WRITING AND THE
IDEAL OF UTILITY
The founders of the modern mass secondary- and higher-education system often invoked the ideal of utility, as well as the ideal of research. The schools of a democratic nation, they argued, should prepare students for specialized careers. Part of that obligation involved teaching students to write in ways that would serve them beyond academia, or so industrialists and academic administrators frequently assumed. But the mass-education system rarely took conscious and systematic steps to teach students the specialized kinds of writing that were necessary beyond academia, for the ideal of utility had to compete with ideals of specialized research and general culture in the new mass-education system, and the relationship between writing in the academic disciplines and writing in business and industry was rarely explored among faculty or developed in curricula.
As historians of rhetoric have suggested, there were important connections between writing in the new secondary- and higher‐ education system and writing in the new industrial order, both of which emerged fully during what is broadly called the Progressive Era (ca. 1895-1920). 1 But the transparency of rhetoric in both industry and academia made those connections complex and subtle, and thus far historians have only begun to trace the ties between the uses of writing in education and its uses in what Progressive-Era academics came to call "real life." 2 This is a large and vexed question, for the very diversity that characterized the