High School English in the United States from 1899-1919 or so
November 10, 2018 3:09 PM   Subscribe

"A List of Books for Home Reading of High-School Pupils" was published in 1912 by the National Council of Teachers of English, a group that formed the year before and still makes recommendations to teachers today. Forerunners to the NCTE list include the NEA's report on college entrance requirements (1899), Franklin T. Baker's "Bibliography of Children's Reading" (1908), and the Newark Free Public Library's popular list of "A Thousand of the Best Novels" (1904-1919). But many NCTE members would also help shape a thorough recommendation for the "Reorganization of English in Secondary Schools" (1917) and contribute to The English Journal, issues of which from 1911-1922 are free online.

A few articles of related interest in The English Journal include ... A few individual achievements of note by the authors of the 1912 NCTE list (in the order they're mentioned in the report) include ... In subsequent decades, there have been at least two attempts to survey what high school students are actually assigned: Scarvia B. Anderson's 1963 study "Between the Grimms and "The Group"--Literature in American High Schools" and Arthur N. Applebee's A Study of Book-Length Works Taught in High School English Classes from 1989. A list of representative authors on pages 10-11 of the 2014 course description for the AP English Lit exam suggests how things have changed. Two years ago, Laura McClure and Daryl Chen at the TED-Ed blog offered some global perspectives in "The world's required reading list: The books that students read in 28 countries."
posted by Wobbuffet (9 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
An excellent post Wobbuffet, which is very relevant to my interests. But if I may ask, what brought you to making the post? I'm curious since it is a bit esoteric, though no less interesting to me for being so.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:09 PM on November 10, 2018

That /r/AskHistorians post is great and I completely understand the interest in archives. I developed an interest in past conceptions of what is important knowledge by collecting obsolete or outdated reference books that claimed to contain the essentials people should know, some of which were aimed specifically at educating the young. It was fascinating for what has been left more or less constant and what has been dropped from notions of importance over the years and how that should be taught.

This post goes right to that and is making for good reading. The 1912 High School Students Rankings of English Classics paper, for example, reads as fairly modern in how its findings are expressed and the list of books being taught is nifty for those which are still relevant, in some fashion, and those that have been largely dropped or forgotten, matching the students choices fairly well. I've browsed a several of the links so far and I'm looking forward to reading more.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:55 PM on November 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Very interesting. I learned only within the last 5 years that teaching English at all was a very new notion that didn't exist before the 19th century. Secondary schools and universities taught literature in Greek and Latin, and there was some English-language work in other courses, like rhetoric, logic, etc. But it wasn't until 1876, when Francis Child, better known for collecting and organizing the Child Ballads, was named Harvard's (and thus anyone's) first Professor of English ever. English came into university and secondary curricula as one of the "modern languages," a heritage which survives in the name of the huge conference of professors who teach language and literature in English, German, French, etc etc - the Modern Language Association.

So it's kind of cool to look at the early lists as those of a genre seeking to establish its seriousness and academic cred alongside the much more traditionally taught subjects of Greek, Latin, Poetry, etc. And that may also go a long way to explaining why some things have lasted such a long time in the "canon."
posted by Miko at 5:04 PM on November 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

While I was looking for linkable personal achievements of Laura Benedict, one of the people on the 1912 NCTE committee and incidentally not the same Laura Benedict who was studying with the anthropologist Franz Boas around that time, I happened to run across a history of The Department of English at Indiana University, 1868-1970, which mentions two chairs in English there and one in Missouri as early as 1860, so I wonder if Harvard might have been conservative about the formal shift away from teaching English under the heading of rhetoric / oratory / belles lettres. But another section titled "Where Do English Departments Come From?" otherwise gives a similar history.
posted by Wobbuffet at 5:26 PM on November 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Interesting to see which of the 'olde Masters' and newcomers made it into the 2014 AP 'no recommended or required ... but simply to suggest' reading list ... as well as who didn't (e.g. no Ginsberg in poetry, but Wilde in drama). Must be a tough job these days. ;-)
posted by Twang at 5:50 PM on November 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

That's interesting. I learned about this at Harvard, so admittedly there may be some Harvard spin on the question of "first." But this may also come down to the distinctions between "chairs" and "departments", and what meant what when.
posted by Miko at 5:51 PM on November 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Heh, who knew a book titled The Department of English at Indiana University, 1868-1970 would be such a page turner. I glanced at it to see the reference and ended up reading the first three chapters before I could turn away. And now I am starting to regret the loss of Elocution as a subject of study.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:38 PM on November 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Or the loss of Rhetoric, to let a citizen know when they're being manipulated, and how.
posted by aurelian at 7:05 PM on November 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

« Older Adam's quotable lyrics are all too long to fit...   |   Yuri Orlov's CV is a giant amongst CVs. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments