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Perennial Dilemmas in English Education


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You may be surprised to learn which five dilemmas of English Education in America have been around for the past two hundred years. The revolution is long overdue!

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Perennial Dilemmas in English Education

  1. 1. The Case for an Educational Revolution A Research Analysis of Twelve Historical English Texts
  2. 2. “Once the treasure of good English is yours , you can walk with kings. None can take it from you.” --Hadida, 1927 2
  3. 3. Texts for advanced grammar school level and beyond: • • • • • Albert Cook (1895) Exercises in Old English Simon Kerl's (1862) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language for the Use of Schools. William Swinton's (1880) English Grammar and Composition: A Grammar Containing the Etymology and Syntax of the English Language. John and Helen Erskine's (1910) Written English: A Guide to the Rules of Composition Sophie Hadida's (1927) Pitfalls in English and How to Avoid Them Texts for compulsory elementary education: • • • • • • • Richard Edwards and J. Russell Webb's (1867) Analytical Third Reader J. Madison Watson's (1868) Independent Fourth Reader Daniel Webster's (1876) Webster's Youthful Speaker Joseph A. Turner (1879) A Handbook of Punctuation John Kennedy's (1890) A Stem Dictionary of the English Language for Use in Elementary Schools George Lyman Kittredge and Sarah Louise Arnold (1908) The Mother Tongue: Book II An Elementary English Grammar William Frank Webster and Alice Woodworth Cooley (1910)The New Webster-Cooley Course in English: First Book, New York State Edition with Selections for Memorizing. 3
  4. 4. The Concept of ‘Language’ “Thoughts disentangle passing over the lips.--Kennedy, 1890 Kerl (1862), “The pupil should constantly bear in mind, that language is made to suit the world, and not the world to suit language. The properties of words arise generally from the nature or relations of objects" (p. 5). Swinton (1880), “Language is the expression of thought by means of spoken or written words. Grammar is the science that treats of the principles of language" (p. 1). Kennedy (1890), “Language is the external representative of thought. It is not only the means of expressing thought, but it is also the necessary means or condition of extended thinking” (p. iii, preface). Kittredge & Arnold (1938), “language is the expression of thought by means of spoken or written words" (p. xiii). They continue, "All language, however, is really the expression of thought by means of signs; for spoken words are signs made with the voice, and written words are signs made with the pen" (p. iii). Erskine (1910), “To teach language is to help another to develop the power of communicating his own thought and feeling, of expressing himself. This is to develop the life of that self, since clear definite thought and clear direct expression are inseparable” (p. iii). 4
  5. 5. The Study of Language "Language is one of the most delicate and complicated instruments which men use, and a study of its laws and their application is a worthy occupation for the mind. " --Kittredge & Arnold, 1908 Kerl (1862) contends that language can be studied practically, historically, and metaphysically. He categorizes language analysis as metaphysical (p. 85). A sentence is merely so much of discourse as makes a complete thought in the view of the person uttering it; a proposition is a single combination of such words as make a predication, judgment, or thought; and a phrase is merely two or more words rightly put together for thought, without expressing a predication (p. 58). Swinton (1880) the study of the English language is intertwined with the study of grammar because language is composed of sentences and sentences are made up of words. Etymology and syntax are the two principal divisions of English grammar (p. 2). "The study of grammar contains four components: orthography, etymology, syntax, and prosody”(p. 2). 5
  6. 6. The Study of Language Continued... Kennedy (1890) stated that there are three aspects of language study. These include: analysis, etymology, and philology (p.v). There are three aspects of language study, occurring properly in three successive stages, and having sharply defined limits, viz.: first, analysis, which ends with stem values, following a language to its foundation-stones, and stopping there; second, etymology, which considers the antecedent history of stems; and third, philology, which considers the collateral relationship of stems. The first subject should never be omitted at all, and should be taught systematically in the six years prior to high school; the second subject should never be omitted from the high school; and the third subject should be a feature of every college course (p. v). 6
