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Werrett Wallace Charters (1875–1952) was a pioneering researcher in teacher education and curriculum development. His scientific approach to curriculum development through analysis of life activities broke new ground in the emerging field of curriculum study.

Born in Hartford, Ontario, Charters attended the Hartford Village School and, after finishing studies at Hagersville High School, enrolled at McMaster University in Toronto for one year. Taking a break from the university, he taught at the Rockford Public School for two years before he returned to McMaster to earn a bachelor’s of art degree. A leader throughout his life, Charters served as class president during his final year at McMaster. In 1923, he received an honorary doctorate degree from his alma mater.

Charters earned his teaching diploma at Ontario Normal College in 1899 and, subsequently, became the principal of Hamilton City Model School. He later served as the school’s administrator and instructor of teachers-in-training. So successful were his teacher preparation methods that the Board of Examiners named the Hamilton Model School as the premier model school in Ontario. Charters later earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. John Dewey, renowned educational philosopher and the first Laureate of Kappa Delta Pi, was his dissertation advisor.

Upon completing his doctorate, Charters served as principal of the Winona State Normal School in Minnesota before transferring to the University of Missouri, where he became a Professor of Theory of Teaching and the Dean of the School of Education. Concerned particularly about instruction in rural schools, Charters traveled throughout Missouri to visit and inspect high schools, often walking miles between train stations and the schools themselves. His first book, Methods of Teaching, appeared in 1909.

From 1917–1928, Charters was a faculty member at four institutions: the University of Illinois, Carnegie Institute of Technology, University of Pittsburgh, and University of Chicago. In 1928, he left the University of Chicago to become Professor of Education and Director of the Bureau of Educational Research at The Ohio State University. He also served as Director of Research at Stephen’s College in Columbia, Missouri, from 1920–1949.

While at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (1919–23), Charters engaged in numerous research projects, especially ones in vocational and professional education. By analyzing the professional activities of various occupations to determine deficiencies in content knowledge, Charters developed curricula for training in fields such as pharmacy, secretarial work, and radio education. For Charters, activity analysis was the critical starting point of curriculum development. “Without such analysis,” he explained, “we are entirely at a loss to know how to proceed in building the curriculum” (Charters 1923, 40). Increasing productivity through heightened efficiency in industry was another of his professional emphases, and one which Charters would continue throughout his career.

Upon leaving the Carnegie Institute, Charters assumed the position of Professor of Education and Director, Research Bureau for Retail Training, at the University of Pittsburgh. There, he continued to work with business and industry to develop efficient, systematic curricula. He published Curriculum Construction (1923), one of his major contributions to the emerging curriculum field, initiating the need for methods of developing curriculum—methods centered on life activities rather than content itself. By preparing students for specific life activities, he believed that education would enable students to solve issues which they would encounter regularly as adults (Seguel 1966). Hence, Charters, along with his contemporary Franklin Bobbitt, helped shift concerns for development away from school subject knowledge toward students’ presumed adult functioning.

At the University of Chicago (1925–1928), Charters, assisted by Douglas Waples, directed The Commonwealth Teacher-Training Study (1929). In this project, he used his activity analysis for teacher education.

Moving to The Ohio State University, Charters was responsible for research, for publication of the Educational Research Bulletin, and for the professional development and assistance of university and college faculties, including curricula preparation, course development, and instruction and testing. Additionally, the Bureau of Educational Research provided professional expertise to specialized branches of education, such as health, telecommunication, women’s education, and vocational education.

Charters’s role as Director of the Bureau of Educational Research afforded him opportunities to make significant contributions in several professional fields. An area of special interest was audiovisual education—particularly, the effect of motion pictures on children (Dale 1970). After directing 12 studies in the area, Charters published Motion Pictures and Youth (1933), in which he concluded that the motion picture “is a potent medium of education” that can strongly influence student attitudes both positively and negatively (Charters 1933, 60; Wraga 2003, 265).

Another noteworthy achievement during his tenure at Ohio State was founding the Journal of Higher Education. As its first editor, Charters believed that the journal would serve as a medium for the reporting of research and expressing varying views from multiple disciplines within higher education (Johnson 1953).

Charters’s legacy includes the enhancement and professional development of the lives of many of his students and colleagues. Notably, Charters selected William H. Cowley, Edgar Dale, and Ralph W. Tyler, all his former Ph.D. students, to become affiliated with the Bureau of Educational Research. Each later became internationally renowned.

During his lifetime, Charters published more than 500 books, chapters, and articles. An active member and leader of numerous organizations, Charters served as founder and director of the Institute of Education by Radio, director of the National Society for the Study of Education, a Kappa Delta Pi Laureate, and the National Education Association (Kliebard 1975; Rosenstock 1984).

Charters died in 1952, at the age of 77 in Livingston, Alabama. The Charters’ Papers are housed in the Special Collections division of the library at The Ohio State University.

Contributed by Michelle M. Bauml, The University of Texas at Austin

References
Charters, W. W. 1923. Curriculum construction. New York: Macmillan.

Charters, W. W. 1933. Motion pictures and youth: A summary. New York: Macmillan.

Dale, E. 1970. Associations with W. W. Charters. Theory into Practice 9(2):116–18.

Johnson, B. L. 1953. Werrett Wallace Charters: Particularly his contributions to higher education. The Journal of Higher Education 24(5): 236–40, 281.

Kliebard, H. M. 1975. The rise of scientific curriculum making and its aftermath. Curriculum Theory Network 5(1): 27–37.

Rosenstock, S. A. 1984. The educational contributions of W(erret) W(allace) Charters. Ph.D. diss., The Ohio State University, Columbus.

Seguel, M. L. 1966. The curriculum field: Its formative years. New York: Teachers College Press.

Wraga, W. G. 2003. Charters, W. W. 1875–1952. In Encyclopedia of Education, Vol. 1, 2nd ed., ed J. W. Guthrie, 263–65. New York: McMillan.

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