Cardinal Principles Of Secondary Education Essay

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A thirty-two-page booklet published in 1918, Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, radically changed the curricular and social objectives of the nation’s public secondary schools. Largely due to mass immigration, urbanization, and industrialization, the nation’s relatively young, public, secondary institutions began to see a sharp increase in enrollment. Concerned with the democratic education of the growing industrial nation, the National Education Association appointed twenty-seven members to the Committee on the Reorganization of Secondary Education, which produced the booklet.

In the wake of World War I, the nation’s political and economic climate was peculiarly conducive to the social agenda set forth in Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education. The publication outlined seven principles meant to guide the social, moral, and intellectual development of American public school children between the ages of twelve and eighteen and sought to educate both emergent self and citizen to best realize the nation’s democratic ideals.

The first principle, Health, undertook to educate youth about the habits necessary to promote and maintain a hygienic, physically active nation. Acknowledging the need for students to master remedial academic skills including reading, writing, and arithmetic, Command of Fundamental Processes followed as the second principle. The third principle, Worthy Home Membership, sought to prepare young men and women, through “household arts” and academic disciplines, to value the home and family as the foundational institution of the larger society. Vocation, the fourth principle, was concerned with training future workers in specific manual occupations and “right relations” with coworkers so that they might better support their families and contribute to society. Rather than a study of “constitutional questions and remote governmental functions,” the fifth principle, Civic Education, was primarily concerned with instilling students with a sense of civic pride and duty from the local to the national level. An objective made possible by the relative national prosperity, the sixth principle, Worthy Use of Leisure, sought to teach young adults to balance the interests of culture and the arts with those of vocational obligations. Informing all of the preceding principles, the seventh, Ethical Character, intended to shape an individual’s code of moral conduct that she or he might better serve democratic principles.

During the early part of the twentieth century, sweeping social, political, and economic changes gave rise to a cultural dynamic that demanded reform of established institutions. The nation’s public schools retain the ideological vestiges of the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education derived almost a century ago.


  1. Beck, R. (1976). A history of issues in secondary education. In W. VanTil (Ed.), Issues in secondary education (pp. 30–64). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Education. (1937).
  2. Cardinal principles of secondary education (Bulletin, 1918, No. 35). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  3. Educational Policies Commission. (1938). The purposes of education in American democracy. Washington, DC: NEA of the U.S and the American Association of School Administrators.

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