Articles

The great back - to - school boom

A million executives, housewives and immigrants are using their bigger leisure budget to learn skills and hobbies. Here’s a report on the strongest surge in adult education the nation’s ever seen

McKenzie Porter March 15 1958
Articles

The great back - to - school boom

A million executives, housewives and immigrants are using their bigger leisure budget to learn skills and hobbies. Here’s a report on the strongest surge in adult education the nation’s ever seen

McKenzie Porter March 15 1958

The great back - to - school boom

A million executives, housewives and immigrants are using their bigger leisure budget to learn skills and hobbies. Here’s a report on the strongest surge in adult education the nation’s ever seen

McKenzie Porter

During 1958 one million Canadian adults— one in every nine people between the ages of eighteen and eighty—will return to school. Most of them will be fitting themselves for better jobs. Some will be developing an artistic hobby or improving a “do-it-yourself” skill. Others will be studying for the pure satisfaction of increasing their knowledge. These parttime students are twice as numerous as they were five years ago and three times as numerous as they were at the end of the war.

They are crowding into evening classes run by municipal school boards, provincial education departments, university extension staffs, social-welfare agencies, trade unions, cooperatives and church groups, and flocking off during their vacations and long week-ends to summer schools and folk schools operated by the same authorities.

Canadian educators agree that the great back-to-school movement is a manifestation of increasing leisure. The forty-hour week, holidays with pay, retirement pensions, the automation of industry and the mechanization of domestic appliances are leaving an evergrowing number of workers and housewives with the energy, time and the will to transform themselves into little-league Einsteins and Epsteins, Oliviers and Escoffiers, and Schiaparellis, Rothschilds and Mr. Fixits.

Gordon Hawkins, associate director of the Canadian Association for Adult Education, likens the trend to “an intellectual revolution” and predicts that “it will continue to gather momentum.”

The subjects the students tackle range from physics, chemistry, engineering and metallurgy to glass blowing, watch making, dry cleaning and barbering; from management, salesmanship, advertising and stock-market investment to woodwork, gas fitting, plumbing and floor tiling; from acting, concert singing, television production and public speaking to oil painting. sculpture, fashion drawing and pottery; and from cooking, baking, hostess techniques and interior decoration to tailoring, millinery, embroidery and knitting.

In variety the courses appear to be almost

limitless. Nova Scotia classes include coal mining, bagpiping and Gaelic. In Alberta students study golf, paper hanging, servicestation operation and dog training. In British Columbia students may choose from three hundred and forty courses, including ballroom dancing, naval architecture, model railroading, hunting, gift wrapping, happy retirement and the secrets of feminine charm.

During the last school year the Vancouver School Board ran a suggestion contest for the most unusual yet useful course. It was won by a Mrs. Roy Howard, with Camping KnowHow. When the present season opened last fall two hundred men and women enrolled in Camping Know-How, including Mrs. Howard’s husband, an auto-body repair man.

No matter how many courses are planned, night-school authorities are always asked for more. Miss Brenda Martin, of the McGill University Extension Department staff, was telephoned last November by a man who wanted “to learn all about birds — not little birds, only big birds.” A lugubrious individual asked for lessons in embalming.

The thirst for knowledge in Montreal has reached such a pitch that some McGill daytime undergraduates are employed as “policemen” at night to check the scores of gatecrashers who sneak into classrooms and try to take the courses for free. Winnipeg School District Number One reports that it is “no longer surprised” when immigrants begin attending night-school classes on the day they first set foot in the city.

Dr. Harry F. Hall, principal of the YMCA’s Sir George Williams College, where six thousand Montreal workers study by night for university degrees, says, “This business of adults going back to school is the greatest major advance in the theory and practice of education since World War I. It is the main social contribution of our day.”

