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Reviewed by:
  • Schooling in Transition: Readings in Canadian History of Education ed. by Sara Z. Burke and Patrice Milewski
  • Jason Ellis
Schooling in Transition: Readings in Canadian History of Education. Sara Z. Burke and Patrice Milewski, eds. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012. Pp. 426, $90.00 cloth, $49.95 paper

This edited collection, consisting of twenty-four articles reprinted from peer-reviewed journals, is in effect a textbook that surveys the history of schooling in Canada. Each of the book’s twelve chapters introduces a thematic topic and includes two articles, arranged in chronological order from “Colonial Schooling” to “Back to the Basics? Schooling in the 1990s.” The editors, Sara Burke and Patrice Milewski, begin each chapter with a few short introductory paragraphs to highlight key points in the articles. These introductions are concise and helpful. Also instructive are the “Suggestions for Further Reading” included with every chapter. Burke and Milewski wrote the volume’s introductory essay on historiography as well. In an accessible style, they describe the crucial revisionist turn in the 1970s that moved the history of education field away from its Whiggish, “house history” origins toward the critical scholarship that has followed. The book’s title, Schooling in Transition, helps make the point that schools in the past changed constantly, just as schools do today. The reader should take away from this book the message that there is much we can learn about the educational present when we make a study of the educational past.

The no-assembly-required format of this book has advantages, mainly for instructors looking for a “reader” (the editors suggest it is suitable for a twelve-week undergraduate course), and perhaps for non-specialists looking for detailed case studies rather than a synthesis or overview of the history of Canadian schooling. Burke and Milewski have chosen articles and themes mostly judiciously. Articles in Schooling in Transition represent schooling conducted in both of Canada’s official languages, and in most of Canada’s regions. (The North is not included. However, Canadian historians of education have not studied this region as much as we could.) Burke and Milewski’s themes cover staples in the history of schooling, such as “Local Resistance to Central Policy,” “Compulsory Schooling and the Family Economy,” “Teachers’ Work” (one of two chapters to focus on women), and “The Challenges of ‘Progressive Education.”’ Indigenous education is addressed, and on [End Page 107] this very important topic, the editors have made strong selections. They supply an often-used article by Jean Barman, “Schooled for Inequality: The Education of British Columbia Aboriginal Children,” in which Barman meticulously documents how residential schools “became such a dismal failure” (256). They pair Barman’s article with another well-known piece, Mi’kmaw scholar Marie Battiste’s “Enabling the Autumn Seed: Toward a Decolonized Approach to Aboriginal Knowledge, Language, and Education.” Battiste discusses the challenging and necessary strategies to decolonize education and to reconstruct Indigenous knowledge systems, languages, and cultures after the severe damage done by Canada’s residential schools policy. Battiste reminds us that the residential school legacy will continue to inflict damage until full redress and reconstruction have taken place.

The historiography of Canadian schooling has seen lively debates, and Burke and Milewski tantalize their audience with several of these historiographical controversies in the volume’s introduction. For example, they discuss the significance of Alison Prentice’s The School Promoters (1977), which Burke and Milewski observe challenged the tendency to uncritically equate expanding educational opportunities in nineteenth-century Ontario with expanding democracy. Given their attention to Prentice in the introduction, it is somewhat surprising that there is no Prentice article in this reader. There is no Bruce Curtis article either, even though Burke and Milewski acknowledge the importance of Curtis’s work to the field. Selecting articles is the most daunting task that editors of a scholarly collection face. Sacrifices had to be made, Burke and Milewski admit, in order to include more up-to-date scholarship from the 1990s and beyond that addresses important themes and intersections in the history of education having to do with race, gender, language, sexuality, age, and embodiment. Schooling in Transition should– and does – cover all of these...


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