William Torrey Harris was an American educator, philosopher, and lexicographer.
Throughout time, his influence has been only momentarily recognized, disregarded and misunderstood by historians. Harris’ extreme emphasis on discipline has become the most glaring misrepresentation of his philosophy.
Harris, William Torrey was born on September 10, 1835 in N. Killingly, Connecticut, United States. Son of William and Zilpah (Torrey) Harris. He attended Phillips Andover Academy, Andover, Massachusetts. He completed two years at Yale, then moved west and taught school in St. Louis, Missouri, from 1857 to 1880, where he was superintendent of schools from 1868 to 1880, and established, with Susan E. Blow, America's first permanent public kindergarten in 1873. It was in St. Louis where William Torrey Harris instituted many influential ideas to solidify both the structural institution of the public school system and the basic philosophical principles of education. His changes led to the expansion of the public school curriculum to make the high school an essential institution to the individual and to include art, music, scientific and manual studies, and was also largely responsible for encouraging all public schools to acquire a library.
2½ years in class of 1858, Yale—did not graduate (A.M., 1869, Doctor of Laws, 1895. Doctor of Philosophy., Brown, 1893, University of Jena, 1899. Doctor of Laws, University State of Missouri, 1870, University of Pennsylvania, 1894, Princeton, 1896).
He moved west and taught school in St. Louis, Missouri, from 1857 to 1880, where he was superintendent of schools from 1868 to 1880, and established, with Susan E. Blow, America's first permanent public kindergarten in 1873. It was in St. Louis where William Torrey Harris instituted many influential ideas to solidify both the structural institution of the public school system and the basic philosophical principles of education. His changes led to the expansion of the public school curriculum to make the high school an essential institution to the individual and to include art, music, scientific and manual studies, and was also largely responsible for encouraging all public schools to acquire a library.
Harris's St. Louis Schools were considered some of the best in the country. His fellow educators were local farmers that immigrated from Germany after they tried and failed to make Germany a republic.
He was a key member of a philosophical society that, during the beginning of the American Civil War, met in St. Louis; it promoted the view that the entire unfolding was part of a universal plan, a working out of an eternal historical dialectic, as theorized by Hegel.
Harris was associated with Bronson Alcott's Concord School of Philosophy from 1880 to 1889, when he became U.S. Commissioner of Education, serving until 1906. He did his best to organize all phases of education on the principles of philosophical pedagogy as espoused by Hegel, Kant, Fichte, Fröbel, Pestalozzi and many others of idealist philosophies. He received the degree of LL.D. from various American and foreign universities.
As the United States Commissioner of Education, Harris nearly succeeded in making Hegelianism the official philosophy of American education during the late 19th century.Was chief editor of the Appleton School Readers. Later edited Appleton’s Ednl. series. Edited department of philosophy in Johnson’s Cyclopædia, writing many important articles.
Author: The Spiritual Sense of Dante’s Divina Commedia, 1889, 1896. Psychologic Foundation of Education, 1898. Editor-in-chief Webster’s International Dictionary, since 1900.
1881) Hegel's Doctrine of Reflection, Beinga Paraphrase and Commentary Interpolated Into the Text of the Second Volume of Hegel's Larger Logic, Treating of'Essence'. New York: Appleton.
• 1883) Philosophy in Outline, New York: Appleton.
(1889) Introduction to the Study of Philosophy, ed.
Marietta Kies, New York: Appleton.
(1890) Hegel’s Logic: A Book on the Genesis of the Categories of the Mind, Chicago: S. C. Griggs. Second edition, 1895.
(1902) The Difference Between Efficient and Final Causes in Controlling Human Freedom. Bloomington. 111.: Public-school Publishing Company
(1904) Herbert Spencer and His Influence on Education, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Introduction to the Study of Philosophy (1889)
The Spiritual Sense of Dante's Divina Commedia (1889)
Hegel's Logic: a Critical Exposition (1890)
A. Bronson Alcott, his Life and Philosophy (with F. B. Sanborn) (1893)
Psychologic Foundations of Education (1898)
Elementary Education (Monographs on Education in the United States; volume 1.) (1900; second edition, 1904)
The School City (1906)
Harris saw philosophy as a unifying science which can provide a picture of the whole of reality. It should be based, in a Kantian way, on the search for what is necessary to any possible experience, but it can achieve Hegel’s aim and transcend the merely phenomenal world. This is so because the distinction between what merely seems to be and what reason recognizes as the real can be found within the pattern of developing experience.
Although Harris was thoroughly engaged in Hegel’s entire worldview, and would have said that his only ultimate philosophical interest was in finding out the truth about the world, his actual work is nearly always strongly oriented to the theory of knowledge and this reflects his practical interests in education.
He believed that his philosophical method, which concentrated on developing the experience of the partial and transitory into an ever-widening experience which met the criteria of the real, provided the right basis for educational theory. Beyond that he believed it could even guide political practice in showing how the legal and moral come to be unified. He became closely involved with the US federal government as Commissioner for Education.
As a founder and editor of the first technical philosophical journal—one to which most major philosophers were later to contribute—and as a public official. Harris exercised a wide influence on American life and philosophy. Lloyd D. Easton, in Hegel's First American Followers, and William H. Goetz-
mann, in The American Hegelians, give him pride of place amongst those who made Hegel an American influence.
The secondary literature is not vast and it strongly emphasizes his role as an educator and as a major organizer of philosophical opinion rather than his attempts at original philosophy—though inevitably in trying to make Hegel intelligible to Americans, he gave the Hegelian system a distinct shape, one which made it a tool for education and political reform by emphasizing its function in providing a background for a unified value theory. The Hegelianism of the young John Dewey shows the influence of these ideas.
"Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual."
"The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places ... It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world."