In his writing, Paul Axelrod is an expert at interweaving fact with theory. In The Promise of Schooling, Axelrod's views can be clearly seen, but are crafted in such a way that they do not seem predominant. The inferences he draws out of the facts, and the conclusions that were made, were clear and precise because of his excellent descriptive ability. Axelrod's goal in this paper is to draw out the fundamental reason of why schooling was provided and what nationalistic purposes schooling serve, such as the accommodation to the Industrial Revolution.
This study contends that the traditional account of the development of schooling in Canada is not so much incorrect as it is incomplete. The growth of public schooling should be understood, not only as the product of individual accounts, but also as the result of social and economic changes that were sweeping through the nineteenth century Canadian society. The Industrial Revolution played a key role in the growth of schooling, due to the necessity of educated workers.
The Promise of Schooling is a chronological chart of development for the schooling system in Eastern and Central Canada. It attempts to describe and account for major developments in the history of Canadian schooling to the beginning of the First World War. It raises and seeks to answer a number of questions. For instance:
How extensive was schooling in the early 1800s? What went on inside the Canadian classroom? How did schools address the needs of Native students, African Americans, and the children of immigrants? As well as, what cultural and social roles did the universities serve by the beginning of the 1900s? (p.viii)
Axelrod does an effective job of pulling out themes and trends that characterize the country as a whole, and that allow meaningful generalizations about Canadian education. This was a period when schooling grew from something rather informal, sectarian, and voluntary to a system of compulsory public and more-or-less secular education, administered by a complex bureaucracy.
Exploration of the social context in which the educational policy was formed and implemented was examined in great detail throughout the later chapters of this book. He probes the unanticipated consequences and limitations of the educational reform.
Axelrod likes to address some key educational players who were not commonly included in historical accounts, while focusing on the ideas and accomplishments of the educational policy makers. The relationships between them and the authorities were dynamic and complex, and Axelrod's work in this book attempts to capture the essence of the interactions among those people.
As Axelrod continues through his analysis, it is evident that his work is peppered with the ideas of other historians. Axelrod himself says that, "Indeed, as readers will quickly discover, this book is indebted to the work of other historians" (p.ix). Although riddled with secondary sources, he brings an "energized...