Tag Archives: education

Was (Egerton) Ryerson Racist? Redux

WAS EGERTON RYERSON, recognized as the founder of public education in Ontario if not Canada, racist? What a quaint little question. Certainly he was by today’s standards. As a concept, “race” was even murkier in the mid-nineteenth century than it is now. Now race has mostly been distilled down to refer to those biological traits of a breeding population. Can the German Sheppard breeder get more for her pups than the Pomeranian breeder? But back then, race tripled its responsibility by sometimes also referring to culture and sometimes nationality. There was an English race and it was different than the French race.

The question of whether he was racist is strikingly similar to the dialogue National Post columnist Tristan Hopper recently proposed in commemoration of what would have been Prime Minister John A. MacDonald 200th birthday this past January 11th. Was Macdonald a genocidal racist? Sure he was, but so were his colonist partners in the Canadian adventure. “Although they were laying the groundwork for one of the world’s most tolerant nations, the Canadians of 1867 largely took white supremacy for granted,” says Hopper. His proposal, that neither achievement nor fault of either leader or led be minimized, is progressive.

When Ryerson University’s student newspaper The Eyeopener last considered Ryerson and race for its university in April 2007, there was a notable gap in available source material. News Editor John Mather went looking for Ryerson’s 1847 report to British North America’s Department of Indian Affairs, foundational to Canada’s system of cultural genocide more commonly called residential schools. But Mather came up empty, at the university library and after consulting with aboriginal student services. That was unfortunate. Two years later in February 2009, The Eyeopener published a brief note by Erin Valois which appeared to characterize the nature of the report. “In his study,” wrote Valois, “Egerton suggested that Aboriginal Peoples be educated in separate schools that taught European beliefs and practices—the residential school system.” Then she describes what she calls his “big ideas” for free primary and secondary schools and for what would become the Royal Ontario Museum. Rah rah!

(source: Ryerson University Library)

The “Report of Dr. Ryerson on Industrial Schools” is available as an interlibrary loan from Library and Archives Canada. I unequivocally recommend its five pages of text for any Ryerson University attendee or alumni, and find it surprising the historical document is not more widely distributed across campus given the symbolism Ryerson the university takes from Ryerson the man. The report illuminates Ryerson’s thinking at the time. By 1847 Ryerson had already founded schools, notably Upper Canada Academy that became the University of Toronto’s Victoria College. He thought the brightest of indigenous and European children could attend his Cobourg school as an alternative to Anglican Upper Canada College.

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No School For Suckers

INTRODUCING A NEW book by Jeremy Tompkins. No School For Suckers tells the story of how successive Conservative governments in Ontario used their control over textbook evaluation to psychologically manipulate schoolchildren. The book focuses on the Big Blue Machine era of Ontario politics, from 1943 to 1985, when Conservatives ruled the province for an unprecedented 42 years. Hundreds of submitted textbooks, approved by the province’s own evaluation process, were nonetheless rejected for political gain. Because of the province’s large population, home to almost 50 percent of Canada’s English speakers, and its dominance in educational publishing, the rest of Canada was pulled into Ontario’s fog of censorship.


Published by RAi, 2014

The censorship program in Ontario was uncovered at the Archives of Ontario. After signing a Freedom of Information agreement with the Archives, Jeremy gathered, organized and narrated the details on how teachers were recruited and paid to review textbooks and then ignored. No School For Suckers describes how the Ministry of Education obfuscated its actions by suggesting to publishers their books were rejected when in fact they were often majority or unanimously approved. The book tells the story of how the politicians got to the children.


published by RAi, 2014

Some of Canada’s best known authors and historians had their work censored, including Margaret Atwood, June Callwood, Ian Adams, Heather Robertson, Daniel Drache and many others. No sex, no drugs and no criticism of establishment. No fun. Those were the rules. The censorship program ripped out the heart of Canada’s independent publishing industry and treated kids like suckers.

Advance reading copies of No School For Suckers will be made available to reviewers in the second quarter of 2014 from Regoczei AssociatesDM