1624 Schools of thought
Lessons in Legitimacy: Colonialism, Capitalism, and the Rise of State Schooling in British Columbia
by Sean Carleton
Vancouver: UBC Press, 2022
$89.95 / 9780774868075
Reviewed by Patrick A. Dunae
With its sardonic title, Lessons in Legitimacy exemplifies an activist genre of history that has emerged in Canada following the revelations and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] on Indian residential schools.
In this book, Sean Carleton argues that federally-funded schools for Indigenous children in British Columbia, along with provincial public schools for settler children, were used to “justify the colonial project” and the inequities of “settler capitalism.”
Evoking the TRC’s final report, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future (2015), the author contends that:
if settler Canadians are serious about repairing relations with Indigenous Peoples, the full extent of Canada’s history of education and colonialism – including schools for settlers – must be understood and addressed. There are no easy shortcuts. We need truth before reconciliation.
“This book,” Carleton declares, “contributes to the important project of truth telling about Canada’s history of schooling and colonialism” (p. 4).
Lessons in Legitimacy is based on the author’s doctoral dissertation, which was completed at Trent University in 2016. The book’s sub-title derives from the title of his dissertation: “Colonialism, Capitalism, and the Rise of State Schooling in British Columbia, 1849-1900.” In this published version, the chronological range of the study is extended to 1930.
The parameter of 1930 is puzzling. According to the author, educational reforms attenuated with the onset of the Depression and few significant changes were made to the public school system in BC until after the Second World War (p. 15). Thus, 1930 is a logical place to draw the study to its close. But the curriculum of public schools in BC was revised substantially in the 1930s, with an emphasis on citizenship and loyalty to the state and its institutions. Also, during this decade the provincial Education Department began consolidating small, rural and assisted schools into larger, regional administrative units. As the author points out, schools in rural communities were more integrated with Indigenous and non-Indigenous pupils than most people realize. The push for consolidation, which culminated in 1946 with the creation of school districts familiar today, affected pupils in many ways that are germane to this study.
Lessons in Legitimacy comprises about two hundred pages of text, over sixty pages of endnotes, and a twenty-five-page bibliography. I am pleased that one of my publications, The School Record, is included in the list of sources but disappointed that my surname is misspelled.
More important, a notable book entitled The Forces Which Shaped Them: A History of the Education of Minority Group Children in British Columbia, by Mary Ashworth is omitted. Published in 1979 by New Star Books in Vancouver, it was well-received in the academy (see a review by J. Donald Wilson in BC Studies No. 46, Summer 1980). Although its terminology is outdated, its chapter on Indian residential schools still resonates. It would be interesting to read a modern appraisal on ActiveHistory.ca, “a website that connects the work of historians with the wider public and the importance of the past to current events.” Sean Carleton was a contributing editor to this first-rate online forum.
Carleton is presently an Assistant Professor of History and Indigenous Studies at the University of Manitoba. His book, Lessons in Legitimacy, demonstrates the value of unsettling “the conventions of education history by bringing schooling for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, often studied separately, into one analytical frame.” By drawing upon “theoretical insights from Critical Indigenous studies, historical materialism and political economy,” his book will help academic readers to “comprehend the braided histories of colonialism, capitalism, and state schooling in British Columbia” (pp. 6, 8). Moreover, while the book is concerned with attitudes, policies and events from the past, its main findings are “relevant to the present.” Lessons in Legitimacy, Carleton says, “contributes to the process of acknowledging the ‘complex truth’ about schooling and settler capitalism [in British Columbia] that is the necessary precondition for decolonization and meaningful reconciliation” (p. 211).
Patrick A. Dunae was born in Victoria and lives there now. He taught BC history at the University of Victoria and Vancouver Island University. He is the author of The School Record: A Guide to Government Archives Relating to Public Education in British Columbia, 1852-1946, and editor of The Homeroom: British Columbia’s History of Education website. He contributed a chapter on “Education, Emigration and Empire” in a collection of essays edited by J.A. Mangan, Benefits Bestowed? Education and British Imperialism (Routledge, 1988). Editor’s note: Patrick Dunae has also reviewed books by Linda Eversole, Bethany Lindsay & Andrew Weichel, Jenny Clayton, and Valerie Green, and he has recently reviewed the television docuseries British Columbia: An Untold History for The British Columbia Review.
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
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