SUNYCO [SUNY Oswego]'s Heritage in Technology Education - Brian LaValley


To appreciate fully the growth of an institution one must first look at the roots of development and the major factors, which contribute to its eventual heritage.  The history and creation of the State University of New York at Oswego has created an overwhelming landmark in the educational world with reference to its first stages of development.  During the time period of 1861-1886 the institution at Oswego enjoyed its greatest prominence as the mother of normal schools.  Continually from its start, students, faculty, and administrators from all over the country commonly pay tribute to the tremendous influence of SUNYCO, formerly the “Oswego State Normal and Training School”.  Its grandeur is generally characterized as “The Oswego Movement” or “The Oswego Plan”.  Other factors commonly associated with Oswego are the introduction of Pestalozzian principles, object method of teaching, and sense perception.  The curriculum used at the commencement of the college can be directly traced to the teaching methods of Pestalozzi, also named “the father of manual training”.  It was with Pestalozzi that SUNYCO started growing its roots for a string, forceful, well-established institution.

Events Leading to the Development of SUNYCO

Early 1800’s 

In the early 1800’s, private and church schools were the predominant educational settings.  Although state grants to private schools were common at the time, the establishment of public schools met strong opposition, not only from religious groups, but from people who feared this movement would cause a tax increase.  Apprenticeship was still the most predominate form of technical education.

Mid 1800’s 
During the mid 1800’s education was greatly influenced by the rapidly changing society.  It was evident that education would have to change in order to meet the changing conditions of the times.  The United States was growing in territory, in world influence, in population, in business, and in industrialization.  Through the mid 1800’s reading, geography, arithmetic, and history were the main curriculum content with memorization and drill as the important components of the learning process.  Manual training was a large component of technical education and growing rapidly with industry.

Late 1800’s 
With the late 1800’s, curriculum materials depicted the values that teachers, parents, and community members considered important to inculcate in the students.  Reading texts contained stories which were written to point out the benefits of thriftiness, obedience, piety, good manners, and charity (Cohen, 1974).  In the 1870’s the concept of free public schools was induced by John Dewey and was shortly thereafter accepted in all states.  By the 1880’s many states had some form of school system which generally included four years of high school.  However, most of the southern states, due to the civil war, lacked state systems of education.  Also at this time, public normal schools or teacher training institutes were becoming established in many areas.  This alteration in the American educational system was due to the public school revival movement (a term used to describe the events, reforms, and influences that led to the formation and improvement of public schools).

It was during this time period of public school revival that the American educators were heavily influenced by European educators.  Of these prominent teachers and philosophers, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi “probably more than any other educational reformer laid the basis for the modern elementary school and helped reform school practice” (Ragen and Shepherd, 1977).

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi

Pestalozzi was born in Switzerland in 1746.  When he was six years old his father died and Johann’s mother was forced to raise the family in near poverty.  It was this lifestyle and the poor conditions about him that made his grandfather’s work such an importance to him.  His grandfather, who was a minister and teacher, gave young Johann a sense of responsibility toward the poor and humble classes.  It was this feeling that compelled Pestalozzi to choose a career in community service that would allow him to work with the poor.

After considering the priesthood or law, he finally chose a combined career in the fields of agriculture and education as he viewed education as a means to improve society.  Pestalozzi was also influenced by Rosseau’s books Emile and the Social Contract as the appeals for reform filled him with enthusiasm and assurance for teaching.

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi started his education venture with a group of peasant children at Neuhof, where he combined agriculture with rudimentary instruction.  In spite of his own precarious financial situation, he took in fifty poor children in order to educate them.  Pestalozzi tried to make the school self-sufficient by teaching agriculture, weaving, spinning, and cooking.  However, in 1779 the school was closed due to financial problems, lack of community support, and poor soil resulted in small crops.  After the close of the Neuhof school Pestalozzi devoted much of his time to the maturation of his ideas concerning education and of more effective method of teaching.  Pestalozzi’s basic innovation in the method of teaching is concisely stated in his “anschauung sunterricht” which means “to learn by looking at or to learn through visual observation.”  Pestalozzi stated “there are two ways of instructing; either we go from work to things or from things to words.  Mine is the latter.”  He put his idea of “object teaching” into practical work at the Burgdorf School where it was met with great success.  This new technique gained widespread interest as his students had made outstanding progress.  It was through the accomplishments of this new teaching method that Pestalozzi established his reputation.

