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" We must begin with individual perspective transformation before social transformation can succeed."  (Mezirow, 1990a) as cited in Merriam S. (1993)








Dominant Philosophy
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Discussion Questions

In examining the philosophical perspective behind the Woman's Institute, it is important to examine the philosophical issues that led to the fundamental values and beliefs of the development of the organization.  Concepts of adult education and how women learn are key in exploring the philosophical evolution of the BCWI.

For the purpose of identifying the educational goals that were adopted by the Women's Institute, it is necessary to examine the process of program design in what Houle (1973) refers to as the "fundamental system of the educational design".

Houle's (1973) describes this process as "a way to improve ones self or their society by increasing their skills, knowledge or sensitiveness".   This process is two fold as it has the potential to firstly develop the individual and secondly to engage the individual in helping others to learn and develop. 

Houle's theory is based on the idea that individuals alone or in-groups, or institutions try to help each other to learn.  This concept is threaded throughout the evolution of the Women's Institute.  As we will see, many stakeholders were involved in the planning activities, development and growth of the individual, family and the community of the BCWI.  The theory identifies four interrelating parts required for the expansion of the learning activity.  Houle identifies these groups as individual, group, institution and mass.
Houle's Fundamental System of Ed. Design
BCWI  Development
Philosophical View
  • Designs an activity for self, group, or another individual 
Adelaide Hoodless 
  • Organized lectures to educate women on issues specific to her experiences with the death of her son due to contaminated milk. 
  • Learn from experience
  • Educate for change. 
  • Improve society
  • Live better lives 
  • Encourages individuals to work together and learn from each other. 
  • A group, individual or committee design an activity for self, with group, for a larger group or in combination with another group.
Ontario Agriculture College
  • Organized speakers on topics of interest for rural women.
  • The betterment of the whole community
  • Learn from experience
  • Educate for change. 
  • Improve society
  • Live better lives 
  • Encourages individuals to work together and learn from each other.
  • A new institution is designed and/or two or more institutions set up,  a new activity, activity and format, or an activity that combines programs and services
Department of Agriculture. The British Columbia Provincial Government,  and
The BC Farmers Institute
  • Sponsored activities to make rural life more appealing and productive for women Liberal
  • The betterment of the whole community
  • Defined objectives and goals
  • Linked to training
  • Competency based
  • An individual, group or institution design activities for a mass audience
British Columbia Women's Institute. (BCWI)
  • The BCWI is formed to provide rural women with opportunities to develop and take part in educational, social and public life.

The Women's Institution becomes a National Association with branches around the world

  • Promote a universal vision and mission of their goals.
  • The betterment of the whole community
  • Learn from experience
  • Educate for change. 
  • Improve society
  • Live better lives 
  • Encourages individuals to work together and learn from each other.
  • Encourage individual to be responsible for self
  • Awareness of social forces that influence social, political and economic change.
  • Reflective practice on social values and beliefs leads towards social transformation
  • Liberating and emancipatory

Philosophical Perspective

Liberal View
This perceptive of the beliefs and values provided the BCWI with opportunities to improve the existing situation of rural women which was one of isolation and loneliness. The supporting funding agencies along with the BCWI provided guest speakers and demonstration on topics of domestic interest.  This brought rural women with similar needs together and created an opportunity for these women to organize activities that would lead to the betterment of the family life and the community.

Progressive View
Education on agricultural and domestic sciences was practical in that it addressed the collective problems of the women.  The planned activities provided the women with opportunities to connect with other women and to share and learn from each other's experiences.  The active participation of the rural women acknowledged the contribution of their specific concrete experiences and a knowledge base in domestic science, and social issues concerning the family began to emerge.   The women began to gain self-confidence and self-esteem they found their voice in the community.  The progressive view on education suggests that individuals blossom when given the opportunity to freely grow within a situation.

The Government controlled the resources and threatened to restrict the activities of the BCWI, to those of a traditional view on the role of women in the community.  As the women gained a higher level of knowledge and skills they collectively exerted influence on the government for social changes. 

Radical View
The work of Laurent Daloz ( 1986 ) as cited in Merriam S. (1993) discusses the transformation of humans within a particular educational setting.  His research suggests that personal development is facilitated by the development of a caring relationship between teachers and students.  Through this process the student will actively participate in the constructing of knowledge.  The women in the BCWI were supportive of each other.  They established a learning environment that fostered a high level of trust and mutual respect.  This in turn allowed them to share their personal experience as they collectively participated in constructed meaning and knowledge.  As the individual develops there is a recognition of and interconnectedness of self and the society.  Personal growth and development better the individual and society. 

Selmen, Selmen, Cooke and Dampier (1997) state that the social transformation view sees the individual grow through the process of recognition of adverse situations.   The awakening of the individual is one of personal discovery as the individual begins to view the social, political and economic forces that require societal change.  This view pays particular attention to the "collective needs and interests of groups of people". Selmen, et al (1997).  The women of the BCWI recognized that in order to transform the beliefs and values of the community on issues of social and political change that they had strength when they worked as a united force within their local community.

Women uniting and speaking in public


Over the years, the British Columbia Women’s Institutes have been successful in offering many educational  opportunities to women. Women have moved out of their early twentieth century kitchens to a fuller participation in the wider  cultural, economic, social and political community of the present day.  It is the opinion of the writers of this presentation that the BCWI was instrumental in this transformation. 

Discussion Questions 

To begin the discussion, Angela and Sue would like to offer the following questions for your consideration.   Please make your comments in the conference area set up on the Athabasca MDDE 611 course page.

1.  Did the underlying philosophy of the BCWI change sufficiently in keeping with the historical changes in educational philosophy over the past century? Do the BCWI still provide a relevant educational opportunity for rural women? 

2.  One of the factors contributing to the successful implementation of the BC women’s Institutes was their promotion and financial backing by the provincial government. It has been suggested that one of the reasons for this backing was that the government wanted to discourage families from moving from rural to urban areas. It was felt that women would have some influence over
their men folk in this area, and the establishment of Women’s Institutes would keep them happier “down on the farm”. The move from rural to urban areas is still a problem. If the present BC government were again to promote and to provide financial backing for women’s Institutes, do you think they would be successful in doing so in today's context? 

3.  Eliane Silverman (1982) has argued that , historically, women have led dual lives: “one in the male culture where they are controlled by tradition, fear, loyalty and love; the other in a parallel society of women where their actions could range from intimacy to power.” Do you see any relevance of Silverman’s argument to the development of the BCWI over the century? 

4.  As we look back on the ways in which the BCWI women came to learn, we should reflet on the teaching and learning strategies used to raise consciousness for the betterment of the community.  Did these strategies lead toward the conscious empowerment of women or was the aim an attempt to control the learning environment in order to reproduce a community where the values of the dominant power were unconsciously duplicated? 

We welcome your comments and questions.
 Sue Boman
Angela Zigras

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