Category Archives: curriculum history

Education in Ancient China

As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, China has a rich past when it comes to education. This post will explore education in Ancient China by providing a brief overview of it. The following topics

  1. Background
  2. What was Taught
  3. How was it Taught
  4. The Organization of what was Taught
  5. The Evidence Students Provided of their Learning


Ancient Chinese education is an interesting contrast. On the one hand, they were major innovators of some of the greatest invention of mankind which includes paper, printing, gunpowder, and the compass. On the other hand, Chinese education in the past was strongly collective in nature with heavy governmental control. There was extreme pressure to conform to ancient customs and independent deviate behavior was looked down upon.  Despite this, there as still innovation.

Most communities had a primary school and most major cities had a college. Completing university study was a great way to achieve a government position in ancient China.

What Did they Teach

Ancient Chinese education focused almost exclusively on Chinese Classics. By classics, it is meant the writings of mainly Confucius. Confucius emphasized strict obedience in a hierarchical setting. The order was loosely King, Father, Mother, then the child. Deference to authority was the ultimate duty of everyone. There is little surprise that the government support such an education that demanded obedience to them.

Another aspect of Confucius writings that was stressed was the Five Cardinal Virtues which were charity, justice, righteousness, sincerity, and conformity to tradition. This was the heart of the moral training that young people received. Even leaders needed to demonstrate these traits which limited abuses of power at times.

What China is also famous for in their ancient curriculum is what they did not teach.  Supposedly, they did not cover in great detail geography, history, math, science, or language. The focus was on Confucius apparently almost exclusively.

How Did they Teach

Ancient Chinese education was taught almost exclusively by rote memory. Students were expected to memorized large amounts of information.  This contributed to a focus on the conservation of knowledge rather than the expansion of it. If something new or unusual happened it was difficult to deal with since there was no prior way already developed to address it.

How was Learning Organized

School began at around 6-7 years of age in the local school. After completing studies at the local school. Some students went to the academy for additional studies.  From Academy, some students would go to university with the hopes of completing their studies to obtain a government position.

Generally,  the education was for male students as it was considered shameful to not educate a boy. Girls often did not go to school and often handle traditional roles in the home.

Evidence of Learning

Evidence of learning in the Chinese system was almost strictly through examinations. The examinations were exceedingly demanding and stressful. If a student was able to pass the gauntlet of rot memory exams he would achieve his dream of completing college and joining the prestigious Imperial Academy as a Mandarin.


Education in Ancient China was focused on memorization, tradition,  and examination. Even with this focus, Ancient China developed several inventions that have had a significant influence on the world. Explaining this will only lead to speculation but what can be said is that progress happens whether it is encouraged or not.

Education in Ancient Israel

The Nation of Israel as described in the Bible has a rich and long history of several thousand years. This particular group of people believed that they are the keepers of the knowledge of the true God. Their influence in religion is remarkable in that a large part of the theology of Christianity is derived from Hebrew writings.

In this post, we will only look at a cross-section of Hebrew education around the time of the time of the monarchy period of David and Solomon.

What Did they Teach

The goal of Hebrew education was to produce people who obeyed God. This is in stark contrast to other educational systems that emphasized obeying earthly rulers. The Hebrew system stress first allegiance to God and then allegiance to man when this did not conflict with the will of God. When there was a disagreement in terms of what man and God commanded the Hebrew was taught to obey  God. This thinking can be traced even in Christianity with the death of martyrs throughout Church history.

The educational system was heavily inspired by their sacred writings. At the time we are looking at, the majority of the writings were by Moses. The writings of Moses provide a detailed education of health principles, morality, and precise explanation of performing the rites of the sacrificial system.

The sacrificial system in the Hebrew economy is particularly impressive in that the ceremonies performed were all meant to help the Israelites remember what God had done for them and to be shadows of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as understood by some Christian theologians.

In order for children to learn all of the laws and sacred writings of their nation, it required that almost everyone learn to read. People were held personally responsible to understand their role in society as well as in how to treat others and God’s will for them. Again this is in contrast to other religions in which people simply obeyed the religious leaders. The Jew was expected to know for themselves what their religion was about.

How Did They Teach

Despite the theocratic nature of the government and the details of the religious system, the educational system in Ancient Israel was highly decentralized. The school was the home and the teachers were the parents. Most nations that reached the strength and level of the Monarchy of Israel had a state ran educational system. However, the Hebrews never had this.

The decentralized nature of education is unusual because secular leaders normally want to mold the people to follow and obey them. In Israel, this never happens because of the focus on serving God. The personalized education allowed children to grow as individuals rather than as cogs in a nation-state machine. The idea of allowing parents to all educate their children as they decide would seem chaotic in today’s standardized world. Yet the Israel monarchy lasted as long as any other kingdom in the world.

