Faculty of Education

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Who was Duncan McArthur? Why was McArthur Hall Named in his Honour?

In a recent study, Dr. Theodore Christou examines the contributions of Duncan McArthur to Ontario’s curriculum history.

A portrait of Duncan McArthur.

Duncan McArthur played a pivotal role in Ontario’s educational history. As Deputy Minister, then Minister of Education, in Ontario between 1934 and 1942, he guided the province’s public schools during a period of dramatic reorganization within a context transformed throughout the interwar years by modernity, economic instability, urbanization, and industrialization. McArthur championed an educational vision that was rooted in a distinct vision of democratic citizenship. Cultivating civic engagement was key to democratic living.

The push to reform Ontario’s schools and make them more ‘progressive’ was widespread; progressive education was, however, a contested term with various, and sometimes contradictory, interpretations. McArthur’s progressivist reforms manifested a firm conviction to weave together and manage seemingly contradictory visions of reform into a coherent and comprehensive vision. The 1937 and 1938 Revised Programmes of Study for the province of Ontario introduced, for the first time, subjects such as Social Studies and Health into the formal curriculum. Emphases on activity, on the individual learner, and on bridging the gap between schools and society were novel, reflecting the broader themes of progressivist thinking, which would transform schooling within the province of Ontario, but also across the country.

Key Findings

  1. Duncan McArthur stewarded the implementation and interpretation of progressivist educational ideas in Ontario’s formal curriculum
  2. McArthur wove together various, contradictory educational perspectives into a coherent vision of reform
  3. The Revised Programmes of Study (1937-1938 and 1941-1942) emphasized activity, individual development, and correlation of schools with social life

Further information: Dr. Theodore Christou

 A historical photo of teacher candidates holding a sign saying “McArthur students are groovy”.