They Want To Know

Adult education, sweeping the country like a prairie fire, is teaching scores of thousands of Canadians that it's never too late to learn

HELEN MARSH November 15 1938

They Want To Know

Adult education, sweeping the country like a prairie fire, is teaching scores of thousands of Canadians that it's never too late to learn

HELEN MARSH November 15 1938

They Want To Know

Adult education, sweeping the country like a prairie fire, is teaching scores of thousands of Canadians that it's never too late to learn


THE BRAKES squeal as a train grinds to a stop at the tiny Northern Ontario station.

A group of men and women watches as one of the cars is detached from the rest. It is equipped with radio, moving-picture projector and screen, and it is lined with stacks of books, magazines and newspapers.

Excitement spreads through the village. The travelling school has arrived. In the evening a group of eager adults gathers at the railway car, and the teacher in charge opens his school. He is going to stay for several days, maybe as long as ten.

He enrolls his eight or ten students, and launches his classes.

Nearly everywhere the travelling teacher goes he has to give lessons in English, as many of his students are foreign-born; in addition he leads discussion on history, Canadian citizenship, geography and trade. He lends books and periodicals, often the only literature that ever finds its w'ay into the remote settlements he visits; he shows films, gives lectures, and turns on the radio when talks and music are Ixing broadcast. He goes away leaving an isolated group of people freshly encouraged and stimulated. He. and five other travelling teachers, annually cover an itinerary of more than a thousand miles to bring new knowledge to these scattered groups.

Out on Canada’s West Coast, in Vancouver, a small room is crowded with students of another type. They are young men and women, and they greet one another in Japanese. Presently the meeting is calleri to order, and another class of Japanese parents, studying Canadian citizenship as a group of the B. C. Parent Teachers Association, is under way.

Now let me introduce Mr. W. S. Douglas, of Alberta. He is a railwayman on the Edmonton-Calgarv run. Some twelve years ago he decided that something ought to be done about a wastage of unused religious reading matter he had observed on his travels. He enlisted the help of the churches and started distributing literature to rural districts. Soon the job got too big for him, and the Canadian Girls in Training came to his assistance. Churches in all parts of Canada began to send him printed material, and rural clergymen in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia joined in the distribution. In ten years he has put over three million papers into the hands of 25.000 families.

A Spontaneous Movement

TS THERE any connection between Mr. Douglas, the Japanese fathers and mothers, and the moving pictures in the darkened railway car?

There is. All these* people and scores of thousands of others in every jxirt of Canada and every walk of life are participants in a movement which has been growing spontaneously but ever more widely in recent years. This movement, perhaps for want of a better name, is known as “adult education.” It has thousands of diverse manifestations. but the factor common to all of them is the provision of education to people not at school.

If you are a farmer, or an industrial worker, or a parent, or a member of almost any national group; or if you are unemployed, or fond of gardening, or a socialist, or a Mennonite, or particularly interested in your powers as a consumer; or if you like to collect stamps the chances are that you belong to some group carrying on adult education.

The origins of the movement might be traced by some people to Albert Mansbridge, who founded the Workers’

Educational Association in England with the idea of establishing a workingman’s university run by the workingmen themselves. Others see it as a derivative of the Danish folk-school movement, started in 1844 by Bishop Grundtvig to provide both technical and cultural knowledge to men and women who work the land. And some see it. not as the product of any particular educational experiment at all, but as the inevitable outgrowth of improved means of communication plus the universal human desire to know more about life and ways of living. The radio, of course, has given great impetus to the movement. The Canadian Government has made extensive use of it. and many other organizations, such as the League of Nations Society, political parties, federated charities in various cities, and other groups with a tale to tell, have reached a much wider audience than would have been jx»ssible by any other means.

A People’s University

nPlIE most highly organized sources of adult education are the universities and the Governments. Nearly every university in Canada has an extension department devoted to providing educational facilities of many kinds to people not attending college. One of the most spectacular adult education developments in Canada, however, has been sponsored by the Extension Department of St. Francis Xavier University at Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The story of the redoubtable priests who staffed this department, cruising over the most poverty-stricken areas of their province, tossing literature to suspicious farmers staring from the roadside, patiently explaining the principles of credit to penniless lobster fishermen, selling the idea of a debating league to a group of hardheaded miners, is a saga of highly dramatic order. In one session, they organized

950 study clubs comprising a membership of 7.600 people. In 1933 they established the women’s division, which has brought not merely advice on health and homemaking, but material on economics, foreign affairs and Shakespeare to many a worker’s wife.