  7. 7. The ‘Catch-22’ of Living, Changing Language "Language not only exists, but lives, grows, and decays. It is not a dead mechanism, but a living organism. Words and modes of expression, are constantly coming into use; others, passing out of use; and others, assuming new burdens of meaning, and perhaps losing their old." --Kerl, 1862 Alsup et al (2006) "Living in a cyber world has transformed the very nature of literacy itself” (p. 284). Kittredge and Arnold (1908) Language never stands still. Every language, until it dies (that is, until it ceases to be spoken at all), is in a state of continual change. The English which we speak and write is not the same English that was spoken and written by our grandfathers, nor was their English precisely like that of Queen Elizabeth's time (p. xvii, Development of Language). 7
  8. 8. Rationale for the Study of Old English Cook (1895) The author's experience in the teaching of Old English has persuaded him that exercises for translation into Old English would serve a useful purpose. A sufficient reading knowledge is often acquired before there is any adequate mastery of forms. Such mastery is of the first importance, considering that Old English is studied quite as much for the light it sheds upon the subsequent development of English speech as for any other reason…yet it is not easy to induce the student to make the requisite effort [to study Old English] when he no longer finds especial difficulty in reading the text” (p. iii, preface). 8
  9. 9. The New Words of Yesterday… Kittredge and Arnold (1908) New words and phrases are always springing up, whether to name new things and ideas or merely for the sake of variety in expression. Thus within the memory of persons now living the words telegraph, telegram, telephone, dynamo, and the like, have come into existence and made good their place in the English language. (p. xix, Development of Language) [cell-phone, internet, mouse pad, digital voice recorder, camcorder, fax machine, walkman, pac-man, type-writer…] 9
  10. 10. That Dang Slang! Kittredge and Arnold (1908) Now and then, however, a slang word gets a footing in good use and so keeps its place in the language. Thus, mob, snob, boss, chum, were originally slang, but are now recognized members of the English vocabulary (p. xix). Erskine (1910) The surface objection to slang is the vulgarity it suggests. The deeper objection is that the speaker is too lazy or too stupid to find the exact word for his idea; therefore he uses a formula-which is a substitute for a thought. When a boy says of a girl, "She's a peach," he is using a perfectly good word; and if we had not heard the formula before, we should think it original and striking, if a bit cannibalistic. But when we know that the same word may be diverted to the praise of a cigar or a hair cut, we understand that the boy has expressed himself, more than he has expressed his thought (p. 12). 10
  11. 11. Hadida (1927) Do not pick up every new, popular, and pertinent expression that you hear on the vaudeville stage.. .Such a word is "movies." At first the purist said "moving picture theater." A long expression for a popular amusement could not possibly survive. Now, those who were strong in their opposition to the word "movies, which they considered inelegant, are using it (pp. 4-5). Well- chosen words, correctly pronounced and grammatically used, are the hall-mark of enlightened persons. They constitute your passport to culture and advancement. They are indispensable to progress in business and society. They mark your station; they open and close doors to further opportunity, to fuller enjoyment (p. iv). 11
  12. 12. The Importance of Brevity for New Word Longevity • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Pokemon (Pocket Monster) SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus LASER (light amplification stimulated by the emission of radiation) cell phone (cellular telephone) LP (long play album) DS (dual screen) LCD (liquid crystal display) CRT (cathode ray tube) TV (television) DVR (digital voice recorder) VCR (video cassette recorder) PC (personal computer) PSP (play station portable) CD-ROM (compact disc read only memory) RAM (random access memory) 12
  13. 13. Slang Words To Avoid Hadida (1927, pp. 5-6) • • • • • • by gosh by golly kid listen here damn (profane) guy •cut it out •swell •hooch •booze •what's new Kerl (1862, p. xi) Low, vulgar, or provincial expressions should be avoided. Such are, "To get into a scrape," "To play the 'possum,’". . . ."To bark up the wrong tree,”"To get the hang of” "To have a fair shake at," and many others, which we decline to quote for fear the learner should catch them. 13
