Kathryn. "A Rediscovered Tradition: European Pedagogy and Composition in
Nineteenth-Century Midwestern Normal Schools." CCC 53 (2001): 224-250.
Midwestern normal schools at the turn of the nineteenth century were fertile
sites for promising pedagogical mixing which brought together student-centered
European practices (attributed to Heinrick Pestalozzi and John Frederick Herbart)
with the populace-serving, democratizing missions of normal schools.
Fitzgerald’s historical account of the Oshkosh conference of 1900 elaborates
these forces through descriptions and analysis of the archival gems pointing
back to the important work of the normal composition teachers of the era.
Pestalozzian and Herbartian pedagogies generally favored student-centered rather
than content-centered approaches. As a result, the normal schools in
Wisconsin served as a stage for these pre-Dewey practices to foment toward
efficacy, while shrugging off strict adherence to textbook lessons, adopting a
more compassionate, respectful view of students’ linguistic competence and
preferring demonstrations of understanding–often in the form of writing and
students teaching to other students–over rote memorization and recitation.
Fitzgerald’s essay ends with a plug for the study of teaching practices in
contemporary and historical contexts (quartered by regionalism and
institutionality). She also emphasizes–at the end–the role of teaching
in the curriculum as vocational/professional/normal schools have been subsumed
into grand research conglomerates where pedagogy is relegated to servile rank
and often viewed as a necessary but unpleasant burden.
Terms of Import
normal schools – Vocational/professional colleges premised on access,
they often served wider segments of the population than the more selective,
costly private academic institutions. Many of the normal schools grew into
Pestalozzian pedagogy – grew out from "Rousseau’s educational
romanticism" to become best known for the "object lesson" or that
which proceeded with teaching that trusted the child’s curiosity and
"intuitive powers based on experience and reason."
Herbartian pedagogy – adds emphasis on getting to know students,
situating teaching in the swell of social forces, diversely demonstrable
aptitudes, customized learning ventures, and curricular shifting as contrasted
against rigid, content-fixed plans
1900 Oshkosh conference – a four-day state-wide meeting of faculty from the
Wisconsin normal schools where they "discussed and debated their aims,
philosophies, and methods in terms of their unique mission of providing free
education to prospective teachers of students in free common schools"
Fitzgerald’s essay is nicely historical. I read
it with a feeling of resistance that I want to explore just a bit–in
fairness. Historicizing the legacy of practical pedagogy is useful, and I
often see my own contribution to the academy as a teacher. In a historical
context, I suppose it works to set up the tensional relationship between normal
schools and the Ivy elites (private, academic, economically affluent). But
in contemporary contexts, the us-themisms start to feel like a rub–the sort
that makes a blister but never a callus. Okay, and now I’m off
track. I keep having the impression that we’re too quick to distinguish
theory from practice, elite from popular, and complexity from accessibility,
that the binaries ought to be more fully explained if they’re necessary. I
read Fitzgerald’s essay and took from it a worthwhile understanding of the
contrast between certain sets of institutions. The influence of a European
pedagogical tradition applies smartly, forms a thick share of the trunk supports
our sense of important, historical connections merging then spreading into much
branchier field these days. But there’s a side of this argument that
sounds just a bit anti-intellectual, just a bit quotidian for the way it hedges
the critique at the expense of the Eastern private elites. I oughta back
out of this by acknowledging that this is a tension in my reading of the
essay that probably says a whole lot more about me than about the
essay. I’m not trying to argue that Fitzgerald’s essay falls short; heck,
it’s incredibly smart and carefully worked. And it’s a Braddock
Somewhere (I can’t pinpoint it precisely–it’s mostly
in my head, I think), there’s a faintly dismissive din in historical research
that uses a dominant form, such as theory, which is often labeled elitist for
its complexity, for its aspiration to think hard about how we think, to assign
names, to produce the cultural capital of the university, theory gets used as a
push-off from which practitioners seek to be defined as an alternate. But
theory and practice aren’t so easily separated. And maybe, along those
same lines, I have this uncomfortable feeling about an unexplained us-them
because I want to know what’s happening at the hyphen. What action is at the
hyphen? Historically? Presently?
I’ve made it far enough into these notes to leave off
at a place where, when I’m scratching my head over the Wisconsin normal schools
and historical infusions from European pedagogical traditions, I’ll be able to
find my place.
"Current historical research into alternate sites of writing
instruction will give compositionists multiple options for identifying with as
well as against our past" (245).
"I have pointed out that the conditions of the normal schools differ
significantly from those of the institutions where composition originated in two
respects. The first is the aims of the institutions–the normal schools
were intended to be inclusive, democratic institutions that focused on
professional rather than academic preparation. The second is the
intellectual traditions upon which composition faculty drew–normal school
faculties had access to European pedagogical theories as well as composition
"By 1900 the changes in psychological thinking were no longer confined
to Europeans like Pestalozzi and Herbart, for Americans like John Dewey, William
James, and Stanley Hall were beginning their work on theories of learning and
development that would render faculty psychology obsolete and begin to frame
educational theory for the next century" (241).
"While they shared with Pestalozian pedagogy the fundamental concept of
placing the child and his/her interest, rather than the subject matter, at the
center of education, Herbartians had more in common with later
socio-psychological views of the educational process than with Romantic concepts
of individual development" (233).
"However, as noted above, the normal school, in a time of high-stakes
contestation over the financial base, student populations , and objectives of
various institutions of higher education, was almost certainly the most
contested site of all. The conflict over the objectives and scope of the
normal schools was heightened in part because of the very different social and
intellectual traditions and allegiances from which they emerged" (229).
"Herbst, Borrowman, and Salvatori together with a few others limn a
complex tale of the contested scene of the nineteenth-century normal schools,
which finally resulted in the political supremacy of liberal education over
vocational/technical education, the intellectual dominance of research and
theory over pedagogy and practice, and the marginalization of teacher education
to schools of education in universities" (227).
"Although this brief summary doesn’t begin to suggest the wealth of
material composition historians have uncovered, it does point up the elitist,
undemocratic aspects of the field’s past that disturb many contemporary
compositionists, who see their aim as extending the opportunities available
through education to all social classes by introducing students to discourses of