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99 The central institution of modern adolescence was undoubtedly the high school. Its primary function was to “sort and develop” those on the verge of adulthood—“the most valuable raw material of which the country is possessed ”—to ensure that young Canadians would attain their “maximum usefulness in building up and enriching our national structure.” The high school experience , moreover, would foster community spirit as “could never be [done] through church, home or press” by also training the young for productive community service.1 Underlying the favoured rhetoric were widely drawn, related economic objectives concerning national investment, youth as capital, and productivity as the “ultimate and essential qualification” of a modern citizenship “of the highest order possible.”2 In the ideal modern high school, those who were experiencing the “most formative and creative period of their lives” would be led to “the truest culture” through a citizenship training that prepared them for “a career of material and social helpfulness.”3 By World War I, public commitment to progressive schooling as a means to “uplift” the masses, a number of whom were only recently arrived, had sharpened the view that schools had to offer more than the customary academic subjects in At School The Culture of “Modern High” Your training has given you a strong bias towards what is right. Faults of the intellect such as prejudice, unfairness and loose thinking are inexcusable in high school graduates. Moral faults are unthinkable. — E.A. Munro, principal, Magee High School, 1944 4 Chapter_4 5/8/06 8:21 PM Page 99 order to benefit the largest number of children. Despite the prevailing opinion that the young were “made or marred” before reaching their sixteenth birthdays, as popularized by Stanley Hall and his followers, the high school held much promise as a preventive, or at least remedial, influence that could be brought to bear on the youth problem. This chapter considers how high schools developed as the principal instrument for containing and regulating modern youth and its problems. In gathering together more young people for longer periods than ever before, and by means of a number of curricular and extracurricular modifications that both reflected and expanded upon developing theories about adolescence, the modern high school assisted greatly in the making of distinctively modern generational styles and experiences during the years considered here. Secondary schooling was a nineteenth-century phenomenon, but the high school’s historical moment, manifesting in “the second great transformation” of Canadian education, arrived in the years immediately following the Great War.4 The 1920s marked the first time that the majority of Canadian adolescents passed through high school doors, to remain there for a longer time than had any previous cohort. Without downplaying the continuing middle-class and AngloCeltic predominance of the student body, its class, gender, and ethnic mix was also wider than ever before.5 By the 1930s, compulsory school attendance laws were in effect in all provinces but New Brunswick and Quebec. In the latter province, attendance was mandated in 1943, and the age of school-leaving was then fixed at fourteen.6 The statutory school-leaving age varied provincially: thirteen years in Prince Edward Island, fourteen in the rural districts of Nova Scotia and in Manitoba, fifteen in Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan, and sixteen across Ontario and in Nova Scotia’s towns and cities. Even within provinces, it could also vary according to the urban/rural divide: in all provinces but British Columbia, pupils could legitimately absent themselves from school, usually for not more than six weeks of a single term, if their services were deemed necessary for their own maintenance or that of others, usually family members. In Prince Edward Island, attendance was required in rural districts for only 60 per cent of the school term, apart from the larger towns of Charlottetown and Summerside. Except for Prince Edward Island and British Columbia, however, the law prohibited the employment of school-age children during regular school hours unless they were officially exempt from attendance. Those over thirteen in Nova Scotia and over fourteen in Ontario could apply for special employment certificates that freed them from any obligation to attend school.7 Despite the various legislative allowances to accommodate for family need that continued to keep a fair proportion of adolescents out of the expanding high schools, the national trend showed that more students were attending high school well into their adolescent years, and for longer periods overall. The nearuniversal abolition of high school entrance examinations...


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