Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Harvard Report

The Harvard Report of 1945 was written because of the concern that education was alienating itself from the tradition and heritage that it had commonly had in previous years. Colleges felt like they had lost control over their course of study and their connection with the American high school. Harvard wanted to sustain a liberal tradition in the curriculum while continually recognizing the legitimacy of the individual and thus establishing a common bond of learning. The solution to this problem was to be found in general education. General education was promoted as that part of the students' whole education which looks first of all to his or her life as a responsible human being and citizen. The Harvard Report put forth the idea that no longer be just for the elite, but rather should be democratized for every citizen. The format of this curriculum would be like a cafeteria line, where students could walk down and pick out the items that they most desired in relation to their life goals.

The eventual problem with the Harvard Report of 1945 was that it was not representative of the dominant views of the culture. Students and professors enjoyed the free elective system and freedom to make mistakes in their choice of courses. Many students and professors felt general education was merely an expression of the "establishment" and did not represent the educational body as a whole. The ideas of the Harvard of Report of 1945, especially the strong emphasis on general education was very short lived.

During this period the United States had just finished World War II and had established itself as a world power. With this relatively new role in the world, the United States began to be concerned with being on the cutting edge for
education. And with the new threat of nuclear war, many argued against a return to an isolated curriculum. The last thing the United States wanted to do was return to a system of digression, by returning to a curriculum of classics and structured general education. Instead, curriculum developers in the United States felt it important to branch out and learn more about Non-Western subjects and courses. The result of the United States expansion in the postwar era was a curriculum that would encompass more than just the classics. Colleges were expanding their curriculum, by incorporating all different types of classes and knowledge.

The Harvard Report of 1945 had at least five major consequences. First, it promoted a concern for knowledge beyond the Western sphere. Second, it spurred an increase in educational budgets. Third, it prompted an
educational system that gave students and professors more freedom in their classes. Fourth, it gradually placed an end to the old curriculum. Finally, this new attitude helped the United States to become an educational forerunner.

The importance of the Harvard Report of 1945, especially the significance of general education is still debated today, but the reaction by the United States then towards its continual development of education set a standard for the future.


Levine, Arthur (1981). Handbook on Undergraduate Curriculum. Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Rudulph, Fredrick (1989). Curriculum: A History of American Undergraduate Course of Study Since 1636. Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Prepared by: J. Brian Willmer (UCLA)


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