Early 20th Century Educators: Flexner & Judd

Perspectives on education began to shift in the early 20th century. With the move towards education for the masses came a need to make education about more than preparation for college. Many began to push for a move from only a classical education to a practical one. Two reformers who pushed for this transition are Abraham Flexner and Charles Judd.

Abraham Flexner


Abraham Flexner

Abraham Flexner (1866-1959)  was actually a former teacher of Latin. With time, he began to think that teaching a subject like Latin was not beneficial for the students. For Flexner, Latin did not serve any useful purpose for the students and was out of step with education in the 20th century.

In Flexner’s opinion, tradition was not a strong enough reason for justifying the content of a subject. The world was experiencing rapid change at the turn of the 20th century. As such, education needed to find ways to keep up with the changes of time.

Flexner proposed four basic subjects for secondary education.

  1. Science
  2. Vocational skills
  3. Civics (history, government, etc.)
  4. Humanities (art, music, literature, etc.)

Even with his changes, Flexner was still heavily classical in his approach. The major difference for him was that all subjects must have a utilitarian nature in order to be a part of the curriculum.

Flexner’s contribution cannot be underestimated as his curriculum was adopted by Columbia University and heavily influenced a young John Dewey.

Charles Judd


Charles Judd

Charles Judd (1873-1946) was a colleague of John Dewey. He extended Flexner’s utilitarian view into a scientific approach. Judd was one of the first to use statistics in order to determine the worth of a curriculum based on student performance.

Judd focused on teaching kids how to think rather than on memorizing. He did this because he believed that students needed to be able to solve problems in a changing world rather than recall facts from the past. For Judd, education should be practical and not classical.

Judd influence was strong on the next generation of educators. His scientific viewpoint was extended by the likes of Franklin Bobbit, Werrett Charters, and Ralph Tyler.


Flexner and Judd were important transitional figures in American education.Their contributions are significant in their own right. However, Flexner and Judd biggest contribution was the influence the provided for the next generation of educators who extended the ideas of these men into something much larger.

If there had been no Flexner there may have been no Dewey. Furthermore, if there had been no Judd there may have been no Charters, Bobbit, or Tyler. As such, names that are considered much more influential in education are standing on the work and dedication of transitional figures such as Flexner and Judd.

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