Out of this activity came St. Francis Xavier’s development of co-operative enterprise. To communities where the initiative and security of thousands of farmers and fishermen had been undermined by the lowprices and high costs, the lessons of co-operative marketing and producing and co-operative financing through credit unions came almost as a revelation. Thanks to St. Francis Xavier’s leadership the workers of Nova Scotia now operate more than 140 credit unions; they own and operate lobster factories and, in some communities, co-operative retail stores.

St. Francis Xavier’s Extension Department has also expanded in other directions; it operates travelling libraries, issues thousands of free pamphlets, publishes an Extension Bulletin regularly during the session, and runs a six-weeks school for leaders every summer.

The Western universities, as might be expected, devote much of their extramural activity to agriculture. But by no means all. The University of Saskatchewan has organized annual music festivals, in co-operation with the Saskatchewan Music Association, for many years. As many as 12.000 competitors have entered a single festival. In addition to the vast amount of “regular” extension work, adult education in agriculture alone reaches the amazing total of 30,000 people a year in this one province. Excursions of various kinds, stock-judging competitions, boys’ and girls’ farm clubs, feature the programs for the rural community.

The Extension Department of the University of Alberta is one of the oldest and certainly one of the most progressive in Canada. Organized in 1912. it has built up a huge network of services. It has its own radio station, used extensively for lectures, plays and music in connection with courses; it operates a travelling library w-hich reaches some 30.000 people a year.

In 1937 the Department experimented with a School of Community Life at Olds, based on the principles of the Danish folk sch(x>l but modified to local conditions. From twenty-three different kxralities came farmers, teachers, housewives, lawyers, d(x'tors, storekeepers, and even one school inspector, welcoming the opportunity of spending part of the summer studying together. They discussed social problems, international affairs, economics, modern literature, dramatics and public speaking, homemaking and co-operation. The youngest student was eighteen: the oldest, seventy-three. Tiffs year the school was held for a second time, and it is probable that it will become an annual event.

Government Support

WHAT makes ventures of this kind permanent institutions? Mainly that they are wanted by those who participate in them. The voluntary character of adult education is its greatest source of strength. Unless an educational activity arises in response to a real w-ant. it is not likely to survive. Sometimes it fills a need for a time, then becomes superfluous. But where a need is felt, and no established agency does anything about it. some method of filling it will spring up spontaneously. This has been particularly true in the last seven years. All over the country, small groups of eight or ten people who have no access to formally organized adult education have taken to meeting in each other’s homes. These groups seldom bother to give themselves a name, and there is no way of telling how many there are. But requests for study material are a good indication that there are literally thousands—study groups, forums, round-table discussions. And what has stimulated this desire for serious discussion? Judging by the fact that by far the most frequent demands come in for material on economics, politics, and current history, it is a safe bet that the inconsistencies of the economic system, combined with political instability and the threats to world peace during the past few years, have enormously stimulated critical curiosity. No longer are homemaking, health, and technical and agricultural information the prime interests of the rural questioner. Now he wants to know, “Where does economic chaos come from, and why?”

In contrast to these informal, largely unknown study groups, the main body of adult education is organized more or less formally by universities. Governments and private organizations. Roughly, the types of education disseminated may be divided into four classes— vocational, education of assistance in earning a living, whether in factory, field, or home; cultural education the object of which is knowledge for its own sake; commercial education, including courses organized by employers for their employees, and such self-help enterprises as co-operatives; and propagandist education which is directed to one particular end.

The Governments are the main instruments of vocational training. The forms of training supported, already varied, have been recently augmented by the Dominion projects for training youth. Departments of Health, of Agriculture, of Education, and even of Indian Affairs, in both Dominion and Provincial Governments, carry on extensive educational work along many fronts. They run technical schools, night

schools, summer schools, museums, clinics, school and music festivals; they operate travelling libraries, and give lectures, debates and discussions over the radio. The railway-car schools already mentioned are operated by the Ontario Department of Education; in Quebec, a unique provincial enterprise is a night school for police. Alberta has two provincial agricultural schools; Manitoba gives home-nursing courses. The Dominion distributes quantities of literature on animal husbandry and on the findings of its own experimental farms. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is widely used as an agent for adult education; and the Dominion also publishes every year thousands of reports, statistics, monographs, agricultural bulletins and leaflets.

Training For Citizenship

THE Workers’ Educational Association is probably the most typical institution formed by and for people who desire knowledge for its own sake. First started in England, it is strongest in Ontario, but it is spreading to other provinces. The W.E.A. stresses training for effective citizenship rather than vocational training or supplementary formal education, and limits its membership to trade unionists and similar workers in industry and agriculture. Each W.E.A. district has its own executive, which draws up the program it wants and arranges for tutors. The universities have co-operated widely in providing tutors and certain facilities. The tutor lectures for an hour, and then guides discussion for another hour and often longer. Nearly 2.000 Canadians every year take advantage of “the workingman’s college” to learn more about economics, history, psychology, sociology, politics, current events, and so on.

