OUR GATHERING TONIGHT is to celebrate one hundred years of teacher-training in this Province. Yet the first attempts to introduce teacher-training occurred at least a quarter of a century earliera monitorial school at Kingston and the Central School at York both proposed to train teachers, although neither succeeded. A little later, Township Model Schools (not to be confused with the later County and District Model Schools) actually began to train teachers, but they dwindled to a mere handful by 1847, and by 1855 had ceased to function. The founding of the Normal School was, then, the third attempt at training teachers. Its importance lies not in its antiquity but in its success.
That success was not immediate nor rapidly attained. It was achieved rather slowly and by great effort. Often it was recognized more readily by later generations than by contemporaries. And, partly because of these very facts, the success of Normal School teacher-training in this Province is of profound signiicance. For this sustained attempt to train teachers is at once an indication of the determination of the Provincial Government to develop a coherent, comprehensive system of education, and a potent reason for the growth of such a system. In a day when, perforce, much had to be left to the local community in the provision and support of common schools; in a day when of necessity there had to be a wide variation in the accommodation and equipment of schools, it was a shrewd and statesmanlike move for the Provincial authorities to concern themselves with the improvement of the teaching staff.
In teacher-training, Provincial control, as illustrated by the Normal School, was vigorously challenged by local interest. The result was the competitive system of County Model Schools, which were commended to many by their inexpensive, short courses and by their apparent practicality. Yet, in the long run, these Model Schools became ancillary so the Normal Schools and ultimately disappeared. Their influence, however, had been extensive. Probably they contributed more than their protagonists knew to the tradition that teaching is a natural steppingstone to something more lucrative and of higher prestige. Yet they did exercise a salutary influence upon those who were inclined to overemphasize the academic and the theoretical.
How did it happen that one kind of teacher trainingthe Normal School typehas endured for a hundred years in this Province, whereas other types, introduced with high hopes and for practical reasons, have had a much shorter history? I shall not attempt to discern and record all the reasons—that must be left to a more analytical observer. But I do suggest one reason which I hope will be obvious to all. The Normal School type of teacher-training endured because it was able to adapt itself to changing conditions and expanding concepts of public education. Sometimes it did this very slowly, almost reluctantly; on memorable occasions it anticipated coming trends.
Its darkest days were those in which it sought to perpetuate a rigid authoritarian system which was probably the only safe method for teachers who were immature, poorly equipped with academic knowledge and condemned to a bare subsistence economic level by the pitiful salaries of the day. It was unfair to expect such persons to think constructively for themselves and for their pupils. So the Normal School sought to teach them sure-fire methods of dealing with every teaching problem. When the new High Schools began to do a better job of academic preparation, when the average entrance age of the student teachers rose, and when more adequate remuneration for teachers was offered, the Normal School appeared to be grudging in its tardy recognition of these facts, and earned an unenviable reputation for stodginess and dullness.
Its brightest days were those in which the staff set the pace in this country in arousing interest in the child rather than in the curriculum and in humanizing the outlook as well as the methods of the schools. It is only fair to add that the bright spots in the record are more numerous and more extensive than the dull patches. But those who experienced the dull patches have been unforgiving critics.
The ability of the Normal School to adapt itself to changing conditions is well illustrated by the change of locale of the Toronto Normal School. Its earliest home in the old Government House was an omen of the proprietory concern which the Provincial Government would continue to entertain for it. The speed with which the Normal School evacuated in 1849, when Parliament returned (at least in alternate years) to its old quarters, was prophetic of its prompt response, ninety-odd years later, when a greater national emergency arose.
The tenancy of Temperance Hall invites obvious comment, from which I shall refrain, noting only that the sojourn was brief and terminated with enthusiasm on the part of the students and staff, if we are to believe the record.
