The life adjustment movement was a short-lived effort following World War II to provide a high school curriculum that was more practical for what was then a majority of high school students who did not go on to college or other postsecondary training. To understand the purpose and impact of the movement, it is first necessary to look at the educational situation following the war. Then, in looking at the response to that situation, it is important to examine the relationship between what was intended by advocates of life adjustment education and what ultimately happened in schools. With those events in mind, the criticisms of the movement and the resulting calls for reform might make more sense.
In 1944, in response to poor working conditions for teachers, glaring inequities in the funding of schools, and an almost 40 percent high school dropout rate, the Educational Policies Commission of the National Education Association suggested that public education move toward a curriculum better suited to the needs of students, especially in Grades 10–12, most of whom had no intention of going on to college. Soon after, in 1945, at a meeting of vocational educators, Charles Prosser put forth a resolution calling for a functional curriculum that came to be called life adjustment education. The life adjustment curriculum included guidance and education in home life, citizenship, use of leisure, health, tools of learning, and work experience. Although it was assumed that this curriculum would be important for disadvantaged, poorly motivated, or low achieving students, supporters of the movement also believed it would be better for all youth.
The movement enjoyed support from both educators and the public in the beginning, but soon the focus had been turned to money problems, and critics used the excesses of the movement to launch effective criticisms that brought the demise of life adjustment education. The most vocal and persuasive critics came from academia, but other reactionary groups joined the attack by connecting the movement to everything from John Dewey to communist infiltration. Critics pointed out the worst examples of life adjustment education—for example, classes in hypnotism and contract bridge—and argued that the schools had become anti-intellectual, secular, and subversive institutions. Defenders of life adjustment continued to argue that the new curriculum better met the needs of students and a changing society, but despite having the support of a significant segment of the public, it had mostly lost the battle by the mid-1950s and all but disappeared with the response to the launch of the Soviet satellite, Sputnik, in 1957.
- Bestor, A. (1953). Educational wastelands. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
- Educational Policies Commission. (1944). Education for all American youth. Washington, DC: Educational Policies Commission, National Education Association and the American Association of School Administrators.
- Kliebard, H. M. (1995). The struggle for the American curriculum, 1893–1958. New York: Routledge.
- Smith, M. (1949). And madly teach: A layman looks at public school education. Chicago: Henry Regnery.
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