Idealism Transformed: The Making of a Progressive Educator by B. Anne Wood
John Harold Putman, inspector of Ottawa public schools between 1910 and 1937, was a leading progressive educator. At that time the progressive education movement in Canada was composed of two major intellectual strands, neo-Hegelian idealism and new liberalism. By tracing the thought and practices of this eminent educator, Wood shows how the neo-Hegelian philosophy of the late nineteenth century was transformed by its own logic and social imperatives into what seems to be its opposite. Idealism, ironically, ultimately comes to resemble pragmatism. Elected to the Ottawa City Council in 1905, Putman allied himself with progressive urban reformers seeking solutions to urban chaos, ward patronage, and inefficient city government. As inspector of public schools, he brought his reformist outlook to bear on providing for the discontented adolescent in the school and on implementing an efficient school system. Two schools established by Putman provided a diversified program for the adolescent; they led, however, not to the self-realization of the individual but to social unification and streaming for vocational roles. At the end of World War I the Ottawa public schools under Putman were judged the most efficient and progressive of any in Canada. But following the tenets of new liberalism and of urban school reformers in the United States, Putman achieved this goal by creating more bureaucratic practices and more formalized procedures, which again contradicted the idealist's moral, humanistic intent. In the postwar period Putman extended the efficiency principle to his survey of schools in British Columbia and his campaigns for junior high schools and county boards in Ontario. By the end of the 193OS, the author contends, the progressive educator had effectively transformed the use of schooling for life adjustment, not for intellectual purposes.