An interesting tribute to the interest and value of these courses was paid the association in its early years in Canada, when so many “white-collar” workers attended the courses that, in 1926, the limitation of eligibility to industrial and agricultural workers had to be enforced. Since then the University of Toronto has held “tutorial classes” for those not qualified to attend W.E.A. courses.

A truly pioneer work is that of the Frontier College. Armed with blackboards, maps of Canada, and fifty-book libraries, 100 “laborer-teachers” go out each year from the College to lumbering and mining camps in remote parts of Canada. During the day they work with the others; in the evening they open up school. In the last thirty-five years 33.000 "new Canadians” have learned English in this way. In 1934, 4.800 workers were enrolled in definite classwork, while 20.000 others sat in. Thousands of discouraged people have been helped and stimulated by a wide program of adult education which has gradually been built up by the Mountain Sanatorium at Hamilton. To build up the morale of patients enduring long illnesses, all sorts of classes in publicand highschool work, in English for the foreignborn, in subjects of purely cultural interest

have been inaugurated. In addition to these classes and the regular program of occupational therapy, a radio system has been installed throughout the institution, and arrangements have been made to transmit university lectures by direct wire from McMaster University. The working staff has not been forgotten, either; the radio brings them W.E.A. classes on psychology and current events.

Travelling libraries have been a big factor in helping those who are geographically isolated to satisfy their thirst for knowledge. Prince Edward Island has a fine scheme, organized in 1933, by which a network of regional libraries in many scattered points is served by a central library in Charlottetown. The branches have about 900 books each, which are changed every year. And how they circulate! In the ten branches opened the first winter, between 13,000 and 14,000 books were borrowed every month.

The P. E. I. scheme is a Carnegie Library undertaking, as is a similar plan for the isolated Fraser Valley region in British Columbia. Every three weeks a bfx>k van travels to seventy-two different centres, and a quarter of a million books a year are borrowed from it. So encouraging was the response that the Legislature passed an enabling act by which municipalities could tax for group libraries, and twenty-four districts have agreed to take over the enterprise and finance it by a small flat-rate tax.

In other provinces Departments of Education, universities, and private clubs (notably the Homemakers Club in Saskatchewan) operate travelling libraries reaching thousands of people who otherwise would he cut off from any large choice in reading.

Art and Propaganda

AND WHAT of the arts as a cultural force? Probably the Little Theatre movement is the best known organization for the dramatic arts. With branches in every sizable centre, its work was given new impetus by the interest of Lord Bessborough. At his instance, regional and Dominion drama festivals were inaugurated in 1932, and have now become annual trials of skill eagerly awaited and prepared for the year round by the actors and producers, and large interested audiences.

Music festivals are held in nearly every province; school orchestras and church choirs, three-year-old pianists and experienced concert singers, massed violins and lone piccolo players, find in these annual musical “Olympics” new stimulus and experience.

With the grandeur of the Rockies for a backdrop. Banff, Alberta, has for five years been the scene of a summer school of dramatics and fine arts. Extensive courses on the technical and aesthetic aspects of the theatre are given, as well as courses in art, eurythmies, music and choral singing. This is another of the many activities of the Extension Department of the University of Alberta.

Of the 125 museums and art galleries in Canada, the Art Gallery of Torontooperating without any civic, national or provincial grants—has been a pioneer in the stimulation of artistic appreciation. By exhibitions, lectures, gallery talks, study groups and practical art classes, in addition to loans of pictures and slides, the Art Gallery has succeeded in maintaining enough public interest to ensure its supjxjrt and expansion.

Of the "propaganda” type of organization. examples which leap to mind are political and religious groups which aim at conversion of one kind or another. Such

organizations as the I.O.D.E., the National Council of Education, and the Overseas League, the W.C.T.U., the League of Nations Society, the Institute of Jewish Studies, the League for Social Reconstruction, the Catholic Women’s League, and the small but active Tabor Bible School for Mennonites in Dalmeny, Saskatchewan, and many others, have in common the object of disseminating ideas rather than seeking them. These organizations. and many more, do a tremendous amount of adult education of various kinds and with varying success; but they are all privately organized and operated, and they have grown in response to the needs of individuals for mental and spiritual orientation. They are one answer to the gloomy view that democracy is dead; for few countries are left where such freedom to preach one’s conviction, whatever it may be, is so widely enjoyed.