How Did They Organize 

Once a child completed their studies they would learn a trade and begin working. Higher education was not focused on secular matters and was often reserved for the priestly class to learn skills related to their office. Example include law, sacred writings weights and measures, and astronomy to determine when the various feast days would be.

Another form of additional education was the Schools of the Prophets. Apparently, these were independent institutions that provided training in the scriptures, medicine, and law. At least one author claims that the Schools of the Prophets were established because Hebrew parents were neglecting the education of their children.  In other words, when the parents began to neglect the education of their children is when the nation begin to decline as well.


The Israelite educational system during the early monarchy period was an interesting example of contrasts. Highly detailed yet decentralized in execution, focused on obeying God yet having a monarchy that probably wanted to keep power, and little regard for higher education while producing some of the most profound theological works of all-time.  The strength of this system would be considered a weakness in many others.

Education in Ancient Persia

The Persian Empire was one of the great empires of ancient civilization. It was this Empire that defeated the Babylonians. This post will provide a brief examination of the educational system of Persia.


The religion of Persia was Zoroastrianism. The priestly class of Persia were called Magi. They responsible for sacred duties as well as the education of princes.

These are the same Magi that are found in the Bible in reference to the birth of Jesus. Due to their priestly responsibilities and knowledge of astronomy, this information merged to compel the Magi to head to Jerusalem to see Christ as a small child.

Teachers for the commoners were normally retired soliders. Exemption from the military began at the age of 50. At this age, if a male was able to live this long, he would turn his attention the education of the next generation.

What was Taught

The emphasis in Persian education was gymnastics, moral, and military training. The physical training was arduous, to say the least. Boys were pushed well nigh to their physical limits.

The moral training was also vigourously instilled. Boys were taught to have a strong understanding of right and wrong as well as a sense of justice. Cyrus the Great shared a story about how, as a boy, he was called to judge a case about coats. Apparently, a large student had a small coat and a small student had a large coat. The large student forced the small student to switch coats with him.

When Cyrus heard this story he decided that the large boy was right because both boys now had a coat that fitted him. The large boy had a large coat and the small boy had a small coat. However, Cyrus’ teacher was disappointed and beat him. Apparently, the question was not which coat fit which boy but rather which coat belonged to which boy.

Something that was neglected in ancient Persian education was basic literacy. The reading, writing, and arithmetic were taught at a minimal level. These skills were left for the Magi to learn almost exclusively.

How Was the Curriculum Organized

From the age of 0-7 education was in the home with the mother. From 7-15 boys were educated by the state and were even considered state property. After the age of 15, students spent time learning about justice in the marketplace.

Girls did not receive much of an education. Rather, they focused primarily on life in the home. This included raising small children and other domestic duties.


Persia education was one strongly dominated by the state. The purpose was primarily to mold boys into just, moral soldiers who could serve to defend and expand the empire. This system is not without merit as it held an empire together for several centuries. The saddest part may be the loss of individual freedom and expression at the expense of government will.

Education in Ancient India

In this post, we take a look at India education in the ancient past. The sub-continent of India has one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Their culture has had a strong influence on both the East and West.


One unique characteristic of ancient education in India is the influence of religion. The effect of Hinduism is strong. The idea of the caste system is derived from Hinduism with people being divided primarily into four groups

  1. Brahmins-teachers/religious leaders
  2. Kshatriyas-soldiers kings
  3. Vaisyas-farmers/merchants
  4. Sudras-slaves

This system was ridged. There was no moving between caste and marriages between castes was generally forbidden. The Brahmins were the only teachers as it was embarrassing to allow one’s children to be taught by another class. They received no salary but rather received gifts from their students

What Did they Teach

The Brahmins served as the teachers and made it their life work to reinforce the caste system through education. It was taught to all children to understand the importance of this system as well as the role of the  Brahmin at the top of it.

Other subjects taught at the elementary level include the 3 r’s. At the university level, the subjects included grammar, math, history, poetry, philosophy, law, medicine, and astronomy. Only the Brahmins completed formal universities studies so that they could become teachers. Other classes may receive practical technical training to work in the government, serve in the military, or manage a business.

Something that was missing from education in ancient India was physical education. For whatever reason, this was not normally considered important and was rarely emphasized.

How Did they Teach

The teaching style was almost exclusively rote memorization. Students would daily recite mathematical tables and the alphabet. It would take a great deal of time to learn to read and write through this system.

There was also the assistance of an older student to help the younger ones to learn. In a way, this could be considered as a form of tutoring.

How was Learning Organized

School began at 6-7. The next stage of learning was university 12 years later. Women did not go to school beyond the cultural training everyone received in early childhood.

