A life nipped at the moment of full flowering.
The campanile tolled all through the September 26, 1960 memorial service for Dr. Dwight Kenneth Curtis, the Head of the Iowa State Teachers College Department of Teaching and 15-year Director of the Laboratory School. His sudden death at age 54 stunned the campus.
ISTC President J. W. Maucker noted that Curtis was a nationally recognized leader in the field of student teaching. He “gave generously of his time” to promote cooperation and understanding between the academic fields and the programs shaping the nation's new teachers. When he died, ISTC was the center of one of the largest student teaching programs in the country.
Curtis was born July 8, 1906 in Montrose, Iowa. He earned his bachelor of science degree from Northeast Missouri State Teachers College at Kirksville (now Truman State University) in 1931. A member of the school's track team, his 1931 two-mile time was a school record that lasted till the mid-1940s.
Following graduation, Curtis taught briefly in rural schools in Clark County, Missouri, but was soon called back to his alma mater in Kirksville to teach in and serve as principal of the Teachers College “Demonstration School.” This leadership role led him to further study, now at the University of Iowa. Curtis earned his M.A. degree in 1936 and his Ph.D. in 1942. During this time he also taught in the University of Iowa's Elementary School.
“Education for the community” was one of the major themes—and driving forces—of all Curtis's days. In 1944, he shared his graduate research in The Journal of Educational Research in an article titled “The Contribution of the Excursion to Understanding.” He noted there that in 1944, the U.S. did not widely use the excursion as a device to supplement classroom teaching. To test the merit of classroom excursions, Curtis divided the 32 children in his fifth grade class at the University of Iowa's laboratory school into two groups. Both groups would participate in his unit on erosion and soil conservation. The problem he wished his fifth graders to address was: How can soil erosion be prevented? Specifically, he wanted his students to study 1) What causes water concentration? 2) How do water courses grow? 3) How can rate of runoff be controlled? and 4) How can amount of run-off be controlled? The two groups had identical classroom instruction; however, only one group enjoyed supplemental excursions.
Curtis then evaluated his students' learning by four different measures. He found that those with the excursion experience were able to apply more principles and see more relations and “to stay on the pertinent aspects of the problem longer in response to follow-up questions” than the pupils without the supplemental excursions. Curtis's conclusions included his recommendation that schools “include a unit on erosion and conservation of soil at the upper grade level of the elementary school.” His final careful judgment was this: “Instead of recommending that a certain part of the time allotted to science and social studies be given to excursions, the writer recommends that the excursion be used as a major instrument of instruction in cases where illustration of the subject matter is readily accessible in the community, and especially in cases where the concrete experiences of the pupils have been limited.”
This journal article can be seen as the culmination of Curtis's early work in Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska. After earning his Ph.D., Curtis became Director of the Teacher Training School and head of the Department of Teaching at Nebraska State Teachers College in Chadron in 1943. In 1945, Iowa State Teachers College hired him away for a similar role.
During his first summer on the Cedar Falls campus, Curtis demonstrated use of visual aids at the Elementary Students and Teachers Conference which focused on “School and Family Relations.” He also took part in a panel on “Art and Its Relationship to Living,” along with Illa May Talley, the supervisor of art at the Campus School, as tie-in to the exhibit of art created by the school's summer school students.
In 1946, Curtis was one of 15 “experts” who met to discuss plans for training teachers of driver education. ISTC made its first plans for a campus driving range which would include curves, intersections, signals, and signs. ISTC also hosted the Iowa Congress of Parent and Teachers Conference; its theme, “Better Teamwork for Home and School.” In the fall, Curtis joined three Campus School faculty for a weekly KXEL radio series titled “Learning to Live.” That December, Curtis and first grade supervisor Margaret LaPray; intermediate teacher Bernice Helff, and Dr. Al Potter from the high school science department, gave radio counsel on: “What Can Schools Do About Christmas?”
In February 1947, the Campus School took 32 of its students to visit the Iowa legislature in session in Des Moines. This “excursion” was designed to enable the students in the American history, government, and community living classes to understand better the mechanics of democracy. Curtis explained that “Experience with government in democracy, in and out of school, is necessary during the time children are attending school if they are intelligently to participate in a democratic government in later life.”
