William Heard Kilpatrick Essay

William Heard Kilpatrick was a progressive educator and influential interpreter of John Dewey’s educational philosophy. A native of Georgia, Kilpatrick began his career teaching in the public schools and at Mercer University (GA). In 1908, he became a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University. John Dewey, his major professor, said of him, “He was the best student I ever had.” In 1911, Kilpatrick attained a full-time faculty appointment in philosophy of education at Teachers College.

Kilpatrick’s rise in educational circles began with the 1918 publication of his article “The Project Method” in the Teachers College Record. Kilpatrick’s progressive education message maintained that schools must be child-centered, democratic, and socially oriented. His popularity was such that the New York City press called him “Columbia’s MillionDollar Professor” because of the tuition his 35,000 students (1911–1937) generated for Columbia University. In his retirement, Kilpatrick was the first president of the John Dewey Society.

Kilpatrick’s major works include Foundations of Method (1925), Selfhood and Civilization: A Study of the Self–Other Process (1941), and Philosophy of Education (1951). Lasting innovations derived from his work include classroom projects, activity-based learning, cooperative learning, and the experiential elements of the middle school movement. These student-centered practices, along with Kilpatrick’s unswerving commitment to democratic principles in the schools, form the bedrock of his legacy.


  1. Beineke, J. A. (1998). And there were giants in the land: The life of William Heard Kilpatrick. New York: Peter Lang.