Evidence of Learning

Learning mastery was demonstrated through the ability to memorize. Other forms of thought and effort were not the main criteria for demonstrating mastery.


Education in India serves a purpose that is familiar to many parts of the world. That purpose was social stability. With the focus on the caste system before other forms of education, India was seeking stability before knowledge expansion and personal development. This can be seen in many ways but can be agreed upon is that the country is still mostly intact after several thousand years and few can make such a claim even if their style of education is superior to India’s.

William Kilpatrick: The Project Method

William Kilpatrick (1871-1965) was a prominent educator of the early to mid 20th century. He was a colleague of John Dewey and a proponent of Dewey’  educational model. Kilpatrick’s contribution to education was not only as a supporter of Dewey’s work but also in his expansion of the work of Dewey.

Views on Education

Kilpatrick supported Dewey’s view of getting away from rote memorization and a rigid curriculum and replacing it with a child-centered approach. He was a major critic of the Committee of Ten with their emphasis on acquiring knowledge through traditional means. Kilpatrick saw school not only fulfilling an intellectual purpose but also a social one.

For Kilpatrick, education was about the social development of the child rather than their cognitive development through the mastery of content. This is not saying that the mind did not matter. The emphasis was on learning to think and not focusing on what to think.

The curriculum should come from real-life and not compartmentalized subject matter.  This idea calls for a need for an integrated curriculum that stressed maximum student participation. These beliefs led Kilpatrick to create a unique form of teaching.

The Project Method

Kilpatrick’s Project Method is a blend of behavioral psychology and progressivism. It was behavioral in that student behavior was observed but it was also progressive in the focus on child-centered learning. The four steps of the Project Method are as follows.

  1. Purpose
  2. Plan
  3. Execute
  4. Judge

Teachers first need to decide what are they trying to do. Next, the need to develop a plan for achieving these objectives. The development of observable goals is clearly the behavioral aspect of this method. Execution involves the implementation of the the plan. Last is judge, the teacher assess the success of the plan. Again, assessing the students and curriculum is a behavioral aspect of the Project Method.

The progressivist aspect of this method was the constant revision of the curriculum based on student need and interest. The curriculum was developed jointly with the students. This was a core belief of Kilpatrick that students should be leaders in the development of their learning as nothing would motivate them more. This also led to the development of decision-making skills.

It is important to remember that the Project Method was not a rigid method but actually a philosophy. The steps in the method were really just an idea of approaching a child-centered learning experiencing.


Few have heard of Kilpatrick today. He was a major supporter of the work of Dewey and lived in the shadow of Dewey throughout his career. Despite living behind a legend, Kilpatrick was an innovator in his own right and developed a distinct strain of progressivism that had an impact within many classrooms. His influence may not have been as strong but nevertheless, he played a role in how teaching is approach in America.

Bobbitt and Charters: Pioneers in Curriculum

Franklin Bobbitt (1876-1956) and W.W. Charters (1875-1952) were colleagues at the University of Chicago and work together as trailblazers in the development of curriculum. Both of these men were a product of their time. in the early 20th century, there was an emphasis on efficiency and science. Bobbitt and Charters brought the concepts of the early 20th century with them as they developed their ideas about curriculum.


Franklin Bobbitt

Franklin Bobbitt

Bobbitt believed that curriculum should start with outlining what the student needs to know in what he called objectives. Next it was necessary to develop activities that the students do to achieve the objective. Bobbitt emphasized having students complete activities in order to learning.

The use of objectives was somewhat revolutionary. Bobbitt was heavily influenced by science and behaviorism with their focus on observable change. Bobbitt brought this idea of observable change into education in his development of objectives.

Bobbitt also developed several guidelines for developing objective. Some of the more prominent ones are in the list below.

  • Objectives should be practical
  • Objectives should prepare students for adulthood
  • Involve the community in developing objectives
  • Sequence objectives by grade level

These concepts were completely groundbreaking in providing a framework for curriculum development. Now educators had an approach, even if it was not perfect, for developing curriculum for students.

W.W. Charters

W.W. Charters

W.W. Charters

Charters was also a behaviorist like Bobbitt. He developed a method for selecting objectives based on social needs. After developing or selecting objectives, Charters encouraged analysis to see how objectives are applied in the classroom. This idea of assessing the implementation of objectives providing the groundwork for curriculum evaluation.

Charters viewed the curriculum as scientific. In his view, curriculum was a collection of goals that the students needed to achieve in order to have competency. This idea has always been a part of education but Charters stated it specifically and made it clear .