Hermann Krusi, Sr.

Krusi was born in Switzerland on March 12, 1775.  His important role in the Oswego Movement is that he was Pestalozzi’s assistant in 1799 at Burgdorf.  It was here that Pestalozzi and Krusi Sr. developed and fine-honed the object method of teaching.

During their four years together at Burgdorf (1799-1803) a relationship of father and son was developed as they not only worked together but were best of friends and thus Krusi became an authority on the object method of teaching.

In 1803, Burgdorf was closed and they moved to Yverdon to set up a school that soon became the model for all of Europe.  In 1818 this school was divided into two camps, leaving Pestalozzi and Krusi on opposing sides.  This split did not deflate their friendship as Hermann Krusi Sr. had a son (Hermann Drusi Jr.) and Pestalozzi was appointed the godfather.  It was at Yverdon that Pestalozzi devoted his last years teaching; he died in 1827.

It was after 34 years of working with Pestalozzi that Krusi moved away to start his own school.  During 1833, Krusi started a normal school in his native village of Gais, Switzerland where he taught school until his death on July 25, 1844.

Now that Pestalozzi and Krusi were dead the object method of teaching was adequately known by only a handful of people.  This group included Krusi’s son and those who worked with Pestalozzi or Krusi at their schools.  It was due to his Father’s influence that Krusi Jr. would devote his life to education.  It proved to be an important factor as Krusi Jr. would be the one to transfer this work (object method) to the United States.

The Oswego Movement (start of SUNYCO)

Edward Austin Sheldon

Sheldon was born October 4, 1823 in the area of New Marlboro, Mass.  As a young boy in school he hated to study and do schoolwork, however, when a dollar was offered to the winner of a spelling bee, young Edward studied day and night to win.  He was partially successful with this contest as the prize was equally divided between him and a girl in school.  This defeat ended all his efforts at studying in the public school.  He literally hated to study and would plead with his father to stay at home and work.  His father’s answer was always the same “Edward, when you are older, you will always be sorry that you neglected your school” (Barnes, 1911).

When in school Sheldon was opposed to reading but proved to be fascinated by the pictures he found in his reader and geography books.  If a picture interested him, he would read to find out what was said about it.  It was due to pictures that young Sheldon developed his reading skills.  It was because of Edward’s father and his religious upbringing that he stayed in school.

At the age of 17 a private school opened in his hometown of Perry Center and Sheldon was inspired to go, as many of the girls and boys were doing the same.  It was at this school that Sheldon became thoroughly interested in books and studying.  He liked his teacher, Mr. Charles Huntington, as he had the power to arouse enthusiasm in his pupils and this gave Sheldon new life and ambition.

In 1844 Edward Austin Sheldon went off to Hamilton College which was located in Oneida, New York.  His scholastic work in college was almost exclusively of a bookish character and confined very largely to the languages and mathematics (Barnes, 1911).  At the end of his junior year (1847) Sheldon accepted an invitation to stay with Mr. Charles Dowing at Newburgh, New York.  This opportunity gave Sheldon the chance to become familiar with all areas of a nursery business by actually working with Dowing.

It was early in the fall when Mr. J.W.P. Allen, a nurseryman from Oswego, went to Newburgh to purchase nursery materials.  After talking to Sheldon, Allen asked him to join in a partnership in the nursery business.  Sheldon accepted this offer and moved to Oswego, New York, during the fall of 1847, abandoning his college and law plans.