  14. 14. Evolving English Kittredge and Arnold (1908) (1)A construction which is ungrammatical in modern English cannot be defended by quoting Shakspere [sic]. (2) Shakspere [sic] must not be accused of "bad grammar" because he does not observe all the rules of modern English syntax. (pp. xx-xxi, General Principals) 14
  15. 15. The Uncouth Passive Verb Form Kerl (1862) Our language occasionally needs forms to express in the continuative Passive sense those verbs whose perfect participles imply completion; and, as necessity makes slaves of us all, the foregoing uncouth passive forms [The ship is being caulked. Your friend is being buried.. .Such form are avoided by the best writers.] are rather gaining ground…The uncouth forms are used in only the present and the past indicative; for such forms as had been being built, might be being built, might have been being built, die of sheer ugliness (p. 236). 15
  16. 16. Educational Trends of Yesteryear Swinton (1880) Soon after (the publishing of Progressive Grammar in 1872), however, The experience of the school-room led the author to believe-as a like experience was leading many others to believe-that a method of language-training quite different from that mainly in vogue was necessary: there arose, in fact, the thought of language as one thing, and of grammar as another thing; and in this view it seemed that a suitable apparatus of elementary instruction was yet to be supplied. This conviction took shape in the books known as Language Primer, Language Lessons, and School Composition (p. iv, preface). 16
  17. 17. Swinton (1880) This book also works well with the recent "broadening and readjustment of the scheme of language-study in the public schools." A "progressive and graduated course of training in the mother-tongue.. .beginning in practice and ending in theory" is now the trend (p. iv, preface). 17
  18. 18. On Sentence Complexity Kerl(1862) Critics have too generally condemned long sentences. Some of the long sentences in our old English writers carry rich clusters of thought with them, and are like bomb-shells in effect. Grammars, too, are generally filled with such sentences as, "The sun shines," and "The sky is blue;" while long and difficult ones seem to be studiously avoided (p. 85). 18
  19. 19. (Examples of Text Bias from 1862 to 1910) 1862  features classics by such authors as Milton, Coleridge, Shakespeare, Aesop, and E.A. Poe  traditional Judeo-Christian values from Harper's Magazine and the Bible also featured  Prejudices: "Law and lawyers abound in tautology and redundancy, and sometimes in needless technical terms" (Kerl, 1862, p. 283). 1867  Themes promoting morality and spirituality (select readings: Never Sulk or Frown, Obeying Orders, and Business First and Pleasure After) Excerpt from Please get it now, Brother : "Children, are you kind to one another? Or are you cross, and selfish, and fretful! Remember, the time will come when your brother, or sister, or playmate, will die" (Edwards & Webb, 1867, pp. 26-27). 19
  20. 20. 1868  Perennial classics (Hawthorne, Dickens), “re-written, abridged, or otherwise specially adapted to illustrate the principles of rhetorical delivery" (Watson, 1868, p. v). In determining their character and classification, the hypotheses have been assumed, that, in the main, what healthy, intelligent children from seven to twelve years of age really like is really best for them; that fascinating stories, lively conversations, and vivid descriptions are preferable to facts of science, or other writings that are chiefly didactic; and that exercises in reading should be nearly on the level of the average child's mind-what it is just awake to, or aiming at—rather than what, while suggesting maturer thought and feeling, is beyond its present comprehension (pp. v-vi). Remind you of anyone…? (Vygotsky) 20
  21. 21. 1868  Select readings: The Wonderful Pitcher, The Fireman's Dog, The Cat's Pilgrimage, and Tom Twist.  However, we also find the promotion of Judeo-Christian values: Supporting Mother, Helping Father, and The Drunkard’s Son  Theme of Temperance The Temperance Song Now if we have to work in the shop, field, or study, And would have a strong hand and a cheek that is ruddy, And would not have a brain that is addled and muddy, With our eyes all banged up, and our noses all bloodyHow shall we make and keep ourselves so, do you think? Why, we must have nothing but water to drink (Watson, 1868, p. 152).  Theme of Death  Death of Little Paul, Somebody's Darling, Wreck of the Hesperus, First Snow-Fall 21