Bobbitt and Charters Legacy

Educators are indebted to the work of Bobbitt and Charters. These men laid down the idea of objectives. The concept of objectives would blossom into goals, aims, standards, learning outcomes, indicators, and benchmarks. Though all these terms are confusing the really are at heart just different forms of objectives depending on the level of specificity.

Bobbitt and Charter also introduced the idea of learning experiences. These are the things the students do to learn. Again this led to such concepts as experiential learning, hands-on activities, authentic assessment, and more. Action-based learning is the norm today.

Lastly, Bobbitt and Charters were some of the first proponents of consulting the community in developing curriculum. In other words, a needs assessment was necessary before determining what to teach. Consulting stakeholders is now considered best practice in education.

Bobbitt and Charters influenced in education continues to this day. They provided the foundational concepts of many standard operation procedures in education. The world of education would be different today if not for the work of these two men.

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.

Bringing Organization to US Education: Late 19th to Early 20th Century

By the dawn of the 20th century, education, particularly completing primary education, was a norm. Due to the growth in education, there was a corresponding expansion in the courses taught. However, there was no unifying hand over schools or curriculum.

The lack of coordination over education led to problems. The amount of time needed for a class was different from place to place. A student would be placed in different grades depending on where they enrolled. Lastly, the courses offered were focused on a classical tradition even though few went on to college (this last problem was exacerbated not solved).

With the confusion came a push for reform. In order to bring change, several influential committees were formed in the early 20th to bring order to the chaos of education. The major committees include

  1. The Committee of Fifteen
  2. The Committee of Ten
  3. The Committee on College Entrance Requirements

The Committee of Fifteen

The Committee of Fifteen was not so much a committee om reformation as it was a counter-reformation committee. This committee rejected adding additional courses, focusing on children needs, and interdisciplinary approaches to teaching.

Instead, the Committee of Fifteen supported a support for the three R’s, and separate subjects. In terms of change they did support reducing elementary school from grade K-10 to K-8, and including manual training starting in grade 7.

The Committee of Fifteen put breaks on change but did not stop it. With other committees arose the push for more reform.

The Committee of Ten

The Committee of Ten brought strong, but conservative, change to education. They recommended nine academic subjects covering language, math, history, and science. They also recommended having several different tracks that students can study on depending on their goals.The tracks were classical, science and or language focused.

The Committee of Ten ignored the humanities (art, music, etc,), PE, and even vocational education believing that these subjects did not benefit the mind. The overall purpose of the curriculum was still college preparation. The impact of this committee can be seen in how secondary schools still focus on college preparation.

The Committee on College Entrance Requirements

The Committee on College Entrance Requirements simply reaffirmed what the Committee of Ten proposed. They also proposed the number of credits students should earn for particular subjects if they want to go to college.

The biggest contribution of this committee was the development of the “Carnegie Unit” which was in response to the credit hour proposal of the committee. Seat time in class was now a measure of knowledge of a subject. This idea has worked for over 90 years but is now being criticized as seat time does not lead necessarily to mastery.


Rapid growth led to a need for rapid organizations. The committees mentioned in this piece have had a tremendous impact on secondary education in the US. For most, going to high school is preparation for going to college. This mindset is due to these committees that met in the late 19th century.

The focus on college preparation may be due to the fact that these committees were lead by college-educated scholars whose passion was naturally the training of the mind. This singular focused has made education one-dimensional to this day. Whenever pushing for change in curriculum, the team needs to have a mixture of personalities and abilities to produce a balanced system. This was missing from these great committees. They had a great vision that applied strictly to a minority of the population.

The Development of High School in the United States

Attending high school is an experience of virtually every teenager in the United States. However, this has not always been the case. The concept of high school evolved over most of the 19th century and was formalized much more extensively in the early 20th century.

The Beginning

High schools have their origins in what were academies. The concept of the academy was developed by Benjamin Franklin. These schools offered a more practical education in lieu of the Latin Grammar School. Academies also charged tuition as did Latin Grammar Schools.

Despite their emphasis on a practical education, academy curriculum was influenced heavily be college entrance requirements. Some of the more popular courses include Latin, Greek, grammar, geography, and arithmetic. The classical streak within academies was strong despite its emphasis on a practical education

Taxes and High School

High schools were slow to develop and they really did not begin to grow until 1874 with the Supreme Court Decision in the “Kalamazoo Case.” In this decision, the court ruled that tax dollars could be used to support high schools. Prior to this ruling, tax dollars were only used to support elementary education as part of the common school movement. With more and more students completing elementary school there was a greater need for high schools.

With the birth of high schools came the death of academies. Now, parents could send their kids to secondary school for free. Such a price is hard to argue with and made academies obsolete quickly. Today, few academies exist.

