Marshall McLuhan, Lloyd Dennis & the Hall-Dennis Report (1968)

13Apr12

Lloyd Dennis signing one of his books for a fan

“The underlying aim of education is to further man’s unending search for truth …”. Those are the opening words of the 1968 Ontario Ministry of Education’s Hall-Dennis Report, arguably the most important government report on education published in Canada. Its principal author, school teacher, consultant and principal, Lloyd Dennis, died on March 7. The following extract is from the Globe & Mail’s Obituary:-

Lloyd Dennis ushered in a new approach to education – andersoncharters

From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail – Published Tuesday, Mar. 27, 2012 

Lloyd Dennis, who died on March 7 at his home in Orillia, Ont., at the age of 88, was one of his generation’s most influential educators, revered by many and misunderstood by some.

Raised in the hardscrabble backwoods of Depression-era Muskoka, Dennis was a Second World War paratrooper and a postwar Toronto grade school teacher and principal, who became prominent with the 1968 release of Living and Learning: The Report of the Provincial Committee on Aims and Objectives of Education in the Schools of Ontario, better known as the Hall-Dennis Report.

The progressive report advocated scrapping rote learning and regimentation for a child-centred, inquiry-based model that would tailor lessons to students’ individual needs and interests. Personal discovery was in; corporal punishment was out. …  “Living and Learning became the most internationally recognized and respected report ever produced in Ontario and perhaps the most-quoted document ever published in the province. But, to its critics, it also became the perceived cause of everything that was, and was seen to be, wrong with the schools of Ontario – even though its recommendations were never legislated in any consistent way throughout the jurisdiction.” –  http://tinyurl.com/c9oyxsg

 1950s classroom 

Marshall McLuhan influenced that report with his ideas on progressive education, presented to the Provincial Committee on Aims and Objectives of Education, co-chaired by Justice E.M. Hall and Lloyd Dennis. Marshall McLuhan presented his ideas on education to that committee late in 1966 and is acknowledged for his input, along with his colleague Father John Culkin, SJ, of Fordham University within the report itself. Lloyd Dennis recalls Marshall McLuhan’s presentation to the committee in his memoir “The Learning Circus” (1997): 

The atmosphere is electric as we wait for Marshall McLuhan, the recognized guru of human communication.

Proud of this internationally recognized thinker, a Canadian Oracle that some say is in a class with Newton, Darwin, Einstein and Pavlov, we wonder what gems he will offer us.

By now we had been deluged with lessons learned around the world and at home and saturated by countless briefs from impassioned groups and individuals, by research papers and expert presentations and with our own library of more than one hundred selected volumes. Now, what will McLuhan have to offer?

“Your education system is dead meat,” he begins. Than he argues, convincingly, that the whole approach to organized learning belongs to another century. Children of today are in a new electronic age. They think differently, learn differently and respond differently because they are tactile people, aural people, like tribal man before the age of print. They learn by pattern recognition, but they go to school and are confronted by print-minded teachers. Everything is broken down in packages called subjects – “it’s like trying to study a flood by counting the trees going by, it doesn’t make sense to them. If you think you have a drop-out rate now, you should think of it in twenty years! This rate is nothing unless you are prepared to do something about it. Want to kill interest in Shakespeare? Put him in a book, then put the book on a course of study.”

We are deeply impressed with our local hero, and although we are not sure how we can respond in our deliberations, his effect upon us is profound, and will ultimately be reflected in the [Hall-Dennis] Report”.   – From Dennis, Lloyd (1997). The Learning Circus: A Memoir. Toronto, Umbrella Press, p. 168.

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