Ryerson’s First Report On A System Of Elementary Instruction

” The true greatness of a people does not consist in borrowing nothing from others, but in borrowing from all whatever is good, and in perfecting whatever it appropriates.”—M. Cousin.

This quotation from the eminent Frenchman admirably illustrates the spirit of Ryerson’s first Report and the draft of proposed legislation accompanying it. His Report contains comparatively little that is original, being made up of ninety per cent. of quotations from Horace Mann’s Report and from reports of eminent European statesmen and educators. And yet the Report is none the less valuable because of the quotations, nor does a reading of it tend to lessen one’s respect for the writer. On the contrary, the aptness of the quotations and the skilful way in which Ryerson marshals his proofs, show his statesmanship and genius

Note.- Unless otherwise specified, all quotations in this Chapter are from the above report.

First Report on Elementary Instruction

for organization. He saw enough (luring his European and American tours of investigation to convince him that Canada could, with profit to herself, borrow many things from other peoples. His shrewd common sense and intimate first-hand knowledge of Canadian conditions told him exactly what ought to be done, and he wisely allowed others to tell in his Report their own stories. His position was that of a skilled advocate bringing forth witness after witness to give evidence to the soundness of his theories.

He sets out by defining education, and al-though his definition is not scientific in a psychological sense, it is essentially correct—it points to the school as an agency to promote good citizenship. ” By education I mean not the mere acquisition of certain arts or of certain branches of knowledge, but that instruction and discipline which qualify and dispose the subjects of it for their appropriate duties and employments of life, as Christians, as per-sons of business, and also as members of the civil community in which they live.”

Ryerson then points out that in Upper Canada the education of the masses has been sacrificed to the education of a select class. He wishes to sec a system of universal education adapted to the needs of the country. ” The branches of knowledge which it is essential that all should understand should be provided for all, and taught to all; should be brought within the reach of the most needy and forced upon the attention of the most careless. The knowledge required for the scientific pursuit of mechanics, agriculture, and commerce must needs be provided to an extent corresponding with the demand and the exigencies of the country ; while to a more limited extent are needed facilities for acquiring the higher education of the learned professions.” The Report sets forth a great array of proof drawn from the United States. Britain, Switzerland, Germany, and other European countries, to show that the productive capacity of the people, their morality and intelligence, are in direct proportion to their schools and institutions of learning_ Ryerson lays down as fundamental that any system adopted for Upper Canada must be universal in the sense of giving elementary instruction to all and practical in the sense of fitting for the duties of life in a young country. He goes to considerable trouble to show that in his view the practical includes religion and morality, as well as a development of the merely intellectual powers.

Ryerson was no narrow ecclesiastic, but still he could conceive of no sound system of elementary instruction that did not provide for the teaching of the essential truths of Christianity. He was decidedly not in favour of secular schools or secular colleges. And yet he believed that religious instruction in mixed classes was possible, and pointed out in his Report how it might be conducted. He made a very sharp distinction between religion and dogma, between the essential truths of Christianity and sectarianism. Dogma and sectarian teaching, in his opinion, had no place in schools except in those where all the pupils were of a common religious faith. What he pleads for in his Report is the recognition of Christianity as a basis of all instruction, and the teaching of as much of the Bible as could be given with-out offending any sectarian prejudices. ” To teach a child the dogmas and spirit of a Sect, before he is taught the essential principles of Religion and Morality, is to invert the pyramid, to reverse the order of nature, to feed with the bones of controversy instead of with the nourishing milk of Truth and Charity.

I can aver from personal experience and practice, as well as from a very extended enquiry on this subject, that a much more comprehensive course of Biblical and Religious instruction can be given than there is likely to be

opportunity for doing so in Elementary Schools, without any restraint on the one side or any tincture of sectarianism on the other,—a course embracing the entire history of the Bible, its institutions, cardinal doctrines and morals, together with the evidences of ‘its authenticity.” The Report goes on to show how from Ryerson’s viewpoint the absence of religious teaching in the schools of the American Union was having a damaging effect upon the moral fibre of the national life. He further illustrated by reference to what he saw in France, Germany, and Ireland, how religious instruction might be given without causing any denominational friction or unpleasantness_

