Shunning the Bird’s Eye View: General Science in the Schools of Ontario and Quebec


This paper considers the adoption of general science courses in two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Quebec, during the 1930s. In Ontario, a few science teachers had followed the early general science movements in the United States and Britain with interest. During the 1930s, several developments made the cross-disciplinary, applied thrust of general science particularly appealing to Ontario educationists. These developments included a new demand for vocational education, renewed reservations about pedagogical rationales based on transfer of training, and a growing professional divide between high school science teachers and university scientists. Around the same time, scientists in the Quebec’s French-language universities were engaged in a concerted campaign to expand the place of science in the province’s francophone secondary schools. The province’s prestigious classical colleges, which were the scientists’ principal target for reform, privileged an inductive view of science that had little in common with the applied, cross-disciplinary emphasis of the general science courses gaining support in English-speaking school systems. In 1934, however, a popular American general science textbook was adopted in a workers’ cooperative devoted to adult education. Comparing the fate of general science within these two education systems draws attention to the fact that general science made inroads in francophone Quebec but had little influence in public and private schools. In light of the growing support general science enjoyed elsewhere, we are led to explore why general science met with little overt interest by Quebec scientists pushing for school science reform during the 1930s.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    For examples see OEA (1901, p. 20); (1902, p. 18); (1904, p. 25); (1905, p. 22)

  2. 2.

    The establishment of the national laboratory would in fact be delayed until 1932, but at the time it seemed like an imminent prospect (Enros 1991, p. 46).

  3. 3.

    The teaching brothers pressured the Catholic committee by running the primaire supérieur course independently until the committee caved and welcomed it under its auspices in 1928.

  4. 4.

    Even so, by 1953, less than 1 % of French Canadian girls were enrolled in secondary school (Magnuson 1980, p. 97).

  5. 5.

    One exception was the colleges run by the Compagnie de Jésus, which were independent (Corbo 2004, p. 12).

  6. 6.

    According to Troger and Ruano-Borbalan (2005), enrolments in French lycées represented less than 15 % of age group (chap. 1, pt. VII). In Quebec, in 1946, fewer than 25 % went beyond 8 years of total schooling, and only about 2 % finished secondary school (Corbo 2004, p. 14).

  7. 7.

    Université Laval was established in 1852, when the Séminaire de Québec was granted university status by a Royal Charter. It fell under the authority of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education until 1971, when it acquired a new charter and became a fully independent, secular university. The clergy’s authority over higher education extended only to the French-language universities. The English, Protestant McGill College (later University), which was English-language and Protestant, was a public institution.

  8. 8.

    See, for example, Diament 1933; Lortie 1934; Morin 1934; Dalbis 1923; Flahaut 1927.


  1. Association of Public School Science Masters. (1920). Science for all. School Science Review, 2(6), 197–212. (Original work published 1916).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Aubin, P. (2007). Textbook publishing in Quebec. In C. Gerson & J. Michon (Eds.), History of the book in Canada (Vol. 3, 19181980) (pp. 237–239). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  3. Audet, L.-P. (1970). Educational development in French-Canada after 1875. In J. D. Wilson, R. M. Stamp, & L.-P. Audet (Eds.), Canadian education: A history (pp. 337–359). Scarborough: Prentice-Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Audet, L.-P. (1971). Histoire de l’enseignement au Québec, 18401971 (Vol. 2). Montreal: Holt, Rinehart et Winston.

  5. Bowers, H. (1927). Transfer values of secondary school science. Doctor of pedagogy dissertation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  6. Bowers, H. (1936). Some aspects of the academic secondary school. The school: Secondary edition 24, 365–369 and 460–466.