Since 1945 students attending night classes in Ontario secondary schools have increased from thirty thousand to eighty thousand. In comparable Quebec schools the number has risen from five thou-

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While students sang opera, studied jets and welding, a lone bachelor shyly learned to cook

sand to fourteen thousand. Alberta and British Columbia didn’t open night schools until 1950. Yet in the eight years since then Alberta’s attendance has jumped from seven hundred to five thousand and British Columbia’s from sixteen thousand to thirty-three thousand. Ministers of education in most of the remaining provinces report proportionate increases.

University extension departments, which used to specialize in advanced studies for graduates, now encourage all comers to take easier courses. And they are catering to soaring numbers. Since 1950 McGill extension-course students have increased from four thousand to seven thousand and University of Toronto extension-course students have multiplied from thirteen thousand to sixteen thousand.

But students attending night classes in secondary schools and universities represent only a fraction of the total number. Scores of thousands more take language, current events or calisthenics courses at local YMCAs or Women’s Institutes; listen to lectures organized by Parent-Teachers’ Associations; join discussion groups held by Farm and Citizens’ Forums; attend classes run by many trade unions in economics and labor relations; or join such private academies as the Thomas More Institute, in Montreal. This last began as a spontaneous evening study group among a dozen intellectuals in 1946. Each fall nowadays Thomas More enrolls more than a thousand budding savants.

Nor does adult education end at evening study. Every year thousands of people spend their vacations at one of the numerous summer schools now run by Canadian universities. At the Banff School of Fine Arts, a summer course in Advanced Management attracts highranking business executives, some of whom attend on expense accounts in company time. This course is sponsored by the universities of Alberta, Manitoba, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

Other adults spend four or five days of their vacations, or several long weekends, at one of the scores of residential folk schools that have sprung up in old farms and rural mansions under the aegis of such voluntary bodies as the Federation of Agriculture, the Junior Farmers, farm co-operatives and various church groups. In Ontario alone there are now more than fifty folk schools, with Manitoba and Nova Scotia running a close second and third in numbers. A typical folk-school program includes working together at household chores, folk dancing, choral singing, dramatics, movies, lectures, handicrafts, outdoor hikes and panel discussions.

Fees vary widely but few people balk at them. Summer schools, charging between six and ten dollars a day, are the most expensive because they have to provide food and lodging. Folk schools, at which living conditions are usually more primitive, charge between two and six dollars a day. The most expensive night classes are university extension courses, which cost between fifteen and fifty dollars a season depending on the subject.

The best value for money is an evening course in a secondary school. At Toronto’s Central Technical School, the biggest night school in Canada, the fees for any one of more than a hundred courses are five dollars for the season for residents. Students from beyond the city limits pay fifteen dollars.

Central Tech is a big, ugly, “gingerbread” building, standing in one of the oldest, poorest and most congested quarters of the city. On most winter evenings, however, its vast yard resembles a car park outside a charity ball. More than five hundred vehicles stand there and although some are jalopies the great majority are late-model sedans. They are the property of men and women who are studying inside.

The primary function of Central Tech is the daytime education of teen-agers in science, engineering, machine design, architecture and commercial art. But at 7.30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays during the winter months the Toronto School Board opens the doors to adults. The rush for admission is so great that on registration night the line-up is more than a block long. Seven thousand grownups, about forty percent of them women, enrolled when the night-school season opened last October. Until the season closes in March more than three thousand of them will be found, on any given class night, gazing at blackboards, poring over books, toiling at workshop benches or tinkering with test tubes.

Calculus to casseroles

Recently, with Principal H. J. Elliott,

I walked along the cream-tiled corridors of Central Tech, pushing open doors at random and observing the remarkable diversity of student types.

In the advance - mathematics class men, young and old, shabby and immaculate, were studying an introduction to the calculus. Around a piano in another room sopranos and tenors, including a youth in jeans and a windbreaker, warbled an Italian opera chorus under the baton of a bearded singing teacher. In a workshop that flashed with blinding blue light artisans in soiled clothes sweated over oxyaeetylenc welders. Elsewhere sewing machines hummed as stylish matrons, winsome stenographers and threadbare charwomen made themselves dresses and hats. Nearby ambitious professional seamstresses were learning pattern making in the hope of improving their jobs in the garment industry.

