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Egerton Ryerson
Chapter X - The Grammar or High Schools


THE foundation of the present high school system of Ontario was laid in 1708 when half a million acres of public lands were set apart for education, to include both a university and four secondary schools. This wise provision was vitiated by the class-spirit; in which it was proposed to be carried into effect; but before it was made available by the Act of 1807, the growth of the country expanded it into a provision for a system of district grammar schools, at first eight in number. Each of these district schools was placed under the complete control of a board of trustees for the district, appointed by the lieutenant-governor-in-council. These trustees appointed the teacher, made regulations for the school and issued the certificates under which the teacher received from the government the legislative appropriation for his salary which was £100 for each school. No provision was made for uniformity in curriculum or text books, nor was any standard of qualification prescribed for the teacher, and the governor-m-council was the only central authority supervising the appointments made by the trustees. In 1819 this act was amended so as to require the trustees to hold an annual examination of the school in which they were required to take part and also to make an annual report, to the governor of the state of the school, the number of pupils, the branches taught and any other matters pertaining to the prosperity of the school. Provision was also made for ten free scholars in each school. In 1831 a proposal was made in the legislature to make these schools free with a grant of £400 a year to each school, and in 1832, a bill was introduced to place them under the direction of a general board of education for the province, but neither of these measures was carried through.

In 1839 a new Grammar School Act was passed under which the schools were conducted until 1853. By this act the district schools were henceforth legally known as grammar schools, and were thus brought under the provisions of the royal grant of 1797. For each school the board of trustees was appointed as before to have the superintendence of the school and to receive the monies authorized to be paid for its support. The rules and regulations for the conduct and good government of all the schools were placed in the hands of the council of King's College, thus bringing them for the first time under a uniform system. A not less important provision of the act was a more definite and liberal financial policy and provision, under which a permanent grammar school fund was created from the investment of the proceeds of the sale of the old school lands and from a new appropriation of 250,000 acres for this purpose; and the proceeds of this investment were placed in the hands of King's College council for distribution according to the needs of the schools. In addition to the -£100 heretofore paid to each district school, a further grant of an additional £100 each was authorized for the establishment under certain conditions of two additional schools ill each district, and a sum of £200 to aid in the erection of a suitable schoolhouse in each district. A full financial as well as educational report was also required from each district board of trustees. The council of King's College was further authorized to apply a portion of the monies from invested endowment in aid of the grammar schools, and to extend aid from this and the grammar school revenue at their disposal to four additional grammar schools in any district where they deemed it necessary. Under the impulse of this act the grammar schools, then twelve in number, rose by 1842 to twenty-five, and by 1845 to thirty in number; and when to the more liberal provisions of the law there was added the stimulus and even competition of the new common school system, the number of grammar schools was rapidly multiplied, rising in 1853 to sixty-four. Many of these new schools were of a respectable; character and in some places the old schools were doing good work. But the influence of the university council n their direction was exceedingly feeble, the majority of well-prepared un versify matriculants were furnished by Upper Canada College, and the majority of the old schools continued to be schools of a class, doing, with the addition of Latin, elementary work in English, mathematics and science below the standard of the best common schools, and taking their pupils from private schools in which they were taught the first rudiments. There was still no legal standard of qualification for the teacher, and the teacher was not seldom the local curate. There was no provision for inspection, and although the number of schools was multiplied, there was no guarantee that the large amount of public monies expended on their maintenance was profitably employed. They were now teaching 8,221 pupils, of whom 102 were returned as unable to read and 285 unable to write. About one-sixth (556) studied Latin, and one-ninth algebra and Euclid. The expenditure on these schools was £10.743. 11s. 1d., or nearly $43,000, $13.35 for each pupil.

The situation was thus one which demanded the attention of the legislature, and the Grammar School Act accompanying the new University Act of 1853 was the result. By this act the grammar schools were separated from the university in administration and made for the first time a part of the public system of which I)r. Ryerson was the superintendent, and it is with the preparation and administration of this act that his work on a grammar or secondary school system begins.

He began by placing the whole system on a more popular basis by vesting' the appointment of trustees in the hands of the municipal councils and providing a separate board for each school. This was effected gradually, the change of system being completed in three years. At the same time the responsibility for the support of the schools was placed upon the municipalities acting through their trustees, the legislative grant and the income from the invested proceeds of the grammar school lands forming a grammar school fund to aid the municipalities in their work. These two radical changes brought the grammar schools under the same fundamental principles as the common schools. They henceforth belonged not to the government but to the people. They were immediately controlled by their representatives and supported by their money contributed either as fees or by direct municipal taxation. The whole body of the people were thus brought to feel a direct and financial as well as educational interest in their secondary schools.

