The Two Traditions:
Connecting with the History of Literature Instruction
November 16, 11:30-3:30 EST, NCTE 23, Columbus Ohio
Andrew Newman, Stony Brook University Jonna Perrillo, University of Texas, El Paso Casey Andrews, Watertown Public Schools, MA Joy Bacon, Baltimore School for the Arts
See Handouts Below
What do teachers mean when we say we want to develop “good readers,” and how has this definition been contested and changed over time? This workshop is based on a 2023 National Endowment for Teachers summer program for K-12 teachers, “Making the Good Reader and Citizen: The History of Literature Instruction in American Schools, co-directed by Jonna Perrillo (University of Texas at El Paso, and NCTE Council Historian) and Andrew Newman (Stony Brook University). As in the Institute, our workshop will examine educators’ and school reformers’ changing conceptions of what constitutes a “good reader,” focusing particularly on the twentieth century (and paying special attention to the role of the NCTE). We will identify two competing traditions in the teaching of secondary literature: One, associated with progressive education, is student-centered: it emphasizes the role of literature in the student’s social and personal development, either as a vehicle for the communication of moral and civic values or as the basis for an experience that fosters personal, moral growth. The other, text-centered, is academic: it values content-knowledge or skill-development and sees literature as a pathway to scientific, self-disciplined modes of thinking that are also vital to the civic good. Each draws on different theories, has led to different teaching methodologies, and has different relationships to standards and assessment. Often, teachers, perhaps more than literary scholars, have transcended the binaries and embraced student-centered and text-centered approaches simultaneously. Still, standards and mandates matter and shape teachers’ classroom practices, especially as exams like state tests and the SAT have become co-aligned with the Common Core and school performance has been tied to federal funding. Understanding literature teaching today as part of a long history – one that too few scholars and teachers know – offers perspective to the contemporary controversies that shape teachers’ work.