The Saber-Tooth Curriculum Revisited—A Brief Walk in Time


Objectives and Purpose of Proposal

In his 1939 book, The Saber-Tooth Curriculum, Harold Benjamin (aka J. Abner Pediwell) sketched a parable of stagnate curriculum reform. The book is a metaphorical and historical account of the development of an educational system. This paper addresses, through the “lens” of Pediwell, the critical need to examine the foundations of how curriculum and in- struction evolve, and how we address learning to learn in preparation for a lifetime of change in the 21st century.

Philosophical, Theoretical, Practical Argument

The Saber-Tooth Curriculum recounts how a Paleolithic school curriculum became obsolete when the Ice Age came. The new conditions demanded a different curriculum to be taught to the community so it might survive and prosper. However, all attempts to introduce relevant skills into the curriculum met with stern opposition. “But that wouldn’t be education,” the elders of the tribe argued when the subjects were suggested that would enable the tribe to cope with living in the snowy wastes. The inevi- table result was that the tribe did not survive!

Through his satire, Pediwell argued for the idea of learning to learn (or at least flexible and transferable Neolithic skills) as an important dimension of any curriculum.

Literature, sources, evidence to support argument/analysis

This paper develops the argument that our curriculum, as basically taught today, is a saber-tooth curriculum. Because the curriculum was estab- lished in the 19th century, and although times have changed dramatically, the fundamental and sacred aspects of the 19th century curriculum re- main with us today. We must accept the need to learn new work, techni- cal and management skills and develop appropriate practices. Simply maintaining standards will not suffice.

One measure of a successful education program is one that delivers a curriculum that promotes critical thought, reflection, and collaboration (Wiles, J. & Bondi, J. 1998). As a result, the program fosters essential professional competencies related to knowledge of subject matter and student learning; formal and authentic assessment; democratic ideals; cultural diversity; recognition of individual student needs; and communi- cation with students, the community, and other education professionals.

Conclusions, implications, and significance

The Saber-Tooth Curriculum teaches us that a curriculum should preserve the past, but not be limited by it. Integral to curricular and teaching success are program and experiences that exemplify the design and organization of a “360 degree curricular focus” that engages, informs, and creates an environment in which students study the principles of healthy interactions. This permits the education programs and schools to focus attention on the development and support of healthy, well-integrated human beings.

Dr. Richard Biffle is a life-long educator, currently serving as an Associate Professor of Education at Thomas University. Click here to listen to Dr. Biffle talk about the problems of following an outdated, Saber-Tooth approach to education and to see more resources related to this topic.

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2 thoughts on “The Saber-Tooth Curriculum Revisited—A Brief Walk in Time

  1. when I started to read the article I did not get anything because I did not understand the context. However, thanks to the explanation given here I could understand the main message since I got essential clues.

  2. Thank you, Alejandro. Perhaps it would help to listen to the podcast, if you haven’t already, as it is more practical in its approach to the subject. Check out to listen. It’s a good conversation, and will definitely give you more of the context you may have been looking for. Thanks again.

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