New Publication! Parental Advocacy for Rural Education in BC

Along with my co-author, Yotam Ronen (PhD student in EDST), I’m pleased to announce a new publication from my SSHRCC-funded project on the history of parental advocacy for rural education in BC. Entitled ” ‘“I am desirous that she should have as good an education as possible” : A Century of Parental Advocacy for Rural Education in British Columbia,” the paper will appear in the August 2022 issue of BC Studies. From the abstract: This article explores the early history of elementary correspondence education from the perspective of rural settler parents in British Columbia in the early to mid-decades of the twentieth century. We use the hundreds of letters written by parents of students to teachers and administrators of the BC Elementary Correspondence School (ECS), the first distance education program in Canada, from its inception in 1919 to approximately 1950. We focus on the most prominent theme that emerged from our historical analysis of parental letters: the need for adequate resources to support the education of rural settler children. Our analysis is framed by reference to more contemporary examples of advocacy on the part of rural parents, exemplified through the 2016-2017 rural education consultation exercise undertaken by the then BC Liberal government. We argue that contemporary concerns about the state of rural education have a long, overlooked history that testifies to the indefatigable advocacy efforts of rural BC citizens over the course of a century.

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Are Histories of Children and Youth Historically Significant?

Historians of children and youth might read my question above as rhetorical. “Of course histories of children and youth are historically significant!” I think the answer is perhaps not as straightforward and obvious as we might think or hope. In March of 2021, I gave a keynote address to the Center for the History of Experiences at Tampere University that explored this very question. The conference theme was “The History of Experience and Agency: A Critical Intervention.”  In my address, I challenged historians to consider how uncritical assumptions about children’s agency in the past, a topic that I’ve written about previously, play into adult-centric conceptions of what constitutes topics and themes of historical significance. The recent critique of the field of the history of children and youth by scholars such as Sarah Maza in the American Historical Review is a great case in point. Maza essentially dismisses the field, arguing that while writing history through the lens of children and youth might have some merit, histories of children and youth do not “significantly recast our understanding of ‘normal’ [sic] history” (Maza, 1261).  Perhaps the problem, I argued in my keynote, is not with children and youth but with what Maza calls “normal history.” What constitutes “normal history” and who decides? How have traditional notions of the constitution of historical significance elevated some histories and marginalized and silenced others? This question will animate my next article…stay tuned!

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New Paper in Progress: “Dreamers at a Distance: Rural Girlhood and the Promise of Education, BC, Canada, 1930-1950”

In preparation for travelling to Leiden, The Netherlands for the upcoming European Social Sciences History Conference (ESSHC) in March, 2019, I’ve been working on a new paper focused on the history of girls in rural British Columbia.

This paper offers a close historical analysis of the letter writing of girls and young women in the context of their schooling in the Elementary Correspondence School (ECS). In 1919 British Columbia (BC) became the first Canadian province to offer official elementary school courses by correspondence to rural children who lived too far from a brick and mortar school, or who could not access one due to difficult terrain.

During the formative period of the ECS, girls as students wrote many letters to their teachers in the ECS articulating their hopes and dreams for their future. Their letters are a glimpse into the value of schooling in the past, particularly during an era when rural girls were often left out of, or pushed out of, formal schooling. As young dreamers, the girls who wrote have much to tell us about their world views, the value they placed on education, and the limiting social context that could at time keep them in their place.


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Paper Presentation at the 2019 Society for the History of Children and Youth Conference

I’ve just returned from the 2019 SHCY Conference, held at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, Australia. My paper, entitled “Encounters and Exchanges: The Promise of Generational/Relational Analysis in the History of Children and Youth”, introduced relational analysis as a means of avoiding the analytical and conceptual “traps” associated with a focus on children’s agency in historical interpretation. Here is an excerpt from the paper that offers a glimpse into the methodological argument I want to explore further in my work:

“I use the term relational analysis to focus interpretive attention on the multilayered and porous interactions amongst women and girls under the auspices of the ECS. This approach enables the historian to hold different interests and perspectives across generations, and other categories of analysis, in productive tension with each other simultaneously. In so doing, we might avoid the confining the analysis to a binaried interpretive framework, perhaps too simplistically juxtaposing adult actions and perspectives against those of children and youth.

A more explicitly relational framework, conversely, one that can accommodate, and theorize, young peoples’ complex social and cultural relationships in the past can move our attention beyond questions of agency and towards a clearer understanding of what being young meant in the past, and how this changed over time, on its own terms. In turn, valuing youthful experience in this way, can empower historians of children and youth to challenge traditional conceptions of what constitutes “historical significance.”

Stay tuned as I explore these new conceptualizations!

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Past and Present: Advocating for Rural Education

In my ongoing SSHRCC project regarding the history of parental advocacy for children’s schooling in rural parts of BC, issues of methods and methodologies have become paramount. In the project, we are comparing two data sets: one historical and one contemporary. My research assistants, both PhD students in EDST, are asking key questions about the difficulties in bringing these sources into conversation with each other. What are the methodological challenges in doing so? What needs to be taken into consideration, from an analytical point of view, when one is working with sets of data that speak to similar issues and yet are decades apart? Stay tuned for some ongoing posts about this tricky issue.

