Writing in the Academic Disciplines: A Curricular History

By David R. Russell | Go to book overview

5

WRITING AND SOCIAL
EFFICIENCY

The Cooperation Movement

As America's schools and colleges entered the twentieth century, they faced a central dilemma. Urbanization and industrialization had specialized knowledge and work to an unprecedented extent. Society demanded that educational institutions create new specialized knowledge and train specialized workers—both professional experts and efficient laborers—on whom urban-industrial America depended for its growth. But the nation also demanded that educational institutions promote the social cohesiveness on which urban-industrial America depended for its stability. As cities grew, the old rural and small-town social structures became inadequate for the complex demands of urban life, and during the Progressive Era, Americans increasingly looked to education to bring about community, cooperation, and democracy in society. Reformers of many stripes sought a "general education" to restore community. 1

The use and teaching of language reflected this dilemma. On the one hand, language instruction was a means of differentiation. Language served as a tool for sorting students, and writing instruction (or the lack of it) was often a vital part of preparing them for specialized social and economic roles. On the other hand, language instruction was a powerful unifying force, at least potentially—though there were many competing versions of a unified society and of a "common" language. Early-twentieth‐ century educators' reactions to this dilemma were as varied and contradictory as the Progressive Era itself. But from the Ameri

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