stephen jackson on compulsory education in british dominions


Stephen Jackson, ‘”In Accord with British Traditions”: The Rise of Compulsory Religious Education in Ontario, Canada, and Victoria, Australia, 1945–50’, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History (Published online: 12 Jun 2014).

This article examines the establishment of legally mandated Protestant training in the Australian state of Victoria and the Canadian province of Ontario. Fearing moral decay at home and a menacing world environment seemingly unfavourable to the ‘British way of life’ in the 1940s, educators asserted that religion, and specifically Protestant Christianity, was the only means by which the moral core of their British democracy could be preserved. The teaching of religious instruction was highly controversial in both places. Supporters of the new curriculum believed the religious courses would strengthen the British identity and moral backbone of the Canadian and Australian nations, while opponents argued that imposing religion in the classroom was antithetical to British ideals of freedom and toleration. Educators struggled to reconcile these divergent views on how religion fitted into a wider British identity, and the resulting tension exposed the points of ethnic and cultural fracture that undermined the credibility of Britishness after 1950. The very efforts to impose a unifying sense of Britishness were so controversial and problematic that they ultimately required an alternative understanding of what it meant to be a citizen of Ontario or Victoria.

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