Published in the Telegraph-Journal 16th April 2012
In 1968, the Ontario Provincial Committee of Aims and Objectives of Education in the Schools of Ontario submitted its report, Living and Learning, to the legislature. Better known as the Hall-Dennis Report, it denounced Ontario’s regimentation of schools and classroom practices and called for the wholesale reform of the education system.
The report advocated an individualized program of instruction for the development of the potential of the child, the removal of corporal punishment, and the curbing of competition in the classroom and rote learning. According to Hall-Dennis, schools should be “viewed as a place of personal growth and development based on a learning process of self-discovery.” They called for replacement of rigid expectations, segregated grades and subjects with a system of education revolving around the individual needs of the student, with a minimum of supervision and guidance.
The report also highlighted the need for schools to respond to the unique demands of a fast-changing urban-technological society and the initial excitement generated by the report resulted in experiments such as team teaching and the heavy use of audio-visual instruction. It was not long before complaints began to accumulate about functional illiteracy and lack of readiness for the discipline of the work place or post-secondary education.
Almost 45 years later, the impact of the Hall-Dennis Report still resonates, not only in Ontario but across Canada. And questions about the purpose of education are still on the minds of teachers, parents and students.
With persistently high rates of illiteracy, some parents feel that the school system has abandoned its responsibilities. Their frustration is made more understandable since for decades parents were told that, unlike professionals, they lacked the expertise required to educate their own children.
Teachers are also frustrated. They are told that the knowledge and understanding they have acquired from years of classroom experience is not equal to the task of preparing students for the work world or post-secondary education. Critics claim that the knowledge teachers received in their training is being dismissed as anachronistic in light of the ever-changing demands of the market.
The Hall-Dennis Report placed a spotlight on the need for schools to make greater efforts to impart social skills to help students deal with their problems. If necessary, social skills would take priority even over a basic education. But there can be no essential conflict between good education and good citizenship; one cannot exist in the absence of the other. Students who are not able to clarify their interests and to articulate their responses to the world in the light of reason, history and the expanse of human experience and thought are not likely to become informed, thoughtful citizens or innovative and productive workers.
Commerce was never at the core of the traditional liberal education. Instead, it was the duty of the teacher to cultivate those capacities and skills which would prepare a student to carry the obligation of citizenship and to begin the exploration of the intellectual and spiritual life.
We need in Canada today a fundamental debate over the intellectual and moral objectives of our children’s education. This debate cannot be distilled to conventional policy discussions over methodologies of teaching or the constraints of funding. Important as these are in context, when they are allowed to define the parameters of the debate, these policy options foster the impression that there is disagreement only over fairly narrow technical issues which could resolved by further empirical study. This is most emphatically not the case today.
On the face of it, a liberal education model harkens back to an earlier time. But it is instead fundamentally in harmony with the views of education emerging from Canada’s growing number of parents, teachers and students who are dissatisfied with the educational establishment.