Katie Gemmell, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, UBC
My MA research examines a curriculum movement known as progressive education, which was popular in North America in the first half of the twentieth century. In British Columbia, progressive educationwas embraced and implemented by administrative progressives, who wanted to use education for purposes of social efficiency and control (their work was based on the ideas of American curriculum theorists such as Edward Thorndike, David Sneddon, and Franklin Bobbitt), and pedagogical progressives, who sought to implement educational reforms that were child-centered, activity based, and related to daily life (primarily inspired by American theorist, John Dewey). Progressive education became popular in BC in the 1920s, and by the 1930s had inspired significant curriculum revisions, the blending of history, civics and geography into one course called social studies, and the introduction of middle schools, among other things. By the 1950s critics (e.g. Canadian historian, Hilda Neatby) were calling for a review of the education system, which from their perspective had lost its traditional rigour and results because of progressive education.
Scholars such as Robert Patterson and Neil Sutherland have suggested that progressive education was only impactful on an official curriculum and policy level, and that it was never significantly embraced in the classroom. Class sizes were too large and teachers were not adequately educated. Other scholars, such as Amy von Heyking, suggest that, although perhaps not implemented as its creators may have intended, progressive education was taken up at least in part by classroom teachers, as they were able (in Alberta in particular). My research looks at the impact of progressive education on Catholic school curriculum and classrooms in British Columbia between the 1920s and early 1960s.
As a history and social studies teacher, I am grateful for the opportunity to engage in research on the history of education in British Columbia. I am especially grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Penney Clark, for providing me with the opportunity to assist with her research on the history of textbook publishing in Canada, and for giving me guidance and encouragement with my own work. My research is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.