Testimonial Rhetoric in Nineteenth-Century Composition
Chapter Three Composing American (Daniel Floyd)
In liberal democracies, public education serves a crucial function in helping to shape the polis. Most often the way public education is crafted reflects the needs and values of the society in that moment. In The Young Composers, Lucille Schultz explains that the nineteenth century’s
textbooks represented the values and lives of the European American, Christian haute bourgeoisie and were written for its members and that European American really signified Anglo-American. The families that students read about and saw pictured in their nineteenth-century composition books had summer houses, playrooms, pet kittens and rabbits, and sometimes even ponies; and it wasn’t unusual to see a young girl sitting in a rocker with her feet resting on an upholstered footstool. (29)
Schultz notes that such representation was particularly explicit in the early part of the nineteenth century. Textbook authors wrote works that would serve as part of the civic training education young citizens would receive, but they also wrote with particular notions of what it meant to be an American. Schultz observes that these authors had students examine what it would be like to have a “life on a farm or [a] life in poverty,” but that the exercise was hardly hypothetical, for educational historians “[R. Freeman] Butts and [Lawrence] Cremin estimate that ←77 | 78→ before the Civil War, ninety percent of Americans lived on farms” (29). Authors wrote with a particular audience in mind, but the vast majority of readers knew too well...
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