  22. 22. Watson, 1868, p.171 The Three Fishers 22
  23. 23. 1872 Progressive Grammar (Swinton,1872) Published because many educators felt they were failing "to teach the art of speaking and writing the English language with propriety.” This text is “an attempt to break loose from the shackles of purely technical grammar--to strip it of fruitless formalism, and to introduce the constructive element” (p. iii). 23
  24. 24. 1876  Some readings are whimsical, some promote Judeo-Christian values  Most readings are Patriotic (Webster, 1876) Examples: An Appeal to Arms by Patrick Henry (p. 154) Boston by Ralph Waldo Emerson (p. 179) Flower of Liberty (p.190), and Old Ironsides (p. 130) both by Oliver Wendell Holmes Paul Revere's Ride by Longfellow (p. 13I) The War Inevitable-1775 by Patrick Henry (p. 103) 1880  Very great care has been taken to make it a working class-book" (Swinton, 1880, p. v).  Select authors: Shakspeare [sic], Milton, Byron, Scott, Irving, Longfellow, Pope, and Coleridge 24
  25. 25. 1908  Sentence exemplars a reflection of harsh realities of life: • • • • • • • • • • • "When he had swum until his strength was exhausted, Tom threw up his arms and sank“ (p. 113, Compound and Complex Clauses). "Whichever road you take, you will find it rough and lonely“p. 179, Compound Relative Pronouns "My friend became haggard and despondent" (p. 186, Interrogative). "Hundreds in this little town are in danger of starvation" (p. 209, Numerals). "Egbert stood motionless, horrified at the sight" (p. 232, Verbs). "I will shoot the first man that runs [Threat.]" (p. 239, Future Tense). "The bridge will be swept away by the flood" (p. 247, Conjugation). "The bank was robbed last night" (p. 247, Conjugation). "To toil is the lot of mankind" (p. 268, Infinitive as Modifier). "The poor dog did nothing but whine piteously" (p. 268, Infinitive as Modifier). "The birds refused to sing on that sullen day" (p. 271, Infinitive as Modifier). --from Kittredge and Arnold, 1908 25
  26. 26. 1910  Webster and Cooley (1910): A precursor to the "happy" and contrived elementary readers common in American classrooms from the 1940's to the late 1970's. (ie. Fun with Dick and Jane)  Examples of readings from Webster and Cooley's (1910) 'happy' reader include: Good Times at Home, Vacation, Autumn Pleasures, Holidays, Kindness to Animals, Adventures, Interesting Cities, Birds, Knights and their Adventures, Discoverers and Explorers, and Outdoor life and Pleasures.  Examples of contrived sentences to illustrate the Use of "Went" and "Gone"  1. The children went to their father when his day's work was done. 2. Every evening they went to his study. 3. We often go to our grandfather's home. 4. We went last year and he made us a swing. 5. We have gone there every summer that I remember. (Webster and Cooley, 1910, p. 5) Classic selections for study and memorizing as required by New York State Syllabus, 1910. Selections by such authors as Tennyson, Longfellow, and Wordsworth. 26
  27. 27. (Practical Elocution) "Words should drop from the lips as beautiful coins newly issued from the mint,--deeply and accurately impressed, perfectly finished, neatly struck by the proper organs, distinct, sharp, in due succession, and of due weight." --Austin as quoted by Kerl, 1862 Let the examination bring out clearly the true and full meaning of each sentence, and so fill up the "skeleton of words: as to form in the pupil's mind a beautiful reality. Such a filling up, and only such, will give proper meaning to words and invest this meaning with life and animation. It will surely break up the dead monotony so often found, let thoroughness be the motto. Let whatever is done be well done. --Edwards and Webb, 1867, p. 21 Literature voices a wider range of the good, the true, the beautiful than any other art; and of all arts it is the most conveniently available. It would be well if not only the dictionary, but the arithmetic, the geography, the grammar, indeed, every branch of study, could be saturated with song. --Kennedy, 1890, p. vii 27
  28. 28. Errors and Corrections "We should not make little fishes talk like whales. " --Kittredge & Arnold, 1908, p. xxi Erskine (1910) In familiar speech our verbal deportment is often careless, and even when we rise to the best manner we are capable of, our spoken word is almost never so Dignified nor so accurate as our written speech. (p. 11).  Zealous Purists: Turner (1879), Kerl(1862) and (to a lesser extent), Hadida (1927) Of the exercises to be corrected.. .I have read some work or works from every State in the Union, in order that the book may show all the various kinds of errors which are now current, like undetected counterfeit money, in the various parts of our country. If children imbibed no errors at home, it were well to exclude such exercises from grammars; but when a person has already caught a disease, I suppose it is best to convince him of his 28 condition, and show him how to get rid of it. (Kerl, 1862, p. iii)
