Carr, Carr, and Schultz–Chapter 2: Reading School Readers

Chapter Two, pages 81-116 “Reading School Readers”

As Carr, Carr, and Schultz (CCS) write in the coda toward the back of the book, “Every textbook is an archive of instruction—it holds traces of past books and traditions, sometimes literally in silent borrowings or explicit citations, and sometimes in more deeply embedded ways. It carries out inherited attitudes, visible, for example, in a proposed sequence of learning, in notions about student work or progress, in evaluative terms or standards, in its pedagogical routines” (209). In Chapter 2, CCS illustrate how readers from the 19th century, especially, reveal inherited values and traces of past traditions. Readers, textbooks designed specifically to teach reading, were used both inside and outside of schools. During this century, readers changed from elocutionary—reading aloud with the focus on pronunciation, emphasis, and gesture—to literary—reading silently with the focus on meaning and interpretation (115). Thus while earlier elocutionary readers emphasized genres of oral delivery such as dialogues, orations, and dramatic speeches and the physicality of reading (posture, gesture, and breath), later literary readers focused on a wide spectrum of literary genres and emphasized the historical and literary context of specific texts, authors’ biographies, interpretations, and issues of style (115). Most readers were not restricted to elocution or literary, however. It is more accurate to describe 19th century readers as a hybrid between the two with much shared materials such as a strong focus on poetry and inclusions of certain authors such as Shakespeare; the main difference is how readers took up these materials in order to teach reading.

The early elocutionary readers reveal that reading was general thought to be and thus taught as an oral practice, which reflected older rhetorical and elocutionary traditions. The rise of literary readers indicate a shift to reading as a written practice.

Also, school readers in the 19th century reflect cultural values and expectations guided by institutions of school, church, and liberty. Because reading is a national project aimed at developing a “reading public,” reading is strongly linked to religion and morality in the 19th century. In school, for instance, reading played a significant role in socializing students according to their class and status. Reading also acted as a gateway into the literary culture. Many readers thus were made for both public and private use. Reading materials and methods became class markers. As readers became broadly disseminated across social lines, ideas of literacy changed and thus so did readers. While schools emphasized the need to be able to spell, recite, and perform in order to read well, reading for pleasure became a symbol of being cultured in the private realm. “Books and reading were thus understood as a mechanism of educational and social control and as a method of self-development” (91).

Because reading became a national and professional concern, reading pedagogies, theories, and practices proliferated. Uniform pedagogical materials, by the 1870s, were sold separately than readers in the form of teaching manuals and how to books.

Yet early readers were instructional as they focused on alphabet, syntax, and oral performance. Topics covered in readers ranged from all subject areas (omnibus textbooks) to topical books that attempted to making reading more amusing. Atttention to the alphabet, syllables, words, spelling, and grammar was popular in readers. The spelling bee became the latest rage. Readers presented the “finest” examples of well-written sentences from the “finest” speeches and literature from literary culture. By end of century, modern readers had distinguished themselves from classic readers. In these more modern readers, pedagogical intervention was replaced with anthologies of readings in a variety of literary forms. The shift had been made from the elocutionary to the literary reader.


As a rhetoric and composition scholar, I am always thinking about the ways in which our field is “a mechanism of educational and social control and as a method of self-development” (91). Now that we are studying the ways in which histories are created, I am beginning to focus my attention on how history itself is “a mechanism of educational and social control and as a method of self-development” (91). I wonder, especially, how does the history CCS “fabricate” through their archival project act as a mechanism of educational and social control and as a method for the self-development of our field? What traditions and values in our field are being protected in this archival project? Who benefits most from this collection? Who doesn’t it? These latter questions are begining to sound like a cliche, but anytime we study archives, we must ask them.

Another burning related question for me this week seems to be one touched upon by a number of others and is broached on our course syllabus: What are the standards for good historical scholarship? Do CCS’s historical scholarship meet those standards?

In order to more clearly define social history as the semester proceeds, it is imperative we begin to define those explicit and implicit standards. Accuracy–one glaring standard– is a relative term. Who determines whether a certain representation of the social, cultural, and political conditions affecting a rhetorical practice such as writing textbooks is accurate? It seems to me that once we take a particular stance in representing history that we are always sacrificing the possibility of writing accuracy. How do we stand at multiple postions when writing history to present a more accurate representation of those conditions? Would telling history from a multitude of stances reconcile the impossibilty of accuracy and the unavoidable tendency to fabricate when writing social histories? What stances are CCS bringing to the table, to steal Eileen’s question, in this archival project?



Filed under cultural rhetorics exam, historiography exam

3 responses to “Carr, Carr, and Schultz–Chapter 2: Reading School Readers

  1. Eileen E. Schell

    To try to begin to answer your question about standards for historical scholarship, I think one answer I would give is that I would value a multilayered account of an event or community or historical phenomenon that addresses multiple sources of evidence (archival, interviews or published accounts, physical evidence regarding a place or time). I would want to see the historian of rhetoric work at not over-identifying with or over-familiarizing his/her research subjects. I’d like to see a strong attempt to understand the social and economic circumstances of the time as well as the kinds of rhetorical texts there might be that illuminate the phenomenon under discussion.

  2. legries

    Thanks, Eileen. I think the last criteria you mention is crucial for attempting to create as accurate account of an event or historical phenomenon as possible. The work that CCS attempted to d0–analyze textbooks from the 19th century-is such a broad scope that it left little room to explain or uncover the social and economic circumstances of that time. With that much time/space to cover, broad generalizations could only be made. Without this deep analysis of those circumstances, I feel the rhetorical nature of those textbooks is only touched upon. However, at the same time, CCS points us in a direction where we can go back and do a more accurate, or in-depth analysis. I also think it would be facinating to look at composition textbooks today to see how their rhetorical nature responds to contemporary political circumstances. One question I would love to explore is how the unilateral abuse of the executive office in the last few years manifests itself in composition and rhetoric textbooks. In other words, how do composition and rhetoric textbooks respond to the growing concerns over a weakening Congress and an overpowering executive office? What does the current emphasis on rhetorical analysis in composition, evident in say the Thomson handbook, reveal about the ways in which our field percieves the role literacy should play in a functioning democracy?

  3. That is a really interesting question, Laurie – and I think the Bruggerman/Hesford Visual Rhetoric textbook might be a great site to start with… how does that 2007 textbook fit into the larger, on-going textbook world? I’d be curious about how Speech-Com textbooks are dealing with that, too, as a rhetorical concern… And what about journalistic textbooks? How do instructional materials related to “communication” and public space of various disciplines internalize this tension?

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