Tending the Student Body: Youth, Health, and the Modern University by Catherine Gidney (review)
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Reviewed by
Catherine Gidney. Tending the Student Body: Youth, Health, and the Modern University. University of Toronto Press. x, 294. $34.95

"Nought may endure but Mutability," noted Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1816 within the script of a poem that begins with the verse, "We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon." It is the particular challenge of educational historians to describe that school structures and curricula are not fixed within a mould. They are tentative, revisable, contextually derived, and debatable. In educational discourse, so often spent conjuring what is and what ought to be, the particular contributions that historians make to the landscape of educational scholarship is alarmingly prescient. Educational history pulls aside the veil. Where our rhetoric regarding schooling obfuscates, history casts contemporary practices and rhetoric in a light that demonstrates the ways in which our discourse regarding curriculum and the very purposes of schooling evolve, stagnate, and respond to popular ideas, while reflecting our biases and cognitive beliefs about what it means to educate.

Youth, Health, and the Modern University is a book that exemplifies the very best of educational history. It examines our conceptions about what it means to exist as a moral, intellectual, and healthy person within the Canadian landscape of publicly funded education. It tackles themes concerning the history of higher education, of women's experience, of medicine, and of curriculum studies. Canadian universities in and of themselves deserve greater attention from historians of education, who, like myself, often forget that university education is a public good. Gidney weaves together a story of scientific and academic scholarship, mining heretofore unexplored sources, while telling a compelling narrative that explores our earliest attempts to develop health and physical education programs that would permit individuals to build character, develop their mental well-being, and nurture their unique aptitudes or abilities.

The study considers the period between the turn of the century and the 1960s. It is divided into two parts. The first concentrates on the establishment of student health that examines its intellectual roots, reaching into the 1940s. The second describes the ideological underpinnings as well as the de facto expansion, evolution, and development of medical/health provisions in Canadian universities from the 1930s to the 1960s.

The sources mined in the study will serve as useful footnotes for a range of educational historians studying diverse themes. These include the University of Toronto Quarterly, the proceedings of the Ontario Educational Association meetings, and various journals on (public) health. There is a particular prominence of the University of Toronto in the primary sources considered, particularly for the first decades of the twentieth century, reflecting the rich resource that avails itself for historical study there, particularly at Victoria College. The analysis begs future historians [End Page 138] to elaborate upon the logic line built by Gidney in this important work, examining the Annual Reports of the Ministers of Education across Canada, including educational journals, such as The School and The Canadian School Journal. How does the Canadian education landscape reflect or distinguish itself from those in the United States and in Europe? What is unique about the "modern" Canadian university? What is the relationship between health experts and educationists with respect to public policy and curriculum? How can we conceptualize higher education in ways that reflect the particularities of the students, administrative parameters, regions, and creeds that these institutions negotiate? How do schools change, and how do they stay the same?

Gidney's work reminds us of the ways that schools – in this case, schools of higher education – reflect, echo, and sometimes accentuate the social anxieties that permeate society writ large. Educational institutions not only reflect our conceptions of morality; they are simulacra of modernity that change the very societies they inhabit. School reforms stand as mirrors to our evolving depictions of what matters and how we ought to conjure our futures in a world wrought with mutability.

Theodore Michael Christou
Faculty of Education and Department of History, Queen's University
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