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THE FUNCTION OF THE NORMAL SCHOOL.
BY E. C. HEWETT, LL.D.
In this short paper I propose to touch upon a great many points pertaining to Normal Schools, but to discuss none of them extensively. I will rather raise questions and make assertions, — dogmatical, perhaps, but such as have grown out of my observation and experience,-leaving the settlement to others.
No one questions the necessity of schools, both to the rising generation and to the general well-being of society; and few comparatively, in this country at least, question the necessity and usefulness of our great systems of public schools, much as some are disposed to heap criticisms, wise and otherwise, upon them. But, in order to have schools worthy of the name, it is clear that we must have teachers fitted both by nature and by preparation to conduct them. The teachers, in a very true sense, make the schools just what they are, whether good or bad.
What, now, is a normal school? I reply, a school whose purpose it is to prepare candidates for the teacher's office, to enter upon their work. In my opinion, the question whether any given school is entitled to be called a normal school is to be determined by its aim or function rather than by any test applied to its methods or course of study. If its sole purpose is to prepare teachers for their work, if all its operations are carried forward to promote this purpose, it is a normal school. If its aim is other than this, or if the preparation of teachers is only one of several aims, it has no just right to be called a normal school. What rank it shall take among normal schools must be determined, of course, by the character and success of its operations; but these do not determine to what class it shall belong. What shall be admitted to its curriculum, how its operations shall be carried forward, what are the methods best adapted to accomplish its ends, -are questions about which normal-school workers will differ ; but all should concede its claim to the title, if its work is directed solely to the end I have named. In
many discussions as to the proper work and methods of a normal school, there is one very common and very mischievous oversight. It seems to be taken for granted that there is, or ought to be, some one general pattern to which all normal schools should conform. We often forget that the circumstances of different normal
schools, and the material with which they have to work, vary greatly. A little thought ought to show that the pattern of a normal school best adapted to a city, where all its students have taken the same course of study and have graduated from the same, or similar, high schools, must be very different from the best pattern for a normal school whose students come from all the territory of a large State, with all the various peculiarities pertaining to hundreds of widely separated schools.
Again, the preparation that is best to fit persons to teach in the systematically graded schools of a city must differ very much from that required by persons who are to go out and take charge of schools in the rural districts. It is very plain to my mind that we need different types and different grades of normal schools. Given the material furnished to any normal school, the length of time for which its pupils can be held for study, and the kinds of schools that they will teach, and these data must determine the work of that school. No one school can be, or ought to be, the model for all others.
A normal school ought to do anything and everything which are necessary to fit the given candidates for their given fields. Many of the questions about so-called academic and professional work,—the kind and amount of each, — must be settled by conditions. Given conditions should be regarded, and the voice of experience should be heard. In this way, our normal schools have grown up, — the ideal has been modified by experience ; and so, I think, they must continue, to a great extent, in order to give the best results. It is very easy to particularize points in which our normal schools have not conformed to some theory, or some ideal; it may be freely ad. mitted that many mistakes have been made, and much crude work has been done; but, after all, the history of these schools in America is very remarkable, and it is one of which their friends need not be ashamed.
The first State normal school on this side of the Atlantic began in 1839, in the historic town of Lexington, Mass. It was under taken as an experiment, and in the face of many difficulties and much opposition. Opposition and criticism have continued till to day; but, in spite of all, our normal schools have constantly grown, in number, in efficiency, and in the good opinion of the people. Conclusive evidence of the truth of the last statement is found in the fact that so many schools which have no just claim to it are ready to take the name of normal. In the early days of these schools it was not so,—the name had no money-value,-it was not worth stealing; and those who were fairly entitled to it might well regard it a matter of sound financial policy to say nothing about it.
Note, again, that, at the same time that normal schools have been multiplying and growing in popular favor, the whole general subject of education has moved forward to a place in public estimation which it never held before. Are these facts merely coincident? or is there the relation of cause and effect between them? I submit the question confidently to any one competent to judge. The normal school, in some form, has come to be regarded as an essential part of the public-school system ; and this is as it ought to be. These schools bear a relation to the life of the community altogether different from that of any other professional schools. The line of argument is this: The education of the young is an interest so vital to the well-being of society that the State must attend to it as a matter of self-preservation ; properly prepared teachers are essential to any system of education; experience in this country, and in others, shows that such teachers are not forthcoming in sufficient numbers unless the State make provision for their preparation. Hence, State or municipal normal schools are just as truly and just as legitimately a part of the public-school system as any other part.
