Popular Science Monthly/Volume 43/May 1893/Oswego Normal School
|THE OSWEGO STATE NORMAL SCHOOL.|
TO-DAY, in the quiet, old city of Oswego, N. Y., stands a school whose influence has extended throughout the land. At its head is its founder, Dr. E. A. Sheldon: the school is his life work.
In 1848 Mr. Sheldon, a young man of twenty-four, then a resident of Oswego, felt moved to study somewhat into the condition of the poor of that city. Their ignorance and misery excited profound pity. Influential friends were enlisted, an "Orphan and Free School Association" was formed, a schoolroom provided, and a teacher sought. To his surprise, he found that he must teach the school or the enterprise would be abandoned. For salary he asked the estimated cost of his living, two hundred and seventy-five dollars per year, and received three hundred dollars. In the basement of an old church, the inexperienced young teacher was brought face to face with one hundred and twenty wild boys and girls of from five to twenty-one. These he held in order and kept at work by insight, love, and patience—those potent exorcisers of evil spirits.
From this movement, though against strenuous opposition, sprang the free and graded schools of Oswego, which were organized by Mr. Sheldon in 1853. As a superintendent of schools he might have ended his days, had he not possessed qualities of mind and heart which led him to turn from easy, routine work and encounter toils and dangers to find or make a better way. As machines for securing from the pupils the learning, memoriter, of so many pages per day, and from the teachers recitation-hearing, marking, and reporting, his schools were eminently successful. Teachers, pupils, and patrons neither knew nor desired anything better: but that sympathy with childhood which had led Mr. Sheldon into this work was not satisfied with these poor results. Five years of growing dissatisfaction with the current range of
subjects and methods of instruction had culminated in a determination to prepare some books and charts for himself, when a visit to Toronto revealed the object of his search. He saw there in the National Museum, though not used in their own schools, collections of appliances employed abroad—notably in the Home and Colonial Training School in London. Evidently the seed sown by this school had not found in Toronto so good a soil as in the mind of this Yankee schoolmaster. From this visit he returned with the delight of a discoverer of a new world, laden with charts, books, balls, cards, pictures of animals, building blocks. cocoons, cotton bolls, samples of grain, and specimens of pottery and glass.
In 1859 a new course for the primary schools was introduced at Oswego, in which lessons on form, color, sizeweight, animals, plants, the human body, and moral instruction were prominent. But his teachers knew little about the subject matter of such lessons, and less about methods of teaching them. The superintendent was forced to become the teacher and trainer of his teachers. Without training himself, he sadly felt the inadequacy of his instructions, and determined to try to obtain a training teacher from
the Home and Colonial School. The Board of Education consented, "on condition of its not costing the city a single cent." To assist in providing the means, some of his teachers resigned, for one year, half their salaries, which ranged from three to five hundred dollars. Their names should be recorded among the founders of the school, and written in letters of gold on its walls. To begin this work. Miss M. E. M. Jones was obtained, for one year, from the Home and Colonial School. After school hours each day, Mr. Sheldon, his most interested teachers, and a few from abroad, sat for two hours in a small, obscure room to receive the instruction which had been brought from over the sea at so much personal sacrifice. For one year these men and women became as little children, that they might enter and win the kingdom of childhood through the door opened by Pestalozzi, for Miss Jones was a disciple of that master. The work thus begun was continued by some of her pupils, and by Prof. Hermann Krüsi, who also had taught in the Home and Colonial, and was a son of one of Pestalozzi's most trusted helpers.