The Curriculum

With the results of the “Kalamazoo Case” enroll in high school exploded. With this came a need to determine what to teach the students. Initially, the curriculum was a classical, college preparatory model. This curriculum emphasized literature, languages, and mathematics.

As enrollment continued to increase the high school curriculum became more diverse and began offering such subjects as geography, chemistry, government, and even vocational training. This growth in diversity catered to the wide interest and career objectives of the students. With high schools becoming common it was more likely that not all the students who came were college bound. As such, a more varied curriculum experience was needed to support a more diverse student population.

It is important to note that high schools in the United States are comprehensive. This means that anyone and everyone can attend them regardless of race, class, or religion. This is in stark contrast to the European model with its influence on class distinction. This emphasis on being comprehensive partial explains the wide variety of courses offered in high school. Different students have different needs and high schools must address this.


Secondary education has come from something was for the elite to now being something that is essentially required by law. This slow transformation has a great deal to do with concepts of equality and even public funding. With the idea of equality and tax dollars, high schools have never flourished.

19th Century Schools in the United States: The Common School

During the 19th century, education in American was beginning to take root. As the nation matured there was a corresponding growth in providing education to the people.

One type of school that was not only a type of school but a movement was the common school.The idea of everyone having access to was at one time radical in the United States. As such, understanding the characteristics of the common school movement provides insights into US education.


The common school was developed in 1826 in Massachusetts which required every town to have a school. Other states copied Massachusetts idea and the common school began
to spread. Horace Mann was the main catalyst in spreading the common school idea.

Mann developed support for the common school by adjusting his message to his audience. For businesses, common schools would provide an educated workforce. For workers, common schools would provide for social mobility. In other words, Mann was making the claim that the common school would solve everyone’s problems in one way or the other. Catering to the needs of his audience was a brilliant strategy in encouraging the acceptance of universal education.

Soon the common school moved out west to the frontier where students were receiving the basics of education. Despite the rapid growth of the common school, it was not without problems.

Characteristics of Common Schools

Common schools varied from state to state. In general, the schools taught any child from age 6 to 15. With such a wide range of ages, teachers had to prepare multiple lessons in a day. There were also challenges with maintenance as the schools were in perpetual disrepair. Add to this the challenge of keeping the school warm in the winter and cool in the summer and the challenges become apparent.

Teachers were paid terrible salaries that were discouraging for many.  In addition, they often lacked training which led to low quality. There were critics of the system but at the time, this was all that was available for many children.

The common school was particularly popular in the frontier territories. This is where the iconic “little red schoolhouse” comes from. It seems as though most communities had a school. The schools were not only for education but were also used as a multi-purpose facility for voting, meetings, and other events.

Legacy of Common Schools

Common schools have contributed strongly to the American mindset that everyone is equal. Common denotes something that is available to all and the idea of a common education was unique to America. These schools provided basic education to all by the state. Without the contribution of the common school the concepts of citizenship and an educated workforce would have never been achieved.

Herbert Spencer: Scientific Education

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was an English social scientist whose contribution to education was his emphasis on bringing science into the curriculum of schools. In this post, we will examine Spencer’s views and his impact on education.

Spencer’s Views

Spencer was influenced by the work of Charles Darwin and applied evolution to the social sphere. In Spencer’s view, societies were evolving to more advanced societies.  Those who did not keep up would disappear.

Due in part to his support of evolution, Spencer was a critic of religion and other fields of the humanities. He viewed them as impractical and unrelated to contemporary life. The current school system was not providing students with the skills they needed for the modern world.

For Spencer, students should be taught how to think instead of what to think. This could
be done through focusing on the teaching of science. The benefit of science is due to its focus on progress and usefulness. It is the application of scientific breakthroughs that lead to a more advanced society.

Spencer’s Influence

Spencer’s influence runs deep in education. His principles about science in the curriculum have been a key component of secondary education since the early part of the 20th century. Spencer’s focus on using scientific knowledge in an industrialized society is literally the total focus of education today in the 21st century. The Humanities have long taken a back seat to science due in part to Spencer.

Spencer also laid the foundation for progressivism. His beliefs influenced John Dewey as Spencer looked not only at science but also at the need to develop social relationships and citizenship, which are components of progressivism. Dewey took Spencer’s views and systematized them in his scientific approach to education.

Edward Throndike‘s views on behaviorism were also influenced by Spencer. Behaviorism is still one of the major focuses of education to day due to its emphasis on observing changes in behavior.  This has contributed to the development of behavioral objectives in education.


Spencer’s views were controversial in their time. De-emphasizing religion and raising science above it was not popular with many. Now, his views can be seen as a major part of education.

