Textbooks – Public and Secondary Schools

The textbooks of the pioneer days were described as having been any that the teacher or pupils had on hand. Later they were the ones that were approved by the school trustees and teachers. As a result, that led to many controversies among the teachers, trustees and parents. It meant too, that practically every school was using different books. Most all of them were printed in the United States and Britain. Those of American vintage contained much anti-British sentiment. One can imagine that they did not suit the U.E.L’s[1]. Reverend Thornton tried to mend the situation; he published the “Instruction Reader,” which was later replaced by the “National Series”.[2]

For many years the children in both public and high schools bought their own textbooks and writing materials. From the years 1860 to 1900 these books did not vary to any great extent. They could be handed down in families from the eldest to the youngest, or if there was no further need for them they were sold or given to others.

In most of the schools, a few of the textbooks of different grades were kept on hand in case of emergency. There were no extra books in the schools, especially the rural areas, for supplementary reading, the textbooks were thought sufficient. Children of the past were denied much pleasure by this over-sight. Some of the parents bought storybooks for their families in their homes but they were few.

The prices of textbooks were not high by today’s standards but twenty-five cents was big money in those days. In the years 1860 – 1880, some of the books were priced in shilling and pence; these were for the English publications.

In the 1910s or thereabouts the T. Eaton Company took over the printing of school textbooks at greatly reduced prices in order to stimulate business. The books were priced as follows:

First Reader – 6 cents

Second Reader – 9 cents

Third Reader – 14 cents

Fourth Reader – 16 cents.

The other books – history, composition and arithmetic were all under 30 cents. The geography textbook was 65 cents. After the year 1940 the children brought money to the schools and they were given the necessary [textbooks].

By 1951 the Board of Education provided all the text books. At first these were called grant books. Many books for supplementary reading had been procured by the schools during the preceding years.

The textbooks now (1967) in the Public schools are constantly changing and are soon outdated. When this takes place many of them are used for remedial work. Some of these new publications are quite expensive. It is interesting to compare the present day readers with the corresponding grades in the past.

The following is an excerpt from the “Oshawa Times” which was published in 1968. It explains the matter concerning those books. “When the Ontario Department of Education took over the responsibility for supplying students in Grade 9 – 12 with books, it created a number of problems which did not previously exist, according to the Superintendent of Oshawa Secondary Schools, G.L. Roberts[3].

Two of the new problems Mr. Roberts explained are the disposal of obsolete books and storage of books not in use. In the new schools cupboards for book storage are included, but in the older schools they must be stacked in corners, coatrooms and already crowded cupboards.

The problem is obviously most acute in the summer months when the books are not in use, but even during school there are storage problems. In the larger schools such as the R.S. McLaughlin Collegiate and Vocational Institute as many as 200 different titles are used, and three of each book must be kept on reserve. Hundred of literature books must also be stored. The English course is changed every year so that repeating students will not have to cover the same books again. This means over 1000 books must be stored during the school year alone.

Mr. Roberts estimates there are about 50 000 books in use in the high school system and during the summer a place must be found for all of them. Only a few of the books, those which are tattered beyond repair, are thrown out. Books in mathematics and science which become obsolete are donated to organizations which are dedicated to developing school systems in underdeveloped countries. The books usually find their way to Ghana or the Philippines.

In addition, the Board of Education must purchase from 7000 to 10 000 new books each year. The board spends more than $30 000 a year on books. A new book Mr. Roberts reported lasts an average of three years. At that time it must be thrown out, rebound or patched up. Rebinding costs between one dollar and $1.25 and usually lasts for better than three years, since it is stronger than the original binding. Students have been hired to work for the summer patching books at the Central Collegiate Institute.

In the early 1960s, it was decided that school boards would provide books for the students in Grade 9 and 10 and two years ago (1965 or 1966) the same was done for Grades 11 and 12 students. Students in grade 13 are still expected to purchase their own books. The scholars in all grades in the secondary provided their own writing materials.


[1] United Empire Loyalists

[2] Published by 1867

[3] Teacher at O’Neill Collegiate &Vocational Institute for 28 years, Principal at O.C.V.I. and McLaughlin Collegiate & Vocational Institute, Chairman of the Central Region College Council.

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