  7. Bowers, H. (1938). General science: An introductory study of our environment (Bk. 1). Toronto: J. M. Dent.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bowers, H. (1939). Guesswork. The School: Elementary Edition, 28, 97–101.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Bowers, H. (1947). Thinking for yourself. Toronto: Dent.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Brock, W. H. (1990). Science education. In R. C. Olby, G. N. Cantor, J. R. R. Christie, & M. J. S. Hodge (Eds.), Companion to the history of modern science (pp. 946–959). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Buckner, P., & Francis, R. D. (2006). Introduction. In P. Buckner & R. D. Francis (Eds.), Canada and the British world: Culture, migration, and identity (pp. 1–9). Vancouver: UBC Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Caldwell, O. W. & Eikenberry, W. L. (1934). Éléments de science générale. L. Even & W. L. Goodwin, (Eds. and Trans.). Gardenvale, QC: Garden City Press.

  13. Charland, J.-P. (2005). De l’ombre du clocher à l’économie du savoir. Saint-Laurent: ERPI.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Chartrand, L., Duchesne, R., & Gingras, Y. (1987). Histoire des sciences au Québec. Montréal: Boréal.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Corbo, C. (2004). Les jésuites québécois et le cours classique après 1945. Sillery: Septentrion.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Cornish, G. A. (1921). Elementary science in the high schools. The school 9 (pp. 446–451 and 492–495).

  17. Cornish, G. A. (1938). The course in general science for grades IX and X: An address given before the natural science section of the O.E.A, April 19, 1938. The School: Secondary Edition, 25, 789–794.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Dalbis, L. (1923). L’enseignement de la biologie et la formation de l’esprit. Revue trimestrielle canadienne, 9, 49–58.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Daniel, F. (1940). General science for colonial schools. London: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Daniel, F., & Turner, J. S. (1943). General science for Australian schools: Book 1. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Dewey, J. (1933). How we think (Rev. ed.). Boston: D.C. Heath.

  22. Diament, J. (1933). Le rôle de la chimie dans notre enseignement secondaire. L’enseignement secondaire, 13, 428–435.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Documents officiels: Comité catholique du Conseil de l’instruction publique. (1935). L’enseignement primaire 57(3), 1.

  24. Donnelly, J. (2002). The ‘humanist’ critique of the place of science in the curriculum in the nineteenth century, and its continuing legacy. History of Education, 31(6), 535–555.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Dufour, A. (2007). Les manuels de Connaissances scientifiques usuelles des Soeurs de Sainte-Anne, 1923–1956. In M. Lebrun (Ed.), Le manuel scolaire d’ici et d’ailleurs, d’hier à demain (CD-ROM). Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec.

  26. Enros, P. C. (1991). ‘The onery council of scientific and industrial pretence’: Universities in the early NRC’s plans for industrial research. Scientia Canadensis, 15(2), 41–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Fawns, R. (1985). Negotiating an Australian general science: The professional dilemma, 1939–45. Research in Science Education, 15, 166–175.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Fawns, R. (1998). The democratic argument for curriculum reform in Britain and Australia: 1935–1945. Research in Science Education, 28(3), 281–299.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Flahaut, J. (1927). Les mathématiques et les sciences physiques. Revue trimestrielle canadienne, 16, 163–167.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Fraser, C. G. (1943). The humanistic approach in science teaching. The School: Secondary Edition, 31, 433–436.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Fyfe, W. H. (1934). Science in secondary education. The School, 22, 653–660.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Galarneau, C. (1978). Les collèges classiques au Canada français. Montréal: Fides.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Lagemann, E. (2000). An elusive science: The troubling history of education research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Lennox, T. H. (1905). The present outlook for science in Ontario schools. In Proceedings of the Ontario Educational Association 44 (pp. 156–159). Toronto: William Briggs.

  35. Léopold, Fr. M. (1934). Préface de l’édition française. In O.W. Caldwell & W. L. Eikenberry, Éléments de science générale (pp. iii–iv). L. Even & W. L. Goodwin, (Eds. and Trans.). Gardenvale, QC: Garden City Press.

