Greetings to William Heard Kilpatrick ... from the National Education Association
by Robert A. Skaife - 1952
A greeting given to the attendees of William Kilpatrick's eightieth birthday celebration in 1951.
It is both a privilege and a pleasure to represent the National Education Association in honoring Dr. William Heard Kilpatrick on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.
Dr. Kilpatrick's work at Teachers College attracted the attention of teachers everywhere. In this sense he belongs to the teachers of the United States. They have recognized him as a master teacher. They have praised his writings, quoted his teachings, and profited by the ideals of his philosophy of education. Those who had the good fortune to study with him have gone forth with a workable philosophy of their own, one which has enabled them to face a troubled world courageously.
I asked a prominent graduate of Teachers College this question: "In general, what do you believe is Dr. Kilpatrick's greatest contribution to public education?" This was his answer: "If I had to select one thing, I would say that he was a chief factor in raising the status of a teacher from that of a factory hand to that of a creative professional worker."
It would be a time-consuming task, one not fitting for this occasion, to review the many books and articles which Dr. Kilpatrick has written to illustrate the things he has done to improve teaching. Others have described many of the accomplishments of Dr. Kilpatrick. I am therefore going to concentrate briefly on his services to education as a member of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the National Education Association. Dr. Kilpatrick served on this Committee from 1935 to 1944 and acted as chairman during the latter year. In 1944 the Committee on Academic Freedom was merged with the Tenure Committee to become the Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom.
Among the accomplishments of this Committee on Academic Freedom, of which he was a vital part, was a survey of public opinion which led to the formulation of a statement of principles. An outgrowth of these principles was Dr. Kilpatrick's excellent article in the April, 1942, issue of the NBA Journal entitled "Academic Freedom and What It Has Meant to Me." "Academic freedom," said Dr. Kilpatrick, "means for the teacher, freedom to study and teach according to the best insight one can get, and for the student, freedom to study and discuss and conclude each for himself as best he can."
A glance through any of the books he has written reveals his scholarly, scientific approach to learning, the very heart of academic freedom. In Education for a Changing Civilization he wrote: "It seems clear that the tendency to test thought before accepting it is slowly but surely permeating the general intellectual attitude of our time. In this principle man has found a new faith." In teaching he has opposed indoctrination in favor of questioning "received positions" and rethinking "these positions to something more defensible."
At the request of the Committee on Academic Freedom, Dr. Kilpatrick prepared for the NBA Journal (May, 1943) an article entitled "The Moral Obligation of Teachers in the War-Peace Situation." His concluding statement reaffirmed faith in academic freedom: he urged teachers, acting through their professional organizations, to "defend both their right to teach and the students' right to learn ..."
Nowhere has Dr. Kilpatrick stressed academic freedom from the point of view of the selfish interest of the teacher. He has urged it as a protection of the individual and the public. Translated into everyday living, this concept, so vigorously attacked today, is public education's answer to those who would destroy the American dream by narrowing the passageways to knowledge and truth. Instead, Dr. Kilpatrick has been in the forefront of those who seek to preserve for the American child an open gateway which reads, "Here you are free to learn."
As we face more intensified attacks on public education today—attacks which imperil our educational structure in America—perhaps there is no more fitting way to honor Dr. William Heard Kilpatrick than to pledge anew our support for the principles he has labored so diligently to establish in public education.
Dr. Kilpatrick, the National Education Association is proud to join other educational groups in honoring you today, on this your eightieth birthday.