Bobbitt’s 1918 book, Curriculum, was for years the standard textbook on the subject in the teachers’ colleges.

His fellow curriculum designer, W. W. Charters at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, shared this view. He disdained the study in schools of “the works of the masters.” Such “brilliant products of genius” were of little value to most Americans, he thought. Instead, curriculum designers should discover what was “most useful to the young in coping with the humble problems of their lives.” The schools should identify a student’s likely future profession and train him for it.

For example, if a student would most likely become a department store clerk specializing in credit applications, the schools should train him in the requisite skills, including “friendliness,” “ability to question tactfully,” “spirit of follow-up,” “keen judgment in answering credit questions,” and so forth.

The topics taught in the American schools should be calculated neither to bestow upon a student knowledge of academic subjects nor to nurture his intellect, but, rather, to prepare him for the “humble” problems and activities of everyday life as a cog in his community.

Then came the so-called Cardinal Principles, which codified into one small pamphlet the new “scientific” approach to American schooling.

In 1912, the secretary of the interior instructed the U.S. Bureau of Education to thoroughly revamp American schooling. The government agency, in conjunction with the National Education Association (NEA), appointed the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education (CRSE). The CRSE issued the new “Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education” in 1918. To this day, a full century later, it remains the foundational document of modern American education.