For two years, this training class was maintained by the city. In 1863 it was adopted by the State, and a grant of three thousand dollars per year was made for its support, on condition of the city's furnishing the necessary buildings and accommodations, and of not less than fifty teachers designing to teach in the common schools of the State receiving free tuition each year. These persons were to be recommended by county commissioners or city superintendents and appointed by the State Superintendent. In 1865 a building was purchased and fitted up by the Oswego Board of Education at a cost of twenty-six thousand dollars. In 1860 a general act was passed by the Legislature, which provided for four additional normal and training schools in various parts of the State, to be governed by local boards, appointed and removable at will by the State Superintendent, and supported by an annual grant of twelve thousand dollars each. On March 27, 1867, the building provided by Oswego was accepted by the State. With the appointment of a local board of thirteen, the Training School's connection with the city schools ended, except that which necessarily arose from the Practice School. So the city teachers' class had in six years grown into a State Normal and Training School, and had produced four other schools fashioned in its own image.The development from a training class for the primary teachers of one city to a school for the training of teachers for all grades and for all parts of the State, necessitated an enlargement of the curriculum. The one-year course was enlarged to courses of two, three, and four years. The first covered the field of instruction below the high schools; the second included high-school work; and the third added Latin and Greek, with German and French as an alternative for Greek. The last year of each course was devoted to professional work. In these enlargements there was no departure from the original plan. Instruction in the subject matter to be taught, in the history and philosophy of education, in psychology, in general methods of teaching, and methods in detail for special subjects, and practice in teaching have from the first characterized the Oswego school—characteristics which have been reproduced in most of the normal schools of the country. These enlargements were bitterly opposed by the private school interests of the State, represented in the academies; but they were forced upon the normal schools by two facts: most of the appointees were too imperfectly instructed in the subjects to enter at once upon the discussion of methods of teaching them; and if the schools had rejected all such appointees, their duty of furnishing teachers for the public schools of the State would have
been so unfulfilled as to have imperiled their very existence. New York State makes her normal-school diplomas valid as life certificates, pays one half the railway fares of State appointees, and furnishes text-books free to all. Pupils from other States were formerly admitted free, but now pay a tuition of forty dollars per year. In 1892 the two years' course was dropped, and at present the State Normal Schools have three courses—an English course of three years, and classical and scientific courses of four years.
In 1890 the Oswego school decided to discontinue instruction in the ancient and modern languages "when the pupils already entered for these subjects shall have finished their courses"; but diplomas for the classical and scientific courses will be given to students who possess the required knowledge. This departure was made because Dr. Sheldon became convinced that more could be accomplished for the public schools by concentrating the energy, time, and money required for these linguistic studies on advanced academic and professional work on the lines of the English course. In lieu of these languages, the Oswego school now offers three one-year post-graduate courses:—advanced instruction in natural science, psychology, history, and English, and practice teaching in higher English and science subjects; kindergarten training, and special training for primary teaching; and preparation of teachers for teaching in training schools. For the kindergarten work a diploma is given: for each of the other courses a certificate testifying to the extra work and qualifications.
To keep pace with these various changes, the faculty of the school has been increased from six to fifteen persons; the annual appropriation raised from $3,000 to $21,000; and in 1879 a new building was provided by the State at a cost of $56,000. This building (see cut) stands on the summit of a ridge rising westward from the Oswego River. It forms three sides of an oblong, with a south front one hundred and ninety feet, an east front one hundred and thirty-five feet, and a west front one hundred and twenty-two feet. In its construction, exterior form and ornament were sacrificed for interior convenience and furnishing. It gives more recitation room and laboratory space, and is better equipped with appliances for the best methods of study and professional training, than some normal-school buildings of twice its cost. Arrangements for heat, light, and ventilation are excellent. On the first floor are the general offices and waiting rooms, the kindergarten and practice school; on the second, the assembly hall, library, reading room, and general recitation rooms; on the third, literary society rooms, scientific laboratories, and lecture room; and on the fourth, an art room.The kindergarten is domiciled in the east end of the front, in a charming room, whose adornments and work make a fairyland
through which the little ones enter school life with fearless, happy steps. As the visitor watches the little ones at play, weaving bright colors, building with blocks, or molding clay into forms surpassing in interest even the mud pies of his childhood, he may sigh for his own first day at school. The writer's is an indelible memory. In a rough stone house, with a forest in the rear and a swamp in front—land of more value could not be afforded—he sat for hours, with dangling feet, on a backless slab bench, until called up to receive at the master's knees, from a tattered primer, his first lesson,—looking at and calling the names of queer marks whose appearance was not interesting, and whose use was not known. Fortunate children, for whose kindly and wise guidance over the threshold of education men and women of great minds and hearts have labored, will you, as actors on the stage of life, be wiser and better than this generation?