The third principle of the new act was equally important, and also on a line with the constitution of the common school system. This was an efficient system, not only for the distribution of grants in aid. but also for making proper regulations for the government of the schools, and for their inspection. This system was administered as in the common schools through the council of public instruction, of which the president of University College and of the other colleges affiliated to the provincial university were now made members for this purpose, and through the chief superintendent of education. These provisions included a standard of qualification for all teachers in the grammar schools, and the appointment, of a provincial board of examination for that purpose; a curriculum which covered all subjects required for matriculation in the provincial university as well as the elements of science, needed for industrial and commercial education; provision of proper text books for use in the schools ; directions as to organization of the schools, and provision of suitable apparatus and equipment, including provision for a system of meteorological observations throughout the province, and the appointment of provincial inspectors of grammar schools. The chief superintendent was authorized to require complete reports of the grammar schools as of the public schools according to forms provided, and again as in the common schools satisfactory compliance with these regulations was made the condition of receiving the annual government grant. The trustee boards were also clothed with all the necessary powers for the efficient discharge of their duties placing them on a footing in this respect approaching to that of the common school trustees, to whom such large powers had been safely entrusted under the common school acts.

It is not too much to say that here again these fundamental principles, few and simple as they are, brought order out of chaos. To call into exercise the local interest, authority and responsibility of the people, to aid it by judicious grants, to direct it by wise regulation and inspection, these were the simple principles from which the practical genius of this man of the people constructed one of the most efficient systems of education that the world has known. These principles once established were never disturbed, and all subsequent amendments were minor provisions for their more perfect development.

The first of these provisions to become effective were the appointment of inspectors and the proper qualification of masters. At the end of three years thirty-eight out of sixty-one headmasters were graduates in arts - twenty-three of Canadian and thirteen of British universities, while two held American degrees. Of the rest, ten had qualified by examination, the others holding their position in virtue of appointment before the passing of the act.

The first inspectors, the Rev. Wm. Ormiston, M.A., and T. J. Robertson, M.A., were men of great ability, thorough scholarship, experience in educational work, and masters i 11 the organization and management of schools, and under their influence the schools rapidly improved in system and method of work. Pupils fit only for primary schools were excluded by means of entrance examinations, the pupils were properly classified, and something like an orderly curriculum of school work was introduced. Still the work of the first few years served rather to bring to fight the defects of the schools than to bring them up to a satisfactory degree of perfection. The masters were under-paid, the school houses defective and unsuitable, the schools without needed equipment, many of them without even suitable maps and blackboards, and the county councils unwilling to furnish trustees with funds, since they looked on the schools as belonging to the towns and villages, while these complained that the control of the schools through appointment of trustees was not ih their hands. Notwithstanding these complaints it did not seem desirable to change the law, as the schools were intended not for the benefit of the immediate locality but of the entire county or section of the county in which and for which they were established.

To obviate these financial difficulties in villages, and even in some towns and cities, the trustees took advantage of the provision for the union of the grammar with the common school, giving for the united school the powers of local taxation enjoyed by the common school board. In 1858 no less than thirty-nine of the seventy-five grammar schools were so united. The report of the inspector shows that while such union resulted in financial advantages, it was detrimental to the higher work of the school. In fact Dr. Ormiston soon reported that it furnished satisfactory work neither in the common school nor in the grammar school department. The Motive—a cheap school —reduced it too often to an attempt to carry on the union school with a staff sufficient for a good common school. Under these circumstances the high school work was reduced to a minimum, and that minimum became an incubus on the common school. Notwithstanding these difficulties a steady and gratifying progress was made in the character of the grammar school work and also in the buildings and equipment used for grammar school purposes. This was especially the case in the western and central parts of the province. The attendance of county as against town pupils was gradually increased. The influence of the universities as directing the curriculum of the grammar schools was making itself felt. And while the intense local interest attached to the common schools was not yet awakened for the secondary schools, a deeper and more intelligent interest was being created.

After ten years experience of the new law, in which the schools had increased in number from 64 to 95 and the attendance from 3,221 to 5.589, where the classical pupils had risen from 556 to 2,825, we meet the next important movement in advance. In the year 1863, the Rev. George Paxton Young was appointed inspector of grammar schools. This was another example of Dr. Ryerson's peculiar wisdom in the choice of able co-workers. In his reports for 1864 and 1865, Mr. Young presents an exhaustive statement of the still existing defects in the grammar school system, and of the remedies which m his judgment should be applied.