  29. 29. Motivating Students-Webster & Cooley (1910) Give the poem or story first as a whole, without interruption or comment: as a whole, because only in its unity does it reveal its great central meaning and beauty; without comment, because each listener is entitled to "the joy of discovery,"-to his own personal interpretation, no matter how crude and faulty (p. vii). Rules of grammar do not fashion speech; they record its crystallization. They never establish habits of correct usage, though they may serve to make that usage more intelligent and self-directive. They may throw light on the path of effort, but it is the effort, the determined effort, the repeated effort, that conquers (p. v). 29
  30. 30. Style and Usage Kittredge and Arnold (1908) One may speak or write grammatically and still not speak or write in what is called a good style. In other words, language may be grammatical without being clear, forcible, and in good taste.. .Good style, then, is impossible without grammatical correctness, but grammatical correctness does not necessarily carry with it good style (p. xvii). The rules of grammar get their authority from usage (p. xxii). In addition, "by usage is meant the practice of the best writers or speakers, not merely the habits of the community in which a person happens to live” (p.xvi). 30
  31. 31. "Platitudinous Ponderosity.” designed to be read aloud in mock heroic style (Webster, 1876) In promulgating your esoteric cogitations, or articulating your superficial sentimentalities, and amicable, philosophical, or psychological observations, beware of platitudinous ponderosity. Let your conversational communications possess clarified conciseness, a compacted comprehensibleness, a coalescent consistency, and a concatenated cogency. Eschew all conglomerations of flatulent garrulity, jejune babblement and asinine affectation. Sedulously avoid all polysyllabic profundidity, pompous prolixity, psittaceous bacinity, ventriloquial verbosity and vaniloquent rapidity. Shun double entendres, pestiferous profanity, obscurant or apparent. In other words, talk plainly, briefly, naturally, sensibly, truthfully, purely. Keep from "slang;" don't "put on airs;" say what you mean; mean what you say. And don 't use big words (p. 60)! 31
  32. 32. On Punctuation "There is probably not, in the compass of human knowledge, a more chaotic subject than punctuation.” Turner (1879) --Kerl, 1862 Punctuation for the purpose of making meaning clearer was invented by the Alexandrine grammarians, but this system was forgotten by the time of Charlemagne (786-8 14). The present system was introduced by Aldo Manuzio (1449-1515), a celebrated Italian printer, whose name is preserved in the Aldine editions of the classic authors. The system now in use is substantially that of Manuzio (p. 28). Of all the points the dash (--) is perhaps used the most lawlessly in being used interchangeably with nearly all the others.. .It is mainly rhetorical in its functions, but is also to some extent grammatical (p. 61). A perfect style, then, is so transparent a medium for the thought as to become itself invisible,--a trainof words presenting the meaning so well and impressively that it passes by itself unobserved (Coleridge in Kerl, 1862, p. 283). 32
  33. 33. Five Perennial Dilemmas of English Education in America 33
  34. 34. Students Lack Preparation for Everyday Life It is generally admitted, at least by those persons who frequently have occasion to write the English language, that the knowledge of this subject, obtained in our Schools is not sufficient for the various requirements of life. --Kerl, 1862, p. iii Out of 191 million adults in the US, as many as 44 million cannot read a newspaper or fill out a job application. Another 50 million more cannot read or comprehend above the eighth grade level. --Roberts, 1998, Illiteracy on the Rise in America 34
  35. 35. Students Lack Preparation for Writing in College A certain mass of errors, due to carelessness as much as anything else, appears in the writing of every Freshman class; and we have assumed that those same errors probably trouble the average graduate of the High Schools, whether he is a college student or not. --Turner, 1879, p. vii Currently, he notes (Kirst, 2003), 45 percent of undergraduates in America attend Community colleges, up 10 percent in the past decade. For these students, as well as those who attend nonselective four-year colleges, the real issue is not whether they will be admitted, but whether they can pass a placement exam to exempt them from remedial courses. --Rigoglioso, 2005, from the Stanford Report 35