In 1848 Sheldon did a study of the poorer classes in the city of Oswego.  He was interested in the educational status of the poor, as he found fifteen hundred people who could not read or write.  He shared these results with Cheney Ames and Douglas Smith, the result was the organization of the “Orphan and Free School Association” on November 28, 1848.  Although Sheldon had helped to establish the school, he had not intended to teach.  Instead he hoped to enter the Auburn Theological Seminary.  However, Sheldon was persuaded to take the job after the first two teachers had left after briefly holding the position (Winship, 1900).

After marrying Frances Stiles in 1849, Sheldon took over a small private school in the U.S. Hotel Building in Oswego.  In 1851, after watching the attendance rate drop, Sheldon accepted a job in Syracuse, New York, as the superintendent of schools for 600 dollars a year.  While at Syracuse, Sheldon helped to institute many improvements and changes in the educational system, as he helped with the establishment of a public library and the formation of evening classes.

In 1853 Sheldon moved back to Oswego upon where he was appointed superintendent for the first board of education.  He made many reforms for the Oswego schools; school boundaries were rearranged, buildings were classified according to age, and unqualified teachers were eliminated.  By the third year as superintendent, Sheldon became very involved in the daily class routines.  He met with teachers weekly to discuss instruction, organization, classification, discipline, and principles of education.  Sheldon described his education system:

“I carried a straight-jacket system of close classification to its highest point of perfection, accompanied by a course of study as precise, definite, and exacting as it is possible to make… I have good reason for believing that I had organized and perfected the most complete educational machine that was ever constructed.  By look at my watch, I could tell exactly what every teacher in the city was doing: (Cohen, 1974).

In 1859 Sheldon began to feel dissatisfied with is system as he feared it lacked vitality.  He seeked a program that would allow the students to participate actively in their education (Benedick, 1942). 
In 1859 Sheldon took a tour of the Normal and Training School or Toronto where he visited the National Museum.  Here he came across a display on objective teaching with materials from the Home and Colonial School in London.  The display represented the Pestalozzian method of teaching known as the object method.  There were charts, maps, blocks, balls, pictures, specimens from nature, and other man-made objects.  Sheldon was so impressed that he purchased the exhibit with 300 dollars of his own money and eagerly returned to Oswego where he started training teachers on the “object method of teaching.”

It was after two years of training, in 1861, that the Oswego Primary Training School was founded based on Sheldon’s experience with the objects from his trip to Toronto (Waite, 1984).  Sheldon was impressed with this educational technique was the Pestalozzian method was a great success, however he felt he had only a limited understanding of this new concept.  He realized the need for someone who understood this method so he wrote to the London Home and Colonial School to find and exert who could help.

Margaret E. M. Jones

In 1861 Jones, who had 18 years experience with these methods, was hired for an extreme sum of 1,000 dollars per year as Sheldon assured the board it wouldn’t cost the city a cent.  His plan was to charge all non-residents of Oswego a fifty dollar tuition and persuaded a number of teachers to contribute one-half of their salaries for the year, in view of the benefits they would receive from instruction through the “London Trained Teacher.”

Jones started in May of 1861 with Sheldon as one of her first students.  The work of introducing the object method into successive grades in the public schools went on steadily under the supervision of Sheldon and very commendable progress was made.

At the end of one year Jones moved back to England and Sheldon realized that he needed another qualified person to replace her.  Jones suggested that he should try to get Hermann Krusi Jr., who was teaching at the Normal School or Lancaster, Massachusetts.

Hermann Krusi Jr.

In the fall of 1862, Hermann Krusi Jr., son of Pestalozzi’s associate, joined the staff of the Oswego Training School.  In 1863 the institution became the State Normal School and was transferred from Fourth Street School, on the west side of the river, to East Fourth Street.  The training classes were divided into two sections:  one section received instruction on the method, while the other was engaged in the teaching of the school of practice (Barnes, 1911).

