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The American Elementary School

by William H. Kilpatrick - 1929

My assignment is to describe the American elementary school for those from without our country; to explain as best I can what manner of school we have, its theory and practice, but most of all the manner and degree in which it answers to the needs of the American situation. Possibly the effort to tell others is at the same time the best way to bring the matter home to ourselves.

My assignment is to describe the American elementary school for those from without our country; to explain as best I can what manner of school we have, its theory and practice, but most of all the manner and degree in which it answers to the needs of the American situation.    Possibly the effort to tell others is at the same time the best way to bring the matter home to ourselves.


In the United States elementary education is the combination of several aspects indicative more or less of several origins which we may now consider in their historic order.    First comes the "preparatory" aspect.    It seems historically probable that the primary school (or elementary school) originated as merely preparatory to the older and more important secondary school   (as witness even yet the Vorschule in Germany and the "preparatory school" in England). A few such schools are found in this country, but so few as to be quite unknown to most of our people.   The preparatory aspect, how­ever, of the common elementary school is much in evidence, hurtfully so as will later appear. Next and more significant in the actual history of this country is the vocational aspect, coming down to us possibly from a sort of vocational school for boys called in colonial days "writing schools." In these the future business men of lesser promise got their preparation. This vocational aspect still bulks large in the minds of "practical" people, some of whom speak at times as if this were the main if not the sole function of our elementary school.


More significant possibly from the point of view of origins was the Protestant religious school of the "Reformation." Its origin lay in the doctrine of "salvation by faith." Since this was personal all must read the Bible in order to meet their personal religious duty. Being established for religious reasons one main duty of this Protestant parochial school was to prepare the children for the religious life of the church. It did this by a process we now depreciatingly call "in­doctrination," being thus frankly propagandist of the tenets of the particular church. While the religious motive has now largely passed from the American elementary school, it was long potently present and an indirect effect is still with us. "Indoctrination" (in the bad sense) is still the only too common way of looking at the education of the young. As further discussion will show, some of our worst contemporary plagues spring from this conception and attitude.


After the American Revolution was effected, a new motive came to be voiced for the school, namely, that it must help the new democ­racy train its citizens more adequately for the new duties and responsibilities incident to a government of the people.   Jefferson, Madison, Rush, and Noah Webster were simply the outstanding ones to voice this idea.    Theoretical acceptance of the idea was general.    Many were the schemes proposed for the new education needed.    As the older schools believed in religious indoctrination, so the new writers generally accepted a political indoctrination.  Benjamin   Rush, no unworthy man in his day, frankly avowed in his Thoughts upon the Mode of Education Proper to a Republic that "the principle of patriotism stands in need of the reinforcement of prejudice, and it is well known that our strongest prejudices in favor of our country are formed in the first one and twenty years of our lives."   Thus can the American Legion, the D. A. R., and the Ku Kluxers find, if they wish, historic support for their contemporary program of prejudice building.    Possibly it is fairer to say that only slowly has general opinion come to see that education can and must rise above a mere giving of our prejudices to the young helplessly under our care.


The final stage to date in the evolution of our elementary school is the emerging from the foregoing of an institution trying to answer to the varied demands of our onrushing industrial civilization. In outward lines this school, as our generation has received it, was fixed in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. It was intended to meet for the majority the "practical" needs of the times and by an optimistic hopefulness was also to prepare for democratic citizenship in particular, and for the moral life in general. Professedly, it aimed at resourcefulness and self-direction. The methods it used, however, we now increasingly see were inadequate to any of these hopes. These methods were, essentially, assignment and "recitation," drill and memorization. "Promotion" from one "grade" to another was granted on the satisfactory completion of the subject matter set out for that grade. The textbook with its definite "lessons" became for us the reliance in a degree true of no other western country. By tra­dition the main duty of the teacher was to assign and "hear" these lessons in such way as to enforce their "learning" upon the pupils.