Two months later, Curtis turned his eyes to the many World War II veterans, not only filling the ISTC campus, but campuses throughout the Midwest. Looking for teachers for the Campus School staff, Curtis had toured the state universities of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri. Everywhere, he told the College Eye, he saw veteran students underfed. “Two hamburgers, an order of French fries and a sweet pickle is a typical meal of unmarried veterans attending six leading midwestern universities,” he explained. Vegetable and fruits were almost completely lacking in these veterans' diets, he said, because “restaurant facilities on and off campus are not prepared to handle such an influx of students.” In addition, most veterans were living on $65 a month, so could not afford to eat more than the minimum “as food prices [were] so high.” The college towns were so overcrowded that jobs were “virtually non-existent”; therefore, the veteran had little way to augment his or her slim government allowance. “The problem is very serious,” Curtis stressed, “for the veteran now attending a large university is sacrificing his health to gain an education.”
Curtis also found in the Midwest a sobering state for 1947 education: “I found very few people are taking advanced training which will prepare them to train teachers, and most of those who are studying to be instructors in teaching are concentrating in the secondary field rather than the elementary field.”
That April 1947, Curtis chaired a session on “The New Industrial Arts Curriculum” at the convention of the National Association of Industrial Arts” held in Pittsburgh. During the summer, visiting ISTC's three branch summer schools in Corning, Denison, and Estherville, Curtis “made a strong appeal to the rural teachers in his audience to be extremely careful to make their teaching real and meaningful to the boys and girls.”
In 1947, the College Eye reported that “Every student meets Dr. Curtis before graduating Teachers College, because it is his job to assign student teaching positions.” In 1947, ISTC required a minimum of 10 hours of student teaching for an elementary certificate, and 6 hours of student teaching for a secondary teacher certificate. After a 10 minute interview, Curtis would assign each prospective student teacher to a position at the Campus School, or in Hudson, Greeley, or one of the five cooperating schools in Waterloo. During the 1947 Spring quarter, 147 students completed training under his guidance. In the summer, 92 more ISTC students taught. If the 147 figure for the spring quarter was typical of the three other quarters, some 680 ISTC students student taught in 1947. And as 1947 closed, the Campus School gave its annual holiday program. Mildred Luce, an instructor of music at the school, led the girls' chorus, the boys' chorus, and the mixed chorus. The College Eye reported that “Carols of other lands as well as Native American carols constituted the first and most serious part of the program.”
In 1949, ISTC hosted the conference of the Iowa Association of Student Teaching. Dr. Thomas Horn, elementary principal at the Campus School, chaired a panel on “Guarding the Student in the Professional Laboratory Experience,” while Curtis described “The Principles of the New Standards” set by the American Association of Teachers Colleges. Curtis was a consultant for the AATC standards and survey sub-committee and a member of the Executive Committee of the National Association for Student Teaching.
In the fall of 1950, the Iowa Commission on Teacher Education and Professional Standards issued Curtis's booklet which proposed, and then answered, the question: “What is a Good Teacher Education and Certification Program?” Curtis advocated orientation to teaching during the freshman year. Orientation by books alone cannot do the job, he wrote. Instead, the orientation period should provide a variety of experiences connected with teaching to help students assess their own abilities in light of the demands of teaching. Curtis began also that fall a new type of Elementary School Conference at ISTC. He brought together some 120 teachers, supervisors, and school administrators in close workshop interaction—whereas previous conferences segregated the groups.
From this time, Curtis's national influence grew. In August 1951, he led a week-long workshop at New York State Teachers College in Fredonia. Sponsored by the American Association For Student Teaching, the workshop focused on ways to improve professional laboratory experiences in teacher education. Attending were supervisors of student teachers, members of campus laboratory schools, teachers of special methods courses, and teachers in colleges, universities, and public schools. The January 1952 issue of Education offered Curtis's co-authored article on the Fredonia Workshop. His recommendations were these: that student teaching should be the most important of professional experiences of prospective teachers; that those in charge of student teaching programs be highly trained and competent in guiding the learning experiences of children and/or youth; that counseling services be established, not only for students in training, but also for graduates in the early years of their professional careers. His final (and characteristic) recommendation was for schools to recognize the value of non-school laboratory experiences and the endless inter-relationship between education and the community.
