Fifty Modern Thinkers on Education: From Piaget to the Present Day

By Joy A. Palmer | Go to book overview
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RALPH WINIFRED TYLER 1902-94

These educational objectives become the criteria by which materials are selected, content is outlined, instructional procedures are developed and tests and examinations are prepared. All aspects of the educational program are really means to accomplish basic educational purposes. Hence, if we are to study an educational program systematically and intelligently we must be sure as to the educational objectives aimed at. 1

Over the course of a century in the context of a field of practice, certain individuals emerge whose work functions as a beacon for others. At times the illuminating quality of the work produced is due to its theoretical power. At other times it is related to its practical utility. At other times still, it is the product of a personal charisma that somehow inspires. Ralph W. Tyler was a scholar, a shaper of policy and an inspiration to many of those concerned with the improvement of education. Tyler was born in Chicago on 22 April 1902, grew up in Nebraska, received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1927 and served in the Bureau of Educational Research and Service at the Ohio State University between 1929 and 1938. He became Director of the influential Eight Year Study from 1934 to 1942, during which time he returned to the University of Chicago at the invitation of its Chancellor, Robert M. Hutchins. His first appointment at Chicago was as University Examiner and as Chair of the Department of Education from 1938 to 1948 and as Dean of the Division of Social Sciences from 1948 to 1953. In 1953 he moved to Stanford, California to become the Director of the newly established Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, a post he held for fourteen years.

The litany of his accomplishments as an evaluator, a curriculum theorist, a university administrator, the progenitor of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP), not to mention his seemingly bottomless capacity to serve as consultant in education to nations throughout the world are without precedent. Tyler was not 'merely' a man with great national stature, he was someone who enjoyed the respect of education scholars around the world.

What was it that Tyler brought to the educational conversation? What were the distinctive contributions he made to educational discourse?

Tyler, deep down, was an educational progressive, someone influenced by Dewey's ideas and leavened by the likes of Charles Hubbard Judd and W.W. Charters, scholars with whom he studied. He was fundamentally concerned with both the practical utility of education and the quality of experience students had in schools. Indeed, although he recognized that curriculum planners and teachers could not provide students with experiences-after all, experiences were the result of what an individual student did with what he or she encountered-nevertheless, he insisted on writing about learning experiences rather than learning activities because he wanted to remind readers that it was the experience that promoted or inhibited the learning, and not merely the activity that a teacher or curriculum developer had planned.

One of Tyler's most important contributions to education is the curriculum syllabus he prepared for his course on the curriculum, which

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