The historic building, opened in 1852, is well described in the centenary brochure as “more than a Normal School,” “the centre of the publicly-supported school system of the Province.” It was surely putting first things first to make the Departmental administrative offices an adjunct of the teacher-training institution, for, whatever the administrative machinery may be, actual education takes place in the meeting of pupil and teacher; its quality depends upon the effectiveness of that meeting. And it was wholesome that in the teacher-training institution there should be found the Depository, devoted to the supplying of school equipment, the Museum, the germ of later developments in Art as well as in Museum activity, and the Botanical Garden, the forerunner of experimental training in Agriculture as well as in advanced Botany.
This combination of the cultural and the practical, both in conjunction with the development of teaching techniques, was a happy augury of the leadership which Ontario has shown in the development of vocational education and in experiments in adapting schools to rural needs. One cannot but feel that Ryerson would be quite content to see the practical use now made of the plant at 50 Gould Street in the rehabilitation training of the men and women of the armed services.
But enough of the physical evidences of the Normal School’s versatility and universality. The steady growth there of a philosophy of education is of much greater importance. The Normal School was established, as your record aptly says, “in a period when knowledge and skill were synonymous with education.” It was a time, too, when knowledge was conspicuously lacking in most of the candidates who presented themselves for teacher-training. Small wonder that the Normal School found its chief business that of supplying and organizing knowledge, and that the theory that knowledge is power—even teaching powermet with ready approval.
Two comments may be relevant at this point. The first is that even in those days, when the acquisition of knowledge bulked so large in the training programme, there were enlightened gropings towards a more profound philosophy of education. The Pestalozzian system of object lessons was so well exemplified at the Toronto Normal School that American visitors were frequentand departed deeply impressed.* The history method described on page 26 of your centenary booklet is a startling departure from the rigidly-organized, meticulously memorized type of information so much esteemed in the period.
The other comment is that the present age is one in which there is a definite return to the recognition of the importance of knowledge and of skill. We have emerged from a global war, in which good intent was strikingly futile unless backed by sound knowledge and accurate skill. To-day we can look with great sympathy on the insistence of the early Normal School masters upon the mastery of knowledge. But we now maintain that educative knowledge must be carefully selected. It must be fundamental, so that it can be adapted to changing needs. It must be appropriate to the age of the pupil, so that it may result in independent judgment, not in routine acquiescence. It must be dynamic, leading to the acquisition and systematization of more knowledge. To-clay we may be critical of a curriculum-centred theory of education; we dare not be hostile to a theory that insists upon the pupils learning thoroughly and accurately the things which human society has stamped as essential for intelligent citizenship.
The reorganization of the secondary schools in 1871 released the Normal School from the necessity of finding its major task in the imparting of knowledge. Candour compels the admission that this release was greeted with little enthusiasm. It is a truism to say that teacher-training colleges find it difficult to admit that the schools which supply them with students equip those students adequately. The training colleges can almost always discover convincing reasons for spending much time in remedying that inadequate equipment. This was true of the Normal School in the ’70’s, but gradually it became clear, even to the Normal School, that its task was no longer academic preparation. Its next preoccupation was methodology. This had two notable results. It emphasized the importance of group instruction (here it is well to remember that, for reasons of economy alone, group instruction is still the method of most publicly-supported schools). And it led inevitably to a growing concern about the nature of the child.
Among the discoveries about child nature which attracted attention at the time was the fact that a child learns faster and better when his interest is aroused. Motivation still remains a key word in education.
During the war we saw previously indifferent pupils master difficult courses rapidly and wellthey had potent motivation. We could not forget that for half a century and more the schools had been seeking to motivate pupils by competition and by appeals to self-interest. The results had not been satisfactory. In wartime we learned that the motivation of duty, of shared responsibility, of joint obligation was stronger than we had dared to hope. It will be too bad if we forget that lesson in these troublous times of peace. But I wander from the point, which is that in the ’70’s, ’80’s and ’90’s the aim of the Normal School moved from the organization of teaching material to a better understanding of the mind of the pupil. This involved a decline in the emphasis on formal discipline and the appearance of much specialization in teacher-training courses. For example, it was during this period that the kindergarten movement reached the Provinceand summer sessions, offered at first by voluntary agencies, supplemented the regular teacher-training course and gave opportunity for specialization.
