Burk, Frederic Lister (Sept. 1, 1862 - June 12, 1924), educator, was born in Blenheim, Ontario, Canada, of an American father, Erastus, and an English mother, Matilda Turner. At the age of seven he was brought to California, the family settling in the town of Coloma, El Dorado County, a spot made famous by the discovery of gold there in 1848. Graduating from the Sacramento City High School, Burk entered the University of California and was graduated with the degree B.L. in 1883. When Stanford University opened in 1891, he became one of the first candidates for the M.A. degree which was conferred upon him in 1892. In the immediate years following, he was successively teacher in a country school and in a military academy, and then became a writer of feature articles for various San Francisco journals. The latter experience colored his whole career, giving him access to the press and also a sense of news values.
As a writer he became interested in psychology, and in 1896 he went to study under G. Stanley Hall at Clark University, where he received the Ph.D. degree in 1898. During the same year he was married to Caroline Frear (B.S., Wellesley, M.A., Stanford). In the following year he became president of the State Normal School at San Francisco. This office made him automatically a member of the California State Board of Education in which capacity he served until the Board's reorganization in 1911. In his normal school for a number of years everything was subordinated to psychology. Later, becoming disappointed in the results obtained, he threw out psychology, not to take it up again until tests and measurements came to his attention.
Burk became a challenger of accepted opinion in educational matters. He held that no subject should be put into the curriculum unless a case could be made out for it. First, let the subject prove its educational value, then add it to the course of study. His greatest contribution to educational progress was his theory of motivated individual instruction. Pioneering in that field, he held to his course in spite of criticism and indifference. As a public speaker he was unusual. Full of wit and sudden turns of thought, he depended on the intellectual force he could put back of his ideas rather than on persuasion. From the standpoint of inspiration he was a notable leader--especially in the loyalties he developed. There can be no doubt that his inspiring of a small group of men and women, including Carleton Washburne of Winnetka and Willard Beatty of Bronxville, will perpetuate his name and methods into the years ahead. He was the author of From Fundamental to Accessory in the Development of the Nervous System and of Movements (1898), his doctoral dissertation; A Study of the Kindergarten Problem in the Public Kindergartens of Santa Barbara, Calif., for the Year 1898-99 (1899), in collaboration with his wife; A Simplified Course of Study in Grammar (1912); In Re Everychild, A Minor vs. Lockstep Schooling (1915).
[Who's Who in America, 1924-25; Bulls. of the San Francisco State Normal School; articles in the Sierra Ed. News and the Western Jour. of Ed. (both published in San Francisco); personal acquaintance; interviews with members of the family.]