It was the work done between 1863 and 1886 that greatly influenced the rest of the country as the new method of teaching was referred to as a “tidal wave” of education theory (Harper, 1939) and Oswego began to be called “the Mother of Normal Schools.”  This term was composed due to graduates who traveled all over the country and established other normal schools.  Krusi taught a drawing course as part of the curriculum in 1862 and due to its content may be considered the actual start of manual training at Oswego.

Development of Manual Training from 1887 to 1911

In 1866 the school was recognized as a state institution, subject to the supervision of the state superintendent.  On February 28, 1866, the training school was transferred to a new building on West Fourth Street.  In 1876 the manual training movement got underway in America and Sheldon watched with interest as this seemed but a logical extension of the objective method of teaching for which he had pioneered (Helsby, 1958).  In 1887 a workshop was constructed at the school and the start of a manual training program was announced.

F. H. Cyrenius

Cyrenius had a short-lived but important role in Oswego’s history.  After the shop was fitted with tools, it was placed in the charge of the head janitor, F.H. Cyrenius as there was no money to hire a trained teacher.  The new program was met with poor success, as supervision was inadequate, resulting in tools that were dull or broken.  The need for a specially trained teacher was evident and Sheldon wasted no time finding one.

In 1888 a law was passed within New York that made it possible to raise taxes for courses in the area of manual training.  By this act of legislature, Oswego Normal School became the first teacher-training institution in the United States to legally prepare teachers in the field of manual training (Waite, 1984).  This law provided money to the program and a qualified teacher was hired.

Richard K. Piez

In 1893 Piez was hired to teach manual training and thus the program was enhanced considerably.  With the new tax law, six thousand dollars was obtained for remodeling the shop and new equipment was purchased.

Piez, being a graduate from a technical school, learned the Russian system that was developed by Victor Della Vos.  Due to this training his main concern was the development of skills and he conducted his program around the completion of wood joints and other jobs of exercise nature.

Sheldon was pleased with the work that Piez was doing, but felt the activities did not attain the end which he had in mind.  Sheldon persuaded Piez to redevelop the activities for an end project that would be useful.  This was the starting point of Manual Arts at Oswego, even though it was called Manual Training.  An exact date of the change from Manual Training to Manual Arts is not clearly stated, however the event can be placed around 1899, two years after the death of Edward Austin Sheldon. 
In 1902 Piez moved to the psychology department in the normal school and Joseph Park became the new head of the department.  Park organized and administered courses in Manual Training I, II, and III totaling 300 clock hours.  Students who choose to take such courses received an additional diploma in the area of manual training.

During the period of 1902 to 1910, Joseph Park did all of the teaching in this department by utilizing the help of students assistants who were chosen according to their abilities and skills.  It was under Park that the term “Manual Training” was replaced by the early concepts of Industrial Arts.  This program was for a short time called Manual Arts but the term never stuck and the term “Industrial Arts” was utilized due to the work of Gordon Bonser at Columbia University.

Industrial Arts from 1911 to 1940

From 1911 to 1940 Joseph C. Park worked hard to develop an outstanding program in Industrial Arts.  In 1911, a new program was offered, which required two full years of work in the field of Industrial Arts.  It was now required that 800 hours be executed for professional subjects and practice teaching, 550 to liberal-cultural courses, and 900 to shop work.  In 1913 a new building was constructed (Sheldon Hall) and the institution moved to its present location (Helsby, 1958).

From 1911 to 1940 the Industrial Arts department grew as a profession and greatly increased in student enrollment.  Due to this growth, five new staff members were hired and the department went from one shop and a drawing room to five shops and a drawing room.  During this time period two hundred and eight students graduated with Industrial Arts degrees.

In 1921, Park met with the department and from this meeting new courses were developed and once again Oswego was leading the way by being the trendsetters in the area of Industrial Arts.  In 1930, the two-year course was abolished and a three-year program was implemented.  It was during this year that a new building was approved.

