William Kilpatrick Contribution To Curriculum Development

In this detailed article, we’ll be looking at William Kilpatrick Contribution To Curriculum Development.


William Heard Kilpatrick, a philosopher of education and an advocate for John Dewey’s ideas, was born in White Plains, Georgia in 1871. His father was a Baptist minister and he received his early education in village schools. After graduating from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, he pursued graduate studies in mathematics at Johns Hopkins University. Kilpatrick later worked as a public school principal in Georgia before returning to Mercer University to teach. He also briefly served as the acting president of Mercer University. However, in 1906, he became involved in a series of controversies with the university’s president, which resulted in the board of trustees conducting a “heresy” trial, ultimately leading to Kilpatrick’s resignation.

After completing his undergraduate studies, Kilpatrick relocated to New York City in 1908 to pursue doctoral studies at Teachers College, Columbia University. He was fortunate to have John Dewey as one of his primary professors, who regarded him as his best student. Kilpatrick’s dissertation, which he successfully defended in 1911, focused on the history of colonial Dutch schools in New York. Initially, Kilpatrick worked part-time as an administrator in the Appointment Office and as a history of education instructor at Teachers College. However, he eventually secured a full-time teaching position in the philosophy of education, which he held from 1912 to 1937.

Kilpatrick’s rapid ascent within the educational community began with the publication of his influential article “The Project Method” in the Teachers College Record in 1918. In this piece, Kilpatrick outlined a practical method for implementing John Dewey’s educational philosophy, drawing on Dewey’s earlier work in “Interest and Effort.” Kilpatrick aimed to demonstrate how students could engage in purposeful activity at all levels, including intellectual, physical, and emotional. The integration of projects in his approach aligned with the child-centered approach promoted by Progressive educators during this period. The focus on individualized learning, reflective practice, and holistic development resonated with teachers at the time, resulting in “The Project Method” becoming an immediate bestseller and propelling Kilpatrick into the national spotlight.

Kilpatrick’s growing prominence in American education can be attributed to several factors, including his effective teaching and charismatic public speaking abilities. Despite teaching classes with more than 600 students, he managed to incorporate group work, discussion, and concise lectures to enhance the learning experience for his students. Kilpatrick’s distinctive Georgian accent, thick head of white hair, and astute blue eyes were all contained within a small, animated frame, contributing to his likable personality. His popularity earned him the nickname “Columbia’s Million Dollar Professor” by the New York City press, although his salary never reached that figure. However, the tuition generated from his classes contributed significantly to the revenue of Columbia University, exceeding that amount during Kilpatrick’s twenty-five years of service at Teachers College.

Kilpatrick’s career at Teachers College ended amidst a contentious situation. Dean William Russell enforced the institution’s compulsory retirement age, which resulted in Kilpatrick being the first victim of this ruling. This decision ignited a national outcry among educators, and the controversy became a cause célèbre at several national conferences in 1936, with John Dewey speaking in defense of Kilpatrick’s continued appointment. Kilpatrick’s final class in 1937 consisted of a whopping 622 students, bringing his total number of students taught at Teachers College to 35,000. Despite retiring, Kilpatrick remained active, leading the New York Urban League, the Progressive Education Association, and serving as the first president of the John Dewey Society. In addition to writing and speaking engagements, Kilpatrick taught summer school classes at Stanford, Northwestern, and Minnesota universities. His involvement in these organizations often put him at odds with prominent conservatives of his time, including Robert Hutchins, Father Charles Coughlin, and William Randolph Hearst. Conversely, Kilpatrick’s activities aligned him with influential liberals in post-World War II America, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Ralph Bunche, and Bayard Rustin.

Kilpatrick advocated for a Progressive education message centered on child-centeredness, democracy, and social orientation. However, after World War II, critics disputed these ideas and practices, arguing that the curriculum lacked rigor and that students were academically unprepared to compete globally. In the 1980s and 1990s, Kilpatrick faced specific criticism in school reform literature. Some traditional curriculum supporters, such as E.D. Hirsch and Diane Ravitch, blamed the Progressive philosophy espoused by Kilpatrick for the decline in academic standards in American schools. Despite this, various Progressive-oriented pedagogies, such as cooperative learning, team teaching, and individualized instruction, were still implemented in American classrooms during the same period. These practices, along with Kilpatrick’s unwavering commitment to democratic principles in schools, remain the cornerstone of his legacy. According to John Dewey, Kilpatrick’s works made a unique contribution to the development of a school society that is an organic component of a living, growing democracy, which he considered notable and virtually unmatched.

William Kilpatrick Contribution to Curriculum

William Kilpatrick believed that the curriculum’s purpose should be to facilitate child development, growth, and social relationships. He is credited with introducing the use of small group interaction and the Project Method in which the teacher and students collaborate on lesson planning. This approach is known as the child-centered curriculum. Kilpatrick’s Project Method, a form of Progressive Education, was designed for early childhood education and centered curriculum and classroom activities around a subject’s central theme. He rejected the authoritarian teacher role and believed that teachers should act as guides, while children directed their own learning based on their interests and natural senses. Kilpatrick’s approach to education and the Project Method advocates for a departure from traditional schooling, which places an emphasis on memorization, rote learning, strictly organized classrooms, and typical forms of assessment. Kilpatrick is often referred to as a developmentalist.

The American philosopher and educational reformer made significant contributions to curriculum development in the early 20th century. He was a notable figure in the progressive education movement and believed that education should prioritize the needs and interests of the student.

Kilpatrick is credited with developing the concept of “project-based learning,” which prioritizes hands-on, experiential learning through relevant and meaningful projects. He believed that this approach would help students develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills, as well as a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Furthermore, Kilpatrick championed the use of the “project method,” which involved organizing the curriculum around a central project or problem that students work on collaboratively over a more extended period of time. This approach was designed to encourage student engagement and create a sense of ownership over the learning process.

During the early to mid-20th century, the educator made several notable contributions to curriculum development. One of his most significant ideas was the Project Method for early childhood education, a form of Progressive Education that arranged curriculum and classroom activities around exploratory and experiential projects. He firmly believed that the purpose of curriculum should be to promote child development, growth, and social relationships.

In addition, Kilpatrick introduced several other groundbreaking ideas into education, including cooperative learning, team teaching, individualized instruction, and the experiential aspects of the middle school movement. He developed an educational philosophy that moved beyond individualism and rejected the pseudo-scientific concepts that prevailed in education during his time. His contributions to curriculum development and educational philosophy have had a lasting impact on educational theory and practice.

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