It may be added that while in frontier days worthy citizens were frequently illiterate, at a later time social standing and general oppor­tunity came increasingly to demand at least the minimum of literacy furnished by these schools. While compulsory attendance laws have served to whip the minority into line, an increasing majority of the American people have of themselves long wished this schooling for their children. With the growing wealth of the last few decades reinforced by the influence of the war, the same motives of social standing and opportunity have extended to the years of adolescence. Elementary and secondary education are thus increasingly united in one conception. The astonishing increase of interest in recent years in attendance upon our secondary school is sign and evidence of this motivation. It is almost correct to say that our secondary school is but the elementary school extended upward, using, it is true, institu­tional forms still reminiscent of their aristocratic origin.




With such a foundation for the American elementary school we may next ask about the respects in which it is characteristically demo­cratic. To see this adequately we must consider, as our people typi­cally do, the single system of public elementary and secondary schools.


Most obvious, perhaps, is the fact that elementary and secondary schools do in fact form one system. Both are under one support and control; both are free; both combine to form one continuous line of advance, open to all who may come and (typically) to boys and girls alike. For decades the elementary school has seen ahead of it the open door of the high school, inviting all who might care to enter. The Einheitschuleso earnestly being sought in various European coun­tries has long been an established fact here. Increasingly do our children, irrespective of parental wealth or status, go from elemen­tary school to high school.


Still more democratic is the control of American public education. The reference is to a democracy more inherent than mere govern­ment, however popular. The foreign visitor learns with varying sur­prise that our national government (except in minor matters) neither supports nor controls our public schools. His attention is usually directed to the several states and here, legally, at any rate, he will seemingly find both support and control. But a closer view shows that essential practice differs from overt legal theory. Not only do municipalities and other divisions within the state supply most of the support, but in practice they exercise more of the legal control than do the state departments. Each city is almost a law unto itself as to how it will manage its school system. The uniformities springing from such centralized control as is found in France, for example, are here conspicuous for their absence.


But the denial of governmental control must be made still stronger. Neither national nor state nor local governmental machinery, nor enactment from any or all sources soever is the main source of educa­tion in this country. Governmental machinery exists competent in law to exercise complete control, but the actual control is otherwise.


Where then is control located? The answer seems clear. It is essentially in voluntary effort. To such effort, leadership cer­tainly distinctly belongs. Voluntary organizations (teachers asso­ciations, research organizations, endowed foundations, and the like), private experimental schools of all grades, privately endowed uni­versities, individual or group enterprise within state-supported institu­tions (but even here originated rather by personal initiative than by enactment of any sort), the writings of personal leaders—it is from such sources as these that suggestions for advance come and are spread throughout the country.    On the whole and in the long run these agencies are far and away more powerful both in originating advances and in bringing uniformities than are legal enactments of any or all of the governmental agencies.    The latter following the lead of the former do, it is true, spread the uniformities especially into otherwise isolated corners, but it is to voluntary effort that the American system owes its existing distinctive features whether of form or content or spirit.


If it be granted that democracy is to be counted as present in the degree that there is actual spread of new controlling ideas on the impelling power of their sensed merit rather than on any external force, legal or otherwise, exerted in their behalf, then it seems but fair to claim that the actual control of education in this country is democratic in a degree hardly, if at all, to be found elsewhere. Speaking as one who lives in the system I think we who teach in the higher institutions may enjoy a sense of plasticity to thought as we face our classes probably greater than that enjoyed by our col­leagues in other lands. For myself, I always feel if I can make a really good case for any proposal of change which we may discuss in one of my classes that the proposal will be accepted by some of the more alert and be given a trial on its merits and that as it there suc­ceeds it will spread thence on its observed merits. As obstacles to the spread of new ideas there are to be found, of course, the world over, both the inertia of entrenched habitual ideas and the existing governmental regulations. Both of these we have here, varying in strength from place to place, but the net result I believe is a fairer chance here than elsewhere for the spread of an idea on its merits. In this and in the other ways named is the democratic spirit manifest in the American elementary school.