The first point to which Mr. Young calls attention is the abuse of the power of county councils to establish new schools whenever their proportion of the grammar school fund enabled them to do so without lowering the grant to each school beneath the prescribed minimum of §200. This results, as he finds, in the establishment of weak grammar schools. In fact Mr. Checkley, his predecessor, had already reported some of these as positively inferior to good common schools. This undue multiplication of schools he found, further, to affect the attendance, finances, and consequently the efficiency of the existing schools. It was, besides, bringing the whole system of grammar schools into contempt, and depressing the average work of the common schools by substituting poor grammar schools for good common schools. The remedy for this abuse Mr. Young leaves to the chief superintendent, though he quietly suggests the application of Dr. Ryerson's old device of a solid financial requirement.

Next to this undue multiplication of schools. Mr. Young places the evils growing out of the union of the common with the grammar schools, lie reports that now three out of every five grammar schools in the province have common schools united with them. lie points out the cause of this ,n the financial provisions of the law, giving the united board of trustees a power of direct taxation not possessed by the grammar school trustees alone. He also shows ):he advantage which it possesses of bringing the whole body of common school pupils into touch w ith the higher work and exciting their ambition to continue their studies beyond the limits of the common school programme. But he finds that these advantages are far more than counterbalanced by the resulting evils which Dr. Ormiston had already pointed out. It put upon the grammar school master the burden of instructing the common school pupils in their higher work, to the detriment of his own curriculum. It filled up the common school department with inferior teachers, and led to cheaper and poorer schools in both departments.

While Mr. Young, in common with his predecessors, deplored the still existing defects of buildings and equipment, and urged strong pressure for reform n this direction, he does not consider it advisable to extend the power of direct taxation to a second board of trustees. He considers rather that pressure should be brought to bear upon the municipal councils to secure the needed improvements. The last item of Mr. Young's exceedingly able report deals with improvements in the method of teaching such subjects as algebra, geometry, and the Latin and Greek languages, and strikes at an evil which has persisted to our own time, the lack of thorough elementary instruction, and the use of methods suitable only for advanced pupils.

On this report was founded Dr. Ryerson's Act of 18(55 "for the further improvement of grammar schools in Tipper Canada." The main features of this act were:—

1. A change in the method of distributing the grammar school fund. The old distinction between senior and other schools was abolished. The county lines were also virtually abolished as a basis of distribution according to population: and the fund was distributed directly to the several schools of the whole province according to their works, i.e., the average attendance of bona fide grammar school pupils. To prevent abuse here the entrance examination to the grammar school was placed entirely in the hands of the inspector, also in this way securing uniformity throughout the province. This provision at once put a premium upon really strong schools.

2. To maintain these schools efficiently it was required that in every case a local contribution, outside of fees, equal to the grant from the grammar school fund should be raised by the municipality or by the trustees.

3. To create a more directly local crest in the school, in towns and incorporated villages one half the trustee board was appointed by the council of the town or village and one half by the county, while the cities were separated from the county for grammar school purposes, except in the rare instances where the city was the location of the only grammar school in the county, in which case the county council appointed one half. These enactments were of themselves a strong influence against the undue multiplication of schools; but in the same direction was the further proviso that no new school should be established until it could secure a grant of §.100 from the grammar school funds without diminishing the grants to existing schools. Provision was also made for the dissolution of the union between grammar and common school boards by the vote of a majority of the united board. One of the last but not least important of the new provisions made a university degree necessary for the head master of a grammar school.

The new law was immediately followed up by a revised and thoroughly graded programme of studies for the pupils of the grammar schools, accompanied by a completely revised code of regulations. These regulations were scarcely less important than the act, as conformity with these was a condition of participation in the grammar school fund. By these regulations elementary English was excluded from the grammar school programme, and the schools were made strictly secondary schools. A programme of modern languages was provided for students who did not wish to take classics, and to this course girls were, at the option of the trustees, admitted on the same terms as boys. This step, taken apparently with a good deal of hesitation and conditioned upon the assent of the trustees, was one of the most important- of all the new features now introduced.

