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During his lifetime, William C. Bagley was America’s most influential philosopher of teacher education. Although he has become known as the father of “Essentialism,” his central focus throughout his career was the education of teachers and, more specifically, curriculum for the education of teachers. During his nearly 50-year career, Bagley wrote numerous books and articles on topics such as teacher education, curriculum, educational philosophy and psychology, higher education, and secondary education.

Bagley (15 March 1874–1 July 1946) was born in Detroit, Michigan. After graduating from Michigan Agricultural College in 1895, he taught in a rural, one-room school in upstate Michigan. He attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Cornell University. After completing his Ph.D. degree in psychology at Cornell in 1900, Bagley chose to dedicate his life to the education of teachers for public school service. He taught for four years at Montana State Normal School in Dillon, Montana, and then for two more years at Oswego State Normal School in Oswego, New York. In 1908, he accepted a position as Professor of Education at the University of Illinois. At Illinois, Bagley established the University of Illinois’ School of Education.

During his Illinois tenure, he played a critical role in the founding of Kappa Delta Pi. He remained committed to the growth and strengthening of Kappa Delta Pi throughout the remainder of his life. After serving as the inaugural Dean of the University of Illinois’ School of Education, he departed Illinois for Teachers College, Columbia University. At Teachers College, he served as Chair of the Department of Teacher Education. He taught at Teachers College from 1917 to 1939, when he retired at the age of 65.

During his Teachers College tenure, Bagley wrote numerous books and hundreds of articles and editorials, all of which related directly to the discipline of teacher education. Late in his career, he became critical of extremism within educational thought, specifically the ideas of William Heard Kilpatrick. Bagley believed that Kilpatrick and others had misinterpreted the complex work of John Dewey. During the 1930s, Bagley joined with numerous others to found Essentialism, an educational philosophy that sought to retain the valuable aspects of Progressive education while at the same time emphasizing a unique philosophy of professional education. Bagley’s philosophy of professional education always sought to integrate the subject-matter disciplines, the technique of teaching, and the critically important question of purpose.

Contributed by J. Wesley Null, Baylor University

Null, J. W. 2003. A Disciplined Progressive Educator: The Life and Career of William Chandler Bagley. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

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