The Tyler Rationale

If you are over the age of 18, there is a high chance that you are a veteran student. You’ve logged 13,000 hours through thirteen grades, invaded the beach of hormonal fluctuation, called airstrikes into the face of depression, stormed the bunkers of the classroom, and eradicated all assignments.


Okay, maybe that’s not what you’re thinking, so we’ll move on.

Let’s imagine three things together:

1. I am your teacher, come again.

2. I plan to teach in your elementary/secondary classroom.

3. I subscribe to Traditionalist teaching ideals.

Given that, I will likely use the Tyler Rationale to shape my class and base my semester plan on four questions:

1. What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?

2. What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?

3. How can these educational experiences be effectively organized?

4. How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained?  (Tyler 1949: 1)

This looks like a useful structure! Clean, succinct, widely applicable, and self-corrective. Well, even though the Tyler Rationale might have its fans, it definitely keeps a large crowd of critiques in the stands. The focus article for this blog, found here, denounces it.

It is too rigid and pre-determined to help students.

With the Tyler Rationale, the “plan or programme assumes great importance” (Smith, M. K. 1996, 2000). This leaves the learners with “little or no voice” (Smith, M. K. 1996, 2000). Would you like being taught, for a semester, about the molecular detail of cardstock paper? Or possibly you might want to memorize dates of famous world revolutions (from the Set rebellion in Egypt to the Dongo conflict in Congo) for a class?

If you answered “no” to both or either of those questions, it doesn’t really matter. According to the Tyler Rationale, your school is going to wait until Spring to evaluate how effectively their “purpose” was met. If class grades are down, they’re going to teach the same stuff, just in a more “effective” way.

Thus, “the meeting of behavioural objectives” is the indicator of “success or failure” (Smith, M. K. 1996, 2000). Instead of looking deeply into the context of student lifestyle, their community, interests, and possible life path, schools can use the Tyler Rationale to bludgeon mandated content into the brains of their pupils.

Another huge factor is this “educational exchange” that occurs in classrooms that move ahead clinging to objectives (Smith, M. K. 1996, 2000). Educators can experience many “difficulties” trying to make their students achieve pre-determined behaviours. Remember the cardstock and revolution dates? The student better have them memorized by the end of the semester… or I am a bad teacher. Doesn’t that make it sound like the student is a machine and I’m a technician (Smith, M. K. 1996, 2000)?


For all of my complaints, I also had a comforting thought when I first looked at this four-step Rationale.

The problem might not actually be with the Rationale, but with the people who use the Rationale. It is true that the Tyler Rationale focuses on Product, but if placed in the right hands, it might be rescued (ie. teachers who look at question 1 and think, “Hmm ‘What educational purposes should the school seek to attain’ in order that our students will be engaged, learn about the world around them, and be better prepared to live in the adult world once they’ve forever left this place (Tyler 1949: 1)?)

leavig home

Also, for those who thrive on knowing their end goal, but can remain sensitive to how instruction needs to adapt and change, this Rationale will give the needed simplicity as a springboard into deeper, contextual instruction.


Smith, M. K. (1996, 2000) ‘Curriculum theory and practice’ the encyclopaedia of informal education,

Featured Image: Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio (1599-1600)


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