History

100 Years of Education @ Lehigh

“What’s past is prologue.” —William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Although Lehigh University traces its founding to 1865, the formal study of education did not begin at Lehigh until early in the twentieth century.

During the nineteenth century another type of institution, the normal school, prepared most teachers for the “common,” or public schools. The normal school was a specialized academy, which taught the subjects generally taught in elementary schools as well as the latest pedagogical theories. In the normal schools, the ideas of European educators, such as Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Johann Friedrich Herbart, were advocated in classes in pedagogy. Most normal schools began as entrepreneurial academies, but in order to survive, they needed state sponsorship and oversight. Although they were not considered to be collegiate institutions, they were an important factor in developing and implementing curricula in pedagogy. In Pennsylvania, thirteen normal schools became state teachers’ colleges, such as those at Kutztown and Stroudsburg.

After the Civil War, normal schools began to have competition in the preparation of teachers, as universities saw a potential in the preparation of educators for elementary and secondary schools and began to include instruction in pedagogy. The trend began in Midwestern universities such as the University of Iowa in 1873 and the University of Michigan in 1879. By 1900, most universities had some formal instruction in pedagogy (Tyack, 1967, pp. 415-16).

Previously, pedagogy and its related discipline, psychology, were considered to be subsets of philosophy. But, concurrent with the induction of pedagogy into the university curriculum in the waning decades of the nineteenth century, two great intellectual figures, William James and John Dewey, helped to move psychology and pedagogy out of philosophy and legitimize them as collegiate academic disciplines.

James is generally credited with bringing psychology to the United States as a field of academic study. He had conducted a psychology laboratory at Harvard as early as 1877 and spent the next twelve years teaching and writing his magnum opus, the two-volume Principles of Psychology, which became the basic text for university courses in psychology. James was also interested in the work of schoolteachers. He conducted meetings with teachers from Cambridge and included his suggestions in a book, Talks with Teachers. 

The three disciplines were intertwined when Dewey accepted an appointment as head of the Department of Philosophy, Psychology, and Education at the University of Chicago. While there, he became known as one of the foremost advocates of the new philosophy of pragmatism. His pedagogical and philosophical beliefs merged in 1896 when he and his wife founded the famous Laboratory School, which tested pedagogical ideas in practice. The success of the Laboratory School was often cited as an example in a movement which eventually was known as “progressive education.” In 1904, Dewey left Chicago for an appointment as a professor of philosophy at Columbia University. 

Lehigh University already had begun to recognize an obligation to provide courses for schoolteachers as early as 1898, when President Thomas Drown encouraged Lehigh department heads to consider providing courses open to the public through extension courses and summer school. According to W. Ross Yates, “Extension courses and the summer school brought older people from Bethlehem and the surrounding areas onto the campus.… those were school teachers, who soon were the largest occupational group taking advantage of the new opportunities” (Yates, 1992, p. 121). 

The potential for Lehigh students to assume teaching careers was recognized as early as 1903 when the University Catalog noted that the curriculum of the School of General Literature (the precursor of the College of Liberal Arts) was recommended as a good preparation for the professions of law, medicine, theology, teaching, or journalism. By 1904, the Philosophy and Psychology Department offered courses in pedagogy and the history of education. 

The first scholar employed by Lehigh to establish formal study of education was Professor Percy Hughes, who arrived in 1907. His doctorate was from Columbia University, where he had formed what was to be a lifetime friendship with John Dewey. Hughes was a progressive on a conservative campus. Through his vision and hard work he created a sequence of courses so that Lehigh’s undergraduates, all of whom were male, could enter the teaching profession. By extension courses and summer session courses, in-service teachers, both male and female, could prepare for leadership positions.

By the 1930s, elementary and secondary schools needed trained administrators and school specialists, such as guidance counselors. Dr. Harold Thomas came to Lehigh as head of the Department of Education. Through his leadership, the Education Department provided certification and graduate degree programs for administrators and school specialists while maintaining the teacher certification program for Lehigh undergraduates. 

After World War II the baby boom created a shortage of teachers and other school personnel. A third leader of the Department of Education, Dr. John A. Stoops, came to Lehigh. Under his leadership the Department of Education had reached a critical mass in faculty size and expertise so that it was promoted to a graduate School of Education. By that time a laboratory school, named Centennial School for the centennial celebration of Lehigh University, was in operation. 

Graduate programs in education are sensitive to demographic conditions, and with the end of the baby boom there was a downturn in student enrollment by 1979, which resulted in the possibility that the new School of Education might be terminated. Through the efforts of deans Perry Zirkel and Paul Van Reed Miller, and with the support of education alumni and the university faculty, the accomplishments of the School of Education faculty were recognized and the school was promoted to a College of Education by Lehigh President Peter Likins in 1985. 

Two years later, in 1987, the college was moved to the newly acquired Mountaintop Campus. During the intervening years the College of Education has thrived under the leadership of deans Alden Moe, Roland Yoshida, Sally White, and Gary Sasso. 

The year 2016 marks the golden anniversary of the School of Education. Lehigh professors have devoted themselves to the improvement of education and related human services so that the College of Education is one of the premier colleges of education in the United States and has programs which extend the influence of Lehigh around the world. 

Percy Hughes was a visionary. The traditions of scholarship, teaching, and service which he established early in the twentieth century have been maintained and strengthened by his successors. The vision which he labored to fulfill was a prologue to the rich history of the College of Education, which is detailed on the following pages. 

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100 Years of Excellence
Enjoy reading about the history of education at Lehigh University.