These new departures were still considered somewhat tentative, and in his succeeding report Mr. Young examines with care their results. The expected diminution of the number of grammar schools did not follow. Two fell off the first year, but from that time there was a steady though more moderate rate of increase. The non-classical course for grammar school pupils was another feature which did not meet with large response in the public demand. The inspector himself, while not approving of this course, was decidedly in favour of it for the girls; but although the girls were not encouraged in this direction, their avidity for Latin seemed almost increased by the fact that it had been so long to them forbidden ground. In five years the attendance on the grammar schools had risen to 7,280, an increase of 36 per cent., while the number studying Latin had risen to 6,058, an increase of 81 per cent. Greek had in the same period experienced a relative decline, falling from 12J: to 10\ per cent., a decline which has continued steadily to the present time.

The transfer of the entrance examination to the inspector revealed the fact that the preparation of the pupils was still largely defective, pointing to the need of a more definite course n the public school before coming up for the entrance examination. In fact, the lack of a solid foundation in the elementary English branches was now clearly apparent as the most serious drawback to the success of the secondary schools. The new law was also still found defective as a means of making adequate financial provision for first class schools. The trustees were, as a rule, anxious to improve the schools, but being entirely dependent upon the municipal bodies and upon fees for financial support, they were quite unable to give effect to their wishes. In the meantime the completion of confederation and the formation of the new Dominion had given to the country the impulse of a new national life. With that life Dr. Ryerson, a Canadian of the Canadians, was himself in the warmest sympathy. The provincial legislature, to whom the whole field of education was now entrusted, was likely to be a far more progressive body in the matter of educational legislation than the united parliament of the past, and Dr. Ryerson, under its auspices, once more addressed himself to the work of advancing and perfecting both the public and high school systems.

The legislation of 1874 and its immediate results in the new regulations issued by the council of public instruction, was without doubt the most important n the history of education from 1850 onward. Its chief features were the following:—

1. It introduced the representative principle into the composition of the council of public instruction, thereby bringing it into distinct touch with the universities, the high schools and the public schools and inspectors. This feature, which might have been productive of most important practical results, was discontinued at the reorganization of the education department under a minister of education.

2. It reorganized the grammar schools as high schools and collegiate institutes, providing in the latter for a far more complete programme of secondary education than had ever been attempted in the country before.

3. To maintain this advanced programme efficiently, the trustees of the high schools and collegiate institutes were now for the first time authorized to make requisition upon the municipal councilor councils of their district, for such sums in addition to the government grant and its equivalent, as were necessary for the maintenance of the school, thus placing them in this respect on an equality with the public school trustees. It will be seen that this provision was carried into effect only after twenty years of effort in this direction. The provision for new buildings or grounds was still left to the voluntary action of the municipal bodies.

4. The union of public with high school boards was discontinued, and the provision for dissolving existing unions was re-enacted.

5. In the distribution of the high school grant the principle of payment according to results was now first introduced. The regulations under which these results were to be ascertained were placed in the hands of the council of public instruction.

6. The conditions of the establishment of collegiate institutes were definitely fixed by law; four qualified masters must be fully employed in teaching the subjects of the prescribed curriculum, and a daily average of not less than sixty male pupils must be pursuing the study of Latin or Greek. On fulfilment of these conditions the lieutenant-governor-in-council was authorized to confer on any high school the name of collegiate institute, with an additional grant from the grammar school fund of $750.

Under these provisions of the law the council of public instruction, with Dr. Ryerson at its head, proceeded with great energy in their important work. The programme of studies was once more completely revised, and especially for the work of the collegiate institutes, extended in the lines of modern literature and science. Three able men were appointed as inspectors, devoting their entire time to this work, and representing by their eminent attainments as specialists, the three great branches of the curriculum, classics, mathematics and science, and modern literature, especially English. Rut perhaps the most influential step of all taken by the council was the establishment of the intermediate examination at the end of the work of the second form as a means of testing the results of the work of the school as a basis for the distribution of the grant. This was the first introduction in a truly influential form of the examination system into our school work below the university. In twenty-five years it has extended its influence, until now it dominates our whole educational work.

