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W. W. Charters (1875–1952)

Professor and director of the Bureau of Educational Research at Ohio State University, Werrett Wallace Charters contributed to the fields of curriculum development and audiovisual technology. Born in Hartford, Ontario (Canada), Charters earned his A.B. in 1898 from McMaster University, a teaching diploma from the Ontario Normal College in 1899, a B.Pd. from the University of Toronto, and his M.Ph. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, respectively in 1903 and 1904. After a three-year career in Canadian public schools as a teacher and principal, Charters spent the remainder of his career in the United States. Before joining Ohio State University in 1928, Charters served as a faculty member and/or dean at six institutions: the State Normal School in Winona, Minnesota, the University of Missouri, the University of Illinois, the Carnegie Institute for Technology, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Chicago. In 1923 Charters was awarded an honorary doctorate from McMaster University.

In his earliest scholarship, Charters attempted to develop what he called a "functional" theory of instruction derived from the ideas of the Progressive educator John Dewey (who, despite having discouraged Charters from pursuing doctoral study, had served as his doctoral adviser). In his first book, Methods of Teaching, Charters maintained that the function of school subject matter was "to satisfy needs and solve problems" faced by society (pp. 3,31). A school's program of curriculum and instruction would put into practice this conception of subject matter by introducing subject matter when it addressed an actual or potential student need, enabling students to perceive its function. Charters discussed ways to organize subject matter and teaching to achieve such conditions, indicating, among other things, that students should not only be told about, but also should be allowed to "construct" functions of subject matter for themselves. Although he continued to embrace the notion of "functional" education, subsequently Charter's work departed significantly from Dewey's educational theory.

Charters's most significant contribution to the field of curriculum development came in the form of his activity-analysis approach to curriculum construction. Activity analysis essentially involved specification of the discrete tasks or activities involved in any social activity. For purposes of curriculum construction, the resulting specifications translated into program objectives. Activity analysis was considered a "scientific" approach to curriculum construction insofar as it represented a quantification of human activities as a basis for selecting educational objectives. Because activity analysis often amounted to little more than an accounting of tasks, critics of the approach characterized it as "scientism" in curriculum work and rejected it as overly mechanistic.

Charters's version of activity analysis differed from those of his contemporaries largely in terms of the emphasis that he placed on the inclusion of social ideals in the curriculum. In 1923 Charters articulated seven "rules" that governed curriculum construction.

  1. Identify major educational aims through a study of contemporary social circumstances.
  2. Classify the major aims into ideals and activities and reduce them to operational objectives.
  3. Prioritize the aims and objectives.
  4. Reprioritize the aims and objectives to lend greater importance to those relevant to children's experience than to those relevant to adults but remote from children.
  5. Identify those aims and objectives achievable within the constraints of the school setting, relegating those best accomplished outside the school to extraschool experiences.
  6. Identify materials and methods conducive to the achievement of the selected aims and objectives.
  7. Order materials and methods consist with principles of child psychology.

Charters's approach to curriculum construction influenced a generation of curriculum scholars, including George S. Counts, Ralph W. Tyler, and Hilda Taba.

During the latter part of his career, Charters focused his attention on audiovisual education. In his book Motion Pictures and Youth, Charters summarized a series of twelve studies that he had directed that investigated the effects of motion pictures on children and youth. Among the earliest of their kind, these studies examined attendance at and content of movies and how they influenced children. In addition to ascertaining the retention of information from movies, the studies found that children and youth accepted movie content as true and that movies could exert a significant influence on attitudes. In his summary, Charters recognized not only that motion pictures were "a potent medium of education"(p.60), but also that films were potentially miseducative. Charters concluded that film clearly was a powerful source of information and attitudes, but that the extent of its influence on children and youth relative to other institutions, such as the home, church, and school, remained unclear.

Charters's contributions to scholarship were dwarfed, however, by his managerial and organizational accomplishments. In addition to directing the Bureau of Educational Research at Ohio State University from 1928 to 1942, Charters directly or indirectly managed numerous educational projects. These include codirecting the Commonwealth Teacher Training Study (1929), founding the Institute for Education by Radio (1930) and the Journal of Higher Education, serving on the United States Senate Committee on Racketeering (1933–1934), and conducting evaluations of pharmaceutical and library education programs and of the United States Armed Forces Institute (1942).



CHARTERS, W. W. 1909. Methods of Teaching, Developed From a Functional Standpoint. Chicago: Row, Peterson.

CHARTERS, W. W. 1923. Curriculum Construction. New York: Macmillan.

CHARTERS, W. W. 1935. Motion Pictures and Youth: A Summary. New York: Macmillan.

PATTY, WILLIAM L. 1938. A Study of Mechanism in Education. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

ROSENSTOCK, SHELDON A. 1983. "The Educational Contributions of Werrett Wallace Charters." Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University.


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Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineEducation Encyclopedia: AACSB International - Program to Septima Poinsette Clark (1898–1987)