But not from the schools of education.


William Heard Kilpatrick led the onslaught against the pro-academic educators.

Kilpatrick wasted no time in confronting the Montessori challenge. In his critical 1914 booklet, The Montessori System Examined, he dismissed Montessori’s methods as offering nothing in educational theory that was simultaneously novel and correct. Among his numerous criticisms, the most salient was his objection to academic training being introduced at such an early age. He made the narrow criticism that phonics worked well for such a phonetic language as Italian but was ill-suited to “the unphonetic character of the English language.”

More broadly, he rejected academic training altogether as inappropriate for three- to five-year-olds. He wrote that education “is much more than the acquisition of knowledge from books. And there is reason to fear that the presence of books makes more difficult that other part of education.” He also maintained that “reading and writing might better be postponed to a later period.” He argued that such intellectual training “tends to divert the attention of … [a] child from other … possibly more valuable parts of education,” and he agreed “with those who would exclude these formal school arts from the kindergarten period.”

Further, Kilpatrick, like Dewey and other Progressives, was scathing in his condemnation of the Great Books advocates. Comparing Hutchins with William Bagley, a Progressive educator who was less opposed to academic training, Ravitch writes, “Bagley annoyed Progressive educators but Robert Maynard Hutchins drove them into a rage… . Unthinkable, his claim that the fundamental purpose of education was intellectual training.”