There is another reason why the State should render such schools independent of popular patronage for their support. work of a normal school must insist upon such a regard for the elements of instruction, — such a patient and continued labor in the fundamentals, – as no school dependent upon popular patronage for support can afford to insist upon, at least in the present state of opinion on this subject. That school that makes a great show in the ologies, the osophies, and the onomies is the one to which the dollars of the multitude are likely to flow in the fullest current; but it need not be said in this presence that a top-heavy school of this kind is not the one best fitted to prepare our teachers. Only a school in some degree independent of present popular favor can afford to do the work that needs to be done.
Nor must the normal school, supported at public cost, be regarded as in any sense a public charity ; it is as far removed from this position as the public school itself, and for the same reason. The State supports the public school for its own good; it should support the normal school because it is essential to the highest success of the public schools. In other words, the normal school demands public suupport as a measure of public economy. The State is spending millions for its public schools. Their one aim is to educate the people for the good of the State. Their efficiency depends upon their teachers. If these are utterly worthless, the whole investment is lost. Just in the ratio that the teachers are made efficient, in that same ratio the investment is secured. To make the teachers thus
efficient, normal schools are established and supported. If, by the normal schools of a State or city, the teaching is improved ten per cent., then the normal school is worth to the public one-tenth of the total amount expended for its public schools. This is the argument for normal schools at public cost; this is the sole reason why the existence of such schools should be demanded. Any benefits that they may confer on individuals are purely incidental.
Reviewing now, briefly, the points on which I have touched, I assert :
1. That good teachers are the great want of our schools,—nor is there likely to be a change in this respect;
2. That any school whose sole purpose is the fitting of teachers for their work is a normal school, and it is proper to confine the name to such only:
3. That, owing to circumstances, no one pattern of a normal school can be best for all,—that such schools ought to be of different types and different grades;
4. That the history of normal schools in this country has fully demonstrated both their necessity and their worth ; and that it is fair to claim for them much of the credit for advance in education ;
5. That normal schools should be supported at the common charge, because otherwise they will not be founded in sufficient numbers, and because they need to do a work which schools dependent for support upon popular patronage cannot do ;
6. That such schools are, in no sense, public charities, but that the public should support them for its own sake, as a wise measure of economy.
Now, turning to the work of the normal school, a few words. From what has been said, it will not be expected that I shall try to set forth the kind of work, nor the amount, nor the methods, to which all normal schools should conform. And yet I think there are some fundamental matters in which all normal schools should agree. It has been well said that three kinds of knowledge are essential to one who would teach well : ist, He should know the nature of the being to be taught; 2d, He should clearly understand the knowledge, the facts, or the subject matter, to be presented to that being; 3d, He should know the method of bringing knowledge and being together, and the best modes of doing this work. In my opinion no normal school can afford to ignore any one of these three fields of knowledge.
If there is anything that especially marks the drift of recent educational thought more than anything else, it is the study of human nature, particularly in the child. We hear much now-a-days of the "new" education; but, as I understand it, there is nothing new about it except in the endeavor to become better acquainted with the child's nature and wants, and to have a wise regard for the same in his education. So far as possible, all normal schools should give their pu. pils a knowledge on these points as full and complete as may be,nor should they be content to teach what is already known merely, but they should do much to increase the common stock of this kind of knowledge, and to put it in form for practical use.
Mental science, in its relation to pedagogy, must receive more attention than it does at present; but, of course, the knowledge of human nature of which I speak includes much more than mental science in
form. Nor do I believe that it will do to say, as some do, that the acquisition of the knowledge to be taught is wholly foreign to the idea of the normal school. I am not much frightened at the cry of “academic" instruction. Whatever may be our theories on this matter, it is certain that, as things now are, the acquisition of the knowledge to be taught must occupy much attention in our normal schools, if we would give the pupils who come to us what they most need. But, more than this, I believe that the subjects to be taught must be reviewed at least, and looked at in a new light by the candidate for the teacher's chair before his knowledge of them is in the most available form for imparting it to learners. I have not time to discuss the question now, — if it were necessary or proper to do so, — but I believe that this work of putting the knowledge of the school-studies into the proper form for the schoolmaster's use is as truly “professional ” as any work that he can do. I doubt not that the study of the subjects monopolizes too large a share of the time in many of our normal schools; but, so far as I can learn, the best normal schools in Europe do not proceed upon the plan, sometimes advocated here, that the normal school should demand that all the matter of instruction shall be acquired elsewhere.
Of course, no one will dispute that the study of the method and modes of bringing the knowledge to be taught into the most healthful and fruitful relations to the mind of the learner should make up a large part of the work of the normal school. Nor will any thoughtful man deny that the wisest and most careful work needs to be done in the earliest stages. Men in other departments of life fully appreciate the importance of good foundations. It is strange that we are so slow to see the application of the same principle in the work of education.
Once more I say that it seems to me idle to attempt, or to desire, to make this common work of all normal schools take on one type or one form, as the best of all possible types or forms. And yet I think