It was not until the turn of the century, however, that this specialization envisaged much more than concentration upon certain subjects of instruction or upon methods in certain areas of the curriculum. Then, in gradual manner, came the recognition that the most fruitful sort of specialized teacher-training deals not with subject matter but with the different ages, the varying temperaments and the differing abilities of the children in the schools. With this conviction. Ontario teacher-training came of age; henceforth it focussed the attention of the student-teachers upon the pupil.
Many improvements have followed this philosophical turning-point in our teacher-training. A few examples must suffice; the whole list is too extensive to be enumerated. Practice teaching schedules have become longer and more realistic, rural practice has received greater attention, and the doctrines of pupil-participation so warmly advocated by the Normal School staff have actually been practised in some of the Normal School classes!
Many reforms still remain to be effected, but one phase of the receni development of Ontario teacher-training deserves grateful remembrance. It is this. American theories of psychology and particularly the philosophy of John Dewey have exerted a deep influence on our educational thought and practice, but American Progressivism has never led the principals and staffs of our Normal Schools to believe or to teach that whatever is natural to the child must therefore be wholesome. Our Normal Schools have held firmly to the faith that the individual is a social being, that his life is meaningless except in a social settingin other words, that he must develop into a citizen as well as into a personality.
The late Thornton Mustard was an outstanding apostle of freedom amongst us. He believed in freedom for the child to develop into an effective adultan adult in a society of adults bound together by mutual obligations as well as by common hopes, aspirations and faiths. That concept of freedom for the development of social effectiveness is far removed from the thinking which sees in freedom only absence of restraint and liberation from obligation.
Our comparative immunity from what has been called “the North American epidemic of irresponsibility” has been purchased at a price. We have proceeded with painful slowness towards a frank understanding of individual differences in children, and equally slowly towards the modifications of our school courses suggested by these differences. We have been reluctant to abandon traditional school programmes lest we thereby abandon sound standards of thoroughness. Probably we have allowed our pride in our Scottish (and Northern Irish) respect for intellectual excellence to blind us to the importance of excellence in the fields of the practical, the emotional and the aesthetic. Be this as it may, it remains true that several generations of young persons who have left our schools, and their Normal-trained staffs, have won for Canada an enviable reputation for industry, integrity, resourcefulness, humanity and sensitivity to the calls of duty.
The proof of the pudding, we are told, is the eating of it. I submit that the pudding in which so many Normal-trained teachers have had a hand has turned out to be sound, substantial, honest fare. It may have lacked spice and variety; it may even have been a bit heavy in spots. But the eating of it has left neither a dark-brown taste nor a sour stomach only a healthy appetite for more. To this appetite ample witness is borne by the unparalleled demand of our service veterans for rehabilitation training and by the presently congested enrolment of our universities.
The charge that the teacher-training of our Normal Schools has not manifested a consistent philosophy of education leaves me unperturbed. Improvement is better than consistency, any day. When the chief concern of educators progresses from subject-matter to method to pupil. I rejoice in its inconsistency. When the pupil is habitually regarded as a social being with interdependent rights and obligations, I refuse to be upset by superficial contradictions in the record.
Read the centenary brochure again, and with particular attention to the description of the successive Principals of this Normal School. They differed widely, in background, in temperament, even in deportment. But you will be struck, as I was, by the amazing proportion of them who are characterized by the word “kind.” That was their bond of kinship; they were genuinely interested in their fellows and in their task of guiding the development of little children. T. J. Robertson and Dr. Sangster were separated from S. J. Radcliffe, David Whyte, Thornton Mustard and H. E. Elborn by years of time, by marked changes in social habits and by the bewildering effects of scientific developments which have altered ways of thought as much as ways of communication. But fundamentally these Principals and their staffs have all been in one line of succession. The mark of that line is unlimited devotion to the cause of better opportunities for the children of this Provinceopportunities to develop into sturdy, efficient, considerate citizens.