In 1893, the National Educational Association (NEA) established the Committee of Fifteen, whose purpose was to revise the elementary curriculum in American public schools in much the same way that the NEA’s Committee of Ten was revising the secondary school curriculum. Groups such as the American Herbartians, under the leadership of Francis W. Parker and Frank and Charles De Garmo, called for an elementary school curriculum that was child centered and focused on the moral development of the child. More conservative approaches, led by figures such as William Torrey Harris, argued that the curriculum should be primarily concerned with preparing the child for his or her place in society.
The arguments of the committee are important in that they reflected tensions at work within American schools that would be debated for years to come. Should the schools and their curriculum focus first and foremost on the development of the child, or should they simply train students to meet the basic social needs of the culture? The conservative, less child-oriented stance predominated, setting a tone for years to come, and was further reinforced by the social efficiency movement, which viewed schools as “factories” that turned out students to meet the commercial and cultural needs of American society.
While on the surface, the decisions of the Committee of Fifteen may seem obscure, they represent the codification of an important trend in the history of American education—one involving the emphasis in public education on the needs of society to predominate over the needs of the personal development and growth of the child. This trend has continued into the contemporary era, as manifested in recent educational reforms such as the No Child Left Behind legislation.
- Button, H. W. (1965). Committee of fifteen. History of Education Quarterly, 5(4), 253–263.
Committee Of Seven
The Committee of Seven’s (1896–1899) report, titled The Study of History in Schools: Report to the American Historical Association by the Committee of Seven, had a significant and lasting impact on the practice of history and social education in American schools. Concerned about the status of historical studies in secondary education, August F. Nightingale, Chairman of the National Education Association’s Committee on College Entrance Requirements, asked historians at the 1896 meeting of the American
Historical Association to provide a report detailing the practice of teaching history in American schools. As its charter, the committee planned to make recommendations about the teaching of history and to foster more uniformity in secondary school history.
A committee was appointed, and to make an accurate evaluation, they conducted a nationwide survey of the subject of history in schools, analyzed the resultant data, and made appropriate recommendations based upon the social science findings. The Committee of Seven considered the scope and sequence of history offerings in secondary schools and suggested college entrance requirements. The report recommended a four-year course of study that included ancient history, medieval and modern European history, English history, American history, and civil government. The report also proposed that amount of time students engaged in historical studies increase and supported a broadened conception of citizenship. The report had a lasting impact upon historical studies in secondary schools, as a four-year course of study remains typical of many curriculum offerings.
Members of the committee, all members of the American Historical Association, were: Andrew McLaughlin (chairman), Herbert B. Adams, George L. Fox, Albert Bushnell Hart, Charles H. Haskins, H. Morse Stephens, and Lucy M. Salmon. Six members were prominent historians. George L. Fox, Headmaster of the Hopkins Grammar School in New Haven, Connecticut, was the only individual practicing in a secondary school. The only woman on the committee, Lucy Maynard Salmon, was chair of the history department at Vassar College.
- Bohan, C. H. (2004). Early vanguards of progressive education: The Committee of Ten, the Committee of Seven, and social education. In C. Woyshner, J. Watras, & M. Crocco (Eds.), Social education in the twentieth century: Curriculum and context for citizenship (pp. 1–19). New York: Peter Lang.
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