375: The Struggle for the American Curriculum by Herbert Kliebard

by Gerard


375.00973: Kliebard, Herbert M. The Struggle for the American Curriculum: 1893-1958. New York: Routledge, 1995. 252 pp. ISBN 0-414-91013-7.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 300: Social Sciences
  • 370: Education
  • 375: Curricula
  • +0973: United States

If you’ve ever heard a parents talking about their child’s education, then you have at least encountered one person who thinks there is a better way to teach children. Trying to implement a curriculum that will have better and lasting effects on so many students is perhaps one of the hardest tasks there is. Teachers have to deal with countless varied personalities and an ever-increasing knowledge pool. From the 1890s onward in America, educators, philosophers, and legislators have tried to steer the course of education, and Herbert Kliebard’s Struggle for the American Curriculum traces each school of thought to see how they fared.

Kliebard starts with the state of the American education system in the late-19th century: textbooks and readers were becoming regular and nationalized, widespread newspapers were encouraging people to read regularly, and the last vestiges of the British model of teaching were being phased out of schoolrooms. The influx of immigrant children, financial panics, and new philosophies all came together to upheave American teaching. Almost every figure in the history of education is presented, including The Committee of Ten, Charles Eliot, and John Dewey. From curriculum theory to social meliorism to social efficiency, we see many different perspectives on what exactly a school curriculum should do. Should it be designed to find the best and the brightest or to make everyone socially competent? Or should it be engineering to make people better? These are heady, interesting, and complex questions, and Kliebard does a very good job of exploring the answers.

The writing here is neither incredibly technical nor needlessly scholarly, but don’t expect this to be a quick read. Education history is a rather intriguing lens through which to view a society, and there’s always a news story every year which places the education level of Americans against that of other countries. How we got to our current “progressive” education system is quite a winding tale indeed, but on the whole, Kliebard’s book is rife with important details. A rather informative book.