Teacher, engineer, historian, educational theorist, and student of psychology and sociology, Harold Rugg (1886-1960) was one of the most versatile educators associated with the progressive education movement.
Harold Ordway Rugg, son of Edward and Merion Abbie (Davidson) Rugg, was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1886. His father was a carpenter. Following his graduation from high school in Fitchburg, Rugg worked for two years in a textile mill before he enrolled in Dartmouth College. At Dartmouth he earned his B.S. degree in 1908 and a graduate degree in civil engineering in 1909.
Upon leaving Dartmouth, Rugg worked briefly for the Missouri Pacific Railroad and then taught civil engineering for about a year at James Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. In 1911 he entered the University of Illinois, where he taught engineering and did graduate work in education and sociology under the direction of William C. Bagley. On September 4, 1912, Rugg married Bertha Miller; they adopted two children. The marriage was the first of three for Rugg, two of which ended in divorce. Rugg completed his Ph.D. program in 1915 and in the fall of that year moved on to the University of Chicago, where he taught and carried on research in the fields of administration and educational statistics under Charles H. Judd. The experience Rugg gained at Chicago led in turn to a post with Edward L. Thorndike's U.S. Army Committee on the Classification of Personnel during World War I. The work with Thorndike was noteworthy in that it was the first widespread attempt to test adults for aptitudes and intelligence.
Rugg returned to Chicago after the war and spent another year working with Judd. He left Chicago in January of 1920 to accept an appointment at Teachers College, Columbia University, and remained a member of the Teachers College faculty for some 30 years.
During his stint with the Thorndike committee, Rugg had become interested in the work of a number of contemporary social critics, and his intellectual interests began to shift from engineering and statistics to the social sciences. These new interests continued to develop during his early years at Columbia, and Rugg quickly gained national recognition, as well as lasting influence, as a leader in the field of curriculum design. He was noted both for his innovative efforts to unify the social sciences and for his empirical methods of selecting content for the social studies curriculum.
Many of Rugg's novel ideas concerning curriculum development were implemented in his 14-volume social studies textbook series, published under the general title "Man and His Changing Society" between 1929 and 1940. (Louise Krueger, who had become Rugg's second wife on August 25, 1930—they had one child—assisted with the preparation of eight of the books.) Rugg's attempt to provide an accurate account of the strengths and weaknesses of American society in the textbooks brought him a degree of notoriety rarely duplicated in academic circles. Although the books were warmly received and widely read when they first appeared, the series was considered subversive in some conservative quarters and as a result was eventually dropped by most of the school districts that had used it. The controversy over the Rugg books led to one of the stormiest and most sensational cases of textbook censorship in the history of American education. It is still a highly instructive case study.
Apart from his professorship at Teachers College, where he also served as educational psychologist at the experimental Lincoln School, Rugg was involved in a number of other significant educational activities. He was, for instance, one of the charter members of the John Dewey Society and one of the founders of the National Council for the Social Studies. In 1934 he helped organize The Social Frontier, a journal highly regarded for its social and educational analysis from the liberal point of view. Rugg later edited the journal after it had been renamed Frontiers of Democracy. He also served for over a decade as social studies editor of Senior Scholastic and for 11 years as editor of the Journal of Educational Psychology. At various times in his career he was an educational consultant or visiting lecturer in the Middle East, the Far East, Western Europe, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition, he came to be generally acknowledged as an unofficial delegate of the American Progressive Education Association to the international New Education Fellowship.
Rugg's work reflected most of the significant developments in American education during the first half of the 20th century, when progressive education was in its ascendancy. Early in his career—between 1915 and 1920, for example—he was involved in the pioneering attempts to apply the quantitative methods of science to educational problems. Then in the 1920s he was identified with the popular "child-centered" approach to teaching. His two most important books during this early phase of his career were Statistical Methods Applied to Education (1917), which became a standard in the field, and The Child-Centered School (1926, with Ann Shumaker), which historian Lawrence A. Cremin refers to as "the characteristic progressivist work of the twenties."
During and after the 1930s Rugg was a leading spokes-person for the reconstructionist point of view—that is, the view that formal education could, and should, be utilized as an agent of social change. Indeed, by virtue of his textbooks Rugg was the only reconstructionist who managed to present his views to significant numbers of students, at least temporarily. In 1947 he published Foundations for American Education, long the most comprehensive treatment of the subject, and the 1950s found him in the front rank of those searching for the secrets of the creative process.
Rugg is probably best remembered for his contributions to social reconstructionism during the Great Depression. In that period he published three of his most important books: Culture and Education in America (1931), The Great Technology (1933), and American Life and the School Curriculum (1936). All three were concerned with the problems of contemporary American society and the role of the school in solving them. Taken together, these three volumes are a comprehensive statement of Rugg's mature thought.
Due to his concern with creativity, Rugg's reconstructionism differed somewhat from that of his colleagues. Rugg was convinced that in addition to the social engineering endorsed by other reconstructionists, the good society required personal integrity on a large scale and, further, that integrity could be nurtured through creative self-expression. Consequently, he consistently sought to enlarge the scope of creative activities in the school curriculum.
Following his retirement in 1951, Rugg continued his study of creativity for the remaining nine years of his life. He died in 1960 at Woodstock, New York, his home since his marriage in 1947 to his third wife, Elizabeth May Howe Page.
Rugg's final book, Imagination, which represented the culmination of his career-long effort to understand the creative process, was published posthumously in 1963.
Although there is no full-scale biography of Rugg, his own That Men May Understand (1941) is a semi-autobiographical work. Biographical sketches may be found in National Cyclopedia of American Biography (1943-1946) and Twentieth Century Authors: First Supplement (1955). William H. Fisher provides a good overview of Rugg's career in The Educational Forum (March 1978), and Lawrence A. Cremin's Transformation of the School (1961) is an excellent background study. Peter F. Carbone, Jr., The Social and Educational Thought of Harold Rugg (1977), is the only book-length, published study of Rugg's work. Carbone also analyzes Rugg's theory of knowledge and views on creativity in The Journal of Creative Behavior (Spring 1969) and the History of Education Quarterly (Fall 1971). Franklin Parker describes the Rugg textbook controversy in the Midwest Quarterly (Autumn 1961), and Sanford W. Reitman discusses Rugg's reconstructionism in Educational Theory (Winter 1962). The July 1960 issue of Educational Theory contains a four-part memoir on Rugg. □