An enormous hall, containing two monoplane trainers, a jet fighter, the undercarriage of an airliner, a jet engine, and many other massive aircraft components, was occupied by a handful of men in their early twenties who were listening to a lecture on aircraft mechanics. At one of a score of stoves in a huge kitchen housewives clustered about a casserole of stewing beef, herbs and vegetables. A little apart from them, somewhat shyly, stood a well-dressed young bachelor who is sick of restaurant food and is determined to cook well in his own apartment.

Next door a fashionable woman was

teaching a class of brides how to assort guests, prepare canapés and devise entertainments for a smart party. In the pottery class arty and bourgeois types mixed in the turning, baking, painting and glazing of bowls, vases and jugs. Amateur artists in the life drawing class were sketching a “nude” model, who, as a concession to puritans on the school board, wore flesh-colored tights. Among the men in the woodworking class were half a dozen women, lustily operating power saws and lathes as they built bookshelves, china cabinets and garden chairs.

There was class after class of immigrants learning English. Those in the elementary stage studied picture books whose pages were filled with such captions as: “This is a knife,” “Here is an apple,” and, “I pass you the cup and saucer.” To master the difficult “th” pronunciation another class was chanting, in a daffy-sounding unison, “October the twenty-first, October the twenty-second, October the twenty-third,” and so on up to “October the thirty-first.”

When the closing bell rang at 9.30 p.m. the motley, polyglot three thousand streamed down the school steps, jostling, laughing and chattering like people who've just seen a good musical comedy. They all appeared to be satisfied with their night’s work.

Why do they go to school?

From Newfoundland to British Columbia other night-school students were enjoying the same emotions. When questioned such students express many different motives for attending evening classes. Among those given most frequently to the McGill extension department are: “I left school too young and feel my ignorance;” “I want to get some pleasure out of serious reading;” “I’m sick of the corn on television and want to do something useful in the evenings.”

L. R. Peterson, Minister of Education in British Columbia, says: “Night-school growth reflects the public’s desire to advance itself vocationally or academically, and to take better advantage of leisure. The factors involved include the growth of cities, changing home conditions, the speed of modern life, the increase of free time through automation of industry, the early introduction of music, drama and the arts to school children, the earlier age of retirement and the longer life span.”

Duncan Campbell, director of the extension department, University of Alberta, sums up student motives this way: “First: more and more skills are being required of industrial workers. These workers, at various levels, are demanding the training that will speed their promotion. Second: people are anxious to find the answers to complex political, economic and social questions which face them in increasing numbers every day. Third: people are more conscious of their responsibilities as citizens and are taking a real interest in how their communities may be run more efficiently.”

The tangible benefits of evening education are difficult to pin down. Yet educators are convinced that they are immense. Father Eric O’Connor, Dean of Studies at Montreal’s Thomas More Institute, recalls with pride a young Icwish student who, upon enrollment, professed ardent communism. “He had had no formal education,” says O’Connor, “but he was endowed with a brilliant intellect. All his reading, however, had been in one direction. After taking a course with us and receiving food for thought he converted himself from communism by his own arguments. To him communism is now a thing of the past. He's at uni-

versity in the United States studying for a degree in sociology.”

At the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art, in Calgary, a rough check is kept on concrete advantages derived from vocational evening classes. Among many success stories is that of a baggage porter who became a draftsman, a baker who became a cost clerk, a laborer who became a radio technician, a mechanic who became a shop foreman, and a male typist who became an oilcompany technician.

Typical of the self-improvers in Calgary today is Garth Engel, a vacuumcleaner salesman who is attending night classes in airphoto interpretation. He did this kind of work during the war and has been promised a -well-paid job with an air-survey company as soon as he completes his refresher course at night school. Alfred Kennedy, a Calgary barber, takes a public-speaking course to improve his conversation with customers. In the same class are two Calgary firemen who lecture during the annual Fire Prevention Week.

