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Stabler, Ernest.

Edmonton, University of Alberta Press, 1987. 306pp, cloth, $24.95, ISBN 0-88864-114-1 CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by Robert Nicholas Berard

Volume 15 Number 5
1987 November

The six semi-biographical essays in this collection are linked by the notions that their subjects were important educational innovators and that their lives and careers illustrate what a concluding chapter calls "the dynamics of innovation." Why the author, a former dean of the faculty of education and professor emeritus of the University of Western Ontario, chose the particular innovators he did rather than countless others is never clear, but each is portrayed as a charismatic figure, whose faith in the efficacy of education in social change was matched by his or her organizational and leadership abilities in creating programs or institutions to realize that faith.

Stabler's innovators are drawn from several countries and two centuries of Western educational history. Organized in rough chronological order, the collection opens with a study of N.F.S. Grundtvig, a Danish nationalist and social reformer, who founded a series of "folk high schools," privately operated residential colleges, where rural youth, farmers, and craftsmen, men and women, who were not served by the university system could acquire a liberal education, useful skills, and an immersion in Danish history and culture. Grundtvig's movement, which spread to and exists today throughout the Scandanavian countries, is seen as a pioneering and, on a limited scale, successful effort at educational extension.

Two essays examine American innovators: Horace Mann, the secretary to the Massachusetts board of education from 1837 to 1848, a leading figure in the American common shcool movement and, later, the first president of the highly innovative Anti-och College in Ohio, and Mary Lyon, whose long career in the education of women culminated in her founding of the respected Mount Holyoke College, a model for scores of other independent colleges for women. The only Canadian subject treated is the Antigonish Movement, the innovative adult education program established through the effort of Moses Coady and James Tompkins, priest-educators at Nova Scotia's St. Francis Xavier University. Aimed originally at the farmers, fishermen, and industrial workers of eastern Nova Scotia, the movement has had, arguably, its greatest success in development work in the so-called Third World.

The final essays re-cross the Atlantic. One considers the work of Kurt Hahn, an anglophile German educator who established a variety of the British public school in his homeland, and, after his exile under Hitler's regime, founded Gordonstoun, the unusual Scottish secondary school, which combines adventure experiences, community service, and traditional liberal arts education. Hahn's ideas about the value of such a curriculum in a residential setting also inspired the creation of Outward Bound schools throughout the world and the establishment of the United World Colleges, such as Vancouver's Pear-son College, two-year pre-university institutions, where young people of different countries can participate in a common learning community. A second chronicles the history of Britain's Open University, a visionary experiment in adult education and distance learning, which has enabled large numbers of Britons to acquire a university degree, and the roles of former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, MP Jennie Lee, and others in bringing the dream to fruition in the face of public skepticism and opposition from the established universities.

Each essay is mildly interesting, due more to the subjects themselves than to Stabler's treatment of them, but within each and in the collection as a whole the author's purposes are unclear. In his attempt to place each innovator's educational work in an historical and social context, Stabler fails to do justice either to educational biography or to the settings of his subjects' work. In the case of Mary Lyon, for example, he encases a skeletal biographal sketch of a remarkable woman in a rambling, potted history of the higher education of women in North America. We learn very little about the life and thought of either Coady or Tompkins and more than we would ever care or need to know about the early nineteenth-century Danish society in which N.F.S. Grundtvig carried on his work. In Stabler's treatment of the Open University, educational biography is reduced to merely scraping up anecdotes about the heroic founders of the project, whose serious problems he either ignores or of which he is unaware.

It is also unclear at what sort of audience the book is aimed. Historians of education will learn nothing new from essays which are based on widely known secondary sources and are highly derivative, and the general reader, who might take up the book with profit, may be put off by the scholarly trappings of footnotes and bibliography and the somewhat ponderous style. A short summary chapter draws certain parallels among the various innovators, but these are either obvious or coincidental. One sentence begins, "All these leaders used the spoken and written word, ..." and that sentence may say more about the book than all those above.

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