Blast from the Past (Or, the More Things Change…)

Earlier today, an RCWP colleague – Marcia – invited me to lunch to celebrate my graduation. She also brought me a unique gift: a collection of four books ranging in copyright date from 1888 – 1918, all a part of her personal collection of antique educational artifacts.

There is a guide to the district schools of Michigan from 1908, a “Teachers Manuals No. 9: How to Train the Memory,” and “The Vitalized School,” written by the state superintendent of Ohio. The fourth book is the one that is most interesting to me, and is one volume in the International Education Series (which includes, among others, Froebel‘s Pedagogics of the Kindergarten) called Teaching the Language-Arts: Speech, Reading, Composition by B.A. Hinsdale.

While I can’t go into a complete review of the book here (as I have not read it yet), I have skimmed and found some interesting quotes to note:

On composition: “While we may cheerfully concede that the great writer, like the poet, is born and not made, we need not hesitate to say that the ordinary writer is made and not born. It is a matter of practice rather than of talent or genius.” p. 115

On examining literature: “It is so difficult for many minds to believe that any valuable educational work is being done, unless it can be measured out in examination papers!” p. 139

On teaching Language Arts: “… to teach English successfully requires a combination of cultivation, taste, judgment, and practical skill not found in the common teacher.” p. 199

There are many more gems in here that I look forward to reading about, especially the chapter on rhetoric. Yet, I though just a taste of the field from over 100 years ago shows us the foundations of where we are at now. I would have to read this more closely to get a full understanding of the argument that he makes about what ELA is and how it should be taught, but it seems pretty progressive at first glance (although I could be wrong once I read it more closely).
All the same, this is a great gift and begs the obvious question: Would Hinsdale have ever imagined that a book review of his work, or a digital copy of the book itself, would be available over 100 years later? And, more importantly, that the discussions he was engaged in then still engulf us now?

Thanks, Marcia. What a thought-provoking gift!

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