Herbert Baxter King

1879 - 1956

Soldier, teacher, civil servant, and school administrator.

Dr. H. B. King

A lifelong student of education, H. B. King held a "Liberal Progressive" philosophy insofar as he believed that "education is a public function, necessary both for the safety and the preservation of the state and for its progress."

King was born in Perth County, Ontario, in 1879. He studied at the University of Toronto and Queen's University, obtaining his B.A. degree in 1913. He received his M. A. degree at the University of British Columbia in 1923 and was granted a doctorate in pedagogy and philosophy by the University of Washington in 1936. His doctoral thesis was entitled "The Financing of Education in British Columbia." Dr. King was also Major King. He attained the rank of major in 1916 while serving in the army with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. He served with the Irish Fusiliers of Canada and the 121st Battalion, C.E.F; he was also attached to H.Q. VIII Corps, B.E.F. [British Expeditionary Force]. He used the military title of "Major" thoughout his civilian career as a teacher and administrator.

He began teaching in Vancouver in 1904. He was principal of Kitsilano Junior-Senior High School from 1925 to 1934, during which time he was also a part-time lecturer at The University of British Columbia. At UBC, he became a friend, confidant and political supporter of George M. Weir.

When the Liberals were elected in 1934, Weir became the Minister of Education and appointed King as technical advisor to the commission on school finance. King was the author of the Report on School Finance, submitted in March 1935. In the report he recommended disbanding small school boards and centralizing control of educational administration and finance. He advocated large administrative units instead of small school districts. His report was not adopted by the minister, because of local opposition. However, in August 1935 he was instrumental in creating a large administrative unit from the school districts of Matsqui, Abbotsford, and Sumas. His work paved the way for the Cameron Commission, which brought about consolidated regional school districts in 1946.

Possibly King's greatest contribution during this period was in the field of curriculum. In 1935, 1936, and 1937 he oversaw extensive curriculum revisions for elementary, junior and senior high schools. His philosophy was clearly enunciated in the guidelines he prepared for curriculum revision committees."It is the function of the school, through carefully selected experiences, to stimulate, modify, and direct the growth of each pupil physically, mentally, morally, and socially, so that the continual enrichment of the individual's life and an improved society may result," he wrote.

Education historian Alan Child has said that "H. B. King did more than any other individual to establish the principles and practices of progressive education in British Columbia schools." King's principles were set down in a document intended to articulate the essence of the entire public school curriculum. Entitled Aims and Philosophy of Education in British Columbia, it is one of the most detailed, yet succinct summaries of progressivism ever written.

King was a contradictory figure, or so it seemed. Although he was liberal and progressive in his philosophy, he practiced an authoritarian, scientific style of instruction. He was impatient and uncompromising and, in the opinion of some people, he was autocratic. This impression was reinforced by the fact that he insisted on using his wartime army rank.Major King believed, nevertheless, that "education is continuous throughout life." As students at Kitsilano junior high, we were given many educational opportunities, vocational and academic. Our school had the latest equipment, and courses were taught by the best qualified teachers in the province. Pupils at Kitsilano were encouraged to participate in various programmes, which meant that boys could take home economics and girls could take "shop." This kind of gender equality in education was very unusual at the time. Major King made schooling meaningful in a new way for many of us.

King was appointed as Chief Inspector of Schools in 1937. No detail escaped his notice. His written reports were full of trenchant comments on everything from nursery schools and school lunches to the training of rural teachers and junior colleges.

When King retired in October 1945, he and his wife moved from Victoria to a small farm in the Fraser Valley, near Haney, British Columbia. During this period of his life he became a popular author, with a book entitled Solomon Mussallem: A Biography (1955). He also became a newspaper columnist, writing a lengthy series of articles on the public school system for the Vancouver Sun in 1953.

King died in Ottawa in 1956, at the age of 77, during a visit with his daughter. As the Vancouver Province noted in an obituary: "He was not only an educator, but one of the best-educated men in the profession." (9 November 1956)

Professor Child described King as an "administrative idealist." He acknowledged that King was sometimes "stubborn, intolerant, and unyielding." But as Child also noted, Major King "had the rare ability to realize that an unruffled surface may be caused by an accumulation of dust, and the rare courage to attempt to sweep the dust aside."

Written and researched by John Wytenbroek, History 349, Malaspina University College, April 2003. The author was a pupil at Kitsilano when H. B. King was the school principal. He has drawn on his own recollections of Major King in writing this biographical sketch.

A. H. Child, "Herbert B. King, Adminstrative Idealist," in Profiles of Canadian Educators, Robert S. Patterson, John W. Chalmers, and John W. Friesen, eds. (Toronto: D. C. Heath Canada, 1974): 313-316; Jean Mann, "G. M. Weir and H. B. King: Progressive Education or Education for the Progressive State?" in Schooling and Society in Twentieth Century British Columbia, J. Donald Wilson and David C. Jones, eds. (Calgary: Detselig Enterprises, 1980): 91-118; Vancouver Sun (9 November 1956).