Curriculum Theory / EDUC-910 Week 5 Readings

Eclecticism and what was progressive education?

Kliebard, H. (2004). The struggle for the American curriculum. Ch. 7–8, pp. 151–200. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Great Depression

Great Depression

The crisis of the Great Depression, with mass school closures and laying-off of teachers, brought a renewed interest in using education to reform society.

Kliebard’s seventh chapter described how, the social meliorist position of blending social efficiency with developmentalist ideas appealed to educators:

Both social efficiency—fitting the individual into the right niche in the existing social order—and developmentalism, with its emphasis on freedom and individuality for children and adolescents, gave ground to the feeling that the schools had to address ongoing social and economic problems by raising up a new generation critically attuned to the defects of the social system and prepared to do something about it. (p. 157).

Harold Rugg

Harold Rugg

Talking Point: The criticisms of the child centeredness of the Progressive Education Association by Dewey and Counts began a change in focus for the PEA and for educational reform in general. Kliebard stated, “[T]he seeming impenetrability of the schools themselves to ideas being put forth by Counts and his allies” (p. 166), and considering the popularity of Harold Rugg’s progressive social studies textbooks, could raise the question as to how much of an impact the social meliorist position would have had in operational education, i.e., outside of the realms of curriculum theorists and academics.

Chapter 8 discussed how “a blending of what were once clear-cut ideological positions into new amalgams of curriculum reform” (p. 175), or “hybridization” (p. 176), emerged along with social meliorism. Indeed, Kliebard argues, such eclecticism, with a heavy dose of social efficiency, had broad appeal in practice:

On their side, the social reconstructionists [meliorists] had the stars of the educational world and the more dramatic message, but it was the eclecticists who attracted a strong following among practicing school administrators. The school rank and file were a mixed lot politically and only sporadically responded to the vision of a new social order that the social reconstructionists were advancing Eclecticism, on the other hand, was not nearly as politically sensitive, and the public appeal of a curriculum tied directly to the needs of children as well as the duties of life made it a much safer course for school administrators to follow. (p. 186)

Eclecticism, in Kliebard’s view, calls progressive education into doubt:

In fact, what was known as progressive education became analogous to a chemical mixture in which different elements were thrown together but still retained their own characteristics…

[Which] increasingly made it an easy target for criticism (p. 190)

… from educators such as Bagley, Bode, and Dewey.

Talking Point: Given the popularity of eclecticism, Kliebard’s four-group model established in earlier chapters is looking increasingly inaccurate; Kliebard began with four groups, plus Dewey that didn’t quite fit in any of them, and now a hybridization of all of the above. Anybody else’s thoughts?


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