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Harold Rugg (1886–1960)

Harold Rugg, a longtime professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, was one of the best-known educators during the era of Progressive education in the United States. He produced the first-ever series of school textbooks from 1929 until the early 1940s.

Rugg was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, the son of a carpenter. His early poverty seemed to preclude his attending college. Nevertheless, he was able to matriculate at Dartmouth College, graduating in 1908 with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and earning a graduate civil engineering degree from Dartmouth's Thayer School of Civil Engineering in 1909. Rugg worked briefly as a civil engineer, then taught civil engineering at Milliken University in Decatur, Illinois, where he grew interested in how students learn. This interest inspired him to gain a doctorate in education at the University of Illinois in 1915, and he began a college teaching career at the University of Chicago, where he taught until 1920. He then went to Teachers College at Columbia University, where he taught until his retirement in 1951. After his retirement he continued publishing books in education and also served as an educational consultant in Egypt and Puerto Rico.

The field of education was still in its formative stages when Rugg began his career, and he proceeded to have a major impact in a number of areas. Although Rugg was trained as an engineer and educational psychologist, his major initial impact was in the field of curriculum. Rugg applied his training to reassessing how curriculum was created. His editing of and writing in both the twenty-second and twenty-sixth yearbooks of the National Society for the Study of Education provided groundbreaking syntheses of the fields of social studies and general curriculum, respectively.

Rugg was a cofounder of the National Council for the Social Studies and edited yearbooks for a number of respected educational organizations. Rugg, however, did not get very involved in the duties and tasks of such organizations, instead concentrating on his own research and writing projects.

In 1922 Rugg assembled a team to create his Social Science Pamphlets, a series of booklets that comprised the social studies materials for junior high school (grades six to eight). These materials were adapted and published by Ginn and Company starting in 1929. Over the course of the next fifteen years Rugg and Ginn and Company would sell over 5 million textbooks, and the pattern of creating textbook series became a model in publishing still used in the early twenty-first century. With Louise Krueger, Rugg also developed an elementary education (grades one through eight) social studies textbook series in 1939. Unfortunately, Rugg's junior high textbooks were the subject of censorship efforts headed by the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Legion. In this controversy, these groups accused Rugg of anti-Americanism, socialist or communist leanings, as well as anticapitalism. He was not the only target of such accusations, with other Progressive educators also being so accused. Rugg, however, gained more notoriety because of the enormous popularity of his textbooks. In the 1940s the texts ceased to be published.

In 1928 Rugg cowrote his first major work, The Child-Centered School, which described the historical and contemporary basis for "child-centered" education. This work had a major impact on Progressive educators and remains an excellent explanation and critique of this topic. It also was one of the first treatises on the two major emphases within Progressive education–child centeredness and social reconstruction.

As Rugg's career progressed he became as much a critic and discussant of contemporary American culture as an educator. He was an outspoken Social Reconstructionist and a strong advocate of the reform programs of President Franklin Roosevelt. Indeed Rugg was outspoken in much that he did. He was a large man with a commanding presence. People had strong feelings about him, both negative and positive. Despite criticism, he was not easily intimidated and remained confident and hard driving in his work.

Rugg directed his attention primarily toward teacher education and foundations of education in the last years before his retirement. His books in these areas were well respected and received but did not have the lasting impact of his curriculum work. At his death Rugg was attempting to understand and explain creative thought, and his last book, Imagination, focused on this area and was published posthumously, not fully completed.


CARBONE, PETER. 1977. The Social and Educational Thought of Harold Rugg. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

JOHNSON, F. ERNEST. 1960. "Harold O. Rugg, 1886–1960." Educational Theory 10:176–181.

NELSON, MURRY R. 1977. "The Development of the Rugg Social Studies Program." Theory and Research in Social Education 5 (3):64–83.

NELSON, MURRY R. 1978. "Rugg on Rugg: The Curricular Ideas of Harold Rugg." Curriculum Inquiry 8:119–132.

RUGG, HAROLD, ed. 1927. The Foundations of Curriculum-Making: Twenty-Sixth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Bloomington, IL: Public School Publishing.

RUGG, HAROLD. 1929–1936. Man and His Changing Society, 6 vols. Boston: Ginn and Company.

RUGG, HAROLD. 1941. That Men May Understand. New York: Doubleday, Doran

RUGG, HAROLD, and SHUMAKER, ANN. 1928. The Child-Centered School: An Appraisal of the New Education. Yonkers-on-Hudson, NY: World Book.


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