  36. Lortie, L. (1934). La place de la chimie dans l’enseignement secondaire. L’enseignement secondaire, 14, 254–261.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Lortie, L. (1937). Notes sur le ‘cours abrégé de leçons de chymie’ de Jean-Baptiste Meilleur. Annales de l’Acfas, 3, 237–265.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Magnuson, R. (1980). A brief history of Quebec education: From new France to parti Québécois. Montreal: Harvest House.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Mayer, A. K. (1997). Moralizing science: The uses of science’s past in national education in the 1920 s. British Journal for the History of Science, 30(1), 51–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. McCready, S. B. (1907). Science equipment for teachers and schools. In Proceedings of the Ontario Educational Association 46, (pp. 208–216). Toronto: William Briggs.

  41. Morin, L. (1934). La place de la minéralogie dans un programme d’enseignement. L’enseignement secondaire, 14, 375–382.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Ontario Educational Association. (1901). Minutes of the natural science section. Proceedings of the Ontario Educational Association 40, (pp. 16–21). Toronto: William Briggs.

  43. Ontario Educational Association. (1902). Minutes of the natural science section. Proceedings of the Ontario Educational Association 41 (pp 17–19). Toronto: William Briggs.

  44. Ontario Educational Association. (1904). Minutes of the natural science section. In Proceedings of the Ontario Educational Association 43, (pp. 24–26). Toronto: William Briggs.

  45. Ontario Educational Association. (1905). Minutes of the natural science section. In Proceedings of the Ontario Educational Association 44 (22–24). Toronto: William Briggs.

  46. Ontario Educational Association. (1918). Minutes of the college and high school section. In Proceedings of the Ontario Educational Association 57 (41–43). Toronto: William Briggs.

  47. Ontario Educational Association. (1919). Minutes of the natural science section. In Proceedings of the OEA 58 (pp. 69–72). Toronto: Ryerson Press.

  48. Ontario Educational Association. (1920). Minutes of the natural science section. In Proceedings of the OEA 59 (55–56). Toronto: Ryerson Press.

  49. Patterson, R. S. (1986). The Canadian response to progressive education. In N. Kach (Ed.), Essays on Canadian education (pp. 61–77). Calgary: Detselig Enterprises Ltd.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Pouliot, A. (1930–31). Les sciences dans notre enseignement classique. L’enseignement secondaire 9, 8–26, 70–86, 132–147, 272–284, 341–351, 464–481.

  51. Quarter, J. (2000). Harpell’s press. In Beyond the bottom line: Socially innovative business owners (pp. 103–118). Westport, CT: Quantum.

  52. Rudolph, J. L. (2005). Turning science to account: Chicago and the general science movement in secondary education, 1905–1920. Isis, 96(3), 353–389.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Sandiford, P. (1928). Educational psychology: An objective study. New York: Longmans Green.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Sandiford, P. (1938). Curriculum revision in Canada. The School: Secondary Edition, 26, 472–477.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Science in our modern world [Review of the book Science in our modern world. (1940). The School: Secondary Edition 28, 794.

  56. Science Masters’ Association. (1936). The teaching of general science. London: John Murray.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Stamp, R. M. (1982). Schools of Ontario, 1876–1976. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Troger, V., & Ruano-Borbalan, J.-C. (2005). Histoire du système éducatif. Paris: PUF.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Vincent, P. (1996). L’imprimerie Harpell: ses origines exceptionelles, son développement. Montréal: Chaire de cooperation Guy-Bernier, UQAM.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Wholton, T. H. (1936). First year general science. The School: Secondary Edition, 24, 681–683.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. I would like to thank Josep Simon for his helpful suggestions on earlier versions of this paper.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michelle Hoffman.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Hoffman, M. Shunning the Bird’s Eye View: General Science in the Schools of Ontario and Quebec. Sci & Educ 22, 827–846 (2013).

Download citation


  • Science Education
  • Science Teacher
  • Vocational Education
  • Science Curriculum
  • General Science