What’s Normal about a Normal School?

It used to be common for teacher’s colleges to be called “normal schools.” The term has an odd ring to it, since the first meaning of “normal” that comes to mind is “typical, usual, average, ordinary.” We speak of “normal behavior,” or “a normal childhood,” or “normal size,” for instance.

But “normal school” did not mean a typical or ordinary college, it meant a specific kind of college, one intended to train its students to be teachers. The term was taken from the French “ecole normale,” meaning a school that trains teachers to specific standards, or norms.  So a normal school is one that sets classroom and curriculum standards for education and educates teachers to adhere to those standards.

The term “normal school” was prevalent in the 19th century but had gone out of use pretty much by the mid-20th century.  The California system of State Normal Schools changed its name to the State Teachers College system in 1921, and in 1935, as other subjects and professions were added, it was again renamed and became the California State College system.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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