Commercial Training

'THE largest group of agencies organizing educational programs for “commercial” purposes is the co-operatives. From the original Wheat Pool to the smallest buying club, every one of the 1.600-odd co-operatives in Canada has as its final objective the running of some kind of business. Perhaps it is only the purchase of one incubator for a group of poultry farmers, or of a ton of coal for half a dozen chilly city dwellers; or the selling of dairy products, or the operation of a cheese factory, or an agency for marketing manufactured goods; whatever it may be, the success of the business depends wholly on the practical participation of the membership, and this is only attained through extensive educational work. Running a business, of course, is the finest practical education possible, but many a co-operative has met its Waterloo through relying on practical experience alone to educate and train its membership. Therefore, education is a primary force in all cooperative enterprise, and many and ingenious are the forms it takes. In addition to such usual devices as lectures, pamphlets and periodicals, groups are arranged to experiment in window-dressing, to study trade and tariffs, or to hold “tasting tea parties,” at which a number of housewifely co-operators gather to taste all the brands of, say, tomato soup or sardines, with every critical faculty bristling in the effort to pick the best for their store.

Nor does business neglect its opportunities for education, although perhaps its efforts may more properly be classed as “publicity.” Machinery companies, for example, hold “farmer days” on machinery operation, weed control and tillage. They maintain showrooms, produce bulletins, and show films, and one operates a demonstration farm at Gull Lake, Alberta. The Bank of Montreal, always ready to encourage agricultural loans, bought in one year a million pamphlets on agricultural topics from the International Harvester Company for distribution to its clients. The Winnipeg Electric Company holds safety campaigns and public-speaking classes. The Bell Telephone Company organizes a series of educational activities for its employees, and operates a travelling library service for out-of-town employees. Whether directed toward the client, the customer, or the employee, large businesses are increasingly setting up and supporting various forms of informational service.

Even the unemployed, with no financial resources, have discovered the value of uniting for educational and commercial purposes. If you live in Vancouver you may some time have attended a concert given by the Kerrisdale Mutual Service Association. If you have, the price of your ticket helped to develop garden plots for the unemployed and to set up a shoerepair shop; in addition, you have contributed toward an employment bureau, a library and recreation room. The organization has been built up as a result of hours of planning and study in study groups.

Complements Formal Education

AND SO, in hundreds of communities all over Canada, and for a wide variety of reasons, education which is post-school, voluntary and self-taught gains ground. The prairies show particular enthusiasm and originality, partly because the livelihood of that large section of the population which lives on the land necessitates constant struggle to adopt the best methods of running their farms and raising their families, and because such common interests draw isolated people together and are conducive to co-operative effort.

The urban taste for adult education is as a rule more dilettante; many organizations are content to have weekly or monthly meetings, frequently over lunch or dinner, at which someone has been asked to deliver “a half-hour talk.” Citypeople have a thousand different occupations and a thousand different diversions, and the craving for mental stimulus so common among country people is dissipated in many ways in the town. Nevertheless, where adult education is organized in cities, it has other advantages—larger groups from which to choose leaders, library facilities, the ability to secure large attendances and financial support.

Does self-education on its present scale indicate a lack in Canada’s formal education? Or is it a complement to it? Is the choice of school courses too narrow, that such subjects as international affairs and economics and politics come as exciting revelations to thousands of “well-educated” adults? Would it be desirable to take over from private organizations such studies and to add them, say, to high school curricula? Certainly there is much overlapping, much inefficiency, in selfeducation. But the desire for knowledge does not cease at fourteen or sixteen; often the appetite grows with eating, and educational ambition increases as the date of school-leaving recedes farther and farther into the past. It is usually strongest in those who were denied formal education in their youth; many such people

may be found doing executive work in private organizations. They are particularly competent to supply exactly what the members want, and the fact that the organization exists solely in response to the desires of the participators ensures more democratic direction of activities than is possible in public agencies. On the other hand, private organizations are frequently handicapped by shortage of funds and by inexperienced and part-time voluntary workers. Then, tcxx where they are not run by those benefiting directly from them, they are apt to be less effective in organization and coverage than publicly run schemes.

In 1934 a group of people intensely interested in adult education and aware of the waste from overlapping and lack of direction in the myriad activities across the country, called a meeting in Toronto and sent out invitations to all individuals and organizations known to be engaged in any form of adult education. The response was immediate and surprisingly large, and the meeting unanimously agreed that steps should be taken to form an organization to survey and co-ordinate the Canadian field. Out of this was born the Canadian Association for Adult Education, which acts as a clearing house to correlate and promote information and study in many fields. Already various provinces have manifested their approval by financial support, and grants and assistance have been sent from the American Association for Adult Education and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The director, E. A. Corbett—for many years head of the Extension Department of the University of Alberta—is one of the busiest men in Canada, setting up a literature department, organizing classes, sending lecturers all over the country, responding to appeals for advice and help, and building up co-operation between existing groups. His work never ends, but his enthusiasm never flags, for he is the focal point of a dynamic and enriching movement which has its roots in everything that is of interest to human beings.