Another important reason for the low level of education in rural regions is the strength of traditional value systems. In grades four or five, well before high school, a Victorian-style split in this microcosm of society became noticeable to me. There was a small conservative element who had learned to believe in the value of studying, the three "Rs", and deferred gratification; but the hedonistic majority lived to enjoy a pseudo-sophisticated childhood and took as their motto carpe diem. During recess, the first group often went to the library (which our three-room school acquired when the junior high school upstairs became pan of the new area high school) while the second group went outside to play.
Then there is the effect of land and property. Ownership of land can take precedence over all educational ambitions. I saw this in the case of the family of my best girlfriend. Her father was a farmer and her mother was a hard-working farm-wife. Her two older sisters married farm lads they had gone to school with and her brother quit school to take over the farm that had been in the family for three or four generations.
Cultural and financial attributes were also influential. Our village had almost no cultural stimulation-no adult library and no theatre, though we were very proud of our weekly newspaper. Like many villages at that time, we were better off financially than culturally: we had three general stores, two gas stations, one drugstore-and- barbershop combined, one bank, one post office, an archaic country doctor and a few women who took in sewing or gave home perms.
Just as most teenagers had little need for pin- money because there were so few places to spend it, there was little need for a higher education. When children were a necessary and economic part of the farm family unit, it was quite logical to ask who needed a B.A to plow a field or to raise children. Only later did I wonder why more consideration was not given to an agricultural or business college training.
Not only was there a lack of economic incentives for formal education, but school learning was actively discouraged for less tangible reasons. In the mid-1950s, resistance to education was widespread as young women and men alike were exposed to the "functional syndrome" as a result of their parents having survived the depression. Education had to have some practical purpose. For instance, my father agreed that education was necessary for a boy but it had to be of some obvious and immediate use. My brother therefore went to business college in preparation for taking over the family business.
But my father could not see any practical purpose in education for his daughters. He told my sister that she didn't need to get a higher education because she would get married in a few years and it would be wasted on her. He believed this even though she had been awarded a Grade 13 academic scholarship and was on the Dean's honor list at university. His attitude toward me was one of indifference. After an ordinary high school career and no scholarship, I went to business college, trained to be a secretary-typist, and went to work. After five years of clerical drudgery, my employer nominated me for a university bursary-scholarship and eventually I earned my Master's degree.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can now speculate why someone like my father would take a functional stance towards education. His resistance to higher education from acceptance if it was functional, through rejection, to indifference all were masks to hide what he knew: education meant change. And what person who is successfully making a living off the land was likely to see the need for change? Fortunately his children did, because statistics show that society has changed, and obstacles to education must be overcome.
Marilyn Hodgson Tuck is a writer from St. John's, Nfld., who was born and received her early education in Ontario. After obtaining a B.A. from the University of Western Ontario, she moved to Newfoundland with her family and earned an M.A. from Memorial University.