In Saskatoon forty-eight-year-old C. W. Lewis, a federal-government animalhealth inspector, and the author of several poems published by the Saskatchewan Poetry Society, studies literature at night school “to deepen my insight into composition.” Chief announcer Gordon Ross, of radio station CFQC, Saskatoon, takes night classes in radio speech because “I want to attain the highest possible standard of perfection in my business.”

Last year the woman owner of a small bakery at Campbell River on Vancouver Island took the advanced cake-decorating course at Vancouver Vocational Institute. Once a week for six months she made the eighty-mile bus journey to Nanaimo and the forty-mile ferry trip to Vancouver. She never missed a class. As a result she now draws customers from miles around for wedding, birthday and christening cakes.

Many students seek to advance themselves, or enrich their lives, by taking languages. One of the most ardent English students in Saskatoon is a full-blooded Indian who turns up in a beaded buckskin jacket. His opposites are Indians of the Six Nations Reserve at Brantford, Ontario, who are taking classes in their ancestral Mohawk language at the David Thomas Memorial Hall in nearby Oshweken. In Montreal many secondand third-generation Canadians of Italian stock are studying Italian, partly to recapture a worth-while culture and partly to please parents and grandparents.

New Canadians account for twenty percent of enrollment in most city night

schools and English is their major course. At Victoria Composite High School, in Edmonton, Mrs. Bessie Lambert, one of the English teachers, says, “Germans are the easiest to teach: Chinese the hardest.” She adds: “The most thrilling thing is to have someone who once couldn't speak English start to talk. They were arguing in my class tonight, in English. It makes you feel pretty wonderful."

The motives of new Canadians are obvious. Some students, however, express unusual reasons for their presence in night school. Dr. Arthur Corey Steeves, a Calgary dentist, is studying geology because on a trip to a western U. S. national park last summer he felt “frustrated” by his ignorance of the minerals in the magnificent rock formations. A middle-aged Saskatoon woman, who earned eighty marks in English composition last year, says. “My son at university is not working hard. I want to set him 3 good example and show him what can be done with a little application.” A man in his seventies has attended publicspeaking classes in Vancouver for the last seven years. He says he likes to listen to the speeches of the younger students because “it keeps me in touch with new ideas.”

The do-it-yourself philosophy has inspired people of all ages to attend night school and is responsible for a major rise in attendance figures. In Vancouver, for example, Fred Stewart has been taking woodwork for six years. He began after he priced a dining-room suite his wife wanted. The price was three thousand dollars. Stewart threw up his hands in despair, went to night school, and expects this year to complete a suite that is just as good.

To Calgary, two nights a week, five farmers drive eighty miles for a welding class. Their object is to save money by repairing their own farm machinery. Another farmer drives sixty miles to the same school for a television-fixing course because he finds the travel costs of professional repairmen prohibitive.

Do-it-yourself has also driven many women into what used to be men’s preserves. One of the most enthusiastic metalwork students in Saskatoon is Mrs. A. C. McEown, wife of the assistant to the president of the University of Saskatchewan. Working beside a nurse, she is making a set of wrought-iron coffee tables for her home. In one Ottawa auto-mechanics class there are thirty women including an employee of the Brazilian Embassy.

After a carpenter quoted a price of two hundred dollars for cabinetwork to enclose her television-radio-hi-fi equipment Mrs. Edwin Tetlow, wife of a professional photographer, decided last fall to make it herself in the woodworking class of Toronto’s Northern TechnicalCommercial School. Another housewife, in Calgary, enjoys helping her husband in his basement workshop even though sawdust gives her hay fever. She attends evening woodworking classes wearing a surgeon’s gauze mask to keep the sawdust out of her nostrils.

Two of the most unusual woodworking students who ever attended Canadian night schools were nuns. Six years ago they enrolled at the Provincial Vocational School, in Charlottetown, P.E.I., and showed great enthusiasm. One night while one nun sat on the long end of a board the other began to saw through it at an angle of forty-five degrees. Noting that the sawing nun seemed to be having a hard time, the instructor investigated and discovered that the sister had cut not only halfway through the board but halfway through the sawhorse underneath.

