Isaac L. Kandel (1881 - 1965)

Kandel, Isaac L

Short Biography & Significant Contribution

Pride of place must be given to Isaac Kandel whose teaching and research, conducted primarily at Teachers College, Columbia University, spanned a period of some five decades. With due deference to the work of other scholars, it would not be improper to regard Kandel as more responsible (in the English-speaking world at least) than any other scholar for the emergence of comparative education as a respectable teaching area in universities and other tertiary institutions concerned with educational matters (Foster 1961, p. 134).


On 22 January 1881, Isaac Kandel was born in Romania to British parents traveling on business. Isaac Kandel was a pioneer in what was then the nascent field of comparative and international education, as well as an active international education development consultant (Pollack 1993). 

Kandel received his educational training in Manchester, England where he received a B.A. in classics (1903) at Victoria University and a M.A. in educational philosophy (1906) at the University of Manchester under the tutelage of Sir Michael Sadler and J.J. Findlay (Null 2004).  At the encouragement of William Bagley (professor of education University of Illinois), Kandel continued his education in the United States, receiving a doctorate at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City in 1910 upon two years of study (working especially close with Paul Monroe).

Shortly after completing his doctoral studies, Kandel was appointed instructor at Teachers College (1913), and became full professor in 1923, serving for a subsequent twenty-four years.  Kandel distinguished himself as an international comparativist during his time at Teachers College, receiving international repute for his field and publication work.  Kandel was a visiting professor and guest lecturer at several renowned universities around the world; some of the fruits of his international academic contributions were compiled and published in such works as "The Outlook in Education" and "The Dilemma of Democracy".  In addition to his professional academic work, Kandel engaged in international education development projects, notably with the United States Education Mission to Japan, the Government of Jamaica, and most prominently with UNESCO which he played an important part in forming.


Kandel adhered to a historical-functionalist perspective of comparative education. Embracing a multi-disciplinary approach, as well as area expertise (i.e. language skills of two or more languages), Kandel held that educational systems could only be understood in their historical, cultural, and political context.  Reflectively, the social dynamics of a given nation could be comprehended through learning about a country's educational practices and values. This approach, according to Kandel, required looking at an education system qualitatively, linguistically, historically, and comparatively with another nation (to compare and contrast their educational development as well as the development of the society in which they emerged).  Some individuals who significantly influenced Kandel's thinking include Sir Michael Sadler (1861-1943), Paul Monroe (1869-1947), and William Chandler Bagley (1874-1946).

A salient aspect of Kandel's work is found in his discussion of the dangers associated with a country's borrowing of foreign education models-however successful-from a country where socio-political, cultural and economic dynamics were significantly different from their own. In this way, Kandel could be considered a predecessor to the proliferating scholarship on the politics and economics of borrowing and lending (such as recent edited publications by Anderson-Levitt [2003] and Steiner-Khamsi [2004]).  He did not reject borrowing, but rather cautioned that transfer of any model should not be wholesale, but rather adapted to the relative context of the borrower.  He writes: "Educational systems cannot be transferred from one country to another, but ideas, practices, devices, developed under one set of conditions, can always prove suggestive even where conditions are somewhat different" (Kandel 1959).

Kandel embraced a melioristic perspective of comparative and international education.    He fundamentally believed that through education of the masses the peoples of the world would advance human civilization toward progress and well-being. He considered education a human right, and advocated such at the 1949 UNESCO-sponsored human rights symposium.  In his book, "International Co-Operation: National and International," Kandel (1944) calls for the universal education of all, discusses the potential of every nation to contribute toward humanity, and advocates for the education of world citizenship (while appreciating the diversity of nations). 

Influenced by his later colleague Bagley, Kandel drew on Essentialist Movement arguments in education, and became critical of the progressive educational perspective.  Kandel particularly focused on the important role of teachers as educators.  He suggested that teachers contributed toward the advancement and progress of civilization by teaching the next generation about cultural heritage.  According to Kandel, teachers were most suitable to convey values that benefited society.  Contrary to the argument of many progressivists, Kandel asserted that education in the past, despite its short-comings, had advanced over the years and contributed to the development of human societies.  As Pollack (1993) describes, Kandel's essentialist educational philosophy "placed emphasis on student effort, classroom discipline, the accumulated knowledge achieved by human beings, long-range objectives, logical organization of subject matter, and teacher-initiated learning" (p. 778).

According to Kandel, "Comparative education may be considered a continuation of the study of the history of education into the present" (Kandel 1933).  He considered the goal of the field to analyze the challenges universally facing education systems around the world, the causes for them, and the investigation in possible remedies. This is reflected both in his scholarship and in his development work for various agencies. 

Kandel published several significant books and articles that laid a foundation for later thought in comparative and international education (see list of publications below). This production of numerous publications over five decades contributed toward the development of the distinct field of comparative education.  His works have been published in many different languages and were used as key references for various government agencies.  Kandel was editor of "Education Yearbook" (published by Columbia University's International Institute), and assistant editor (1909-1913) of "Cyclopedia of Education" (edited by P. Monroe).

Educational Background

B.A. Victoria University, Classics - 1903

M.A. University of Manchester, Educational Philosophy - 1906

Ph.D. Teachers College, Columbia University, Educational Philosophy - 1910

Professional Background

Professor of Education: Teachers College, Columbia University (1923-1947)
Instructor of Education: Teachers College, Columbia University (1913-1924) UNESCO
U.S. Education Mission to Japan
Government of Jamaica

Selected Publications

For a list of books by Isaac L. Kandel, click here


Created: 6/19/2007

Updated: 7/22/2008

Contributed By: Sina Mossayeb, Teachers College, Columbia University