Writing in the Academic Disciplines: A Curricular History

By David R. Russell | Go to book overview

2

NINETEENTH-CENTURY
BACKGROUNDS

From the Liberal Curriculum to
Mass Education

Until the last third of the nineteenth century, writing instruction beyond the elementary school was largely unnecessary, for writing was ancillary to speaking. In our modern print culture, it is difficult to imagine a time when education, indeed public life, was so dominantly oral. But this face-to-face, oral character of preprofessional society explains, more than any other factor, the place of writing instruction within its educational institutions and the dramatic changes writing and its pedagogy underwent. 1

In antebellum society, postelementary education was by modern standards extraordinarily homogeneous, guaranteeing a linguistic common ground. Almost all postelementary schools were unapologetically elitist and sectarian. Students and faculty were of the same sex, race, religion, and, for the most part, of the same social class. Students and faculty lived together, often in the same quarters sharing the same food. The faculty were mainly clergymen, twice-daily chapel was required, and revival meetings were frequent on college campuses. While there was considerable variation among institutions, from old colonial-era colleges of the Northeast and South to tiny new academies that followed the westward expansion, each was a community to itself, with standards of inclusion and exclusion that ensured a fundamental uniformity even without taking into account an intellectual common ground—"academic community" in the modern sense.

The academic community of the nineteenth century was consciously and deliberately an extension of the family and church.

-35-

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