Thursday, November 19, 2009

Teachers College

I have mentioned that Teachers College, part of Columbia University in New York City was the first college in America to offer advanced degrees in industrial arts, but what I didn't mention was that it was specifically founded to do so. Charles A. Bennett tells the story in his History of Manual and Industrial Education from 1870-1917. The time line is this: The Industrial Education Association was formed in 1884 with membership including Grace Dodge, Frederick Barnard, Seth Low, Theodore Roosevelt and others. One of its stated purposes was to promote manual training education by preparing teachers in the art. They began teaching teachers in 1886 in a building at 9 University Place formerly occupied by Union Theological Seminary and now part of NYU. The small but powerful organization led to the foundation of Teachers College in 1887. The first prospectus of the College stated that "for the present at least the instruction given will be almost wholly confined to those hitherto neglected factors in education which may be included under the name of industrial training."

At this point, Teachers College is one of the finest educational institutions in the country, and you might not associate it with something as simple and direct as whittling on a stick. There is always a great deal that can be learned from examining our roots. We are, after all, moving from point a through to point c. And while things may seem haphazard, reflection on origins can give greater strength of purpose to what we do now. Who would have guessed that such a fine institution would have been formed specifically to promote hands-on learning? Are there patterns in human affairs that lead to repetition? Is it true that that which we have nearly forgotten tends to be repeated? Do patterns come full circle? Could it be time for Teachers College to come back to its roots? Let's hope.

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