In April 1952, Curtis was invited to give the graduation address for the United States Air Force University at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama—and also to serve as a consultant for the University's instructional program. Curtis addressed those graduating from the Academic Instructor course which included some 120 officers, airmen, and civilians. That summer, ISTC launched its M.A. degree program in education. The next year, Curtis was one of several authors of The Student Teacher in the Secondary School.
In February 1954, Curtis chaired a program on improving pre-student teaching laboratory experiences at the National Association of Student Teaching conference in Chicago. In November, he led a discussion on “The Social Studies Teacher and the Community” at the meeting of the National Council of Social Studies in Indianapolis. His book, titled Guiding Your Student Teacher, also appeared. Co-authored with Leonard O. Andrews of Ohio State University, it was the first book written for those who were supervising student teachers. “Since there has been a trend toward student teaching off-campus, using public school personnel as instructors and counselors,” Curtis and Leonard noted, their book was “designed to be helpful to those personnel who are far-removed from college campuses and other people associated with training teachers.” The book, which emphasized ways to help student teachers meet their “responsibilities both in and outside of the classroom in adjusting to community life,” was used by supervising teachers and as a text for seminars and workshops in the supervision of student teachers. In their Introduction, Curtis and Leonard stated their hope “that with this manual as a basis, you will develop original ways to stimulate the development of these teachers-to-be.”
Curtis was elected national president of the Association for Student Teaching in 1955. In 1956, he opened the national conference; its theme: “Student Teacher Growth: A Shared Responsibility.” Back on the ISTC campus, Curtis added two new off-campus student teaching centers in 1957, centers in Newton and Charles City. They joined centers earlier added in Independence, Fort Dodge, and Mason City. Curtis explained the role of the ISTC student teacher coordinators who lived in the off-campus towns. Beyond weekly seminars with the student teachers and individual observation and support, coordinators were to “give talks to civics group in the town to help acquaint the town with the idea of the purpose of student teaching.” By 1959, an Alumnus article described ISTC as the “center for one of the largest student teaching programs in the country.”
As he rose to national prominence across the 1950s, Curtis was overseeing the construction and movement to a new, larger, state-of-the-art, $2.5 million laboratory school on the north campus. The 1953 move from its historical home in Sabin Hall to the new school on Campus Street—described at length in the College Eye—offers a window on Curtis and the Laboratory School philosophy in 1953. In the spring of 1953, the Laboratory School students visited the new school and their own prospective classrooms “to get acquainted with it and know where to go” in the fall. Exhibits of the materials used in construction of their new school were on display in the exhibit case in Sabin. The students and teachers even had a part in choosing the many and varied colors in the building. They suggested colors they would like for their new surroundings. A color consultant then made such changes as were necessary for harmony and unity. Throughout the summer, the students collected cartons to assist the move. The school's 14,000-volume Library would move—along with much else.
On August 10, the last week of Campus School summer school, the move began. The classes were moved one grade at a time, with the students given the role of helping to arrange the furniture in their new rooms. Dr. Jack Hall, the elementary school principal, said of the students' hands-on participation: “It is felt that that the personal identification of the students with the building as theirs is highly desirable.” The move began that Monday with the sixth grade, and proceeded through all the elementary grades, including the kindergarten. Since each grade had more than one section, 14 classrooms were moved. Hall moved his office the first day, so he could receive the books and the students. Curtis, who supervised the loading of items at the Sabin source, was the last to move—after all the classrooms had been relocated.
School began in the new Campus School (on Campus Street) in September 1953, with all the outdoor equipment in place. The equipment, including swings and slides located south of the old campus school, was moved and new equipment added—all in the sanded area. The blacktopped area had lines drawn for games such as baseball, volleyball, and basketball. The playing area was divided into two playgrounds. The closer section was for the kindergartners and first and second graders. The outer area was for third, fourth, fifth, and sixth-graders. This arrangement was designed to prevent accidents that might occur when larger children play in the same area as smaller children.
