Committee of Ten's Recommendations, 1892

From the time of the Civil War until the last decade of the nineteenth century, the high school curriculum had "grown like Topsy."  With no precedent after which to pattern itself, this entire novel education institution had simply retained old subjects and added new ones as the demand arose.  Most significant in number and importance of the additions were the sciences, which included botany, zoology, physiology, anatomy, physics, astronomy, and geology.  But many subjects demanded by students not planning to attend college were also added, among them commercial arithmetic, business correspondence, banking, stenography, and typewriting.  In short, the high school curriculum represented a disordered array of courses; students, in an attempt to cover as many as possible, were studying large numbers of subjects for relatively short periods of time.  The curriculum, obviously, was in need of some degree of order and standardization.

The conditions described above eventuated in 1892 in the appointment of the Committee on Secondary School Studies (commonly called the Committee of Ten) under the chairmanship of Charles Eliot, president of Harvard.r[1]  In its report issued the following year, the committee acknowledged the terminal as well as the college preparatory function of the high school, but proceeded to recommend a curriculum entirely oriented towards the college-bound student.  Declaring that fewer subjects should be studied over a longer period of time for "strong and effective mental training,"the committee plotted out for alternative courses of study:  the Classical, the Latin-Scientific, the Modern Language, and the English. In every course except one, a third of the students' time would be devoted to foreign languages, and three courses called for the study of no fewer than eight sciences.  The committee recommend that the terminal students be given the same program as those who were headed for college.  Although the report helped to bring order out of near chaos, its domination by the conservative spirit of mental discipline[2] was clear.  By and large, the report of the Committee of Ten established college domination over the high school curriculum and "determined the course of American secondary education for a generation following its publication"(Butts and Cremin 1952, p. 390.).

[1] This was a committee set up by the National Education Association.

[2] "Mental discipline" is the now debunked learning theory that minds can be exercised in the same way muscles are exercised.  Thus, 19th century curriculum discussions were full of a lot of drill exercises and lots of discussion of certain courses, such as Latin and Greek, being good for mental growth.