But this address is by no means intended to be a eulogy of what is. Rather is criticism the proper order, criticism without partiality, a criticism that seeks to improve whatever is, whether here or abroad.


Let us then recall the initial aim to inquire as to the manner and degree in which our elementary school answers to the needs of our American situation. How we are just now changing from an old and now inadequate school theory and practice to a more adequate type of schooling will prove a long story. I can only hope that the account may not be found too local or too wearying.


That a very large part of necessary education does and will go on independently of schools need not be doubted. In a true sense this fact of education inherent in life must form the basis for the school which then must find its justification in caring for those parts and aspects of education that would otherwise suffer. This evident fact of out-of-school education is, however, liable to misapprehension, par­ticularly at a time when civilization is rapidly undergoing change. With the situation so changing there must come a correlative change in the school's share in the educative process. This change we now see in progress in the American elementary school.


Until recently, as history goes, the school task for the mass—so it was judged—could properly be limited to a certain small content of book knowledges and skills, all the rest of education being left to the informal and incidental education of life itself. The school was thus conceived as but supplementary to the more important inci­dental education of life. Out of this situation there naturally grew up for the school a correlative educational theory, one which has proved in fact more virile than might have been expected. This theory, in keeping with dominant ideas of the time, accepted as its controlling aim the preparation of the child for later adult life and consequently (being merely supplementary) fixed as its ideal of school procedure the acquisition for later use of such book facts and skills as the adult would presumably need. Incidentally there would be implanted the accepted group attitudes literally as prejudices. This theory assumed without question, on the basis of contemporary thought, that a fixed and known adult life confronted the pupils that a correlative content was known of appropriate thought and behavior to be "taught" to the pupils, and that virtue on the pupils' part meant a "docile" acceptance of this content. Learning was thus largely memorization as teaching was indoctrination. Textbooks embodied this subject-matter. The "lessons" were the successive parts of the content as "assigned" daily for "learning." Success was "getting" the lessons so that they might be "recited" to the satisfaction of the teacher. Each grade had its annual (or semi-annual) quota of con­tent with promotion following its successful acquisition. Thus arose the hitherto traditional theory of the American elementary school.


The instructive part of this recital is that while the theory as here set out was rather assumed than stated, it none the less served to mold to itself the form and spirit of the American school system then in process of formation. So that now every part of both thought and machinery sides of the traditional school system embodies and exem­plifies this traditional theory and outlook. Part hangs by part in astonishing consistency. The thought terms,—study, learn, teach, subject-matter, curriculum—all get their hitherto dominant definitions from this traditional outlook. In like degree do habitual school pro­cedures and administrative functions exemplify the same theory and outlook as is evident in the traditional methods of recitation, the kind of textbooks, the teaching, the single desks screwed down in lines, the promotion schemes, the training given to teachers, supervision of teaching, administrative control of curriculum and of teaching process —all are cut from the same cloth and have the same pattern. And back of it all is a philosophy of conservatism (often unconscious) that would exactly fit the child to the fixed and known social scheme of the status quo.


But more than this and worse for the immediate school future in this country is a new lease on life recently given to this otherwise departing theory and outlook. It is well known that within this generation the university study of education has gone ahead in this country as never before. Three especial lines of advance concern us here. One is in the study of the educative process and the wider part it can and should play in promoting the life process. Another is in the administrative handling of schools and school systems, including especially the collection, criticism, and selection of experience in this field. The third is the even more brilliant work done in the "scien­tific" study of education with its greatest apparent success in tests and measures, the testing of intelligence and the measuring of learning achievement. The first line of advance, while so great as to be revo­lutionary, is more continuous with the past than are the two last named. As matters of overt study these two latter lines are strik­ing instances of pioneering. Nothing then could be more natural than that the pioneer workers in these fields should give dominant and all but exclusive attention to the creative work in which they are engaged. They would thus in their absorption assume—almost in­evitably—the theories of education in dominant vogue at the time they began and build thereon the procedures they were devising. It also by coincidence happens that these older traditionally entrenched views of the educative process are easier both to administer and to test on the new bases than are the newer alternative views of the educative process which meanwhile have been taking shape. The result, as I see it, is that the workers in these departments (without exactly knowing why) generally become partisan advocates of the older views and practice of the educative process. To the motivation of inertia there is thus added what seems in effect to be the motivation of a vested interest. So that to many administrators and to most testing specialists the older and now inadequate conceptions of cur­riculum, educational objectives, and the like, seem so necessary to their chosen techniques as to bias them against any other way of thinking.




