Composing a care of the self: A critical history of writing assessment in secondary english education

Year: 2012

Author: Carlson, David, Albright, James

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper sheds light on historical interpretations of writing assessment in secondary English classrooms by examining the metaphorical relationships between medicine and writing pedagogy during the mid-to-late nineteenth century in the United States. This paper uses previously overlook or missed documents in School Review to illustrate the pathological justifications for approaches to teaching writing in secondary schools. Moreover, contemporary historians rightfully assert that detailed information about the daily teaching practices is limited (Cuban, 1993). This paper discusses the emergences of the laboratory report and laboratory method of teaching in the teaching of writing. Finally, it contributes to historical scholarship in secondary English studies, which has been largely been under-utilized in this field, and contributes to the larger historical archive of historiography of education in general. Documents in School Review reveal a real concern for health, the body, and disease of secondary students, and educational reformers utilizes medical-pathological metaphors to justify various approaches and purposes of teaching writing to secondary students.

A correlation (not causation) between education and medicine appeared more acutely as strategies to pierce the inside of the student's body became fiercer in education as medical technology advances (i.e. microscopy, x-ray, laboratory). Just as the epistemological field for the physician in the early nineteenth century limited his/her knowledge of disease and health via the entrances and exits, the educators striving to construct a unified secondary school system relied heavily on the inputs and outputs (products) of pupils. Their reliance on formal pedagogical approaches culminating in a college-entrance exam indicates a constrained view of the post-grammar school student. Secondary teachers, like physicians, perceived the pupil and learning as a series of inputs and outputs. The metaphorical relationship between this (input/output) model and the rise of industrialization and urbanization of this time period does not go unnoticed; however, the scholarship in this area is abundant. What's more, it also reflects the discursive relationship between health, disease and the body and secondary education. The multiple references to 'efficiency' during this time did not relate simply to economics and industry, but when read in context with medical discourses, reflected a desire to ensure that pupils maintained a smooth, cheerful, and clear system of mind, body and temperament. Thus, in the end, this paper asserts the proposition (and possibility) that secondary education may be more indebted to the microbe and Germ Theory than to Charles W. Eliot and the Committee of Ten.