Gender and the Evolution of Normal School Education: A Historical Analysis of Teacher Education Institutions

By Bohan, Chara Haeussler; Null, J. Wesley | Educational Foundations, Summer-Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Gender and the Evolution of Normal School Education: A Historical Analysis of Teacher Education Institutions


Bohan, Chara Haeussler, Null, J. Wesley, Educational Foundations


The history of normal school education remains an area of study that has attracted relatively little attention from educational historians in recent years, although a growing body of literature is emerging (see, Allison, 1998; Goodlad, Soder, & Sirotnik, 1990; Herbst, 1991; Lucas, 1997; Monroe, 1952; Salvatori, 1996). Nonetheless, early normal schools in New England and the Midwest have received greater attention than those established in the Southwest. Normal schools were first established and derived their name from France. These institutions were established specifically to educate and train teachers, and they quickly spread across Europe and later to the United States as public education blossomed. This research details the normal school narrative in the late 1800s and early 1900s when "normals" primarily served as the only means for women in the Southwest to achieve advanced education. The intersection between gender and teacher education at normal schools is explored, as gender became a defining characteristic of these institutions. Eventually, many normal schools became universities that exist today.

Clear understandings of normal schools and teacher educators make enquiry into this area difficult in the contemporary world, and historical analysis is even more complex. The deeply contextual nature of the teaching profession further compounds the study of normal schools (Borrowman, 1956). The manner in which prospective teachers have been educated at particular institutions always has been heavily influenced by the specific nature of the institutions where this practice took place. At the same time, however, various states throughout the 20th century adopted standards for certification that prospective teachers in particular states had to attain before earning a certificate to teach. Thus, programs for the education of teachers have reflected not only the nature of specific institutions, but also the requirements mandated by state departments of education across the country.

Perhaps the most important issue that remains to be investigated in the story of normal school education is the question of gender. In order to understand the development of teacher education more fully, a historical analysis of the confluence of gender and teacher education curriculum at specific normal schools in Texas was undertaken. Research on normal school curriculum between the years 1890 and 1930 sheds light on the broader field of teacher education as it is commonly understood in the early 21st century. A comparison to normal schools in other states helps to highlight national trends. The teacher education curriculum at normal schools has served as a focus of investigation. Nevertheless, Christine Ogren (2005) noted in her work on normal schools that the voices of the students, who certainly influenced the curriculum, also must be explored.

Gender

More than any other field, the profession of teaching has been shaped by gender for centuries. In this research context, gender provides a theoretical framework to analyze teacher education in normal schools. Comparisons between men and women in the realm of early teacher education institutes serve to illuminate understanding of the history of education. This analytical framework is informed by many contemporary historians of education in the field who have helped to further knowledge of female education (see, Blount, 2005; Crocco, Munro & Weiler, 1999; Gordon, 1990; Rousmaniere, 2005; Sadovnik & Semel, 2002; Thorne, 1995). The feminization of the profession, especially in elementary education, following the establishment of normal schools has been well documented (Amott & Matthaei, 1991). Normal schools, which dominated elementary teacher education in the U.S. well into the 20th century, enrolled an overwhelming majority of women. The normal schools, however, evolved. Once they became state teachers colleges and later regional state universities, they began to employ an increasing number of faculty members from a wide variety of disciplines. …

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