Worthy To Be Called Teacher

Inauguration Speech of President Marion Shea

May 18, 1955

May I express my appreciation for the honor done to Paterson State Teachers’ College by the presence of delegates from so many of our sister colleges and of so many representatives of organizations, educational leaders, State officials, as well as personal friends.

This moment is a grave one for me.  As many of you know, it is the first time I have been inaugurated as a college president, and being even less certain of my ability than I have ever been, I have in preparation for this moment done extensive research on inaugural addresses delivered by leading university presidents, only to find little about education that hasn’t been extremely well said before.  I feel somewhat like an applicant for Paterson State Teachers’ College who “bones up” to take the entrance examinations and then finds himself stricken at the very thought of the ordeal.  As Emerson once said, “at times one would like to dodge the whole account and disappear into the crowd.”  That’s the way I feel, and yet there are some things I should say.

Mr. Commissioner, I offer you, the State Board of Education and the people of New Jersey my pledge to administer this high office to the best of my ability.  In my convocation address, delivered last October, I offered this faculty and this student body “the best years” of my life.  I renew that contract now at the end of eight months, and welcome this opportunity to express publicly my sincere thanks to our college community – faculty, office staff, maintenance and cafeteria personnel students – for their warm and understanding cooperation, for their patience, and for their help to this new president.

What this college is today is a monument to everyone who during one hundred years of teacher training in Paterson, has contributed his expertise.  This occasion serves to point up a centennial year – for in April of 1855 teacher training classes began in the City of Paterson with late afternoon and Saturday sessions.  This inauspicious beginning supported by “Friends of Education,” first became a City Normal School in the fall of 1855, a State Normal School in 1923, and a State Teachers’ College in 1937.  Only recently have we moved from the city as all America seems to be moving to the suburbs where there is room to breathe and to grow in beautiful surroundings, and we have grown in plant facilities, thanks to the generosity of the people of this State, and in increasing numbers of fine students.

What the Commissioner in his address has said about the profession of teaching I can heartily endorse, for that has been my life and the training of teachers my responsibility for lo these many years.  Had he not chosen to speak on this subject, I should most certainly have done so.  It is about the training of these teachers that I have chosen to speak, and the particular responsibility we feel here at Paterson State.  We believe that the very act of going to a teachers’ college is a preparation for being an active, intelligent citizen.  We believe that the faculty has an obligation to see that such preparation consciously takes place and to that end we attempt to provide the experiences both on and off campus which will give our students adequate knowledge, techniques, and motivations for worthy, useful citizenship in their respective communities.

I propose to be brief in those remarks which outline our curriculum.  Roughly 60 to 75 percent of our offerings might be classified as general education, liberalizing in nature, and consists therefore of that body of knowledges classified as the humanities and the natural, biological and social sciences.  To this are added and integrated the specific professional skills which the teacher needs in the same way that a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer requires his specific skills.  There is a period of observation of teaching followed by directed participation and responsible practice teaching in some fifty or sixty cooperation schools in surrounding communities.  The process of refining the curriculum is always in progress, and by September 1956, state-wide minimum basic curricula will be undertaken in our six State teachers’ colleges, the result of a two-year study by the combined faculties under the direction of our Assistant Commissioner for Higher Education.  The unique feature of these curricula is the latitude between this minimum and the maximum course offerings, and the resultant local autonomy so vital to the development of creative administration and faculty-study experimentation in a given institution.

Such a considerable cuttings away of dead wood and pruning of overgrown branches has taken place that there is hope that the old cry from our critics of too much methodology in the teachers’ colleges will be but a paper thin echo and the professional residue left in our curricula will be twice meaningful and doubly effective.

The function of education is, as many of use see it, to supply not only knowledge but also power, “power to understand the universes and the social order in which we exist,” and to understand further the irrefutable fact that the world in which we exist now will be a different world twenty-five years hence when the present student becomes the leader. He must come to know that the principles of today may have to be altered tomorrow, that everything changes; the problems solved today may have to be re-evaluated tomorrow, that his time will not be our time!  Only a few years ago RUR gave us a preview of robot man; today Univac makes statisticians and accountants a vanishing race.  Give science just a little more time and a minimum of further invention and the dream of a completely push-button life will be a dreadful reality – dreadful because the great gift of modern machinery and invention is leisure and only the truly educated, whether in college or out, will know what to do with it.  Of one thing I am sure, that the joy of intellectual work will in that day “pay off,” for only the man or woman who has found the pleasure of the mind as well as the delights of human relationships, the wonder of the star-studded heavens, and the poetry of the spiritual and religious will be ready.  Our students must find as they prepare themselves for the immediate, the methods and the power to meet the future.