  36. 36. Teachers do not have enough time to properly cover the curriculum In our schools, there is time for the practical only. --Kerl, 1862, p. 85 Findings indicate that the context of curriculum decision making is dominated by the state curriculum framework at all three participatory levels. The dominance and acceptance of the state's role and district reinforcement tended to preclude teacher empowerment. Teachers cited lack of time as the major barrier to effective decision making. --Andersen and Klein, 1990 (from A Study of Curriculum Decision Making in a Time of Site Based Management) 36
  37. 37. Prioritizing the Practical over the Aesthetic The motive actuating much of the elementary education of the day is so practical as to have grossly materialistic, if not actually sordid, tendencies. How to get rich receives more attention than how to see a sunset or how to despise a lie or a mean action. There is a demand for dime novels because of the intensely practical nature of our universal education. The moral, the aesthetic, the spiritual needs and conditions seem to have been only too completely overlooked. --Kennedy, 1890, pp. vi-vii The federal No Child Left Behind Act, MCAS, and declines in state aid have had a profound effect on the role of arts and culture in our schools. Unfortunately, No Child Left Behind does not mandate testing in the arts and MCAS does not assess student abilities in the arts. As a result arts, humanities and even the sciences are increasingly marginalized in the curriculum, since schools and districts inevitably prioritize those subjects that are tested. --Hunter, 2004, from Culture is Our Commonwealth 37
  38. 38. What constitutes ‘good English’ anyway? A common species of nonsense and pedantry is the grandiloquent use of learned language, when the speaker or writer has nothing to say, or does not himself comprehend, or only in a shadowy way, what he pretends to explain or prove to others. --Kerl, 1862, p. 285 A common current myth about American English is that it is being ruined by massmedia. Even Prince Charles has claimed that the "bloody " Americans are ruining the English language. Noted writers such as E. D. Hirsch (1987) and Edwin Newman (1974) assert that English is in its postmortem stages because of so much linguistic variation. However, according to Robert MacNeil and William Cran in their book Do You Speak American?, this variation is a result not of linguistic misuse or decay, but rather of America's increasing diversity and ongoing population shifts. --Orosco, 2005, Do You Speak American? (Bilingual Research Journal) 38
  39. 39. The (Perpetual) Call for Education Reform in America Public education is based largely on the principle that it is easier to form than to reform-that it is easier to take children and make men of them than to restore them to manhood after they have become profligate. Communities have learned that the hope of the future lies in the improvement of the children. When Germany lay crushed under the iron heel of the first Napoleon...the great philosopher Fichte sent forth the famous utterance: "There is still one thing that we can do for Germany; we can improve our children, and they will save our history." Immediately the German free-school system sprang into existence, And all are compelled to admit that Germany still has a history. —Kennedy, 1890, p. 97 39
  40. 40. The (Perpetual) Call for Education Reform in America English education, positioned as it is between theory and practice, between university and school, between bureaucratic hierarchy and community, holds a unique position to help re-direct attention in the debate from argument and disengagement toward a genuine dialogue that might serve as the basis for reforming schools in ways that support our teachers and tap their expertise, promote our political and economic interests in the global marketplace, and foster traditional American values of justice and equal opportunity. –Alsup, 2006, p. 286 40
  41. 41. In Conclusion… …we need to remember that the perspective we gain by looking into the past can only serve to add clarity and conviction to the dialogues which are necessary on federal, state, and local levels today. We must remember our origins as we embrace today's new literacies. Learning from the mistakes and successes of those who have gone before us can only serve to provide modern American educators with a better informed teaching stance for the problems which face us in the 21 st century. 41