Bobbitt’s Window: Understanding Turning Points in Reflective Curriculum History and Unmuffling Reflective Voice in Adult Learning- Doubt and Identity

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


College of Education, Doctoral Program

First Advisor

Leila E. Villaverde

Second Advisor

Ronald E. Chennault

Third Advisor

Barbara Radner


Franklin Bobbitt (1875-1956), the author of The Curriculum (1918) is known as the proponent of utilitarian curriculum and the "factory metaphor" of education. Herbert Kliebard (1986), however, identifies doubts about student tasking that enter into Bobbitt's perspective in 1926. John Wesley Null (1999) tracks these doubts in Bobbitt's career and publications in the 1940's. Null then asks, given that Bobbitt's doubts are now recognized: What difference is made by knowing Bobbitt had doubts about tasked curriculum, and looked at life experience as educational outcome? This is the question my dissertation attempts to answer by using hermeneutic metaphor and historical consciousness in considering curriculum history reflectively from the view point of a teacher in adult education.

The dissertation is divided into two parts. First, after examining the historical context of Bobbit's doubts, the past, I create a new metaphor in the present to replace the factory metaphor and to elevate Bobbit's doubts: a window, which I name "Bobbit's Window." Using what John Dewey calls "a moral telescope," I look at images, art, and literature from the period which substantiates the metaphor. Also I identify what Bobbitt did not do, talk with students. From "Bobbitt's Window," doubts about utilitarian curriculum are developed, and awareness of student voices in the Summit Seminar capstone experience at Chicago's DePaul University is raised.

My research approach for listening to student voices is primarily based on feminist multiple methods. Habermas's concept of depth hermeneutics is used along with the subaltern theory of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and other theorists to analyze ethnographic observations of students in small breakout groups at Summit Seminar, along with participatory interviews of students, focusing on the question: "What did I get out of my education?" Student voices, student experience, and student metaphors validate educational outcomes as being reflective awareness and understanding connecting with life as from a window, the opposite of lifeless metaphor which denies student voice and results in "failed history." My conclusion forwards postmodernist re-interpretation of Bobbitt and emphasis not on remnants of industrial metaphor, like tasking, but on creating life-filling identity through reflection and discovery of new spaces for learning.


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