The invention of the scientific curriculum expert represented an extraordinary shift in power away from teachers, parents, and local communities to professional experts. . . . In modern school districts, control over curriculum was transferred from educators who had majored in English, history, or mathematics to trained curriculum specialists.
What was the ultimate goal? What were these so-called scientists trying to accomplish?
Bobbitt and his peers conceived of curriculum designers as educational engineers who could establish the exact criteria for each child’s proper functioning and the optimum profession in which he or she might bring about “social progress.” The aim was utilitarian advantage to “society.”
For example, “if agricultural production falls off … the schools must provide better agricultural education. If factory production is inefficient, the schools must teach industrial education. When studies show the cost of ill health, the schools must provide health education.” And so on for any number of other “practical” activities, including driving techniques and military training. Students would learn the specific skills necessary to their “proper” professions and useful to “society.”
Of what utilitarian value is it, Bobbitt asked, for students to study the literature of long-gone centuries? How would a 20th-century plumber’s knowledge of Shakespeare’s drama or poetry benefit society? Beyond the basic science training necessary to help a farmer grow crops, how would his understanding of physics or mathematics aid society? For what social purpose should we teach a future factory worker ancient history? Such a field “deals with a world that is dead, a civilization that is mouldered, with governments that are now obsolete, with manners and customs and languages that are altogether impracticable in this modern age.”