The practice school has three large assembly rooms and twenty recitation rooms. The assembly rooms have lofty ceilings and great windows which preach the gospel of good air and sunshine, choice products of the children's work adorn their walls, and libraries for the children's use are attractive features. The school comprises from four to five hundred children of the primary, junior, and senior grades. Each grade is divided into classes of fifteen to twenty pupils. Each class is assigned its own room and a teacher from the normal class which has reached the point of practice teaching—the last twenty weeks of the courses. Each of the rooms is an independent school, for whose discipline and instruction the practicing teacher is primarily responsible. One of these teachers has for ten weeks a primary class and for ten weeks a junior or senior class; and the conditions are much like those which a teacher will have in a school of his own. The work of the same grades in the other schools of the city is done; and, in addition, extra work in drawing, color, form, work in modeling, parquetry, folding, cutting, sewing, and shop work with carpenter's tools. Drawing and modeling are extensively applied in the study of geography, plants, and animals. Each class room is adorned with the best work of its children; and ample blackboards give space for work in number, language, drawing, etc. In each is a cabinet to whose shelves field, forest, and factory have furnished treasures which delight and instruct the children. As these cabinets are constantly growing by the contributions of pupils and teachers, they have a future of great possibilities. They are all descendants of that little cabinet stored with the spoils of the Toronto visit.
The whole collection of little schools is under the charge of five permanent critic teachers upon whom the tone and character of the whole depend, and who have the ultimate responsibility for the welfare and progress of the children. To attempt to give, in this article, details as to the methods of securing real practice teaching, and yet conserve the interests of the children, is not practicable. That these objects are attained is evidenced by two facts,—the practice school is popular with the city patrons, and the term of practice work is generally regarded by Oswego graduates as the most valuable in their entire course. It is justly so regarded; for five months of teaching under searching but kindly and constructive criticism may be worth more than years of unaided experience. The critic teachers, while employees of the city Board of Education and responsible to them for the discipline and progress of the city pupils, are chosen and nominated by the State Normal School authorities, and are responsible to them for the normal practice teachers. This arrangement gives opportunity for difficulty and friction; but there has been little serious trouble at Oswego, a fact which speaks volumes for the good sense and tact of all concerned. The executive ability and teaching power required to drill a succession of inexperienced teachers, and during this process to work through these teachers the same or better .discipline and teaching than prevails in the other city schools, can be better imagined than described. Whether the saying, "A teacher is born and not made," is true in all branches of the profession or not, it certainly is true of the critic teachers of a great practice school.
On the second floor of the building are eight recitation rooms, seating from fifty to one hundred students, devoted to mathematics, language, history, etc., and supplied with maps, charts, models, ample blackboards, and abundant light. The reading room and library on this floor have the standard periodicals and well-selected books. The visitor can not forbear the wish that some of the thousands yearly wasted by New York State could be used to increase this library; yet smallness is not an unmixed ill for a school library if the books are the best of their kind, and the limited number secures concentration of attention and thorough acquaintance. The Oswego School Library is supplemented by the City Library, whose volumes are accessible to the normal students.
The Normal Assembly Hall occupies the entire upper portion of the west wing. This wing, although of the same height as the main part of the building, is divided into but two stories above the gymnasium, thus securing extra height of ceiling for the assembly rooms of the practice school below and for the Normal Hall above. This hall is sixty-eight by seventy-six feet, seated for four hundred students, and has a capacity for three hundred additional seats on public occasions; it has large windows on three sides, and plain but tasteful coloring and decoration.The third floor is the domain of the natural-science department
whose laboratories and lecture rooms occupy almost the whole space. The zoölogical laboratory is at the western end of the front, the mineralogical and geological at the eastern, and between them are the physical laboratory, storerooms, and lecture rooms for these sciences. The botanical and chemical laboratories are in the east wing. The zoölogical laboratory—extending thirty-two by fifty-six feet, flooded with light by a row of southern windows, lined on its northern side by spacious glass-fronted cases of specimens, at its eastern end a large tank for the storage of working materials, on the floor tables, and along the southern side a broad shelf, sufficient in all to furnish room for a hundred workers—wins the heart of the zoölogist. It has a full supply of dissecting apparatus and small microscopes for elementary work, and a fair equipment of large microscopes with accessories for more advanced work. The botanical laboratory is twenty-eight by forty feet. The other laboratories furnish working facilities for forty pupils each. The furnishing of the chemical laboratory is noteworthy for the convenience of the tables, apparatus, and water supply. In the largeness and fineness of the home provided for the natural sciences in this building, as compared with the crowding of these subjects into two or three small rooms in some recently erected normal-school buildings, there is a fit expression of Oswego educational ideas.