The advance in educational theory struggling now to embody itself in American educational practice faces thus a formidable combination of obstacles. Parents brought up in the old way, school practices (textbooks, assignments, examinations, promotion schemes, etc.) which originated to serve the older view and have now become en­trenched in custom and prejudice, and finally the acclaimed "modern and scientific" practice of testing—all unite in giving a new hold on life to theories and practices which, it appears, could not survive if left to their merits. Conservative tradition is difficult enough to combat anywhere at any time, but when as now in America it has "science" to support it and "economy" to favor it, the outlook would be dark indeed if there were not strong considerations on the other side.


The strong support on the other side is the factor of change, pres­ent to-day in this country as never anywhere before. Change works essentially to undermine the traditional position. The logical and psychological support for the older educational view depends on an unchanging situation. As we saw earlier, the older view assumes— and it must so assume—that we know the situation which will con­front these children as adults and that we know and have in hand what they will need to know and have. Underlying these assumptions is the even more fundamental one of a static world view. Logically and psychologically this older position thinks in terms and conceptions that grew up when change could be ignored, thinks in fact in terms and conceptions that were actually devised to prevent change and to sustain instead vested interests in a feudal social system and in an unchanging religious creed.


On this older outlook society in the person of its leaders possessed knowledge which was claimed to be authoritatively fixed and eternal ("the eternal verities," it was often called). The school's main task was to give this knowledge to the young. On their part, it was their chief duty to "learn" (to accept and fix in mind and heart) what was thus authoritatively "taught." To "learn" meant thus primarily to fix in habit (a definition even now assumed in most of our current educational psychology, and this to the exclusion of the creative aspect of learning, ability for which is conveniently denied to ordinary mor­tals by the supposed results of mental testing). "Study" is on this point of view taken to refer to acquiring an assignment. Examina­tions test whether the authoritative "subject-matter" has been thus "learned." "Minimum essentials," often "scientifically" fixed, are the least the school can supposedly afford to require. The reader is asked to note that all these conceptions in strictness imply a static basis of thought and outlook.


In the pre-industrial era of this country this static outlook largely sufficed; as well it might under conditions when most people got at home and in community so large a proportion of their needed adapta­tion to life that for them the school was hardly needed and could in any event be frankly supplementary and thus exclusively bookish. But now, in this country, as perhaps nowhere else, does industrializa­tion change all this. The home has yielded one by one its economic and industrial processes to the factory, and so has lost much of its close contacts and many if not most of its educational possibilities. The community has become larger and infinitely more complex and so far more difficult to compass educationally. Immigration besides has brought here a larger volume of more diverse nationalities than has ever before been brought together into an equal area in like time. Socialization becomes thus necessary in a new sense and degree ("Americanization" is only too often a grim travesty upon what is needed). Mass production with its mingled good and evil, greater wealth, greater leisure, serious monotony—all these create for edu­cation indeed a new task. And as if the situation were not already sufficiently difficult, there comes amid and through it all the perma­nent factor of rapid pervasive change, change promising indeed to become even more rapid and more pervasive.


