THE QUEST FOR DISTINCTION AND RELEVANCE

Brown Curricular Reforms  
Brown Leadership in Educational Reform
 

Barnaby KeeneyThe most recent era in Brown’s history, which cannot be adequately appraised, rests upon the achievements of Barnaby C. Keeney, president from 1955 to 1966. Building on the foundation laid by Henry Wriston, Keeney fulfilled the vision of Benjamin Andrews. With its faculty growing in scholarly distinction, Brown now entered the top ranks of American universities. Its undergraduate program attracted an increasingly qualified student body. Alumni recruiters provided outreach to high schools across the country. Curricular reform and experimentation continued. Pembroke College (the coordinate women’s college) ceased to exist as an administrative unit. Fund raising was aggressively pursued. Endowment grew and buildings multiplied.

Yet as Brown celebrated its Bicentennial in 1964 and Keeney departed to head the National Endowment for the Humanities, it appeared that the postwar "golden age" of American higher education was coming to an end. Dramatic episodes of student insurgency convulsed Berkeley, Columbia, and Cornell, as well as many lesser known campuses - protests against the Vietnam War and institutional racism, but also against bureaucracy and pedagogical formalism in colleges and universities. At Brown, these energies were a catalyst for the "New Curriculum" of 1969, which offered students unprecedented freedom in choosing courses, and which refashioned the university’s image and attracted a surge of applicants each year.

The Ivy League colleges now occupy a place of great privilege in American society, inextricably linked to dominant structures of economic and political power. Brown is no exception, though less conspicuous than Harvard as a nursery for political leaders. Its presidents and other members of the university have engaged in an ongoing quest for social and ethical relevance as well as for academic prestige and material resources. An ethnically and racially diverse student body has been deliberately maintained. Contributions have been made to the enrichment of Rhode Island schools, and to strengthening public education nationally. A special relationship has been established with Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Student volunteerism flourishes. Thus the search for social purpose goes hand in hand with the pursuit of academic excellence.

 Brown Curricular Reforms

Brown Alumni Monthly, February, 1953A challenging new approach to the first two years of college was undertaken in 1953 with a grant from the Carnegie Corporation. The principle of the program, officially named "The Identification and Criticism of Ideas," and referred to informally as the "I.C. Curriculum," was to "make a challenging classic the foundation of a course of study ... to discover the ideas originating or developed in the book, particularly those which have proved of long-range significance." Not just another "Great Books" course, this method of teaching would emphasize discussing rather than lecturing, analyzing rather than memorizing, and studying an idea rather than collecting information. Students who were drawn from the upper half of freshman and sophomore classes and gathered around special octagonal tables to facilitate their exchange of ideas. In 1958 the program became an integral part of the curriculum for all lower classes.

John Rowe Workman, New Horizons of Higher Education, 1959Professor John Rowe Workman's book, New Horizons of Higher Education: Innovation and Experimentation at Brown University, written in 1959, describing the impact of the I. C. Curriculum states:

"The curriculum of Brown University has undergone many changes since the institution was chartered in 1764. In each search for a curriculum the philosophy of education has been assessed and examined -- not for the first time at the end of World Wars I and II. The names of Manning and Wayland and Andrews are symbolic of curricular concern since the days of the University's foundation; they signify, in each instance, something of an educational revolution, and the impact of their reforms has transcended the Providence Plantations and the United States."

Ira Magaziner Presiding at a Discussion of the New Curriculum The New Curriculum of 1969 began as a Group Independent Study Project formed three years earlier by a group of students to study the curriculum at Brown and suggest changes that would improve their education. In March 1969 Ira Magaziner '69 and Elliott Maxwell '68 presented Draft of a Working Paper for Education at Brown University. In December the Special Committee on Curricular Philosophy was appointed with associate provost Paul Maeder as chairman. What came to be known as the "Maeder Report" was approved by the Faculty on May 8, 1969.

 

 Brown Leadership in Educational Reform

In 1963 Brown, with the support of the Ford Foundation, initiated an unusual experiment in the admission of "academic risks." After a survey of the success in life of graduates in the early 1950s in relation to their secondary school records, four freshman classes of which ten per cent were "risks" would be admitted and their progress followed.

The Coalition of Essential Schools was formed in 1984 at Brown under Professor Theodore Sizer. Research on A Study of High School, co-sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Commission of Educational Issues of the National Association of Independent Schools, had prompted school administrators and their colleagues at Brown to provide ideas for secondary school reform.

Three books by Sizer address the problems of fictional teacher Horace Smith of fictional Franklin High School: 

In 1984 Horace's Compromise: the Dilemma of the American High School (1984) looks at the situation in American high schools which prevents Horace from satisfying his own high standards of education.
Horace's School: Redesigning the American High School (1992) continues the story of Franklin High School and the design plan for the school arrived at by Horace's committee.
Horace's Hope: What Works for the American High School (1996) presents ideas which will "address the compromises that so trouble Horace Smith by providing channels and incentives for the creation of new schools or the redesign of existing schools ... This encourages Horace, keeps him at his work, and attracts imaginative and talented people into the school business."

The Old Mansion at Tougaloo College In 1964 Tougaloo College and Brown entered into a compact in which Brown volunteered to assist the struggling black college. Tougaloo, a coeducational liberal arts college with an enrollment of 520, sought help in improving the academic standards of its faculty and students, which Brown could provide by sending faculty to teach at Tougaloo, organizing a development program, and receiving Tougaloo students at Brown to prepare for graduate education. Professor Harold Pfautz of Brown, director of the program, went to Tougaloo from 1964 to 1966. Brown Chaplain Charles Baldwin, who served as interim president in 1987, said of the experience: "The Brown community has both benefitted from and contributed to this relationship ... What President Keeney saw at the outset has proven to be the case. This involvement with Tougaloo College has kept Brown alert to and involved in the larger issues of our society. [more information about this program]

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