After defining the aim and scope of a national system of education, and giving it a religious foundation, the Report outlines the subjects that should be taught in Elementary Schools, and illustrates in almost every case how these several subjects should be presented. While the basis of the instruction proposed is the three R’s—reading, including spelling; ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic yet it is remarkable to what an extent Ryerson proposed to go in enriching ” the Common School programme. Indeed, as one reads the Report he is inclined to repeat the old adage : ” There is nothing new under the sun.” Almost every subject introduced into Ontario schools during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and many which yet, in the twentieth century, seem to have an insecure foothold, and are by many denominated ” fads,” were included by Ryerson in his memorable Report of 1846, and the arguments he uses in favour of their adoption would not seem out of place if used by an advanced educator of the present day. He pleads for music, drawing, history, civics, inductive geography, inductive grammar teaching, concrete number work, oral instruction, mental arithmetic, nature study, experimental science, book-keeping, agriculture, physical training, hygiene, and even political economy. He illustrates some German methods of teaching reading that many Ontario teachers fondly think were originated in their own country.

Ryerson from Canada, Horace Mann from Massachusetts, Sir Kay Shuttleworth from England, besides many others, about this time paid visits to Prussia, and went home to recommend the adoption of much that they saw. These men were acute observers. They recognized that the Germans had learned something that was not generally known by other teachers. How are we to explain it? Had the German teachers by accident blundered upon better methods of teaching than were practised by other nations? Not so. The German methods were the natural result of the German philosophy. The work of Herbart, Froebel, and other thinkers, was bearing its natural fruit, and many of the improvements introduced into the Canadian schools by Ryerson and practised by Canadian teachers, perhaps in an empirical way, were far-away echoes of principles laboriously worked out by German scholars.

Ryerson’s remarks on teaching Biography and Civil Government seem almost like an echo from some modern school syllabus. ” Individuals preceded nations. The picture of the former is more easily comprehended than that of the latter, and is better adapted to awaken the curiosity and interest the feeling of the child. Biography should, therefore, form the principal topic of elementary history: and the great periods into which it is naturally and formally divided,—and which must be distinctly marked,—should he associated with the names of some distinguished individual or individuals. The life of an individual often forms the leading feature of the age in which he lived and will form the best nucleus around which to collect, in the youthful mind, the events of an age, or the history of a period.

Every pupil should know something of the Government and Institutions and Laws under which he lives, and with which his rights and interests are so closely connected. Provision should be made to teach in our Common Schools an outline of the principles and constitution of our Government ; the nature of our institutions: the duties which they require; the manner of fulfilling them ; some notions of our Civil, and especially our Criminal Code.”

The second part of Ryerson’s Report is wholly concerned with the machinery of a System of Public Elementary Instruction for Upper Canada. The Report, after giving an outline of the various classes of schools in France and Germany, recommends for Canada a system as follows :—Common or Primary Schools for every section of a township; District Model Schools, which would correspond with the German Real or Trade Schools ; District Grammar Schools, which would correspond with the German Higher Burgher Schools and Gymnasia; and, completing all, one or more Provincial Universities. The Report also suggested that as Districts became more populous each would in time be able to support, say three Model Schools, and these might specialize, one training for agriculture, another for commercial life, and a third for mechanical or industrial life.

Normal Schools were also recommended for the training of teachers, and elaborate arguments set forth showing their benefits. The example of France, Germany, Ireland, and the United States is quoted to show how these schools would secure better teachers, and that better teachers would mean better schools. Ryerson believed that Normal Schools would elevate teaching to the rank of a profession. He believed that the people were intelligent enough to choose good teachers in preference to poor ones if the good ones were at hand. He also pointed out how a good teacher would be able to economize the child’s time and advance him much faster than an indifferent teacher.

