William Heard Kilpatrick

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William Heard Kilpatrick (November 20, 1871 – February 13, 1965) was an American pedagogue and a pupil, a colleague and a successor of John Dewey. He was a major figure in the progressive education movement of the early 20th century.


Kilpatrick was born in White Plains, Georgia. He had an orthodox upbringing and was educated at Mercer University and Johns Hopkins University where he later became a mathematics teacher at High School and at Mercer University. He first met John Dewey in 1898 and again met him in 1907. Kilpatrick decided to make philosophy of education his specialty and occupied all courses by Dewey. From this developed a cooperation, which persisted up to Dewey's death in 1952. Both men's ideas directly impacted the 1932 founding of Bennington College in Vermont: they were both on the original College Board of Trustees, with Kilpatrick soon becoming President of the Board, and two of the original 12 houses on campus are named after them.

His first teaching job was at Blakely Institute, a combined elementary and secondary public school in southwest Georgia, required that he attend a July 1892 summer at Rock College Normal School, Athens, GA. There he learned of the educational theories of German educator Friedrich Froebel, kindergarten founder and learning-through-play advocate. He again studied at Johns Hopkins University, summer 1895, then taught seventh grade at and was principal of Anderson Elementary School, Savannah, GA, 1896–97. He was at Mercer University, 1897–1906, taught mathematics, was vice-president, 1900, and acting president, 1904–06, but resigned when the trustees were concerned about his doubting the virgin birth.

In 1908 Kilpatrick wrote in his diary, "Professor Dewey has made a great difference in my thinking." Dewey wrote to Professor John Angus MacVannel, Kilpatrick's major professor, "He is the best I ever had." Kilpatrick spent the rest of his professional career and long life at Teachers College, Columbia University (TCCU) where he was a student, 1907–09; received a Ph.D. in 1912, was lecturer in education, 1909–11; assistant professor, 1911–15; associate professor, 1915–18; professor of philosophy of education, 1918–37; and thereafter emeritus professor.

He married Marie Beman Guyton on December 27, 1898, and they had three children. She died May 1907. He then married Margaret Manigault Pinckney on November 26, 1908; she died November 1938. He finally married Marion Y. Ostrander on May 8, 1940, she having been his secretary.

He taught summers at the University of Georgia, 1906, 1908, and 1909; the University of the South (Sewanee), 1907; was visiting professor, Northwestern University, 1937–38, and taught summer sessions there, 1939–1941; taught summer sessions, Stanford University, 1938; University of Kentucky, 1942; University of North Carolina, 1942; and University of Minnesota, 1946. His trips abroad included school visits, lectures, and meetings with prominent educators in Italy, Switzerland, and France, May–June 1912; Europe and Asia, August 1926-June 1927; and round the world, August–December 1929.

He received honorary LL.D. degrees from Mercer University, 1926; Columbia University, 1929; and Bennington College, 1938 (which he helped found in 1923 and where he was president of the board of trustees, 1931–38); the honorary D.H.L. degree from the College of Jewish Studies, 1952; and the Brandeis Award for humanitarian service, 1953.

After retiring from TCCU, 1937, he was president of the New York Urban League, 1941–51; chairman of American Youth for World Youth, 1946–51; chairman of the Bureau of International Education, 1940–51.

Kilpatrick had several critics but many more admirers and followers. His eighty-fifth birthday, November 20, 1956, celebrated at Horace Mann Auditorium, TCCU, resulted in a special March 1957 issue of Progressive Education, "William Heard Kilpatrick Eighty-Fifth Anniversary," containing 10 articles. Both heralded and criticized as John Dewey's chief educational interpreter, Kilpatrick was a leading advocate of progressive education. He died after a long illness at age 93 on February 13, 1965 in New York.

Philosophy of education[edit]

Kilpatrick developed the Project Method for early childhood education, which was a form of Progressive Education that organized curriculum and classroom activities around a subject's central theme. He believed that the role of a teacher should be that of a "guide" as opposed to an authoritarian figure. Kilpatrick believed that children should direct their own learning according to their interests and should be allowed to explore their environment, experiencing their learning through the natural senses.[1] Proponents of Progressive Education and the Project Method reject traditional schooling that focuses on memorization, rote learning, strictly organized classrooms (desks in rows; students always seated), and typical forms of assessment. He has been described as a developmentalist.

Political views[edit]

Kilpatrick was a democratic socialist and served on the board of directors of the League for Industrial Democracy.


  • John A. Beineke: And there were giants in the land : the life of William Heard Kilpatrick. New York : P. Lang 1998. ISBN 0-8204-3773-5
  • Herbert M. Kliebard: The Struggle for the American Curriculum, 1893-1958. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1986. ISBN 0-7102-0055-2
  • Michael Knoll: Faking a dissertation: Ellsworth Collings, William H. Kilpatrick and the "project curriculum". Journal of Curriculum Studies 28 (1996), no. 2, 193-222.
  • Michael Knoll: 'A Marriage on the Rocks': An Unknown Letter by William H. Kilpatrick About His Project Method. Eric-online document 511129 (2010-08-04).
  • Michael Knoll: Dewey, Kilpatrick und „progressive“ Erziehung. Kritische Studien zur Projektpädagogik. Bad Heilbrunn: Klinkhardt 2011.
  • Michael Knoll: “I Had Made a Mistake”: William H. Kilpatrick and the Project Method. Teachers College Record 114 (2012), no. 2, 45 pp.
  • William Allan Kritsonis, PhD, PHILOSOPHIES OF EDUCATION, BookMasters, Inc., Ashland, OH


  1. ^ Gutek, Gerald L. (2009). New Perspectives on Philosophy and Education. Pearson Education, Inc. p. 346. ISBN 0-205-59433-6.

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