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H. B. Alberty (1890–1971)

Harold Bernard Alberty, professor of education at The Ohio State University, was a pioneer in the field of curriculum. Born in Lockport, New York, Alberty attended rural schools in northeastern Ohio. In 1912 he graduated from Baldwin University (now Baldwin-Wallace College) in Berea, Ohio. He began teaching the eighth grade during his senior year of college. In 1913 he graduated from Cleveland Law School and was admitted to the Ohio bar. Alberty was promised a position in the law firm of one of his teachers, but that teacher died suddenly. Alberty was unable to find another position in law and continued to teach. He found teaching fascinating and promotions came quickly. Although still determined to practice law, Alberty realized he needed additional education in school administration and entered graduate school at the Ohio State University in the summer of 1920. The final summer of his master's degree program he enrolled in a course taught by Boyd H. Bode, "Modern Educational Theories," that forcefully challenged Alberty's educational beliefs. Although their views differed on a number of accounts, Bode recognized Alberty's talent and offered him an assistantship in the department to continue his studies. Alberty was later appointed to the faculty.

Heavily influenced by Bode's thinking, Alberty began to explore the educational implications of experimentalism. School administration, teacher education, and the relatively new field of curriculum engaged his interest. In 1931 he published Supervision in the Secondary School with Vivian T. Thayer. In this publication the authors argued that school supervisors should be curriculum leaders and that, contrary to established patterns, leadership in the schools ought to be democratic. They asserted that "the ultimate criterion of a supervisor's success [is] that the school in its organization within and without the classroom shall contribute towards the preparation of boys and girls for an intelligent participation in democratic citizenship" (p. 94). The implications of democracy for school practice became a central theme running throughout Alberty's thirty-five-year career at Ohio State.

One aspect of Alberty's work focused on the kind of general education needed for effective citizenship–education, as he wrote, that would "facilitate building, on the part of each pupil, of an independent social outlook on life" (1933, p. 273). He contrasted general education, required of all citizens, with specialized education, designed to develop individual talents and interests, and sought to create balance between these two types. Alberty assisted in the Eight-Year Study sponsored by the Progressive Education Association. In 1937 and 1938 he served as a member of the study's curriculum staff, aiding participating school faculties in clarifying their aims, helping them, in the words of Wilford Aikin, director of the study, "[to see] the social significance of their work and to give it direction" (p. 190). He worked with faculty in all the participating schools, including the Ohio State University School.

In addition, Alberty served on a committee associated with the Eight-Year Study that explored the place of science in general education. The committee's report, Science in General Education (1939), written by Alberty, reflected a conception of general education that Alberty described earlier in these words: "It must … be based upon the interests and needs of adolescents in our culture to the extent that they can be discovered; and … it must meet these needs and cultivate these interests in such a way as to contribute to the understanding, reconstruction, and refinement of the democratic way of life" (1937, p. 388). Alberty's work on the curriculum staff and in general education influenced his decision to accept the directorship of the Ohio State University School, a position he held from 1938 to 1941. As director, Alberty was provided the opportunity to further develop his curricular ideas and to assist the faculty to produce a guiding philosophy statement, one that helped teachers to understand the place of the disciplines in general education.

In 1941 Alberty chaired a committee charged with the task of writing a guiding philosophy for the Progressive Education Association. The document that was produced drew heavily on Alberty's prior experience with the faculties associated with the Eight-Year Study. It presented a moderate position between two extreme factions of the PEA, the child-centered and social-reformist positions. Alberty's compromise pleased no one. Association members failed to agree to a platform; this, over time, contributed to its decline.

As director of the Ohio State University School and in his work with the faculties of the Eight-Year Study schools, Alberty sought to make sense of the range of curriculum work being done in general education. There were no specific guidelines to participation in the study; the hope was that school faculties would experiment with the curriculum. Considering the diversity of the schools and seeking a model that would be useful for curriculum development, Alberty generated a conceptual framework, called core, that included five types, or approaches, to general education. These types were generated from his study of school curricula but were formulated logically to reflect degrees of subject matter integration. Over time the model evolved. Type 1 was a separate subject design, where academic subjects were taught individually and the content was unrelated to the other subjects. In Type 2, correlated curriculum, formal connections were made among the disciplines but they were taught separately. Type 3, fusion, unified subject areas and organized the curriculum around themes or perhaps time periods. Alberty's preference was for Type 4, which was developed at the Ohio State University School, where the subject matter was organized around broad units, often chosen in consultation with students, and reflecting an understanding of the shared interests, common problems, and social issues facing young people. Type 5 was entirely driven by teacher-student planned activities without reference to formal structure. The work of the Eight-Year Study proved that a significant departure from the traditional subject-centered curriculum for general education, particularly Types 1, 2, and 3, had a positive effect on student learning. Unfortunately, this lesson was lost in post-Sputnik America, where a math-and science-focused curriculum was seen as the key to competing with the Soviet Union.

With the exception of Type 1, each of the approaches presented serious challenges to teachers. Alberty pioneered the resource unit as a means for replacing textbooks that dominated the curriculum and stifled innovation. Generated by teachers for teachers, the resource unit presented and organized instructional materials in ways that supported content integration. He worked tirelessly to further the cause of the core curriculum, believing that Type 4, usually taught in a block of time, was the best approach to secondary general education. His full argument is presented in Reorganizing the High School Curriculum, which went through three editions (1947, 1953, 1962), each of which was recognized by the National Education Association as a "Best Book." Despite the passage of time, the framework remains a useful departure point for thinking about curriculum reform, particularly cross-disciplinary or interdisciplinary curriculum design. The books themselves are unique in a number of respects, including how each presents the results of Alberty's ongoing engagement with curriculum issues with his students and in consultation with practitioners and his struggle to strengthen the link between democracy, democratic citizenship, and public education.


AIKIN, WILFORD. "Division of High-School and College Relations." 1936. Educational Research Bulletin October 14, p. 190. Columbus: Ohio State University.

ALBERTY, HAROLD B. Papers. Columbus: The Ohio State University Archives.

ALBERTY, HAROLD B. 1933. "Supervision as a Means of Integrating the Total Secondary Program." Schoolman's Week Proceedings 20:273.

ALBERTY, HAROLD B. 1937. "Philosophy of General Education with Some Implications for Science Teaching." Journal of Educational Method 16:237.

ALBERTY, HAROLD B. 1947. Reorganizing the High School Curriculum. New York: Macmillan.

ALBERTY, HAROLD B., and THAYER, VIVIAN T. 1931. Supervision in the Secondary School. Boston: D.C. Heath.

BULLOUGH, ROBERT V., JR. 1976. "Harold B. Alberty and Boyd H. Bode: Pioneers in Curriculum Theory." Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University.

LAWHEAD, VICTOR. 1996. "Harold Alberty, Teacher and Guide." In Teachers and Mentors: Profiles of Distinguished Twentieth-Century Professors of Education, ed. Craig Kridel, Robert V. Bullough, Jr., and Paul Shaker, pp. 151–162. New York: Garland.


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