Change has in this way become apparently the dominating char­acteristic of our American civilization. Almost nothing lies beyond its influence either in outward scope or in inner reach. And the school must in some fashion adapt itself to all these demands. Most obviously, the three R's no longer suffice (tradition and willing ex­ploitation to the contrary notwithstanding). Nor will mere facts and skills, however multiplied, suffice to carry the load. What home and community have ceased to do for the child, the school must now undertake. Habits, attitudes, and appreciations, these to be hence­forth adequate must come in great measure from the school. In such ways does the school change its function. No longer merely supple­mentary, it must now contemplate as never before the whole of child life. And what kind of life are we to seek? The new wealth and the new leisure, catered to by selfish commercialized amusements, threaten to reduce American life to a regrettably low basis. Finer things must have a fairer chance or our civilization is lowered.


But more fundamental yet must be our thinking. If change has come to be a permanent and pervasive aspect of life, the old static world view can but lead us astray. We must see things as they are, in terms of change. On no other basis can we so shape events as to save and attain desirable values.


Changing life becomes thus inherently an adventure into the un­known. Education must recognize this and shape itself accordingly. In particular the "preparation" theory as hitherto held proves inade­quate. We do not know the problems our children will face, still less do we know the answers to their problems. Instead of preparing them for a situation pretendedly known in advance, we must prepare them to take care of themselves in an unknown and changing future. The terms "study" and "learn" must then stress that other neglected component, the creative aspect. In a truer psychology, any instance of learning from the amoeba onwards has always included two as­pects, the creative (contriving a new response or joining an old one in a new way) and the fixing in habit. Creating and fixing go always together. In the new and changing world we need to make conscious use of both aspects. It is too late to deny this creative aspect to the common run of mankind. It was a settled fact æons ago before man was man and has always been found wherever learning appears.




Two new ways of thinking, so it would appear, must then combine to give us the conception of the educative process needed to cope with the confronting situation. One is the creative aspect of learn­ing, hitherto ignored in the common theory and practice; the other is a process of continuous growing, preparation for the future by growing best now and continuously henceforth. On this basis, as I see it, we must re-define study, as in fact it is, as an adventure into the unknown, the effort to meet a novel situation. That some things have been long known as valuable to be learned may seem to oppose this conception, but things old to us elders may be—at the first must be—new to our children. Degrees of creation, yes, but always the creative aspect. And always the lesser creative instances are in­cluded in the more creative ventures. "Study" and "learn" are thus personally active processes and are best located in the life process itself. So located, each thing learned will be learned in its meaningful con­nections. Intelligence is the disposition and ability to use existing meanings to get and use more and better meanings. Such study and such learning facing life's unknowns promise accordingly more avail­able intelligence. And the process is continuous, always to be held to the highest that we can help it to be. Nor need we fear for drill. When this comes after the need is seen, we can both retain meaning and acquire skill. Drill and memorization, however, apart from seen and felt connection, threatens to become a meaningless response to a meaningless situation, a slave's preparation for a fixed and underlying position, not a free man's preparation for the intelligent control of a changing world.


Such a conception of education is not an empty dream nor an idle hope. Already beginning education in all our better schools is largely committed to it. And the general change in the whole elementary school within fifteen years is great and far-reaching. Unfortunately tradition still holds us back and "testing" slows up the process. Rare is the "scientific" testing that does not hold thought to static terms and fix attention on static outcomes. There are, moreover, many things which admittedly cannot be taught on a storage theory of preparation. Morals, for example, can only be taught on the basis of the highest attainable living at each successive stage. And morals cannot be taught on an assignment basis. A child weak on the prac­tical distinctions between meum and tuum cannot be assigned a half hour's practice drill after school. Honesty comes not so. It must be lived in a situation which of itself calls out the trait, gives it prac­tice, and then by some sufficient satisfaction fixes the response in character. So in general all the finer character traits—ideals, atti­tudes, appreciations, correlative habits—can be acquired only in life situations where they will find their natural habitat. This single line of thought would of itself suffice to change the school. In these and other ways the American elementary school is in fact changing more and more to agree with the theory here promulgated. Each decade shows now a decided change, coming most from two diverse sources, from those in our universities who study and teach an untrammeled theory and from teachers in our schools in first-hand contact with the young.


