“To Awaken the Conscience”: Establishing Teacher Education and State Normal Schools

  • Christine A. Ogren


Marshall Conant was principal in the 1850s of the Bridgewater State Normal School in Massachusetts, one of only a handful of such institutions. A former district-school teacher and head of a private school, Conant had also run the topographical department of the Boston Water Works and served as a consulting engineer for both a railroad and cotton gin company. While his route to the principalship had been circuitous, Conant’s sense of the normal-school mission was straightforward; he explained, “I have sought to awaken the conscience to feel the responsibilities and duties that devolve upon the teacher …”1 In this statement, Conant captured the spirit of the preceding three decades of advocacy for teacher education. Education reformers of the early to middle nineteenth century sought to awaken the conscience of the public and state legislators to the importance of teaching and teacher training, and to establish state normal schools as the primary vehicle for shaping a professional teaching force. For more than a quarter-century following the establishment of the first one in 1839, however, state normal schools did little more than “awaken the conscience.” They remained an unpopular option among many for the education of teachers, and their methods of teacher training lacked substance. Early state normal schools did succeed in instilling future teachers with the sense that they were undertaking a consecrated mission and, in the process, they also awakened students’ consciousness of the wider world.


Teacher Education Student Teacher Teacher Training Future Teacher Normal School 
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1 “To Awaken the Conscience”: Establishing Teacher Education and State Normal Schools

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© Christine A. Ogren 2005

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  • Christine A. Ogren

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