The art room on the fourth floor is forty-four by fifty-two feet, admirably lighted, and furnished with fine facilities for teaching drawing. Two of the three literary societies of the school—the Athenean and Adelphi—have private rooms neatly fitted up and furnished by themselves. The rhetorical and literary work of the school is largely done in connection with these societies. The Adelphi and Athenean lay out their own work and conduct their business in their own way. Alternately, about once in two weeks, they give public exercises in the Normal Hall. The Keystone, which embraces the lower classes, is in charge of members of the faculty and occasionally gives a public exercise.
On the ground floor is the workshop, provided with engine, lathes, circular saws, tools, benches, and facilities for various kinds of woodwork. In this the normal students learn to make the simpler pieces of scientific and other apparatus, and get some skill in using tools. In the class in familiar science each pupil constructs his own apparatus for illustrations and thus becomes provided with the necessary apparatus for teaching the elements of science in public schools. A room for clay modeling and one for free-hand drawing is also supplied for the manual training work. The Normal School Gymnasium is on the ground floor of the west wing. Daily exercise is required of all students, and is considered important, both for its immediate effects upon health and comeliness, and for instruction in methods of physical training. The gymnasium is large and well equipped, and was until recently under the charge of Dr. Mary V. Lee, a physician who was a specialist in physical training and made much use of the Delsarte system. Her recent, untimely death has left the department in charge of one of her pupils.
From the observatory, which crowns the central front of the building, the students see, as a whole, the views which all day long they catch from the windows below—views which have no small part in their student life. Northward stretches Ontario with boundless limit, its shores extending right and left in winding curves, bold bluffs, lowland, field, and forest. Below and around is the city: to the east, sloping down to the river and rising beyond it; to the west, soon shading off into farm lands; to the south, rising in a steep slope on which stands the City Orphan Asylum, a sister institution, tracing its origin to the same source. Whether the water and land sleep under a June sky or are vexed by January storms, the eye need ask for no finer scene.
As the mother of normal schools and methods, the Oswego school presents its most interesting aspect. Normal schools have been organized on the Oswego plan and called Oswego graduates to introduce her methods—as city schools in Portland, Boston, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Detroit, Washington, D. C., and other cities of less note; and as State schools in all the New England States, in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, and California. This influence was felt first in New England and the Mississippi Valley and later in the South.The graduates of the Oswego school number 1,703. Oswego graduates have taught in every State and Territory except Idaho and Nevada, in the District of Columbia, and in five foreign countries. Of the graduates who were born and reared in New York State over four hundred have been called away to teach in thirty-nine States, two Territories, the District of Columbia, Canada, Mexico, South America, Sandwich Islands, and Japan. New York State has complained that through Oswego she has educated teachers for the schools of other States; but could any but an unnatural mother fail to be proud to have her children worthy to be thus called away, and glad to have within her borders an institution whose graduates are sought for from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to the Argentine Republic, and the borders of Asia?
