Foundations of Education


Explores the role and importance of public education in Ontario.

Graded Tasks

  • prepare for your seminar this week

The Role and Importance of Public Education

Ontario's public school system is so ubiquitous that it is easy to take its very existence for granted. Nevertheless, a free, universally accessible education for children and adolescents has only existed in Ontario for little more than a century.

Its development is the result of a concerted century-long effort by civic leaders, government officials, parents, and others who believe in the value of education to both the individual child and the larger society to which the child belongs.
📌 "Public education," in this context, refers to both the public non-denominational and Roman Catholic school systems in Ontario.
As Bert de Gooijer and Larry Huber (2017) write in the Regina Leader-Post ():

"The public school system offers the most promising potential for building a harmonious and tolerant society…The public system has been created to fulfil certain missions that go beyond the purely academic purposes of schools:

  • to provide universal access to free education
  • to guarantee equal opportunity for all children
  • to unify a diverse population
  • to prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society
  • to prepare people to become economically self sufficient
  • to improve social conditions"
Photo of historic school building with bell tower.
Built in 1920, Ridgeway Public School was situated at the centre of the town, its clock tower proudly standing tall as a measure of the importance and centrality of public education to civic life. (Photo Credit: David Hutchison)
David Hutchison, the co-developer of this course companion website, has written about the role and importance public education. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter of his book, A Natural History of Place in Education (2004):

"Schools are places which are imbued with meaning - both shared and private. They act as conduits of ideas and practices within which cultural knowledge, norms, values, attitudes, and skills are passed from one generation to the next. As students, teachers, parents, and citizens, we invest schools with the responsibility for continually renewing (or perhaps transforming) the social fabric of society. For adults, schools hold the promise of a secure future life for our children. For students, schools also serve as formative sites where social roles and moral codes of conduct can be tested out and practiced.

To study the role of place in education is to study the institutional bridge that ensures our cultural continuance, that connects one adult generation to the next...

...For over a century now, schools have held a special place in the public consciousness. Witness the never-ending public debate over the aims and methodologies of schooling...As specialized places dedicated to the education of the young we invest schools with both shared and contested meanings related to their role in shaping the hearts, minds, and skills of the next generation. Many of us also invest such places with our deepest sentiments and aspirations - e.g., the promise of equal opportunity for all, the hopes for a better future life for our children, and the promise of a socially responsible and highly educated citizenry. There is a general recognition, despite competing agendas for reform, that schools should formally inculcate each new generation into the norms and values of society.

As formal, (mostly) publicly-funded institutions, K-12 schools perhaps remain the last bastion of mandated community involvement in child socialization. As parents and citizens, we count on this bastion to mediate, counter, and offset the unchecked influence of other less formal institutions, such as the peer group, media, and popular culture, by providing a corrective or compensatory measure to our children's education."
CREDIT: The text above is excerpted from: Hutchison, David. (2004). A Natural History of Place in Education. New York: Teachers College Press, pp. 9 - 17.

Graded Task: Prepare for Your Seminar

In preparation for your seminar this week, write out an answer to the following question. Your TA may call on you to share your answer in the seminar:
Q6.1: Choose one of the six bullets on "The Role and Importance of Public Education" topic page and explain how public education embodies this principle. Provide an example from your own schooling to illustrate your point. (Answer Length: 150 - 200 words | Format: Sentences)
Potential Seminar Question