And there are various supports to the changes here indicated. Our best accepted psychology of learning which in addition to exercise stresses also readiness and effect is therein a distinct aid. Increas­ingly do we see that the attitude of the learner is an essential factor, necessary for best learning of all kinds, while essential for those finer types of learning that come only as attendants. So we are now stress­ing as never before the factor of pupil purposing, pupil enterprises for which there is in fact an accepted pupil responsibility. For such a procedure we need freedom, as much as the child can and does use wisely. And the test here as always on the dynamic basis is the growing, whether there is taking place such growing as promises the most for continued growing, both in the pupil himself and in others whom he influences. Such a regime of purposeful pupil enterprises promises best to build the resourcefulness and the faith needed to cope with a changing world.


A further support is found in the newer study of behavior prob­lems.    It is the whole child that we must consider.    The integrated personality must be our aim.   While there will always be special cases requiring special consideration it seems probable that the unificationof the self in and through thoughtful purposing is the most reliable general basis yet found for the integration of personality. Purpose­ful living and growing promise the best general way for avoiding "behavior maladjustments."


And now comes a new kind of support for the conception of educa­tion as continuous growing. A popular unscrutinized opinion had held that childhood is the best if not the only time for learning. The preparation theory of education seemed on such a basis necessitated. My honored colleague, Professor Thorndike, has concluded from an extended research that the outlook for adult learning is far more hopeful than had been generally supposed. It appears that the ability to learn increases steadily up to about 22 years of age, stays at the height for about five years, then descends slowly at a rate of about I per cent a year. On this basis a man of 37 can learn as easily as his son of 20, while one of 60 is in ability to learn the equal of his son of 14. These figures refer to bare psychological ability. When we grant to the elder his wider knowledge and his often clearer motives, the possibility in his case is by so much the greater.


The result of this is to make the outlook for actual adult learning in general far more hopeful. The main thing with him (as with his child) is that he should wish it. Many of us then look forward to seeing a very great increase in education for grown-ups. This will lie usually—and wisely—along lines that otherwise appeal to them. The young mother, the alert farmer, the interested business man, the responsible-minded citizen, the country minister—every one—should have the opportunity to study under competent guidance any worthy subject of concern. The varied existing separate forms of adult education, women's clubs, political study clubs, forums, extension work, child-study associations—all must be somehow comprehended in more coordinated endeavor. If this be done, we can then openly renounce the fiction (for such it has been) that childhood and youth can prepare (in any effective anticipatory way) for adulthood. Adult­hood must stand on its own feet. To the school this will come as a great relief. It can then concentrate on its own work at enriching life for childhood and youth. Such a giving up of the old pretense will, I dare prophesy, result in actual increase of preparation, and this better preparation will come not at the cost of childhood or youth but rather through their enrichment.





A summary of the ground covered is perhaps necessary to make clear the relations which the separated parts of this paper bear to each other and to the whole discussion.


The American elementary school owes its origin to several sources, of which we may name the need to prepare for ordinary business and practical matters (hence the three R's, originally and essentially a vocational aim), the wish to maintain the approved social and moral attitudes (the survival along with its indoctrination of the earlier Reformation religious aim), the need for democratic citizenship (originating with the new political demands of the American Revolu­tion), and the individualistic family desire for advance in the scale of social acceptability. If these be accepted as the conditions under which our elementary school originated, it is easily seen that these aims all combined would still leave an institution essentially supple­mentary to the larger and more essential education originally sup­plied by home and community life. But following the industrializa­tion of our civilization it is easy to see that family and community life no longer fill their older educational functions. Moreover, change has become an abiding and pervasive factor in social life. Under such circumstances the present great duty of the American elementary school is to face squarely the demands of the new and changing situation.