The fundamental causes of this widespread influence were the educational unrest which filled the United States forty years ago, and the fact that through Mr. Sheldon's efforts the Oswego school offered a means of satisfying it. This unrest made a good soil for the new educational ideas; these new ideas were discussed by school men before New York State had a normal school; and the school at Albany was founded and began the teaching of educational theories before the Oswego school was even thought of. What Mr. Sheldon did was to focus all these floating ideas on actual practice, and work out a systematic and rational expression of these theories for the daily work of the schoolroom—to do what other men were dreaming about. Doubtless Mr. Sheldon had unusual genius for organizing and teaching, but these exercised under purely selfish motives would not have led to such results. School work as a business, pursued for salary alone, attains no more than it seeks. E. A. Sheldon with his ragged Oswego boys and girls in 18J:8, and Heinrich Pestalozzi with his destitute orphans at Stanz in 1799, teach the same lesson. Love, hope, and faith are the most potent forces in education as well as in religion. Through these forces the Oswego movement began; through these, its founder became and has remained a seeker for educational righteousness, ready to try all things and to hold fast the better; through these, he became receptive of good influences from all sources, and eagerly sought to impart them to others. An incident occurring in 1861 shows how Oswego's gospel was at first spread. An invitation was issued to leading educators of different States to come to Oswego to observe the methods. This invitation was cordially accepted, and after careful examination these observers made a favorable report, stating that "the system of object teaching is admirably adapted to cultivate the perceptive faculty of the child, to furnish him with clear conceptions and the power of expression, and thus to prepare him for the prosecution of the sciences or the pursuits of active life." They also expressed the opinion that this system "demands of the teacher varied knowledge and thorough culture; and that attempts to introduce it by those who do not clearly comprehend its principles, and who are not trained in its methods, can result only in failure," thus indorsing the necessity of training schools.The system introduced at Oswego is commonly called Pestalozzian, because it was inspired so directly from that source, for the Home and Colonial was founded by disciples of Pestalozzi. The essentials of Pestalozzianism may be summed up as a new point of view; and, as resultants of this, a new conception of education, and methods appropriate for realizing it. The old education takes
the standpoint of the adult; the new, that of the child. From the former, the whole mass of heterogeneous facts composing the knowledge to be acquired is viewed as having been classified, labeled, and stored in books. From this conception, what method of acquiring knowledge can be more direct than the memorizing of books? By a cheerful optimism this system crams the child with words, and trusts that somehow he will grasp the ideas for himself and will have his powers cultivated in the process. In exceptional cases these objects are accomplished; but the average child is left in a condition of permanent mental dyspepsia and torpor. The new education conceives the child as looking forward into the phenomena of Nature and life, curious and eager to know realities first, then to express his knowledge, and delighted with the exercise of his powers. To bring the child into contact with facts, to guide him in classifying and labeling these facts for himself, becomes the teacher's first and chief duty, in obedience to the sound principle that development of powers is gained by their exercise only. From this point of view education is conceived of as a natural process extending from the cradle to the grave, with Nature as the chief teacher, and the mother as the first assistant, whose work is carried on by the schools and the experiences of life. In this natural process of education, ideas come before expressions, whether the idea be the child's first conception of color and form or the profoundest abstraction of a philosopher; and its principles are therefore applicable to education in all grades from the kindergarten to the university.
As to the correctness of this conception of education and the general means of realizing it, there is substantial unanimity among school men; but, as to details of courses of study and methods of presenting subjects, diversity of opinion necessarily exists. Here, as in other fields, practice lags far behind theory To the Oswego school belongs the honor of having developed in great detail courses of study and methods of teaching that have received the indorsement of educational reformers and of teachers in hundreds of schoolrooms as being capable of realizing in large measure the true educational ideal. Here also were devised simple and efficient means for giving teachers the training required for the new kind of work. To all who know how broad and how difficult to bridge is the chasm between educational theory and practice, these achievements will seem of no small importance. In this connection. Prof. Hermann Krüsi, for twenty-five years the teacher of the history and philosophy of education, geometry, French, and German; Miss Matilda S. Cooper, for the same period teacher of English grammar and primary methods; and Prof. Isaac B. Poucher, from 1867 to the present time—excepting an absence of four years—teacher of arithmetic, algebra, and methods of teaching these subjects, should be especially remembered. In many a school called normal the pupils are, in preparatory instruction, taught exactly as they should not be, in defiance of the principles and methods to be mastered in their professional training. At Oswego the preparatory work in mathematics, language, history, natural science, etc., has, for the most part, been done by intelligent and loyal adherents of the school's professed principles, and been consistent with the methods inculcated in the professional work. The students having seen the daily application of these principles and methods to all sorts of subjects, and experienced their value in their own persons, more easily comprehend and apply them in subsequent method and practice work.
The Oswego movement did not lack opponents—a class whose services in all reforms are equally useful as extinguishers of false lights and disseminators of true. The most notable of these helpers was Dr. Wilbur, Superintendent of the New York State Idiot Asylum, a man eminently successful in his work. In the New York State Teachers' Convention of 1862, and in the National Convention of 1864, he severely attacked the whole system, from philosophical standpoints. In consequence, a committee was appointed to examine thoroughly the practical bearings of the "vicious" system. The chairman of this committee. Prof. Greene, of Brown University, visited the Oswego schools, tested their results thoroughly, and made his report before the National Convention of 1865. This report was so intelligent, exhaustive, and favorable that the underlying principles of the Oswego methods have never since met serious opposition in any authoritative body.
