Curriculum Theory / EDUC-910 Week 4 Readings

Social efficiency and Kilpatrick’s project method

Kliebard, H. (2004). The struggle for the American curriculum. Ch. 5–6, pp. 105–150. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Chapters 5 and 6. Kliebard’s fifth chapter discussed changes in schooling that resulted from the social efficiency movement. The turnaround of one of the key members of The Committee of Ten, who had earlier rejected ideas of ability grouping, now wholeheartedly accepted the notions of sorting by ability, even as early as the elementary stages (p. 105).

The newly proposed junior high school would help in sorting students by their anticipated destination, “leaving the high school free to provide the differentiated curriculum that the social efficiency reformers so insistently demanded” (p. 106).

Other social studies emphasized the “development of efficient citizenship” (p. 107), undermined humanist-oriented areas of study such as history. However, Kliebard stressed the importance of vocational education to social efficiency. Not only were distinct vocational tracks being created for those students deemed unsuited for a more academically focused education, but educational institutions of the time saw social efficiency as a tool for the racial integration of blacks and native Americans.

Thomas Jesse Jones

Thomas Jesse Jones

Thomas Jesse Jones (1873–1950), director of the department of research for the Hampton Institute specialized in Black American affairs, and instigated a widely acclaimed program of improved citizenship for the American underclasses. Jones produced a report entitled, Negro Education: A Study of the Private and Higher Schools for Colored People in the United States, published in 1917. Kliebard cited a statement by Jones: Because the Negro and Indian races have not had time to develop, they are not equal to certain other races; with time to develop, they may become the equals of other races.” (p. 107)

Talking Point: “By designing the program of studies so as to introduce the more advanced white social institutions and social practices to the less advanced races, their progress toward a state of civilization could be speeded up.” (p. 107) Please feel free to discuss this apparent breathtaking racism in any way you may feel comfortable with.

Through dint of sheer popularity with curriculum stakeholders, vocational programs were becoming the norm for all but the academically gifted:

[M]any existing subjects, particularly at the secondary level, were becoming infused with criteria drawn from vocational education. This became evident in the increasing popularity of such courses as business mathematics and business English as legitimate substitutes for traditional forms of these subjects. In very visible ways, the whole curriculum for all but the college bound was becoming vocationalized. (p. 110)

Kliebard argued that, “at least in principle, all children shared a common setting for their education” (p. 129), maintaining at least the appearance of educational equity, nevertheless students were often receiving a very different educations, the nature of which depended on where professional educators felt students belonged or would naturally end up in life.

Talking Point: To what extent could this be argued that this is still very much the case?

William Heard Kilpatrick

William Heard Kilpatrick

Chapter 6 focused on the Project Method, first defined by William Heard Kilpatrick in his essay “The Project Method” (Kilpatrick, 1918), of Teachers College. Learning through projects became a valuable contribution by the progressive education movement. Kliebard suggests that its popularity lay in its appeal to different branches of curriculum theory. Kilpatrick was:

[A]ble to rekindle the diminishing hope that the developmentalists had once ignited—that somewhere in the child lay the key to a revitalized curriculum. (p. 135)

Projects could be used by proponents of social efficiency to prepare students for employment within the community. Developmentalists could see the project as meeting the needs of students, appropriate to age and aptitude. Progressive educators (Dewey et al.), could view the project as a tool for moving students from practical, commonplace experience to a more abstract, academic pedagogy.

Kliebard reported Kilpatrick as expounding on:

[T]he theme of using children’s purposes as the basis for organizing the curriculum, indeed proposing the child’s own ‘purposeful act’ as the ‘typical unit’ not only of school life but of the ‘worthy life’ in general (p. 137).

Talking Point: The developmental focus of the project could become a learning objective in itself. Kliebard stated “As Kilpatrick redefined it, the project was now not simply a way of reorganizing the teaching of, say, science; it became, contrary to Dewey’s position, a substitute for science” (p. 141). What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of the activity curriculum as a replacement for a more traditional approach?

As the project method “came to be more grandly advertised as the activity curriculum or the experience curriculum” (p. 143), the concept began attracting criticism from the likes of William C. Bagley—assumptions made by the experience curriculum had not been established by thorough experimentation (p. 145); Boyd H. Bode—a risk of educational objectives being subject to bias of curriculum developers and a perpetuation of the status quo (p. 147); and Dewey—“the knowledge gained from the activity curriculum was of a merely technical sort, not a genuine carrying forward of theoretical knowledge” (p. 149).


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