the Bill of 1871 was severely criticized by Hon. George Brown, in the Toronto Globe, and by Edward Blake, on the floor of the Assembly.

* No doubt this seems a ridiculously small contribution, but we must remember that teachers received very small salaries. The Pension Fund clause was repealed in 1885 on request of the teachers of Ontario, and since that date no names have been added to the list. The payments by teachers provided only a small proportion of the annual charge upon the Pension Fund. The present annual charge (1910) upon the Fund is $55,926.

Perhaps neither of these gentlemen had any love for Ryerson, but they represented a new spirit which Ryerson scarcely understood, and with which he certainly had no sympathy.

Mr. Blake opposed the Bill upon several grounds, but especially upon the abolition of rate bills and the irresponsible nature of the Council of Public Instruction. As regards the former he expressed himself heartily in favour of free schools, but since they were gradually becoming free without compulsion he wished to let them alone. His objection to the Council of Public Instruction * is worthy of note be-cause it brings out in a strong light the real bone of contention between Ryerson and the Ontario Liberals, and enables us to understand why at a later date it was impossible for Ryerson to work in harmony with a Liberal Executive Council. The Council of Public Instruction was an irresponsible body appointed by the Crown and dominated by the Chief Superintendent. It had extensive powers. It might act arbitrarily, and yet there was no way by which the members of the Legislature could call it to account 0r insist upon explanations. Mr. Blake and his colleagues argued that this was not compatible with representative government. Doctor Ryerson insisted that the Education Department must be wholly removed from party politics. Conscious of purity of purpose and personal integrity, he was ever more desirous of giving the people what he thought they needed than of giving them what they wanted.

Although Ryerson had taken a partisan’s part in politics before his appointment as Superintendent, he wisely tried to administer his Department upon a non-partisan basis. And he met with a large measure of success because all sensible men realized that education ought not to be a topic for partisan bickerings. For many years it was so arranged that the leader of the Government introduced educational bills and the leader of the Opposition seconded them.

Such a procedure was possible only so long as both political parties had more confidence in the wisdom of the Superintendent to deal with education than they had in the educational foresight of their own leaders. But such a confidence could not be indefinitely retained by any Superintendent, and certainly not by Ryerson, who was very sensitive to criticism of his administration, and always ready to challenge any layman who had the temerity to express an opinion upon education contrary to his. It was inevitable that a clash should come, and it was a great tribute to Ryerson’s wisdom in gauging public opinion that the clash was so long delayed. It was also quite to be expected that the Liberal leaders should be the ones to precipitate the shock, seeing that Ryerson had ridden into office upon a wave of Tory reaction.

Mr. Blake and Hon. George Brown could, however, make little headway against Ryerson in connection with the School Bill of 1871. Except in regard to the irresponsible nature of the Council of Public Instruction, the Act was progressive and truly liberal. Ryerson had discussed every clause in the Bill at County Conventions, and had behind him the support of all actively engaged in the work of education and in the other learned professions.