Curriculum Theory / EDUC-910 Week 7 Readings

Kliebard closes with life adjustment and some dodgy mental hygiene

Kliebard, H. (2004). The struggle for the American curriculum. Ch. 11–Afterword, pp. 250–270, 271–292. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Chapter 11, discussed life adjustment education in the late 1940s and 1950s. The pre-cursors of life adjustment, with what Kliebard terms its goal of “a curriculum attuned to the actual life functions of youth in preparation for adulthood” (p. 252), appear related to previous social efficiency efforts of school reform.

Charles Allen ProsserThe main difference was the degree of reform rather than what shape it took: Kliebard cites longtime vocational education advocate Charles A. Prosser, then director of the Dunwoody Institute of Minneapolis, Minnesota, as stating that life adjustment education was aimed at the “60 percent” of students presumed to be unsuited for either academic preparation for college (20 percent) or skilled vocational training (the remaining 20 percent) (p. 251).

Talking Point: Remember, 90% of all statistics are made up on the spot, the other 10% are wildly inaccurate.

Life adjustment built popular support among educators and government officials, although (or perhaps because) it was a nebulous concept. “[P]artial measures that schools took to align themselves with the main thrust of life adjustment education” (p. 258) were more common than total transformations. The result being that, as with previous shifts in curriculum thinking, subjects were altered internally rather than completely replaced. Kliebard described that, popular among educators, mental hygiene films on such topics as overcoming shyness, getting a date, getting along with one’s family, dating and saying no to drugs, were examples of life adjustment themes.

Typically, as products of their time, they often brought with them moral messages that reflected the ignorance and bigotry of the era…


As a movement, life adjustment was short lived, partly because “it turned out to be the prod that awoke a slumbering giant” (p. 260) in the form of critics from outside the colleges of education, whose most powerful weapon came in the form of “a frontal attack on the intellectual respectability of what passed for public education in America” (p. 261).

As I’ve noted in an earlier post—here—on October 4th 1957, “when the Soviet Union successfully launched their simplest satellite, prosteishy sputnik (PS1), more commonly known as Sputnik I”, undermined by the perceived need to catch up educationally with the Soviets, life adjustment and its grand plans for reform, fell into disrepute, as cognate field specialists were employed to develop curriculum change—a deathblow to the field of curriculum theorizing according to Pinar (1978a).

Kliebard discussed efforts to bring academic subjects in line with scholarly endeavour: “[B]y and large, there was an effort to raise the intellectual level for all” (p. 269). While the subject organization of schools persisted, debate continued over the content under subject headings such as “English” and “mathematics.”

Talking Point: Does curriculum development need curriculum theorists? Are cognate field specialists the best people to decide what should be taught to meet the needs of their field? If there is a place for curriculum theorists, is it in somehow finding an ethos with which to bind subject curricula, and place that bound package into something called a school, college or university?

Finally, Kliebard’s Struggle for the American Curriculum was hard work for me. As a historical chronical, I found it somewhat dry, but what really distracted for me, was the author’s use of the four-group model in his description of the major curriculum theorists. In my opinion, this model broke down in the first few chapters. Kliebard himself discussed how the boundaries between the groups became less obvious as the years progressed (p. 202). John Dewey’s place—for example—was always outside of the four main groups; and the progression of progressive education, coupled with the rise of eclecticism threw serious doubts on the four-group model for me. If I were you Herbert, I’d get rid of that for the 4th edition. Anybody else’s thoughts?

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