Kappa Delta Pi
International Honor Society in Education

Join   Renew   Contact   Donate   Login

  Close Menu


+ About KDP

+ Membership

+ Publications

+ Resources

+ Giving

+ Events

+ Chapters

+ Initiatives

+ Service

+ Recognition

+ Shop KDP

KDP Global

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Pinterest Wordpress Instagram

Willard E. Goslin (1899–1969) championed progressive education in American public schools. Though he may be remembered best for his confrontation with McCarthy-ite forces during his tenure as Superintendent of Schools in Pasadena, California, he was a nationally recognized leader in public education.

Born in Harrisburg, Missouri, Goslin began his career as a teacher in 1916 in Boone County, Missouri, at the age of 16. He received a bachelor’s of science degree from Northwest Missouri State Teachers College in 1922, and quickly moved into school administration: first, as a high school principal in Slater Missouri and, subsequently, as superintendent. Goslin received a master’s degree from the University of Missouri and pursued additional graduate study at Teachers College, Columbia University, before becoming superintendent of the Webster Grove, Missouri, school system in 1930. He also received an honorary LL.D from Occidental College, Los Angeles, California (Who’s Who in American Education 1949–50).

During his tenure as superintendent in Webster Grove, a suburb of St. Louis, Goslin initiated a systemic change in teacher in-service training based on collaboration between teachers and administrators. Throughout his career, he continued to encourage teacher participation in all areas of school administration. He believed that if schools were to teach students to live in a participatory democracy, they should exemplify participatory democracy with everyone having a say, including teachers (Goslin 1944).

After 14 years in the Webster Grove district, Goslin became superintendent of the Minneapolis public schools, a position he held from 1944 to 1948. His arrival in Minneapolis coincided with a decline in student population due in large part to the depression and World War II. He supported the use of school surveys to assess student population characteristics and the effectiveness of programs already in place (Franklin 1982). Based on the surveys, as well as his own belief that schools should teach the whole child, the district installed a Common Learnings Program. This plan consisted of a two-hour class in junior and senior high schools taken in lieu of English and Social Studies that was organized around students’ social and personal problems. This program sought to streamline and emphasize the centrality of a curriculum that stressed the intellectual background of students as they became participating citizens of a democratic society. The extended time that students spent with a single teacher facilitated the development of personal relationships between teachers and students (Franklin 1982). To round out the Common Learnings Program, Goslin actively pursued community participation in the schools through radio broadcasts of faculty meetings and student speaker programs. He also encouraged the employment of dedicated education reporters at all major newspapers in Minneapolis (Goslin 1946).

His work in Minneapolis and Webster Grove led to his being named one of the five most outstanding public school administrators in the country. He also was elected to the board of the John Dewey Society in 1947, though his administrative duties kept him from active board membership much of the time. In 1948, members of the prestigious American Association of School Administrators elected him to president (Van Til 1993). At the time, he was considering job offers from Harvard, Columbia, and New York universities, as well as the position of Superintendent in Pasadena, California. After a two-day visit to Pasadena, Goslin accepted an offer to become that city’s superintendent (Hulburd 1951).

Goslin took over the reins of a system that had already embraced the Progressive educational philosophy, and he continued to build upon this base to address problems within the system. Vertical alignment teams linking teachers at all levels were put in place to facilitate collaboration among faculty members (Hulburd 1951). He pushed for the development of relationships between students and teachers through the introduction of a core curriculum along the lines of the Minneapolis Common Learnings Program, and campaigned for the community to play an active role in the development of the entire school curriculum (Hulburd 1951). Though this encouragement of community involvement ultimately led to his ousting in 1951, he continued to support community participation in local schools throughout the remainder of his career.

At the time of Goslin’s arrival in Pasadena, the community was beginning to change from that of a primarily upper-class enclave with a small working class to a more racially diverse community (Hulburd 1951). This growth in the community created a need for additional elementary schools, as well as new attendance boundaries to balance school populations across the district. The proposed changes to the attendance boundaries would require integration of the districts’ schools, particularly at the elementary level. The resulting conflict over the boundary changes, along with the proposed tax increases, exposed friction within the community that would eventually lead to open conflict (Hulburd 1951).

After months of increasing pressure by the local School Development Council, the Board of Education requested Goslin’s resignation. He offered his resignation to the Board of Education and a compensation package was agreed upon. A subsequent investigation by the National Education Association’s Defense Commission led to the conclusion that though Goslin’s administrative style had caused some tension between the community and the school administration, ample evidence existed to conclude that his dismissal resulted from reactionary forces that drummed up “red scare” fears within the community (Foster 2000).

