Ellwood P. Cubberley

Ellwood P. Cubberley

Ellwood P. Cubberley


An influential educator in the field of educational administration, Ellwood Patterson Cubberley helped guide the teacher education curriculum in the early twentieth century through his edited textbook series. His account of educational history set the historiographical tone for the first half of the twentieth century.

Cubberley was born in 1868 in Antioch (later to be named Andrews), Indiana. He graduated from Indiana University in 1891 and showed special promise in science and mathematics. His ambition was to become a geologist, but teaching eventually overcame that early goal. Before graduation, he spent a year teaching in a tiny country school in Rock Hill, Indiana. After graduation he taught briefly at Ridgeville College (Ridgeville, Indiana), before moving to Vincennes University (Vincennes, Indiana), where he soon became president.

In 1896 he moved to California and became superintendent of the San Diego Board of Education. There he battled local politicians over the appointment of qualified applicants.

In 1898 he left San Diego and took a severe pay cut to accept a teaching position with Stanford University and its fledgling two-person Department of Education (which would later become the School of Education). He would spend the remainder of his career there. On leave from Stanford, he received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1905 and was named full professor at Stanford in 1908. He assumed leadership of Stanford's School of Education in 1917 and proceeded to expand vastly the scope of its activities. Throughout his career, Cubberley remained deeply involved in shaping national policy on issues from teacher certification to textbooks. He retired in 1933.

Cubberley was perhaps the most significant educational administrator of his day. At the outset of Cubberley's career, school administration was thought of as a set of general principles without any conception of theoretical or scientific plans. There were no formal textbooks from which to teach educational administration to students. Educational administrators had no place to learn better practices and, as such, learned solely from experience. Indeed, educational administration posts were often political plums requiring little, if any, formal training. Most universities lacked education departments.

Cubberley's Public Education in the United States (1919), perhaps his greatest work, set the historiographical tone for educational history for more than forty years. Adopting an instrumentalist approach to education, Cubberley portrayed education as the main tool of America's progress. He saw the rise of universal public schooling as a triumph of democratic forces. Cubberley saw educational systems as continually improving, and he associated the rise and refinement of education with America's continued progress.

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