The devising of these last measures for the perfecting of the high school system, we may call Dr. Ryerson's last great contribution to the educational work of Upper Canada. For twenty years he had devoted his energies to the perfecting of* the high schools, as for thirty he had laboured on the public school system. In both cases he had found it necessary to overcome the obstacles arising from popular ignorance, apathy, or penuriousness, by wise enactments and patient effort. lie was especially patient of delay. With remarkable accuracy of judgment he was able to discern the true ends to be ultimately attained, and to gauge the ability and willingness of the majority of the people to furnish the means for their attainment; and we have found him waiting patiently and working steadfastly for the accomplishment of such ends as the establishment of free common schools, or properly sustained high schools. And this labour he continued for ten or even twenty years, never losing sight of his ultimate object, employing gentle pressure whenever necessary, but always avoiding a friction which would render the whole system unpopular. It was doubtless of great advantage to him during his life-long labour that his work, like the administration of justice, stood just outside the field of polities, and was thus not subject to the ordinary contingencies of political changes. If it. made his difficulties a little greater, and his progress somewhat more tardy, as he overcame difficulties with the people, difficulties with municipal bodies, difficulties with the legislature and the government of the day, this very slowness of growth and absence of startling change made his work in the end more strong and gave it a deeper foundation in the habits as well as the confidence of the people. Retiring from this work in the seventy-fourth year of his age, after devoting thirty years of his matured manhood and great endowments to this service of his country, with an old man's pardonable pride, he thus, in his last report, sums up the results of his work:—

"In concluding this report for 1874, I may be permitted to note the progress which has been effected n the development of the public school system, of which I took charge in 1844. At that time there were 2,700 public school teachers, in 1874 there were 5,730, increase 3,030. In 1844 the amount paid for salaries of teachers was $200,850 ; in 1874 the amount, paid for salaries of teachers was $1,440,894. In 1844 the total amount raised and expended for public school purposes was $275,000 ; in 1874 it was $2,8(55,332, increase $2,590,332. In 1844 the number of pupils .n the public schools was 90,750; in 1874 the number of pupils was 404,047, increase 307,291. In 1.844 the number of school-houses was 2.495, in 1874, 4,827, increase 2,3.32. The number of log school-houses in 1844 was 1,334; in 1874,115, decrease 1,229. The number of frame school-houses in 1844 was 1,028; in 1874, 2,080, increase 1,052. The number of stone school-houses in 1844 was 84; in 1874, 4(53, increase 379. The number of brick school-houses in 1844 was 49; in 1874, 1,109, increase 1,120. These are mere naked figures, which convey no idea of the improved character, furniture and fittings of the school-houses, the improved character, uniformity and greater cheapness of the text books, the introduction of maps, globes, blackboards, etc., in the schools, the improved character, qualifications and position of teachers and their teaching. In 1844 maps and globes were unknown in the public schools; up to 1874, 2,785 globes and 47,413 maps and charts have been furnished to the schools, nearly all of which are now manufactured in the country. In 1814 there were no public libraries or library books; in 1874 there were 1.334 pubhc school libraries, containing 200,040 volumes, provided and sent out by the department. In 1844 there were no prize books distributed as rewards for good conduct, diligence and success in the schools; up to 1874, 700,045 prize books had been sent out by the department and distributed in the schools. In this summary statement no mention has been made of the normal schools and their work, the standard of qualification and examination 206 of teachers, and the improved organization and inspection of the schools.

"In regard to the grammar or high schools the duty was imposed upon me in 1852 of training and administering the law respecting this important class of our public institutions. The number of these schools then in existence was 84-; the number in 187-4 was 108, increase 24. The number of pupils in 1852 was 2,043; in 1874 it was 7,871, increase 5,228. In 1852 the amount of legislative grant or grammar school fund was $20,507; in 1874 it was $75,553; besides a sum equal to half that amount, raised by county and city councils, and corporate powers in boards of trustees to provide additional means for the payment of teachers and the building and repair of school houses, many of which are now amongst the finest school buildings in the province. In 1852 the amount paid for the salaries of teachers was $38,533; in 1874 it was $179,940, increase $141,413. In 1852 the grammar schools received pupils from their 'a-b-e's' upwards; now pupils are only admitted on an entrance examination from the fourth form of the public schools, and the high schools have uniform programmes and text books, and are under the semi-annual inspection of three able inspectors. It is by the cooperation of successive administrations of government and parliaments, and the noble exertions of the country at large that this great work has been developed and advanced to its present state."

Such was the kindly and honourable farewell of a great man to the country for which he had wrought out his noble work. That work was built upon such secure foundations that not only its permanency but also its perpetual expansion was insured. It was sustained by the common sense and best feelings of all the people. It is now more than a quarter of a century since this report was issued, and the statistics of the first year of the new century are in our hands, showing 5,003 public schools, 379 separate schools, 414,019 pupils n the public schools and 43,978 in the separate schools, and a total expenditure for schools of $4,328,082. In the high schools there is an attendance of 22,523 pupils, with a total expenditure of $728,132. While these figures indicate the growth among us of a population who are neglecting the education of their children, the vast increase in the expenditure for education shows the continuous growth of interest in and appreciation of this work.


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