The Study of Education at Colby College
Preparing outstanding teachers and educational leaders for Maine, New England, and the rest of the country has been one of Colby’s central aims since its founding as the Maine Literary and Theological Institution in 1813. While most of the early graduates were trained as Baptist ministers, many also served as teachers and/or principals of local schools as part of their professional duties (“preachers and teachers”). In fact, a number of Colby’s most important alumni, whose achievements are central to the history of the College, were teachers and/or educators who received their initial professional preparation at the College.
Elija Parish Lovejoy (Class of 1826), perhaps Colby’s most well-known graduate, is remembered as the first martyr for a free press in the US; he was killed in 1837 by an angry mob while defending the anti-slavery newspaper he published in Alton, IL. Few recall, however, that Lovejoy began his career as an educator, first as the principal of his old school, China Academy in China, ME, and then as a schoolteacher in St. Louis. His introduction to newspaper work was a part-time job on the St. Louis Times, a job he pursued while working full-time as a teacher. Fewer still recall that Lovejoy came to what was then Waterville College in the first place only at the encouragement of Henry Stanwood, who assumed the principalship of China Academy in 1822, upon his graduation from the College. A close attachment quickly developed between teacher and pupil, and Stanwood persuaded Lovejoy to prepare to attend Waterville College (rather than Bowdoin, Williams, or Dartmouth) in the fall of 1823.
Colby is also proud to be the first previously all-male small college in New England to admit women. The first woman to graduate from Colby was Mary Low, who entered Colby in 1871 and graduated in 1875. During her career, she became an expert in library science, made the first systematic catalog of the Maine State Library, and was a frequent contributor to library journals. The second woman graduate, Louise Coburn, Class of 1877, also pursued a career as an educator and a scholar. She wrote many articles and poems and is best remembered as the author of Skowhegan on the Kennebec, hailed as one of finest histories of any Maine town, and among the best local histories in the nation.
In spite of this early and prominent success in preparing professional educators, Colby’s Department of Education was not officially founded until 1924, by Professor Edward “Eddie Joe” Colgan. Colgan taught at Colby from 1924 until 1955 in the Departments of Education and Psychology, and he provided aspiring teachers with formal training in educational philosophy, theory, and methods.
Colgan was joined on the Education faculty in 1929 by Franklin W. Johnson ’91, the fifteenth president of Colby College. By the time he assumed the presidency Johnson had become a national authority on secondary education. He started his career as principal of Calais Academy, then served at Coburn Classical Academy in Waterville for ten years, before going on to the University of Chicago High School. Prior to his return to Colby Johnson was a professor of education at Teachers College of Columbia University.
Needless to say, the process of educating teachers and educators has changed dramatically over the course of Colby’s history, as social and cultural changes in Maine, the US, and the world have transformed both public and private education (at one time, for example, Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin were the only colleges in Maine authorized to offer teacher certification at the secondary level). Throughout these changes, the College has maintained its commitment to offering courses and practical training for prospective teachers, in the context of a small, private college whose primary goal has been, and continues to be, to provide all of its graduates with a well-rounded education in the liberal arts and sciences. There has never been conflict between these aims, however, because Colby has remained steadfast in its belief that the best preparation for a teaching career is two-fold: (a) a strong background in the liberal arts, including intensive and concentrated study of the subject to be taught; and (b) appropriate coursework and practical experience in education. The many Colby graduates who have pursued teaching careers over the years can attest to the effectiveness of this approach to teacher education (note, as well, that a recent survey of Colby alumni indicates that approximately 16% are currently working in the field of education, broadly defined).
Activism, Diversity, and Social Justice at Colby
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