Students at Oswego have sometimes complained of the rigorous drill of classes in methods, and of the practice school, as too mechanical, tending to produce mannerisms and to crush individuality. These complaints were sometimes made by those who best comprehended the principles and felt the power and desire to work out their own applications. These complaints admit this answer: For the average man and woman comprehension of principles does not secure practice. The principles must be embodied in precepts and rules, must be applied in a practical course of action under whose influence habits of right conduct are formed. Right habits can not be formed in the teacher by imparting to him the principles merely of his profession more than in the soldier. If in some cases the product of drill is a mere machine, it is usually because the person is inclined to become a machine, and a well-constructed machine is better than a poor one. The few so specially gifted as not to need so much detail and drill suffer no permanent injury by the temporary restraint of their powers of independent action. The habits formed in the thorough training school will but aid their steps into new paths in the wide field beyond its walls. To the careful, unremitting drill of her method and practice school work is largely due the fact that the Oswego Normal School has turned out so large a product of successful
teachers as compared with her production of mere talkers and essay writers. No one else deserves so much credit for this as Miss Cooper, The maxims, The idea before the word, The concrete before the abstract, One step at a time, Never tell a child what he can find out for himself, were constantly applied by her as the plumb-line and try-square to test all work. Her method of inculcating principles and teaching the art of questioning was philosophical. The student was required to write out a series of logical questions and answers for drawing out the ideas to be taught; not once, but daily for twenty weeks, in a series of graduated lessons in each of the subjects to be taught in primary schools. The imaginary child which each student set up for himself displayed his ignorance of child life; and his processes of questioning showed the limitations of his grasp of the principles involved. To the student whose sympathy with childhood is spontaneous and whose grasp of principles is intuitive, such drill is needlessly irksome. But that the vague notions of childhood and vaguer grasp of principles of most normal students can be developed and trained by such courses of drill only, the subsequent twenty weeks in the practice school will abundantly demonstrate.
The school has been exceptionally fortunate in its social and physical environments; and no enumeration of the causes of her
success can afford to omit these potent influences. The site of the city, at the mouth of the Oswego River and on the shores of Ontario, one of the fairest of our Great Lakes, is unsurpassed, both for beauty and for commercial and manufacturing advantages. Ridges which rise gently on both sides of the river near its mouth, and, farther back, form bold, picturesque hills, furnish almost ideal ground for a city. The place is not lacking in the charm of historic associations. As one of the gateways to central New York, its old fort was the prize of battle between Indian, French, English, and Continentals during colonial and Revolutionary days. To one who has stood on the bluffs to the west of the old harbor, with the lake outspread as a shining mirror, and listened to the soft lapping of the waters on the shelving rocks below; or from the crumbling ramparts of the old fort on the eastern side has watched the sun like a burnished, golden shield slowly sink into the western waters, sending a flaming track across the wavelets, the soothing and restful influences were of unspeakable value. For a time the fret and fever of ignoble strife departed, and in the saner hour the spirit was open to better impulses. When the waters were lashed into fury by storms and hurled in fierce onset against the rocky shores, not less useful inspiration came from wind and wave—exultation in strength and courage for conflict. Nor did these influences altogether perish with the hour. What Oswego pupil, susceptible at all to Nature's influence, did not feel the power of those scenes and does not cherish their memory?
The social and religious influences of Oswego have been favorable to the Normal pupils. The city is not so large as to cause the Normal School factor to be ignored, nor so small as to cause it to have undue prominence. In churches, Sunday schools, and other societies pupils have been welcomed as guests and kept as valued helpers. A more important social influence has been the free mingling in work and recreations of the young men and women composing the school. In the recitation rooms and laboratories, this influence has produced wholesome rivalry and respect for one another's powers; at social gatherings and merrymakings, it has been refining and ennobling. For many a bashful boy and shy maiden, excursions on the lake and rambles in woods and fields have replaced awkwardness and constraint by the easy, natural manners of comradeship, and given insight into each other's natures and characters. Such introductions into the kingdoms of true manhood and womanhood are not the least among the school's gifts to her children. Social intercourse has always been left as free as the ordinary rules of propriety admit. Rarely has this freedom been misused, and the good arising from it has outweighed a thousandfold the evil. An important center of the school's social life is the Welland, the girl's boarding hall, whose parlors have so often echoed to the pleasures of the Friday evening socials.