Spencer’s desire to downplay and even remove the humanities on the curriculum puts too much emphasis on material gain and survival. Humans are more than just resource developing beings. Humans were created to express themselves in artistic and humanistic ways. The reason that music, art, and even history are a part of the human experience is that they are components of the humanity that make them human.

Spencer does provide for some role of the humanities but only in the leisure moments of home and family. This is a disservice as great art can only be developed the same way as great science and that is through a professional commitment to the field. To have a balanced society calls for both science and the arts. This was something that Herbert did not see.

Johann Herbert: Father of Moral Education

Johann Herbert (1776-1841) was a German educator during the 19th century. He is most notably for his work in moral education. Not only did he laid the foundation for moral education he also developed an approach to teaching morals as well as other subjects. This post will explore the contributions of Herbert to education

Foundations of Moral Education

Herbert believed that education was about developing good virtuous people. This is not unique as Aristotle also emphasized this. Herbert lays down what he thought were the five major ideas of moral character which are as follows

  1. Inner freedom-Action based on one’s personal convictions which is related to Maslow’s self-actualization
  2. Perfection-The idea of developing consistency between thoughts and actions.
  3. Benevolence-Concern with the welfare of others
  4. Justice-The balance between individual desires and group norms.
  5. Retribution-The idea of reward and punishment for behavior.

These five principles represent the core of Herbert’s view of moral education. However, he did not stop at this as he also identified two forms of interests that should be a part of education. The first was knowledge interest, which was scientific and philosophical knowledge. The second was ethical interest, which is knowledge of how to treat others and social relationships.

Herbert believed that education would contribute to people who had high moral character and the capacity to make appropriate decisions. Problems in the world were due to a lack of education and moral development. With his ideas in place, Herbert needed a method of teaching these concepts.

Herbartian Instructional Model

Herbert, with the help of his followers, developed a 5-step approach to teaching. This method became known as the Herbartian Model. The steps are explained below

  1. Preparation-The teacher gets students ready to learn by reviewing previous information.
  2. Presentation-The new material is shared with the students.
  3. Association-The new material is connected with material the students are already familiar with (an early form of constructivism).
  4. Systemization-The use of examples to illustrate the principles or the development of generalizations of the examples used (inductive and deductive thinking).
  5. Application-Assessment of the learning

It is hard to overestimate the impact of the Herbartian Model. Not only does it combined several theories that had not been developed yet, this model also may serve as one of the first attempts at instructional design (over 100 years before Tyler’s principles of curriculum). Herbert lays out a clear approach to teaching that can be used not only in morals but in many other subjects.

Herbart’s model of instruction was used in teacher training for years and still has influence to this day. It is common for teachers to look at the principles of this model and convert them into questions they need to answer. What should I review from yesterday? How will I teach today’s lesson? How is today’s lesson related to other topics? These are just some of the questions that teachers have been answered for years in part due to the pioneering work of Herbert.


Many if not all trained teachers have been influenced by Johann Herbert. From his views on moral education to his work in instructional design, Herbert was an innovating figure. One of the primary missions of schools in most countries is to developed upstanding, moral citizens. This focus on character is due in part to the work of Johann Herbert.

19th Century European Educators Part I: Pestalozzi & Froebel

Many of the ideas that serve as a foundation for modern educational thought were developed in the 19th century in Europe. Naturally, the United States derived many of their own ideas from Europe as well despite their desire to develop a separate identity.

This post will examine the contributions of two prominent educational leaders in 19th century European. Both Johann Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel have had a profound impact on education in both Europe and America.

Johann Pestalozzi

Pestalozzi was a Swiss educator whose ideas contributed to modern elementary school practice. Pestalozzi believed that education should be on the natural development of the child. This could be where the idea of ‘meeting the students needs’ came from.

In addition, Pestalozzi stated that learning takes place through the senses. Of course, this sounds somewhat like realism and perhaps Pestalozzi was borrowing from ancient Greek philosophers with this idea. However, his contribution is that he applied this concept to the education of children. The Greeks talk a lot but never laid down a systematic pedagogical approach in the way that Pestalozzi did.

Pestalozzi called his teaching approach that focused on the senses the ‘special’ method. The ‘special’ method may be the harbinger of experiential education and Dewey’s ideas. Pestalozzi’s other approach was called the ‘general’ method and focused on providing for the social-emotional needs of the children. This time, Pestalozzi was ahead of Maslow and his hierarchy by over 100 years.

Friedrich Froebel

Froebel’s, a German Educator, major contribution to education was the development of the Kindergarten or “children’s garden” as it means in English. He believed that the learning of small children should be focus around play and the interest of the children. Songs, stories, games were all used in this child-centered approach, which may have been the first of its kind.

