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Manitoba History: Review: Deo H. Poonwassie and Ann Poonwassie, Adult Education in Manitoba: Historical Aspects

by Michael Angel
University of Manitoba Libraries

Number 35, Spring/Summer 1998

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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Deo H. Poonwassie and Ann Poonwassie (eds), Adult Education in Manitoba: Historical Aspects. Mississauga: Canadian Educators’ Press, 1997.

Adult Education in Manitoba is a series of essays that the editors hope will illustrate the important role that adult education has played in the province. However, they point out that it is not intended to be a history of adult education in Manitoba. Rather, the intention is for the book to “serve as a catalyst for others to study and create a wider knowledge base of adult education in Manitoba.” The contributors to the volume are all pursuing studies in adult education, but are novice historians. Rather than establishing a uniform standard for the essays, the editors have elected to allow the style, scope and level of analysis reflect the experience, skills, and knowledge of the contributors.

The thirteen chapters in the book are loosely organized into four categories. The first and broadest category contains essays dealing with a biography of a pioneer in health education, the role of adult education in traditional Aboriginal culture, the origin of the Citizenship Council, and a settlement and language training program in the Filipino community. The second category contains two essays dealing with major events in adult education in Manitoba: an adult education experiment in the The Pas in the late 1930s, and three decades of literacy initiatives in Manitoba. The third category focuses on the development of several adult education institutions: the Continuing Education Division at the University of Manitoba; the Winnipeg Education Centre which provides training for inner city teachers and social workers; and the Winnipeg Adult Education Centre, Winnipeg School Division’s high school for adult learners. In the fourth and final category three authors explore the role of several organizations in promoting adult education activities: the Manitoba Women’s Institute, and the adult education programs of the YWCA and YMCA.

The reader cannot help but be impressed with the variety of groups which have and continue to be involved in providing forms of adult education to Manitobans. However, as the editors warn us, the writing levels of the different essays also vary considerably. While all the authors approached their task as novice historians, some were more successful in their historical endeavours than others. I was particularly intrigued with Lynette Plett’s chapter on an adult education experiment in The Pas during the late 1930s. Plett’s narrative of the events and personalities came to life for me in a way which many of the histories in the book failed to do. Similarly, J. Louise Gillman’s story of Dr. Hart is a fascinating portrait of a pioneering nursing educator whose efforts deserve to be made known to a wider public. Unfortunately, many of the other essays in the book were not of the same caliber. Some, like Carol Hawkins’ essay on adult education in traditional Aboriginal culture, tended to blur the distinction between past and present, and while informative, were not really historical. Others, such as Susan Starosilec’s essay on the Continuing Education Division at the University of Manitoba, were mainly a chronicle of events which one might find in an official report rather than an historical narrative. Even the drama and controversy surrounding the Winnipeg Education Centre does not really emerge from Stella Lukinski’s chapter which tried hard to present an impartial study but fails to provide much illumination on the reasons for WEC’s successes and failures, nor does the reader get an idea of the personalities involved. Although Robert Rauscher’s study of the Winnipeg School Division’s Adult Education Centre provided some firsthand evidence of the conflicts that were waged over the school’s very existence, the chapter ends abruptly, leaving the reader wondering what eventually happened to the centre, or how the struggles fitted into the larger picture.

The editors of the book, Deo and Ann Poonwassie, have generally done a good job, although a firmer hand in a few areas might have made the work more readable to members of the general public as well as future adult education students. Many of the authors spend a considerable amount of time dealing with the question of the nature of “adult education” and providing definitions of the term. A general introductory essay, such as is found in The Foundations of Adult Education in Canada, which dealt more thoroughly with such common concerns and definitions, could have prevented some of the resulting repetition. Similarly, a short overview of the major developments in adult education in Manitoba would have provided readers with a better framework within which to approach the essays. Even readers with personal experience with adult education activities in the province will find it difficult to grasp the context in which some of the events occurred. The editors make it clear that their primary audience is other adult educators, but even in instances where the subject and audience have a relatively narrow focus, these connections between the particular and the general are an essential element of the historical craft.

Nevertheless, the collection is a good start at helping to recover an important part of the history of adult education, and of the social and cultural history of Manitoba. As the editors acknowledge, adult education is a large field, so this present book has only touched the surface. The stories of the Agricultural Extension service, the rise of community colleges, the efforts of the public libraries movement, to name but a few, still wait to be told.

Page revised: 13 October 2012

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