Upper Canadian history displays an amazing zeal in the field of education. Indeed before the colony was a decade old there were nearly a score of identifiable schools established, some with more longevity than others. These schools were varied: some were run by ministers of the Church of England, by loyalists, by Presbyterians, by Baptists, by Moravians and by men who had failed at other employment, and by 1804 the Catholics were demanding their own. There was a classical school, a school for Mohawks and a school for orphans. These schools, however varied, strove for a basic goal. It was their intent to promote loyalty, morality and Christianity in the colony. This striving for morality was in the old Puritan sense. They were not to give the people charity, alms, but to promote man himself. The man was to be made aware of his usefulness and this would prevent sloth and excess. Poverty and idleness led to crime, freethinking and disloyality.
Common purpose would not necessarily guarantee success however, as the English example shows. Guidance was needed. The first to provide guidance for Upper Canada was John Strachan. Strachan adapted the philosophy of traditional philosophy of Plato, Luther and other educators to the Upper Canadian needs. He worked without the help of the Church of England, and his employer the S.P.G., but with the men elected to the popular Assembly and with the appointed members of the Legislative Council. Education was taken from the realm of the philanthropic, as in England, and made dependent on the government and the people, and they responded.
Strachan the teacher was a great innovator, a true educational liberal. He practised multidenominationalism in his Cornwall school, he urged class participation and guided his students to self-development. His proposed university of 1828 was more liberal than any English unversity, yet he did not want an English university as he did not feel it would meet the needs of Upper Canada. That is perhaps the most telling point; Strachan adapted and developed methods to fit the Upper Canadian situation, whether it be for school funding, the course of study in schools, or the understanding and aid of the colony's Indians.
Popular myth equates Strachan with the Family Compact and usually concerns itself with the bitter fight concerning the position of the Church of England and the university for Upper Canada. Strachan certainly wanted the Church established but he did not draw the cloak of dogmatic Anglicanism until he had experienced the humiliations of the 1830's. His withdrawal was not, however, to prevent his ideas from being adapted, from being used to counter and compromise the educational ideas of those who followed him to pre-eminence.
What follows is an examination of the development of this philosophy to its real implementation—Ryerson's act of 1846. The concentration is on the philosophy of lower education, common and grammar schools. Others have examined Strachan's educational policies and have detailed them. Unfortunately in the literature there is usually much more concern paid to Strachan and the establishment of an Upper Canadian university. Strachan did have policies concerning common and grammar schools, both when he was a teacher and when he was president of the General Board of Education. The examination of these policies is approached here through Strachan's philosophy of education. It was his philosophy which produced results and his philosophy was not that which one would usually associate with a Tory and a minister of the Church of England.