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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
May 1, 2000
Vol. 57
No. 8

Books of the Century

    The Museum of Education features Ralph W. Tyler's Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction.

      Has anyone exerted more influence on the education field in the past 50 years than Ralph W. Tyler (1902–1994)? Designer of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP); a guide of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965; a founder of the National Academy of Education; director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University; father in the field of educational evaluation; and education advisor to five U.S. presidents: Ralph Tyler has helped shape our educational system.
      Reprinted dozens of times and translated into many languages, Tyler's Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction has been called the bible of curriculum design (Jackson, 1992). First published in 1949, the book remains in print today.
      Tyler began teaching a curriculum development course at the University of Chicago in the 1930s while enmeshed in the work of the Progressive Educational Association's Eight-Year Study (1932–1940), a nationwide effort to experiment with new forms of secondary education. Instead of assigning a text, he prepared a 70-page syllabus in which he posed four fundamental questions, now the basis for the Tyler Rationale: What educational purposes should the school seek to have? What educational experiences will lead to fulfilling these purposes? How can these educational experiences be effectively organized? How can we determine whether these purposes are met?
      The Tyler Rationale provided much-needed structure for the pubescent field of curriculum development and offered specific knowledge to those in the emerging professional role of curriculum supervisor. As administrative staffs increased dramatically during the 1950s and 1960s, knowledge of the Tyler Rationale defined the administrator's role as different from the teacher's role and shaped the new position of curriculum specialist.
      Those sections of Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction that describe the selection and evaluation of objectives remain insightful and applicable for today's efforts to focus the curriculum. Readers should examine Tyler's text, however, for curriculum integration between secondary and postsecondary education, an often overlooked topic that and which constituted Tyler's work during the time he prepared the syllabus. Basic Principles then becomes a primer for developing resource units, core curriculum, undifferentiated structure, continuity, sequence, and integration—fundamental theories and practices that continue to guide our educational system today.

      In Their Own Words

      In identifying important organizing principles, it is necessary to note that the criteria, continuity, sequence, and integration apply to the experiences of the learner and not to the way in which these matters may be viewed by someone already in command of the elements to be learned. Thus, continuity involves the recurring emphasis in the learner's experience upon these particular elements; sequence refers to the increasing breadth and depth of the learner's development; and integration refers to the learner's increased unity of behavior in relating to the elements involved. This means that the organizing principles need to be considered in terms of their psychological significance to the learner.

      —Ralph W. Tyler, Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction.


      Jackson, P. W. (1992). Conceptions of curriculum and curriculum specialists. In P. W. Jackson (Ed.), Handbook of research on curriculum (pp. 3–40). New York: Macmillan.

      Tyler, R. W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

      Craig Kridel has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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