In Canada providing for public schools is a responsibility of each province.
Before 1905, public districts were organized under the terms and provisions of the School Ordinances of the Northwest Territories. When most of the area of the Territories was divided into the Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, there were then 602 school districts with 24,254 pupils enrolled in Alberta.
Until the end of World War ll the rural school districts remained the firm foundation of the public school system in Alberta. Numerous community histories published in recent years, such as “THE WINDS OF CHANGE” for Edgerton and District and “ACROSS THE YEARS” for Chauvin and Ribstone have faithfully recorded the life stories of many thousands of pioneer families whose children attended these rural schools.
A typical rural school district covered an area of not more than 20 square miles. Near the center of the district there was a three acre school-yard. A one-room schoolhouse, as well as a barn, two outdoor toilets, a water well, some playground equipment and sometimes a small teacherage were located in the yard. Usually the school-yard was surrounded by a strong fence, and quite often a hedge and some trees.
Parents who lived in these districts chose a great and colorful variety of names for their districts. These names were recognized by the province and given numbers in sequence, such as Battle Valley #2184 and Porter Lake #4311, the smaller the number the older the district.
The rural school served as a central location for many meetings, picnics, concerts, school fairs, family celebrations, dances and church services.
A small board of trustees was elected by the taxpayers to manage all the affairs of the district. They were assisted and advised by the regional School Inspector, who was employed and paid by the Department of Education.
Hiring a qualified teacher under a one-year contract was a major duty of trustees. Normal schools located at Calgary, Camrose and Edmonton crammed annual programs of professional training and practice teaching into nine months from September to June. Graduates from these normal schools received interim certificates which became permanent certificates which became permanent certificates which became permanent certificates when these graduates had earned successful experience as reported and recommended by a school inspector.
Complete records of all Alberta teachers were kept by the registrar in the Department of Education. These records included full details except the race, colour and creed of each teacher. Trustees and school inspectors relied on these records when hiring teachers.
Because normal school graduates needed favourable reports from school inspectors to obtain permanent certificates, they were often rather nervous about having the inspector arrive without any prior notice to observe their performance. But there were notable exceptions. When a charming normal graduate answered a loud knock on her classroom door she saw a dapper gentleman who said, “I’m the School Inspector. I’m Bill Swift.” The normalite chirped, “I’m a new teacher. I’m Vera Fast and I’m not so slow either!”
In rural school districts the annual meeting of parents and ratepayers usually attracted overflow attendance. Consideration of the financial statement, reports by the trustees and proposals brought up by parents were subjects for vigorous and often heated debate. Verbal cuts and jabs and humorous taunts occupied many hours. These meetings were valuable exercises in grassroots democracy throughout rural Alberta which helped to create and to shape Alberta society and culture.
In the Edmonton Normal School Yearbook for 1932-33, the Principle, Dr. G.S. Lord, left a message for teachers. Today it is just as timely as it was 60 years ago.
Man is so thoroughly a creature of his environment that his acts and even his philosophy are influenced profoundly by the times in which he lives. So direct is the influence that one is likely to become short-sighted. In the recent period of prosperity luxuries became so common that many believed the social order to be effective and fair to such a degree that depression was impossible. In the present period of depression the weak features of our social order have been made so prominent that many believe it cannot endure. Present conditions have shown how seriously wrong was the first of these opinions. It is probable that the second will prove no less untrue.
In spite of many mistakes, man has steadily improved his world. It cannot rightly be said that the improvement has been the result of any planned scheme of mankind. Progress has all too often been the result of a struggle. It has all too often been achieved in the face of disaster. It has all too often been a painstaking rebuilding after destruction that planning might have obviated.
We are living in the most wonderful period of the world’s history. Surely human intelligence, which devised the radio, is not to be baulked even by the serious problems arising out of imperfectly adjusted social relations. This is the great challenge of the times to us as teachers. Insofar as we succeed in inducing in our students that sincerity of purpose which results in abundant honest action, we are “following no mean task.”
Anders O. Aalberg