Froebel believed that providing such a learning environment would allow the children to grow up naturally. This idea sounds similar to Pestalozzi’s idea of the natural development of the child. In addition, Froebel’s focus on action based education is another focus on the senses of the child.

American schools are deeply in-debt to the work of Froebel. Almost every elementary school has a Kindergarten. In addition, there is a tremendous push for pre-schools in America. Keep in mind that Froebel’s researched often focused on 3-4 year-olds or those who would attend pre-school.


Pestalozzi and Froebel provided both old and new ideas. They brought another emphasis on the senses. The provided important support of the education of young children. In addition, they took the focus off of books and onto the students in their approach to education. This concept only has resonated throughout American education. Even though America wants to be different from European. The foundations of American education is still European.

Webster & McGuffey: Molders of Culture in Curriculum

Noah Webster and William McGuffey played a critical role in shaping and defining America culture through their work in education. This post will take a look at the contribution of each of these important men in American education.

Noah Webster

After the Revolutionary War, America was free but lacking in a distinct identity. There was no literary tradition to think of and being a diverse group of immigrants further 1complicated the problem. As such, the question of language was one of many the new country had to deal with.

Noah Webster was one of the first to push for a distinct American language. He believed that the country should have both an independent government and an independent language. Having a separate American language would help to declare cultural independence in a way that the war provided political independence.

In order to develop American English, Webster wrote several books on reading and spelling. He also wrote dictionaries and almost everyone in the United States has heard of “Webster’s Dictionary.” The development of these books led to uniform speech throughout much of the young nation.

The impact of Webster’s work is immense. His books were the curriculum of many schools and colleges. He developed many of the orthographical rules of American English. Lastly, his support of American English contributed to the development of an American identity. Webster rightly earned his nickname the “schoolmaster of the Republic.”

William McGuffey

McGuffey’s contribution was similar to Webster’s in that he was seeking to differentiate America from Europe. However, McGuffey was more willing to acknowledge the European roots of America. He made it clear that the contribution of America to the 1world was not cultural but political. The United States had shown the world that equality and representation can be used to maintain a government.

In terms of curriculum, McGuffey’s contribution to education is his “McGuffey Readers.” These books taught children to read. The stories in the books included ideas of patriotism, hard work, virtuous living. The ideas of capitalism, nationalism, and religious themes were sewn into the text. The concepts in these books became what is the American mindset.

McGuffey understood the importance of influencing the young. He did this by putting what he thought was important into these textbooks that taught children to read. Without McGuffey, the American way would look much different.


Webster and McGuffey were men with a vision to form a distinct American identity. They both want to break away from the limits of the European mindset. Webster focused on the mechanics of language while McGuffey focused on the transmission of distinct American ideas into the impressionable minds of children learning to read. Through their work, we have a language that is different from British and a mindset that is often unrecognizable.

Post Revolutionary Education in the United States

After gaining independence from England, the newly formed United States now had to deal with educating its populace. Before, different regions attending to education how they wanted. Now, there was a need for a united effort in providing education for the masses. For many of the founding fathers and influential educational leaders, democracy and education went together. In this post, we will look at the ideas and influence of two early education reformers Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson stated that an ignorant nation cannot be a free nation. As such, Jefferson supported a plan that brought education to everyone through a system of taxation. His model was focused on the state of Virginia and included schools in every parish of the state. There was to be a tiered system of scholarships so that a handful of the best students would attend college for free.

Unfortunately, Jefferson’s plan was never accepted. Taxation was not a popular idea at the time.  It did provide a model of how education could be. In other words, it provided at least a theoretical framework that other educators could consider as they wrestled with the issue of educating people.

Benjamin Rush

Rush supported Benjamin Franklin’s view of a practical education. Since the goal was now to educate the masses and not just the elite, it was necessary to modify the curriculum. Latin and Greek was of no use to the masses and should not be the foundation of a universal education.

Rush proposed to his home state of Pennsylvania a model of education in which every area that had 100 families or more would have a school. Students would receive a free elementary, secondary, and tertiary education if they wanted it. This system of universal education would be supported through taxes.

Rush’s argument was that the taxes people paid now would be returned in having access to educate, productive workers. However, there was little support for taxes after several decades of British rule. As a result, Rush’s proposal suffered the same fate as Jefferson’s.


Both Jefferson and Rush brought what was at the time a radical idea to the table for leaders to consider about education. This idea was one of a universal educational system supported by tax funds. Education had always been available but almost never on the scale that Jefferson and Rush was proposing. The idea of everyone receiving an education was somewhat radical. In addition, the idea of having everyone pay for the education of everyone else was even more radical.