In the development of the American elementary school the impress of the general democratic environment on the school  system has been evident.   Elementary and secondary schools form for us one in­clusive system.    This system is free throughout, with the secondary school standing clearly as the natural and expected continuation of the elementary school, its doors open to all who can in any reasonable degree profit by its varied offerings.    Private and parochial schools are freely permitted and in many sections abound, but taking the country as a whole the public school system is counted to be the American system and all other schools (on the elementary and secondary level) tend to be felt as in some measure out of step with the American attitude.    Possibly the most significantly democratic characteristic is to be found in the large degree in which ideas for improvement pass freely from any source of origin through active selective criticism and preliminary practice to our varied govern­mental machinery and thence into wider school practice. In this way it is not governmental decree, however popular, but the easy spread of ideas on their merits that gives to American education its clearest claim to democratic control.


As the present great duty of our elementary school is to face adequately the new demands confronting it, so its present great task is to remake its theory and practice to fit these demands. The chief of these new demands as we saw is the factor of change, abiding and pervasive change, always confronting us with an unknown future. The older social theory, accepting a static world, in effect ignored change. For it education was essentially the transmission of a known

and fixed content for a foreknown and afore-fixed adult life. This assumption of a static world and known content molded our tradi­tional educational theory in congenial conformity with itself. In this tradition, "teach" has meant to set out ("assign") this known con­tent for acquisition and to secure its "learning"; "learn" has meant to acquire (largely by drill or rote memorization as befits a fixed content in a static world) the "subject-matter" so assigned; "study" has meant the efforts necessary for such learning; while "recitation" and examination have been the means for testing success at this learn­ing. All these essential school conceptions have thus come down to us based on the implicit assumption of a fixed and known content to fit the fixed and foreknown future of a static world. Nor was this all. The school conceptions based thus on a static world view in their [turn molded into conformity with themselves the institutional pro­cedures and machinery necessary to carry out the conceptions in practice. Thus have been built our school grades, promotions, les­sons, recitation periods, marks, textbooks, straight lines of desks, curriculum, course of study—all inherently based on the theory of a static civilization with its fixed foreknown future. That the holders of the theory have not been consistent is of course true; they couldn't be. The world would change, but the theory has been there all the time with its blighting commitment to a static world which no longer exists.


As facing this situation of the traditional school theory with its correlative school machinery based on a static world outlook, two tendencies exist in the present whose mutual interaction determine the present school situation.    One tendency is the willingness consciously to face the fact that the present theory and correlative administrative machinery is inadequate to meet the changed and changing times. Those who share in this tendency are trying to change the school to meet the new situation.    The other tendency is a most curious phe­nomenon.    Highly capable men possessed of our greatest scientific attainments have devised ingenious techniques for measuring and administering education.    But being absorbed in their new advances they have by a natural exclusive attention to the traditional theory of education (the one best known to them) made it the object and basis of their new techniques.    Under such circumstances the very success of their devices has given many of these men a biasing interest in the old theory.    In effect these have a vested interest which biases their outlook.


We have in America then the regrettable situation of advancing educational thought at variance with itself.    The dominant philosophy of education is opposed by the dominant scientific practice.| The outcome of this controversy will determine the future development of American education, secondary and higher as well as elementary.




lAn address given at Teachers College on October 24, 1928.    This was one of a series of lectures on American Education, sponsored by the International Institute of Teachers College.


2 The mingling of new science and old tradition is beautifully illustrated in a very recent definition: "Study is a series of activities which are responses to a situation created by an assignment."

An address given at Teachers College on October 24, 1928.    This was one of a series of lectures on American Education, sponsored by the International Institute of Teachers College.


The mingling of new science and old tradition is beautifully illustrated in a very recent definition: "Study is a series of activities which are responses to a situation created by an assignment."

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 30 Number 6, 1929, p. 513-528
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 5653, Date Accessed: 1/20/2022 9:16:18 AM

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