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Pleased to announce two awards…..

I am so delighted to be the 2018 recipient of two awards from affiliated committees of the Canadian Historical Association (CHA).  As a former postdoctoral student of the late Dr. Neil Sutherland, a trailblazer in the history of children and childhood in Canada, I was particularly proud to receive the Neil Sutherland Prize for the best article in the history of children and youth from the History of Children and Youth Group of the CHA. It was also gratifying to be awarded the best article in the history of sexuality in Canada from the Canadian Committee on the History of Sexuality (CHA). I have included the citations here:

Neil Sutherland Prize, 2018

Mona Gleason, “Avoiding the Agency Trap: Caveats for Historians of Children, Youth, and Education,” Journal of the History of Education (Vol. 45, no. 4, 2016): 446-59.

“Gleason’s exploration of the scholarly roots, opportunities and limitations of the concept of agency in the history of children and youth offers a timely and compelling reflection. It effectively recasts the discussion around the “agency ideal” by laying out its pitfalls while pointing out new ways that the field may move forward in its efforts to engage more fully with the complexity of childhood. The committee was impressed by how Gleason skillfully uses a collection of family letters from the British Columbia Department of Education to explore new ways that the concept – and limitations – of children’s agency can be approached; mainly through empathic inference and a closer reading of age through the prisms of relational and power dynamics. Gleason’s masterful discussion of the lessons of similar debates in anthropology, women’s studies and the history of children and youth serves as both a historiographical roadmap and a discussion point for new ways to approach an essential question in the field.”

Canadian Committee on the History of Sexuality Prize, 2018

Mona Gleason, “‘Knowing Something I Was Not Meant to Know’: Exploring Vulnerability, Sexuality, and Childhood, 1900-1950”. Canadian Historical Review 98, 1 (March 2017).

“Gleason makes an argument for “social age” as a useful category in the historical analysis of sexuality and, in doing so, stages an historiographical conversation between two different subfields: the history of children / youth and the history of sexuality. Using a wide range of sources, Gleason also furnishes a complex analysis of the historical meanings and dynamics of vulnerability in the first half of the twentieth century. On the one hand, we see the often-devastating real-life impact of “expert” control over medical and social discourses aimed at children, which often rendered them more, not less, susceptible to harm and abuse. On the other hand, from the perspective of the young, we learn that shielding children from sexual knowledge generated ignorance rather than protection, which, in turn, fostered misinformation and feelings of shame and confusion about sex and bodies among young people. Gleason’s article asks us to think hard about the always-fraught nexus of childhood and sexuality, both in the past and in the many ramifications of that history in our present.”

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New SSHRCC Insight Grant – “Talking Back to Victoria: Parental Advocacy for Rural Education in British Columbia, 1920 to the Present”

My new research project, which returns to the archival records of the Elementary Correspondence School in British Columbia’s early twentieth century, has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC).  The project will fund graduate student researchers to assist me on this project. We will focus on what the archival documents reveal about how and why parents “talked back” to the educational administrators and to governmental inaction on the rural education file in Victoria. The project will also focus on how this history informs present struggles of parents who continue to advocate for more attention to rural education in the province. Watch this space as we move forward with the project and making our findings available to interested readers.

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Two New Publications – Embodiment in Education and Families without Schools

I’ve published two new articles of note recently. The first is the Keynote Address that I gave last year (2017) at the International Standing Conference on the History of Education (ISCHE)  in Chicago.  Entitled “Metaphor, materiality, and method: the central role of embodiment in the history of education,” the paper can be found in Paedagogica Historica at DOI: 10.1080/00309230.2017.1355328.

My latest research project focusing on British Columbia’s Elementary Correspondence School (ECS) has also been published. This paper relies heavily on an amazing collection of archival letters between the ECS and British Columbian families – parents and children – and can be found at Mona Gleason, “Families Without Schools: Rurality, Correspondence Education, and the Promise of Schooling in Interwar Western Canada.” History of Education Quarterly 57: 3 (August 2017): 305-330.

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Oxford Bibliographies in Childhood Studies article “History of Childhood in Canada” has just gone live!

Authored with my colleague, Tamara Myers, our Oxford Bibliography entry for the history of children in the Canadian context is available at We are delighted to contribute to this important resource in the field and to be able to highlight how much excellent work has been done in the last decade or so. The field in Canada is now well past its infancy!

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The Problem(s) with Adult Constructions of Children’s Vulnerability – Lessons for the History of Sexuality and Sexual Health

I’ve published a new article in the March 2017 issue of the Canadian Historical Review  ( that employs the concept of “social age” to interrogate adult constructions of children’s vulnerability, particular in the realm of sexuality and sexual health. Historically, adults have used assumptions regarding young age to keep children in the dark about their bodies and about sexuality. My research suggests that keeping children ignorant in the realm of sexuality often produced unintended consequences: they become more not less vulnerable to feelings of shame, confusion, and abuse at the hands of others.

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