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Education in New France

Although much has been written on developments in learning in New France, a comprehensive treatment of education during this period is lacking. In Education in New France, Roger Magnuson redresses the balance by examining seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Canadian education in all its forms, including missionary instruction, apprenticeship training, and attempts to increase literacy. He draws on new research to show that the formal school was not the only important source of teaching and learning in Canada before 1760. rnrnThe first priority of French missionaries was the conversion of the native population. Education was an important tool in the evangelization campaign because they believed that conversion was best secured when preceded and underscored by religious instruction. As Canada evolved into a French colony the religious orders increasingly turned their attention to the education of the children of French settlers. The period saw the establishment of a number of petites écoles (elementary schools), a Jesuit college for boys, and several trade schools.rnrnAs Magnuson demonstrates, provision for education in the colony declined during the eighteenth century. First, membership in religious orders dwindled, reducing their capacity to serve the educational needs of an expanding population. Second, as the population of the colony grew, with more inhabitants born in Canada than in France, different values and priorities developed. The written word, notes Magnuson, held less attraction for the Canadian, who preferred the active life of the frontier.

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