Dr. Sheldon's home has been the chief center and source of social influences. This home is situated on a high, wooded point of the lake shore, a mile west of the city—a very paradise for quiet beauty. On the spacious grounds, beneath the shadow of great forest trees, and in the hospitable halls of this home, many a generation of Normal pupils have had their merrymakings—springtime maple-sugar parties and autumnal fruit festivals and corn-roasts—the hearty participation of the master and mistress of the place making all feel at home. This home—with its evidence that refinement and simple but generous hospitality can be
maintained without wealth or extravagance; that gentle, winning manners and a cheerful heart are not incompatible with serious character and heavy burdens—has been the finest object lesson at Oswego.
Thirty years have passed since the tender shoot was planted that has grown into this stately tree: its fruits have dropped all over our land; some of the seeds have fallen on stony ground and withered away after a superficial growth; others have been choked by the growth of purely selfish ambitions and brought forth little fruit; but some have fallen on good soil and brought forth an hundredfold. Much has been done for education in our land during these thirty years, but a thousandfold more remains to be done to make the public schools what they must become to merit confidence as the efficient conservators of our national happiness and prosperity. In the work of the past, the Oswego Normal has played an honorable part; but her mission is not yet ended, nor her powers abated. With youthful energy, both at home and through her graduates, she is grappling with the question of what to teach, a question of not less importance than the how. That more useful and interesting material for study may be brought into schoolrooms, especially in the primary, is to be ardently desired. The best methods applied to trite or useless subject matter can not make school life interesting or valuable to pupil or teacher.
After all that has been done, and well done, no one but a most willful optimist can be blind to the lamentable defects of our schools, The censure for these defects usually falls upon teachers, but does not primarily belong there. Teaching requires insight into and sympathy with child life, a condition spontaneous in but few adults, requiring in most laborious and sustained effort to gain and to maintain it; and a constant effort to advance in scholastic and professional attainments to escape slipping back into the abyss of slothful indifference. Teaching is, of all the professions, the most useful for the public welfare, as it is one of the most laborious and skilled, and should be paid according to its deserts. Recitation-hearing, however, is one of the easiest, least skilled, and most useless of all occupations. In this field, as in others, the public gets the kind of work it pays for. The wages of the rank and file of public-school teachers average less than those of skilled mechanics. As long as the public continues to pay for recitation-hearing, it will not get much teaching; for educational missionaries to work without the ordinary inducements are too few to supply the demand, and will probably continue so until the millennium.
There is need of educational statesmen to secure legislation efficient for preventing the employment of teachers without adequate scholastic acquirements and professional training, as physicians are forbidden to practice without such attainments. Is the body of so much more value than mind or soul that it should have greater safeguards? There is need of educational agitators to rouse and awaken the people from complacent day-dreaming about the schools, to show them that much of their expenditure is wasted through poor work, and to convince them that better pay and more honor for their teachers would be a wise economy.
That our alma mater may bear as brave and glorious a part in the struggles of coming years as in the past must be the heartfelt wish of every graduate of the Oswego Normal and Training School.
- The Normal School at Albany already existed, but had been organized on a different plan.
- See Circular of Information No. 8, 1891, Bureau of Education, Washington, D. C. and Historical Sketches of the State Normal and Training School at Oswego, N. Y.
- See Krüsi's Life and Work of Pestalozzi.
- For an interesting application, see Sheldon's General History, and Sheldon-Barnes's United States History, by Oswego graduates.
- See Circular of Information, No. 8, 1891, Bureau of Education, Washington, D. C.
- See work of Mr. L. H. Jones for Indianapolis schools in the Forum for December, 1892; "An Experiment in Education," in Popular Science Monthly for January and February, 1892; and the work of Prof. Barnes in Stanford University.
- See articles by Dr. J. M. Rice in the Forum for October, November, and December. 1892.