Critics of Effective Living, 1952

"Allegations of Immorality in B. C. Schools!"

In the early 1950s, the Department of Education issued a revised teaching guide for the Effective Living curriculum. First introduced in 1950, Effective Living was intended to promote health and personal hygiene, and to promote a happy and stable home environment. The Effective Living curriculum was designed to teach students to "appreciate their homes and families," to "develop wholesome, friendly attitudes toward members of the opposite sex," and to "seek effective ways of solving personal and home problems." Critics of the curriculum, however, claimed that it promoted "immorality, " that it usurped parental rights, and that it was part of a sinister, socialist plot to undermine British Columbia youth.

The attack on Effective Living was led by the Social Credit MLA for Salmon Arm, James A. Reid. In February 1953, in a widely-reported speech in the Legislature, Reid said the province had "come under left-wing influence and that there was immoral teaching in B. C. public schools." As evidence, he pointed to the Effective Living syllabus. "What do you make of teaching children things like this," he asked, quoting from the teachers' handbook on Effective Living, 1952:

"Make a survey of opinions of the class on ideas conveyed by these modern expressions and practices: 'Frequency of dates, lateness of dates, blind dates, dutch treats, going steady, petting, good night kiss, pick-up dates´┐Ż.What is the ideal girl or boy date like? What makes a date 'successful?'"

"Page after page of such nonsense," Reid fumed. "Little wonder we are finding education costs mounting when we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for text books, teachers' salaries, etc. to poison the minds of our children with such rubbish which is displacing the very foundation of fundamental knowledge" (Vancouver Sun 24 February 1953).

Provincial teachers defended the curriculum: they dismissed Reid's charge that teachers were promoting "immorality" and encouraging "sex in schools" as a "screwball" notion. The Minister of Education, Tilly Rolston, also defended the Effective Living curriculum and publicly "repudiated Reid's sentiments."

But Reid had many supporters, including H. K. Bate, a lawyer and Saanich municipal councilor. Bate charged that the course on Effective Living was "motivated by a desire on the part of the [Education] department to rob parents of parental privileges and responsibilities." "I am convinced that this whole system is wrong," Bate told a Victoria newspaper. "When my children are old enough, must I turn them over to people who are supposed to teach them things I want to teach myself?"

According to Bate, the content of the Effective Living course was "tripe" and like Reid he pointed accusingly to the teachers' notes in the curriculum guide. Quoting "at random" from the guide, Bate cited discussion questions such as "What is a 'crush?' 'Should couples who have not announced their engagement continue to go out with other boys and girls?' "I'd be inclined to have a short chat with any teacher who discussed this with my children," Bate said (Victoria Daily Colonist, 25 February 1953).

Jack Webster, of the Vancouver Sun, described the outcry against Effective Living as the "hottest educational furore in years" (26 February 1953). And the furore continued for several months. To reduce the heat, the Department of Education renamed Effective Living as Health and Personal Development and in 1954 the teachers' notes were modified to omit some of the controversial discussion questions. But the focus of the curriculum was not substantially changed.

"Sex education" was a very prickly subject in the 1950s, and "sex education" would continue to be a contentious part of the curriculum. The Effective Living program in fact was a bridge for many controversial topics that would follow. Remnants of the Effective Living guide can be seen in the school system today, in the guise of the modern Career and Personal Planning curriculum.

Effective Living Introductory Statement (1952)

Effective Living Teaching Notes and Suggestions (1952)

'Effective Living' and "Sex Education" by Gerri Itterman [1998]


Researched and written with the assistance of Carrie Boyden, History 349, Malaspina University-College, May 2001