Lest I seem to go too far afield, I would return to the more concrete.  There are certain areas of learning, certain emphases, which our program includes and which I consider most important for present day living, for a student’s becoming a worthy citizen and an active and cooperation member of a community.  He needs to know everyday economics.  And when I say “he” I mean “she” as well; for although, and I quote freely from Susan B. Riley, National President of the American Association of University Women, with one hand she may rock whatever it is that passes for the modern cradle, with the other she holds the purse.  As a buyer she needs to know consumer values, budget making, insurance, investment processes, as well as what drawing a will means.

The student needs to know practical politics.  Our students get this understanding and practice on the laboratory basis in student government, which is good student government, and in guided observation of government at work.

There is a very great awareness among our students of social problems; they do not condone them or us for allowing them to exist; they are absolutely intolerant of intolerance in any form.  The college needs to do more than arouse their social sense to injustice everywhere.  I think we in some measure do, here, put the tools of correction into their hands through our program of community services.  We need to do much, much more in that area and I am sure we shall, as we learn how to deal more skillfully with this whole problem of human relations.  We explore with our students the varied fields of mental hygiene, of emotional maturity.  We try to develop the scientific attitude.  We attempt to “conserve the American cultural heritage, to interpret it in its present setting, to stimulate students to accept, to criticize and to extend the realizing of this heritage;” concurrently we extend the limits of our understandings beyond self and community and country to other cultures and other peoples.

And to this we seek to add a sense of values.  And “values are various: they are not confined to religion, to human relations, to literature, music, or art.  They are indeed more obvious than this, more difficult to overlook, and they are latent in all pursuits and activities of man (including, of course, science) which without them is cold and dead.  No education, it seems to me, is adequate unless it awakes a sense of values…unless it achieves a balance between the analytic intellect and something higher…One of the stock injunctions to teacher is “Teach the pupil to think, give him a critical mind.”  But to teach the student to feel is perhaps more important still.

The best way to make a person (student) critical is to show him the first-rate, ‘till anything inferior ceases to attract.’  To the injunction, “Teach the pupil to think,” we have added here at Paterson State, “Teach the student to see and feel.”  In everyone the poet should keep company with the rationalist: then we have the highest type of educated man (or woman).  And only the highest type is worthy to be teacher of our most precious passion – our children.

I suppose my own predilection toward the humanities slants this part of my statement somewhat.  To me the development of a “mind sensitive to values and aware of their infinite variety” is essential to building a philosophy of lie.  Some of our studies here – science, mathematics for example, lend themselves more easily to analysis, to critical thinking; others are more richly charged with values.  Pre-eminent among such subjects are, of course, art, music, poetry.  In them we are compelled to feel rather than to think, to be receptive rather than critical.  Indeed the specimens of art in any good public school today are the most obvious examples of this feeling this response to a creative drive.  Any subject (among them natural science) can become one of the roads to what we ultimately seek a philosophy to live by.  I would stand with Sir Robert Livingstone when he says “unless men are poets as well as rationalists, they will have little worthwhile to reason by.”  With him we can agree that art is possible the most creative but “great music and great poetry transform us, take us outside ourselves, allow us for a moment, lifted on the shoulders of genius to catch glimpses beyond our (puny) vision.”

In “Defence of Poetry” Shelley wrote:

"We have more moral political, and historical wisdom than we know how to reduce into    practice; we have more scientific and economical knowledge than can be accommodated to the just distribution of the produce which it multiplies.  The poetry in these systems of thought is concealed by the accumulation of facts and calculating processes.  There is no want of knowledge respecting what is wisest and best in morals, government, and political economy, or at least, what is wiser and better than what men now practice and endure.  But we let ‘I dare not wait upon I would, like the poor cat in the adage’.  We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine; we want the poetry of life: our calculations have outrun conception; we have eaten more than we can digest.  The cultivation of those sciences which have enlarged the limits of the empire of man over the external world, has for want of the poetical faculty, proportionally circumscribed those of the internal world; and man, having enslaved the elements, remains himself a slave."

Today, 134 years later, we would do well to heed Shelley’s message, to combine our mood of analysis and criticism with the “seeing eye of the soul” and awaken our students to a philosophy, not of education only, but of life.

In a teachers’ college where unselfish service to children pervades our every thought and action, there develops a sense of dedication, a desire to be useful and understanding human beings; gradually we form our individual philosophies.  And a president comes to sharpen and define her own.

Mr. Commissioner and members of the State Board of Education, I am honored that you have chosen me for this high position and charged me with the responsibility to forward the program in elementary education here on this beautiful campus and with such devoted students, alumni, faculty, and “friends of education.”  We shall endeavor to keep our contract to the State to graduate students worthy of the name--teacher.

Published in Moments in Time: Marion Emory Shea Speaks