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 Pediwell perspective, the critical need to examine the foundations of how curriculum and instruction 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 inevitable 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 established in the 19th century, and although times have changed dramatically, the fundamental and sacred aspects of the 19th century curriculum remain with us today. We must accept the need to learn new work, technical 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.

© 2016, Dr. Richard Biffle

Dr. Richard Biffle is a life-long educator, currently serving as an Associate Professor of Education at Thomas University. 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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27 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.

    1. Can I ask if saber tooth Curriculum exist today?☺️

      1. If you listen to the podcast, I think you’ll find that the same problems continue today. Our curriculum is, in many ways, not matched to the needs of our economy, our culture, our history, or our everyday lives. Check it out!!

  3. Does sabre tooth curriculum still exist? Give examples of your evidence

    1. Any curricula, content, process, or practice that is no longer relevant to the current needs of the society or economy would, to me, fit into the idea of a “saber-tooth curriculum.” I would refer you to the podcast for details, examples, and additional information:

  4. can you pls. described the kind of curriculum that exists as describes in the article?
    what does the author mean when he said ” A curriculum should be timeless”

    what is the difference between education and training?

    1. Hi, Daisy. The quick answer to your second question (education vs training, which could inspire an entire book, or at least an all-night discussion) would focus on content and process. I think of training as focused on a specific skill, like how to use a device feature or execute a particular technique in, say, cooking or knitting. Education is, for me, a broader term that involves missions like encouraging curiosity and trial and error, inspiring a love of learning, and a dedication to the process rather than achieving a particular product, outcome, or answer.

      For more information about the curricular issues and specifics, I would refer you to the podcast:

  5. I don’t understand did the suggested changes in the curriculum welcomed by the tribal elders or not?

    1. The article clearly states, “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 inevitable result was that the tribe did not survive!

      The point being: People who have been in power for a long time (in this case, “tribal elders”), are often resistant to change. It may sound like, “We’ve always done it this way!” or even an unsubstantiated, “That won’t work!”

      That’s pretty much the point of this article and the podcast audio: That one of the main challenges in education has always been adapting curriculum, instruction, and policy to respond to changing needs in the culture or environment that is being served. It’s often a combination of a lack of knowledge: “How do we deal with these new problems?” Or a resistance to personal change: “I shouldn’t have to learn this new technology!!” Or constraints imposed by tradition and habit (or tribal elders).

  6. What does Harold Benjamin mean that, “A curriculum should be timeless?” Explain.

    1. Please see answer in previous comments.

  7. I’ve gotten numerous questions about the content of this article. Since the questions are fairly repetitive with regard to questions already asked (and answered), I just want to reiterate that this concept is about change: in the material and strategies we use with students, as well as change in the way we train teachers, and most certainly, change in the demands of the world around us.

    I know that since I started in education in the early 1970s, I have seen not only a consistent pushback against moving forward (or change in general) by a small group of people, but also a desire to actually go backwards.

    First of all that isn’t going to happen. Further, if this past year (2020) has taught us anything, I think the strongest message has been about the need for educators to be intensely flexible and able to adapt to change, especially in logistics and technology.

    This is not a “radical” move, nor does it deny our past. Education has to keep pace with the changing world in which our young people will have to live and work. The amount of information, innovation, and communication avenues continues to increase astronomically: so changes in the content of what we teach are inevitable.

    I would urge visitors to this page to read the article and to listen to the corresponding podcast. If you truly want answers to the questions and comments you’ve been sending, I believe that information will be available there.

  8. Thank you for making me understand the Sabre Tooth Curriculum. This is really a great help. ♡

  9. Describe the kind of curriculum that exist at present ? Give an example of your evidence ?

    1. I have received several requests for “evidence” and would suggest instead that visitors read through the content on this site (much of it excerpted from well-researched books and 5 decades of experience), and to also listen to this podcast and read the related articles. There is plenty of “evidence” right here. Thank you.

  10. What does the author mean when he said ” A curriculum should be timeless” Explain.

    1. Dynamic and applicable to the times in which children are being educated.

  11. Describe the kind of curriculum that exists as describe in the article.

    1. I will continue to answer this question by referring to the podcast and maybe ask how you would describe a curriculum that would address what students need to know to contribute to the world of 2021 and beyond. Thank you.

  12. Thank you for the explanation on Sabertooth curriculum.

  13. Our assignment is to give the outline events of this story. Can you enumerate the events?

    1. No more than has already been explained in the audio and accompanying documents. You’ll have to listen and read to identify the points that were presented. (More concepts than events.) Good luck!

  14. what was the Sabre-Tooth Curriculum all about during those times?

    1. The concept of a Sabre-Tooth Curriculum refers to a curriculum or set of skills taught in school that would have been used during the time there were actual sabre-tooth tigers roaming around. (You will need to use your imagination for this one! 😉) Once the threat of these animals no longer exists, the curriculum would need to be updated to reflect more current issues that would apply to students. The idea reflects the need to constantly be updating what and how we teach according to the demands of the world our students will enter, the resources available to us (and our students), and the way our students learn.

  15. In reference to saber tooth curriculum, what are the major issues to be posed on the purpose of secondary education?

    1. Please read the article, listen to the podcast, and see the answers to previous questions about this topic. Thank you.

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