A Chronicle of the First Degrees: Music Teacher Training from Normal School to State College

By Tobin, R. Nicholas | Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, April 2006 | Go to article overview

A Chronicle of the First Degrees: Music Teacher Training from Normal School to State College


Tobin, R. Nicholas, Journal of Historical Research in Music Education


Massachusetts has been a leader in both general education and music education innovation and reform since the pilgrims first printed the Bay Psalm Book in 1639 or 1640. (1) In 1837 Boston's Lowell Mason became the first public school music teacher in the United States, (2) and the first state-funded school intended to train prospective general education teachers opened in Lexington, Massachusetts, in 1839. (3)

Concern about the quality and training of teachers grew during the eighteenth century and received increasing attention during the first half of the nineteenth century. Programs for teacher training were begun in the mid-nineteenth century in what were then called "normal schools." The State Normal School at Lowell was the only normal school in Massachusetts to offer a program for music educators. (4) When the Lowell Normal School transitioned into the State Teachers College at Lowell, it became one of the first state colleges in the United States to offer a four-year curriculum in music for prospective music supervisors. Graduates of this program earned a bachelor of science in education degree. Despite these bold and historic acts, there has been no in-depth study of how these programs in teacher education evolved.

Howard Hanson has stated that:

   The development of music in the public schools, in my opinion,
   constitutes the most significant progress that has been made in
   music development of the United States. It is not too much to say
   that this movement has not only national but world significance. In
   public school music, America has indeed surpassed itself and given
   to the countries of the old world a lesson and an example. (5)

This study chronicles the beginnings of music teacher training at the State Normal School at Lowell, Massachusetts, and traces the curriculum through the evolution of the normal school into the State Teachers College.

The Dawn of the Normal School

The road to establishing normal schools was a bumpy one. During the second quarter of the nineteenth century many people in Massachusetts were concerned about the plight of public education. (6) At that time, every town in the state (a commonwealth), was required to offer, at public expense, an education for every student who sought one. However, many students were either fleeing public schools for private academies or not attending school at all. (7) The responsibility for educating children remained in the hands of the governing body of each city and town, but most towns were strapped for cash, and political and monetary considerations contributed to the neglect of, and minimal funding for, local schools. (8) The teachers in these schools, many of whom were very young and biding their time until more lucrative opportunities became available, were often hired simply because they had graduated from high school. A high school diploma was usually sufficient qualification to be hired as a teacher. (9)

There had been calls, led by Horace Mann and others, for educational reform in the state and for more qualified public school teachers who had learned not only what to teach but also how to teach. (10) After years of protracted debate, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill in 1834 that authorized the state to appropriate funding for public schools:

   All monies in the treasury derived from the sale of lands in the
   state of Maine, and from the claim of the state on the government
   of the United States for military services, and not otherwise
   appropriated, together with fifty per centum of all monies
   thereafter to be received from the sale of lands in Maine, shall be
   appropriated to constitute a permanent fund for the aid and
   encouragement of common schools: provided, that said fund shall
   never exceed one million of dollars. (11)

With the passage of that legislation the state of Massachusetts became a primary stakeholder in public education. …

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A Chronicle of the First Degrees: Music Teacher Training from Normal School to State College
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