The most rewarding courses for teach-

ers are those held in the interests of illiterates. When the British Columbia Department of Education began such courses three years ago at Vancouver’s Sir Winston Churchill High School, it encountered difficulty in finding a way to publicize them. Obviously, people who cannot read were not going to comprehend newspaper advertisements. Finally the department asked a newspaperman to write a story about the courses and invite readers who were acquainted with illiterates to pass on the news verbally. About fifty adult illiterates registered.

This year, the third season, there are forty.

Arthur Buck, a Vancouver teacher of illiterates, says, “It’s been a wonderful experience because these people are so thrilled when they learn to read and write.” Fast year one woman bursting with enthusiasm said to Buck. “Do you know what I did today? I did my shopping and everything I bought I picked out by reading the labels. Always before I had to do it by looking at the pictures.”

At the other end of the scale are the brainy types who work for big companies

and are encouraged by their employers to continue their education. Out of forty thousand employees of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada, some two thousand are taking university extension courses. Some Canadian Bell executives aspire to the ten-month classical education course sponsored by the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, at the University of Pennsylvania. This is open to selected personnel from any Bell company on the continent. Although a classical education is of no direct value to the Bell interests the company feels that

the wisdom its employees gain is of incalculable indirect value.

Many employers now pay the fees of artisans who elect to take evening technical courses. The government - owned telephone company of Saskatchewan, for example, is paying the fees this year of twelve linesmen who voluntarily are studying advanced electronics. In Montreal, Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Company Ltd. and Northern Electric Company Ltd. pay the night-school fees of many apprentices. In the same city the T. Eaton Company encourages Englishspeaking employees to learn French, and vice versa, in the same way.

The increase in night-school students has put a premium on the services of teachers. Nearly every night school in Canada is at its wit's end for staff. University extension courses are usually conducted by faculty members. In vocational schools about one third of the teachers are professionals and the remainder are drawn from every avenue of the professions and industry. They are paid between four and six dollars an hour.

At least one vocational-school teacher, however, has made further profits out of his efforts. He is Bert Moring, thirtyseven-year-old cold-meat chef at the Vancouver Hotel, who teaches “fancy sandwiches" at the John Oliver High School.

A couple of years ago a young student in Moring’s class thought she’d make a dollar or two at Christmas by catering to office parties. She inserted an ad in the evening newspapers. Immediately she got an order to cater — to four hundred people. The girl gulped, took on the job, and apprehensively telephoned Moring. “I’ll help you out.” said Moring. So Moring, the girl, another student, and one of Moring's fellow workers at the hotel catered for the party. They made enough profit to pay for all their own Christmas gifts and festivities.

Not all students benefit to such an extent. Last year McGill’s extension department received the following letter from an immigrant who'd taken one season of English: "Please romburse three dollars for the cart because I cant took English curses this year. From appended list of English curses you can tell I didn't nearly pass the introductory curse. So I have the profound regret to tell you I'll be taking no more English curses."

Nor do all night-school students behave in a manner becoming their years. At one Vancouver night school the sign over the door of the Glove Making class has to be renewed every week because some wag insists on rubbing out the initial letter “G."

Generally speaking, however, nightschool students study seriously and derive great satisfaction from their work. This is especially noticeable at St. John's High School, in Winnipeg. Each Christmas, just before the final bell rings, there is a spontaneous outburst of carol singing, which usually starts on the top floor of the three-story building. In class after class work ceases as other students pick up the refrain. Soon the whole school resounds to the harmony of familiar melodies sung in many tongues. Then, as the last bell of the term clangs, classroom doors burst open. Young and old, rich and poor, native and newcomer, highbrow and lowbrow, pour into the corridors, link arms, and tramp around the school in a parade that is aglow with the exaltation of accomplishment, if

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