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Tkach, Nicholas.

Edmonton, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, c1983. 385pp, paper, $12.50, ISBN 0-88864-944-4. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Robert Nicholas Bérard

Volume 13 Number 6
1985 November

One could be forgiven for thinking that a book bearing this title and of this length would provide a study in depth of Roman Catholic education in Alberta, but one would be sadly mistaken. Instead, the reader will find a patchwork quilt of tedious biography, potted provincial history, and irrelevant and distracting statistics and quotations.

Author Nicholas Tkach claims to have written "a social history of the province," but he has done little more than prepare a stodgy pamphlet about Catholic school administration in Alberta and pad it to nearly four hundred pages with material that has little obvious connection to the subject. The first three chapters are given to sketches of the area's Indian tribes; the Christian missionaries, Catholic and non-Catholic, who evangelized them; and short histories of two religious orders, the Grey Nuns and the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus, who played a major role in establishing mission schools. It is an hagiographic treatment, complete with trite edifying quotations, written in the style of the worst sort of Victorian Catholic works of devotion.

Four chapters comprise the general social history, little of which is connected in any meaningful way with the development of Catholic education in the province. The reader is treated to digressions on the establishment of the Alberta Telephone Company in 1907, the internal squabbles of the United Farmers of Alberta, the Dieppe Raid, a description of the gyrations of Elvis Presley, and presented with tables of statistics on topics ranging from crude oil production to the incidence of gonorrhea.

Only three chapters deal with education directly. The first treats briefly some of Alberta's curricular reforms between the wars, primarily the province's adoption in the 1930s of the principles of progressive education, and explains superficially the opposition of the Church hierarchy to the ideas of John Dewey. Tkach seems on firmer ground in chapters on, respectively, the Alberta Catholic Education Association and the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association. The former was established in 1947 to combat apathy among the province's Catholics on educational matters and to lobby on behalf of the separate schools. The latter body, formed in 1958 by Catholic members of the Alberta School Trustees Association, worked to promote religious and moral education as well as to mitigate the effects of school district consolidation on Catholic schools.

Yet even in the educational chapters, Tkach's work is dull, repetitive, and un-analytical, composed largely of excerpts from the by-laws and publications of the organizations under review. The author has gleaned little or nothing from diocesan archives on a local level and failed to place his subject in the broader context of either Canadian or Catholic educational history. Incredibly, the Second Vatican Council, whose decrees touched off a major upheaval within the Catholic Church, is mentioned only in an epilogue by another writer. Just enough information is provided to suggest that meaningful and interesting research on Catholic education in Alberta remains to be done by better writers and scholars, and this constitutes the only possible reason to recommend consideration of this book. More interesting would be an analysis of why the faculty of education at the University of Alberta would publish such an embarrassingly written and edited volume, save as an example of the worst excesses of its type.

Robert Nicholas Bérard, Dalhousie University, Halifax, N.S.
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