Both of these men were reacting to the need of having an educated populace that could help to maintain the democracy. Citizenship is what Jefferson called this and progress is what Rush called it. However, the idea of sending tax money into education and thus increase the size and the power of the government was something that people were not ready for.

The ideas of Jefferson and Rush serve as seed for many to come after them. Consider the work of Horace Mann and the “Common School” movement or John Dewey and his ideas of progressivism and democracy in the classroom or even the ideas of Pablo Friere and the call for developing people who can think critically  and you can still see the footprint of Jefferson and Rush/

Types of Schools During the Colonial Period in the United States

In a prior post, we looked at the three regions of the colony period and how they differed in their approach to education. This post takes a closer look at the different types of schools that were found in the American colonies. Furthermore, we will look at some of the teaching materials used during this period.

Types of Schools

Among some of the schools found in the American colonies includes the following

  • Parochial/Private schools
  • Town schools
  • Latin Grammar Schools
  • Academies
  • Colleges

Parochial/Private Schools

The parochial/private schools were found in the middle and southern colonies. The difference between parochial and private schools is that the former was religiously focus while the latter often was not. The focus of these schools was on reading. writing, and arithmetic, which came to be known as the “three R’s”. Parochial schools would always include a religious element to it such as memorizing sermons, singing hymns, or Bible study.

Town Schools

Towns schools were found in the New England colonies. These schools were locally controlled and conditions were not always accommodating for learning. The schools were often only one room and weather would affect attendance severely.  The primary goal was on memorization which was assessed by the teacher.

Latin Grammar Schools

Latin Grammars schools were in many ways a type of high school for the affluent. They were intended for those who were going to enter some form of profession such as medicine, law, or business. A boy (no ladies at this time) would enter the school at around 8 and complete their studies around the age of 16-17.

The focus of the curriculum was on the classics. In many ways, perennialism had its roots in this system. Students studied Greek, Latin, rhetoric, logic, and other subjects. This was a humanist curriculum and had much in common with education in Europe.


The origin of academies was in developing an educational model for those who were not going to college. Academies were invented by Benjamin Franklin. The curriculum focused on vocational skills and was much more secular in nature. Students would study history in place of the bible. The academies form the foundation for vocational curriculum later in American history.


Students who completed their studies at the Latin Grammar school often went on to college. College originally was a place to further train ministers of the gospel. Both Yale and Harvard were started for this purpose. The curriculum of this schools focused on the Latin, Greek, astronomy, ethics, natural sciences, and more. Colleges were not only for ministers but this was one of its main purposes.


There were different schools for different needs. From educating children occasionally to higher education that focused on the preparation of an educated core of leaders, education was highly diverse at this time. One concern was the lack of uniformity and control over the system. This is a problem that will be recurring throughout history in American education.

Origin of Colonial Schools in the United States

Colonial education in the United States dates back to the 17th century. In general, the characteristics of education in the United States can be divided into three regions, which are…

  • New England schools
  • Middle colonies
  • Southern Colonies

We will explore each of these areas briefly in this post.

New England Schools

New England Schools included the colonies of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and other colonies of the utmost northern part of the American colonies. Schools were initially started in this area through the establishment of various laws. For example, Massachusetts, in 1642, passed a law that required parents to teach their children to read and understand the bible and the laws of the colony. In 1647, the “Old Deluder Satan” act was passed. This law stipulated that towns of a certain size had to employ teachers. This law provides an insight into how important religion was at this time in American history. The example of Massachusetts was followed by most of the other New England colonies.

Middle Colony Schools

The Middle Colonies, which included New York, New Jersey, and other colonies, were never able to adopt a single system of education as was found in the New England Colonies. In comparison to the New England Colonies, there was much more religious and political variety in the Middle Colonies. As such, this independence of thought and action was seen in the establishment of schools. In the Middle Colonies, one will find independent and parochial schools to match the many different flavors of ethnicities and religions. Schools were usually locally controlled.

Southern Colonies

The Southern Colonies had the most independent spirit in term of education than the New England or Middle Colonies. In the South, the education of children was left to the family with almost no state interference. For poor children, the most education they could hope for was training in some sort of vocation, which did not include learning to read and write. For children of affluence, such as the plantation owners, the best education was provided through private tutors. For slaves, it was actually illegal to even learn to read and write. The political system of the South prevented the growth of a school system since a widely available education was seen as a threat to the established order.


As one moves from North to South, one will see that the control over schools gradually decreases. From the religiously inspired laws of the North to the independent spirit of the South, the control over education varied greatly. This can be seen in who goes to school. In the North, everyone was “required” to go to. school. In the South, some were “required” to not go to school.

The curriculum of all areas consisted of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Learning emphasized memorizing and conformity. These values would endure for almost the first 200 years of American history.