From the start, the Industrial Arts programs had always been held in the basement of the main building of the normal school, now known as Sheldon Hall.  A crusade was started for the appropriation of a new building.  It was due to the efforts of James Riggs (the Normal School Principal), Dr. Joseph Park (director of the I.A. Program), and the Alumni Association that the appropriation was passed by the legislature in 1930.  The actual cornerstone for the building was laid on August 18, 1930, by governor Roosevelt and construction started on April 21, 1931.  The new building opened in 1932 and was named Park Hall after Joseph Park.  Park continued to make changes and lead the department through many changes until his retirement in 1940 and it was due to his efforts that the I.A. program was granted permission by the state to offer a four-year degree in Industrial Arts.

Industrial Arts from 1940 to 1980

By 1940, Oswego had one of the best programs for Industrial Arts in the country as its graduates were wanted all over the country.  In 1940, Gordon O. Wilber was appointed the new director and continued to build the program.

Wilber felt Industrial Arts Education should be used to transmit a way of life and should be considered an important aspect of general education.  It was his beliefs that helped him conceive the idea to write a textbook.  He named his book “Industrial Arts in General Education” and it became the basic text all over the country.

Wilber can also be remembered as one of the first to identify the use of behavioral objectives in education.  This also had a big impact on the department as once again they were developing a new concept that would later play an important role in education.

The department continued to grow from 1940 to 1980 as new staff members were hired and the building was extended to create more labs.  This period saw a few changes with directors/chairpersons over these years but remained to stay a leading department in the field of Industrial Arts.

Technology Education

In 1972 Dr. Vernon Tryon was appointed head of the Industrial Arts Department and soon restructured the program.

In 1980 a very big, political process took place in New York that changed the name from Industrial Arts Education to Technology Education.  This movement was called the “Futuring Project” as the state wanted to produce a structured educational plan to prepare students for the business world.  They felt students should be trained to become technologically literate and set up a plan for this movement.

In 1982 the Regents Action Plan set up new standards and expectations for education in New York State.  Between 1984 and 1988, Oswego was planning and setting up for the change from I.A. to Technology Education.

Oswego has fully changed to prepare students with the best possible training in Technology Education possible. 

In Closing

The history of Technology Education at Oswego has deep roots that can be traced all the way back to Pestalozzi and his object method of teaching.  It was through this history that we see the changes in education and realize their importance as they happened.

Edward Austin Sheldon actually founded the college and developed the institution into a historical landmark.  It was largely due to the object method of teaching that this institution enjoyed its greatest prominence as the “Mother of Normal Schools.”  Sheldon set up and watched over all the programs that were started at SUNYCO.  Due to the devotion he had for education, Sheldon worked almost day and night, training teachers for the object method of teaching.

There are many other influences that have helped mold and create the department that we have today.  Its constant growth has presented a continuous challenge to all who have been connected with it.  Yet, there is much to be done, many changes and modifications need to be made and constant evaluation of this curriculum should be considered so that Oswego can stay current with technology and maintain their reputation as leaders in the field.


Barnes, M. (1911). Autobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon.  New York Ives-Butler Company 

Benedict, A.E. (1942).  Progress to Freedom:  The Story of American Education. New York:  G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 

Cohen, S. (1974).  Education in the United States:  A Documentary History.  New York:  Random House

Harper C.A. (1939).  A Century of Public Teacher Education.  Washington, D.C.: National Education Association

Helsby, R.D. (1958).  The Development of Industrial Arts at Oswego, 1186 – 1958  
A Brief Resume, Oswego Industrial Arts Department.  Oswego, New York

Ragan, W.B., and Shepherd, G.D. (1977).  Modern Elementary Curriculum.  New York:  Halt, Rinhart, and Winston.

Waite, W. (1984, March).  From Pestalozzi to Industrial Arts – Via Oswego State.  The Technology Teacher, pp. 23-25

Winship, A.E. (1900).  Great American Educators.  New York:  Werner School Book Co.

(Note:  This research was accomplished by Brian LaValley as a graduate project, working with Dr. William Waite,  in the 1980s.)