The Report then deals with the subject of textbooks. We need to remember that in Upper Canada at this time there was no control of textbooks. Each local Board or each teacher made a selection. In the majority of cases the matter regulated itself. Pupils used what they could get. With many of the people, a book was a book, and one was as good as another. The utmost confusion prevailed. There had been many complaints that some of the books used were American and anti-British in tone. By 1846 the enterprise of Canadian publishers had driven out many of the American texts, but in some districts they were still in common use.” * In reference to this, Ryerson says : ” The variety of textbooks in the schools, and the objectionable character of many of them, is a subject of serious and general complaint. All classification of the pupils is thereby prevented; the exertions of the best teacher are in a great measure paralyzed ; the time of the scholars is almost wasted; and improper sentiments are often inculcated.” The Report suggests that this mat-ter must be under central control and not left to any local board or district superintendent. To fully appreciate the importance of this matter we need to remember that books meant more sixty years ago than they do to-day in any system of instruction. The better the teacher the less he is dependent upon a book, especially in such subjects as arithmetic, gram-mar, geography, or history. But in 1846 the teachers were in many cases wholly helpless without books. A boy went to school to ” mind his book.” Rote learning, working problems by a rule laid down in the book, studying printed questions and answers, were largely what was meant by ” schooling.” Bad as such a system was, its evils were increased when the books were especially unsuitable. Ryerson praised very highly the series in use in the National Schools of Ireland, and later he introduced them into Canada.

Public men in Upper Canada who took an interest in education had long recognized that the Common Schools were sadly in need of a stronger central control, and some system of inspection. But how to secure these safeguards and yet not destroy the principle of local control was no easy problem to solve. The town-ship superintendents were not educators. They often were intelligent men, but as a class were without any knowledge of how to guide schools or inspire teachers to nobler things. They received from £10 to £20 a year for their services, which sum was as good as wasted. The Act of 1841, and that of 1843, had made provision for local superintendents of education, and had also defined their duties, but the Act had made no provision to secure the due performance of their orders. They were without power except such as the District and Township Boards voluntarily allowed them to assume. They might make suggestions and give advice, but with that their legal functions were at an end.

When M. Cousin, in 1836, visited Holland to examine into the system of primary instruction in that country, the Dutch Commissioner who had founded the system said to him : ” Be watchful in the choice of your inspectors; they are the men who ought to be sought for with a lantern in the hand.” Ryerson recognized the truth of this, and in his Report laid it down as essential to any efficient system.

His report on the control that should be exercised directly by the Government I shall quote entire.

” (1) To see that the Legislative grants are faithfully and judiciously expended ac-cording to the intentions of the Legislature; that the conditions on which the appropriations have been made are in all cases duly fulfilled.

” (2) To see that the general principles of the law as well as the objects of its appropriations are in no instance contravened.

(3) To prepare the regulations which relate to the general character and management of the schools, and the qualifications and character of the teachers, leaving the employment of them to the people and a large discretion as to modes of teaching.

” (4) To provide or recommend books from the catalogue of which Trustees or Committees may be enabled to select suitable ones for the use of their schools.

” (5) To prepare and recommend suitable plans of school-houses and their furniture and appendages as one of the most important subsidiary means of securing good schools—a subject upon which it is intended by me, on a future occasion, to present a special report.

” (6) To employ every constitutional means to excite a spirit of intellectual activity and enquiry, and to satisfy it as far as possible by aiding in the establishment and selection of school libraries and other means of diffusing useful knowledge.

” (7) Finally and especially, to see that an efficient system of inspection is exercised over all the schools. This involves the examination and licensing of teachers, visiting the schools, discovering errors and suggesting remedies as to the organization, classification and methods of teaching in the schools, giving counsel and instruction as to their management, carefully examining the pupils, animating teachers, trustees and parents by conversations and addresses, whenever practicable, imparting vigour by every available means to the whole school system. What the Government is to the system and what the teacher is to the school, the local inspector or superintendent of schools should be within the limits of his district.”

This plan made the Local Superintendent responsible for the examination and licensing of teachers according to regulations laid clown by the Department. With this important exception it will be seen that the functions of the

Government as exercised through the Department of Education are substantially the same to-day as they were outlined in Ryerson’s first report he concluding part of the report dealt with That Ryerson called ” Individual Efforts,” and under this heading he said some very sensible things. He emphasized the importance of parents taking an interest in the school, of clergymen and magistrates visiting the school, f good school libraries, of Teachers’ Institutes, of debating clubs, and of every agency what would assist in stimulating intellectual life.