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Florence Stratemeyer (1900–1980)

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Faculty member at Teachers College, Columbia University, from 1930 through 1965, Florence Barbara Stratemeyer was a founding figure in the field of teacher education and curriculum.

Stratemeyer was born in Detroit and from 1917 through 1919 attended the Western State Teachers College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she earned a diploma and license in elementary teaching. She spent 1920 through 1921 teaching at the Detroit Teachers College. In 1921 to 1922 she taught in the Brady Elementary School in Detroit. She then came to Teachers College, Columbia University, and in 1923 earned a bachelor of science degree; in 1927 she completed the master of arts degree and the Ph.D in 1931. Her dissertation title was "The Effective Use of Curriculum Materials: A Study of Units Relating to the Curriculum to Be Included in the Professional Preparation of Elementary Teachers." This was a compendium of the curriculum and the critical questions future elementary teachers should deal with in their programs of teacher preparation. From 1929 to 1930 she was an associate in the Teachers College teacher education program, and from 1924 to 1929 she served as a research associate in the Teachers College Bureau of Curriculum Research. Stratemeyer became assistant professor in Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College in 1930, was promoted to associate professor in 1936, and to full professor in 1942. In the early 1930s she was part of a group of faculty who developed a nontraditional approach to teacher education based on direct experience and more active forms of learning. This model was called New College.

The idea was that if future teachers participated in active problem solving during their teacher preparation, this would ensure that they would be likely to pursue this method with children in their future teaching. The students in New College therefore did not simply read about problems and issues but sought to become directly involved. If they were studying strikes they went to Pittsburgh and inter-viewed management and labor. They did not simply read about communism but traveled to Russia to observe and experience it. In 1934 Stratemeyer spent the summer in Nazi Germany with students from New College.

From these early efforts it is possible to see how Stratemeyer was beginning to evolve in her approach to curriculum study and teacher preparation. The method used was the project method and the learning approach was based on connecting the interests of the learner with direct experiences. The curriculum was organized around the basic life functions performed by all individuals in any form of social order.

Stratemeyer contributed several important books to the field of curriculum. With H. B. Brunner she coauthored Rating Elementary School Courses of Study (1926). There can be no question that her major book was Developing a Curriculum for Modern Living (1947), with coauthors Hamden L. Forkner and Margaret McKim. In 1948 she wrote School and Community Laboratory Experiences in Teacher Education.

Stratemeyer's influence in teacher education far exceeded that of anyone in the United States during her service as a faculty member in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. There were essentially three reasons for her great influence. First was the power of her theory of persistent life problems faced by all learners of all ages in all societies. Stratemeyer believed that the subjects and disciplines taught in schools and universities were not there because of intrinsic validity but because the learner needed this basic knowledge as an cornerstone for trying to deal with persistent life problems effectively.

In Developing a Curriculum for Modern Living, she argued that the persistent problems of living were related to health, intellectual power, moral choices, aesthetics, interpersonal relations, group relations, dealing with the physical world, technology, and economic and political structures. In this scheme the subject matters (e.g. mathematics, science, art, and so forth) are regarded as instrumentalities that provide students at all levels with a way to deal with the essential problems of living that they will face at all stages of their development. This theory resonated with professional teacher educators, who knew that future teachers needed more than the discrete required courses, but were unsure of just why future teachers should study these things and how such knowledge might apply to the curriculum being offered children and youth.

Stratemeyer's work legitimized the offering of general education and specialization (i.e., college majors) to future teachers. Although few colleges of liberal arts have used her theory and still generally offer future teachers only a list of required courses and the compilation of such coursework into traditional majors or areas of specialization, her theory of persistent life problems became a fundamental part of all doctoral students' preparation for becoming teacher educators. Various abbreviated versions of persistent life problems have been widely adopted in elementary schools.

The second reason for her great influence over the field of curriculum in teacher education were the number and quality of her doctoral students, who were scattered across America and became well-known teacher educators and school of education deans. One of her earliest doctoral students was Margaret Lindsey, who then joined her in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College. Together Stratemeyer and Lindsey turned out several hundred doctoral students who had an impact on teacher education that is hard to overestimate.

Stratemeyer helped to create a specialized audience for her work. From 1940 to 1965 schools of education were either expanding rapidly or starting up. Stratemeyer's influence over these institutions resulted from her being able to stock them with teacher education faculty who were generalists rather than specialized teacher educators, limited by narrow definitions of content (e.g., teacher educator of secondary science, teacher educator in reading, and so forth). Stratemeyer's work then influenced curriculum in teacher education on three levels: (1) as a way of conceiving teacher education for grander purposes than the mastery of traditional college courses;(2) as a way of placing doctoral students who shared her views into critically important positions; and (3) as a way for helping deans and leaders of teacher education explain why there should be schools of education and what people needed to learn and do with children that could best be taught in such places.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

STRATEMEYER, FLORENCE B. 1931. The Effective Use of Curriculum Material: A Study of Units Relating to the Curriculum to Be Included in the Professorial Preparation of Elementary Teachers. Ph.D. diss., Columbia University.

STRATEMEYER, FLORENCE B., and BRUNER, HERBERT B. 1926. Rating Elementary School Courses of Study, New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, Bureau of Publications.

STRATEMEYER, FLORENCE B.; FORKNER, HAMDEN L.; and MCKIM, MARGARET M. 1947. Developing a Curriculum for Modern Living. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, Bureau of Publications.

STRATEMEYER, FLORENCE B., and LINDSEY, MARGARET. 1958. Working with Student Teachers. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, Bureau of Publications.

MARTIN HABERMAN

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over 8 years ago

I was a student of Dr. Statemeyer's at Teachers College, Columbia University 1941-1943. For 44 years, I was a successful elementry teacher, principal and supervisor of student teachers at Eastern Oregon College of Education, State Teachers College at Platteville, Wisconsin and Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois.

My last 30 years I served as principal and elementary administrative assistant in Decatur Public Schools. At age 94, I often think of Dr.Stratemeyer and the influence she had upom methods used.