Thursday, May 17, 2012

Flaherty, Eugenics and Lupins

A high school class in the 1910 era.
It's hard to find pictures of elementary school classes.

Anyway, as I write Biology and Ambition, about Montreal teacher Marion Nicholson in 1910, the follow up to Threshold Girl about her sister Flora;s year at Macdonald Teaching College and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, about her older sister's life and loves at Westmount Methodist Institute, I have decided to look over some textbooks from the era to see what she was teaching her 3rd and 4th grade students.

It's not that hard to find. Years ago I found a document at Mcgill  revealing the curriculum of the Montreal Board.

I have a list of recommended text books, from Flora's Mac portfolio and see they used Ontario Public School texts in their courses.

These texts are online at

The Hygiene Text is most interesting. Hygiene was a subject taught, although I read that it was basically a 'free marks' class - which means it wasn't really about knowledge but about something else. 

Ideology, perhaps. Remember this was the age of Purity and the Hygienist movement was quite racist and classist.

The book I have must have been for older classes, middle school perhaps. It has typical topics (see below) and one not so typical. Family Stock. The final chapter is on eugenics! And amazingly it uses the same case study Jukes/Edwards by a Mr. Winslip that Carrie Derick used in her speech to the Montreal Literacy Society in 1910 and that I put in Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.   

Now, imagine a child of poverty who just happened to be a good scholar and who got himself or herself through to Middle School or High School on scholarship or something. There he would meet with an official text that says he was 'inferior' and destined to remain so, due to genes. He might also be confused by the chapter on housing, that claims that a family home at minimum  should have 1000 sq foot per family member, since he might well live in a two room flat with 8 siblings with no windows or running water.

Now, people might ask what does it serve to bring up these 'embarrassing' bits from history. I think it provides a great service. 

Because one thing doesn't change and hasn't changed over the century: human nature. No doubt, there's a lot of 'official blah blah' today that passes for 'truth'  that is nothing but ideology. Well,  "DUH."

Well, take Finance Minister Flaherty's remark the other day 'that there are no bad jobs.'  If you interpret bad to mean 'beneath human dignity' well, then it's debatable, I guess. Although a question best left to philosophers and kept out of the hands of conniving politicians. If you interpret bad to mean undesirable, dirty, unsafe, disgusting, soul-crushing, stressful, tiring,  stultifyingly boring, not respectable or not respected, or merely not paying enough to raise a family in this day and age, then there's no debate. The statement is patronizing ideological bunk, coming out of the mouth of a privileged patriarch who thinks he knows best but who is way way WAY out of touch, but who controls the country's money, our money! You know that Monty Python Sketch. Dennis Moore. Takes from the poor, gives to the rich, Stupid Bitch. I love that skit. What more Lupins?

 Also one of my favorite 1909 excerpts. A college undergraduate degree ain't worth much these days, although it may put a student from a poorer background in great debt.) And Flaherty seems to want to help turn the middle class into the working poor, wage slaves by cutting UI which helps people with good jobs keep their good jobs in uncertain today.

From Educational Foundations June 1909
(A.S. Barnes and Company)

Opening to Essay Education-The Economic Side by Will Scott.

The state would educate the young in order to make them better citizens; in order to advance civilization. It being desirable that all of its people be good citizens, the state strives to educate the children of all.

The theory held by the state is also the theory of the individual – so far as other people’s children are concerned. They are to be educated so they will not violate the law – not cross swords with society.  But as to their own children, that is quite a different matter. They should be educated not only to make them good citizens, and not chiefly for that purpose, but to give them an advantage in the struggle for existence.  The object of education for one’s own children is not so much to live better but to get a better living; not so much to do better work but to get better pay….Education gives the individual an advantage in the struggle for existence only when he has more of it than his fellows…From an industrial viewpoint, education is a labor-saving machine, enabling one man to do what ten did before. Like other improvements, it tends to decrease the number of jobs, and thus to sharpen competition and decrease wages.

Excerpt from School Power: A Pressing Necessity (Frank Tate, Australian Director of Education).

We must recognize, that in the struggle for existence, the law of the survival of the fittest applies to nations as to individuals, and that in this struggle for existence there is not only the struggle that results in the open shock of war, but the less obtrusive but no less intense struggle of peace, the struggle for trade supremacy. We must realize too how different modern conditions are from those that obtained even fifty years ago. The history of the past thirty years yields ample evidence that command of markets is to be won by the nation that brings knowledge and training to bear upon the operations of producing and marketing commodities which the world wants.