Soon after leaving Pasadena, Goslin was named Head, Division of School Administration and Community Development at George Peabody College for Teachers. However, he did not immediately join the faculty. He spent 1951 and part of 1952 in Korea as a member of the United States National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization surveying the needs of Korean schools and planning for the reconstruction of the Korean school system (Drummond 2006). That same year, he also received the National Education Association’s American Education Award (New York Times 1969).

Upon his arrival at Peabody, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development appointed him to its 1953 yearbook committee, which included his Peabody colleagues William Van Til and Harold Benjamin, National Commission for the Defense of Democracy through Education Field Secretary Robert A. Skaife, and Fisk University President Charles S. Johnson. Goslin’s yearbook chapter was the final essay in the volume and was titled “The People and Their Schools.” This essay reflected his years of thinking about the role of schools in American society and about the communities which served these schools.

In this chapter, Goslin held that children are the link between schools and the community. Too often, misunderstandings, misinformation, and distrust created problems which were roadblocks to school improvement. The first step in overcoming these roadblocks was involving parents as collaborators in their child’s education. He suggested that citizens’ groups be allowed to evaluate the curriculum and to recommend changes to reflect the needs of the community. He was adamant in his belief that public education remain in the hands of laity and out of the hands of special interest groups. America’s public school system was the bedrock of her representative democracy and must be safeguarded if a free, public education for all children was to continue (Goslin 1953).

The 1953 Yearbook was introduced at the annual conference of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development through sessions held by its contributors. Goslin criticized the yearbook for not going far enough in its identification and denunciation of the reactionary forces attacking American public schools. Despite this shortcoming, he believed that the volume was a step forward in the battle against the red- scare tactics of the McCarthy era (Van Til 1983).

Goslin continued to publish and lecture throughout his tenure at Peabody College. He participated in the summer lecture series The Great Human Issues of Our Times held each summer on the Peabody College campus from 1953–1956. As one effort in the desegregation of southern colleges and universities, Goslin instituted a seminar on campus for southern black school administrators during intersession. Racial integration of Peabody’s regular summer and academic year programs soon followed (Van Til 1983). In 1961, he received an honorary doctorate from Seoul National University for his work as coordinator of Peabody College’s Multiyear Korean Education Project (New York Times 1969). Despite his many professional obligations, his primary interest was always in teaching. He specialized in the history of education and taught a colloquium on the superintendency each term. An immensely popular professor, he not only was a role model, but for some who knew him, he was also a father figure, always ready with a word of advice. Goslin retired from Peabody in 1966, but continued to be active in campus life until is death in 1969.

Submitted by Whitney Blankenship, Leander High School, Leander (TX) Independent School District

Drummond, Harold, D. 2006. Interview by Whitney Blankenship. Telephone interview. Sept. 22, Albuquerque, NM.

Foster, S. J. 2000. Red alert! Educators confront the ‘red scare’ in American public schools, 1947–1954. New York: Peter Lang.

Franklin, B. M. 1982. The social efficiency movement reconsidered: Curriculum change in Minneapolis, 1917–1950. Curriculum Inquiry 12(Spring): 9–33.

Goslin, W. E. 1944. When we work together. Educational Leadership 1(January): 221–25.

Goslin, W. E. 1946. The man on the street and his schools. Education 66(June): 634–39.

Goslin, W. E. 1953. The people and their schools. In Forces affecting American education, 1953 Yearkbook, ed. W. Van Til, 141. Washington DC: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Hulburd, D. 1951. This happened in Pasadena. New York: Macmillan.
New York Times. 1969, Willard E. Goslin, educator, dead, March 8.
Van Til, W. 1983. My way of looking at it: An autobiography. Terre Haute, IN: Lake Lure Press.

Van Til, W. 1993. The John Dewey society: A memoir of the middle years, 1947–1973, Educational Theory 43(3): 261–78.

Who’s Who in American Education. 1949–50. Williard E. Goslin. New York: Robert C. Cook.

Connect with...
Kappa Delta Pi
Teachers For a Better Future (coming soon)

(U.S./Canada toll-free)


3707 Woodview Trace
Indianapolis, IN 46268

© 2019 Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education. All Rights Reserved.

Join    Renew    
Contact Us    Advertise With Us    Terms of Use    Privacy Policy