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From World War to Woods Hole: The Impact of Wartime Research Models on Curriculum Reform


by John Rudolph 2002

The curriculum reform movement that began in the late 1950s is widely viewed as the result of a broadly academic effort to restore disciplinary rigor to education in the United States. Much of the work that went on developing the new curricular materials and educational approaches, however, is better understood as an experiment in applying innovative research and development techniques perfected by scientists during World War II. This essay traces the development of these newer methods of scientific analysis and examines how they were imported from the military research programs to the field of education by a select group of physicists centered around Jerrold Zacharias at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is to these physicists, I argue, that this curriculum reform movement owes its fundamental operational characteristics, its conception of the problem of education, and the means of its solution in America at midcentury. Exploring the historical origins of these reforms reveals a good deal about how scientists of the time framed the portability of military techniques, organization, and administrative models of action and provides insight into the current emphasis on technique and performance that has come to characterize United States educational policy.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 104 Number 2, 2002, p. 212-241
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10834, Date Accessed: 10/21/2017 1:24:27 PM

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About the Author
  • John Rudolph
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    JOHN L. RUDOLPH is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research interests include the history of science education in the United States and the history and philosophy of science in science teaching. His forthcoming book, Scientists in the Classroom: The Cold War Reconstruction of American Science Education (New York: Palgrave/St. Martin's Press), examines the origins of the National Science Foundation-funded curriculum reforms of the 1950s and 1960s.
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