In the fall of 1957, the Field House was added to the Campus School. In 1958, Curtis started Spanish instruction for elementary students and new math programs for those in junior and senior high. On March 23, 1959, the new school was dedicated and renamed in honor of Dr. Malcolm Price, ISTC President from 1940 to 1950, whose vision led to the school. “The college and the citizens of Iowa are greatly indebted to Dr. Price for his leadership in the establishment of this large and well-equipped school and teaching laboratory,” said President J. W. Maucker. “He worked on this project with perseverance borne from deep conviction. As a result of his vision and effort, Iowa State Teachers College now has a teaching laboratory second to none.” Dr. Price, surprised by the honor, said that “The facilities of the school are essential to the professional education of teachers and give the college a greater opportunity to be of service to the State of Iowa.”
In the fall of 1959, Curtis spoke at ISTC's third annual Music Workshop. It theme: “Improvement of Student Teaching for Prospective Music Teachers in Iowa.” According to Thomas Wickstrom, assistant professor of music and Workshop director, the gathering was to “explore what we are now doing in the state to prepare music teachers and ways to improve the instruction for student teachers.”
In the spring of 1960, Curtis took the first step to further the new Laboratory School's service. He wrote an article for the College Eye in February which asked “How can the Malcolm Price Laboratory School contribute most effectively to the students of Iowa State Teachers College?” Noting that this question could be asked of any teacher education institution that had a laboratory school, he outlined different uses for these schools. “Some laboratory schools emphasize primarily experimentation in pupil learning,” he explained. “Others are student teaching centers.” Still others, like Price Laboratory School, try to serve both of these roles--and others. “Are we wise in trying to be all things to all people, or should we concentrate on particular services to faculty and students,” he asked the campus to consider. Price Lab sought “to provide experiences best suited for undergraduate students, graduate students, and visiting public school personnel.” Some 1,000 public school personnel visited the school each year “and they want to see advanced procedures in curriculum design and instruction and experimental programs.” At the same time, Curtis added, “the faculty at the Laboratory School insists that the best possible learning environment and instructional program be maintained for the students in their charge.” The faculty's mantra was that “the optimal education program and environment for pupils in the Laboratory School provides the best laboratory for the pre-service and in-service education of teachers.”
To address this complex matter of optimal role, Curtis announced that a clinic, to be held at the Price Laboratory School March 20-22, 1960 would be devoted “to intensive soul-searching regarding the contributions the school is making to the students in our teacher education program.” Four nationally prominent educators served as evaluators: Dr. E. B Robert, Dean of the College of Education at Louisiana State University and past chairman of the National Commission on Teacher Education and Professional Standards; Dr. W. W. Wright, Vice-President of Indiana University and President of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education; Dr. Paul Woodring from the Fund for the Advancement of Education; and Dr. Dwight Teel, Assistant Superintendent in charge of Curriculum Instruction for the Milwaukee Public Schools. “We want the critical analysis of the contribution of our Laboratory School to the students of ISTC to be helpful to other institutions that are preparing teachers,” Curtis explained. “Therefore, a maximum of one-hundred representatives from teacher education colleges and universities in the United States will participate in the evaluation procedures.”
Curtis had that national evaluation in hand and his vision in place as the fall term began in 1960.
On Monday, September 19, Curtis went home with a cold. Feeling worse, he was taken to Sartori Hospital Wednesday at about 6 p.m., where he died soon after of a heart attack.
At his death colleagues noted that his talents stretched beyond teaching and the preparation of teachers. He was an expert gardener—probably due to his training in science. In Nebraska, in the early 1940s, he would win most of the prizes in the fall garden show for his raspberries and vegetables which he grew using his own unique system of irrigating and fertilizing. In Cedar Falls, Curtis continued his garden. In his spare moments he also began a rock collection which came to include several hundred specimens. He became interested as well in repairing and refinishing antiques; his home was filled with many pieces of walnut furniture that he had restored.
At his death in 1960, Curtis was about to lead a renewed commitment to on-campus and off-campus service. In 1961, the National Association of Student Teaching bestowed on him its “Distinguished Service Award.” He was only the third person to receive this honor since the Association's founding in 1920.
“There never have been enough really great teachers,” Curtis declared.