In 1957, a committee was appointed by the Federation of Protestant School Societies to investigate the possibility of setting up a Protestant Reformed Normal School, an institution where all Protestant Reformed teachers and prospective teachers would receive their formal training.
This committee, consisting of T. Langerak, G. VanOverloop, T. Newhof, F. Hanko, and Rev. H. Hanko, after much work, came to the Federation with the advice to set up a Seminar instead. This Seminar would consist of all teachers, prospective teachers, and ministers who were interested in establishing a normal school, whose duty it would be to write papers on various assigned subjects pertaining to education. These papers would be discussed, criticized, and filed away until they could some day be used as a basis for instruction in the normal school.
This committee also accompanied their advice with reasons. A few being, that there were not enough finances to institute a normal school, that there were few teachers available to instruct in this normal school, and there was no available material to form a basis for instruction (the Seminar, then would provide at least some material to be used by instructors to teach in this school).
This committee also submitted a list of rules which would govern this Seminar – who would conduct its affairs, how subjects could be provided, when it would meet, where it would meet, and who would lead it. The rules even stipulated “that the Federation advise our school boards to consider for appointment only those teachers who show evidence of having faithfully performed the work of the Seminar.”
In 1959, the committee again investigated the matter of establishing a normal school; this time in particular reference to the matter of its being an accredited school by the State, and the North Central Accrediting Association. If our normal school would not be accredited by the above, our teachers could receive no certificates to teach from the State; and therefore, instruction in our grade schools would be considered invalid. The committee found the stipulations of both the State and the N.C.A.A. extremely stringent, lengthy, and costly. They concluded that it was well nigh impossible to set up this school at this time. However, a recommendation was made that perhaps Calvin College would be merciful enough to recognize and give credit to those subjects taught in our own normal school.
The Seminar then was not the rudimentary plan for the instruction of teachers and prospective teachers; but, rather, it was established as a means to reach a much more desired goal; namely, that of a Protestant Reformed Normal School.
The Seminar, having been in existence now for some five years, has developed into something far more than a means to an end. The end which was an ideal had a tinge of lofty optimism implied in it. A normal school without a corresponding liberal arts program would be like one receiving a Seminary training in only subjects like Catechetics, Hermeneutics, and Church Polity. Professional courses must be based on a knowledge of the liberal arts. The possibility of sending teachers to a college such as Calvin to receive the general training in the arts and sciences and then taking them back to our normal school to “clean up the damage” by some Protestant Reformed methods course would be, to press the analogy, like sending seminarians to Calvin Theological School for Dogmatics, and bringing them back for professional training in the art of preaching and leading catechism. I realize that the figure suffers by being pressed to an extremity; however, we should always remember that What is taught takes precedence of How it is taught. The normal school is not the ideal in our present circumstance.
Through a well-planned program the seminar committee has provided for a thorough study of the problems faced by our schools. The essential questions all teachers in our schools face are first, how can I be an effective teacher, and secondly, how can I make the education in the school distinctly Christian. In our schools which were set up and are maintained on the basis of Scripture as reaffirmed in the Tree Forms of Unity, the teacher is faced with this dual responsibility of distinctive education and real education.
The Seminar has faced this problem squarely in the discussion of a series of papers in the past five years. The History of Education was the first general subject treated. The authors of these papers outlined education among the Hebrews, Greece, and Romans; medieval educational structures and those fostered by the Enlightenment; and finally, the educational pattern of the last two centuries in Europe and America. The next general topic, and the one the Seminar has nearly completed, centers around Educational Psychology and Pedagogy. The first paper in this series, “The Scriptural Principles of Psychology,” was followed by a discussion of the soul, mind, will, and emotions. Papers followed on such subjects as the “Influence of Sin on the Child,’ “Teaching of Moral and Spiritual Values,” “Obedience,” and “The Relation of the Child to the Family and the Church.” At the next meeting of the Seminar the last paper on this subject will be discussed, “Methods of Teaching in Our Schools.”
Seminar was organized to fulfill a need, which was mentioned before in this paper. Somehow it has gone much farther than this. The Seminar has become an opportunity for educational principles to be clarified. It is a place where teachers in service as well as prospective teachers can benefit from the experience of others; a place where our educational system through the contribution of ministers and teachers can have its feet placed squarely on truth. Moreover, it is a movement which shows that Protestant Reformed education is not only an accomplished fact, but a living challenge!