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Producing Good Citizens

Producing Good Citizens: Literacy Training in Anxious Times

Amy J. Wan
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    Producing Good Citizens
    Book Description:

    Recent global security threats, economic instability, and political uncertainty have placed great scrutiny on the requirements for U.S. citizenship. The stipulation of literacy has long been one of these criteria. InProducing Good Citizens,Amy J. Wan examines the historic roots of this phenomenon, looking specifically to the period just before World War I, up until the Great Depression. During this time, the United States witnessed a similar anxiety over the influx of immigrants, economic uncertainty, and global political tensions.Early on, educators bore the brunt of literacy training, while also being charged with producing the right kind of citizens by imparting civic responsibility and a moral code for the workplace and society. Literacy quickly became the credential to gain legal, economic, and cultural status. In her study, Wan defines three distinct pedagogical spaces for literacy training during the 1910s and 1920s: Americanization and citizenship programs sponsored by the federal government, union-sponsored programs, and first year university writing programs. Wan also demonstrates how each literacy program had its own motivation: the federal government desired productive citizens, unions needed educated members to fight for labor reform, and university educators looked to aid social mobility.Citing numerous literacy theorists, Wan analyzes the correlation of reading and writing skills to larger currents within American society. She shows how early literacy training coincided with the demand for laborers during the rise of mass manufacturing, while also providing an avenue to economic opportunity for immigrants. This fostered a rhetorical link between citizenship, productivity, and patriotism. Wan supplements her analysis with an examination of citizen training books, labor newspapers, factory manuals, policy documents, public deliberations on citizenship and literacy, and other materials from the period to reveal the goal and rationale behind each program.Wan relates the enduring bond of literacy and citizenship to current times, by demonstrating the use of literacy to mitigate economic inequality, and its lasting value to a productivity-based society. Today, as in the past, educators continue to serve as an integral part of the literacy training and citizen-making process.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7960-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 1-15)

    If you want to take the temperature of a nation, just turn to its discussions about citizenship. In 1916, in the midst of the First World War and a spike in immigration from countries outside of northern Europe, the United States Bureau of Naturalization sponsored a Citizenship Convention in Washington, DC. Various stakeholders, including teachers, labor leaders, and congressional representatives, were called together to discuss how to shape the citizenship of new immigrants. This convention synthesized a host of disparate lessons already circulating across the United States in workplaces, community groups, and schools about how to communicate with your boss,...

    (pp. 16-37)

    The charge of producing citizens has long been an integral part of the mission of education in the United States. From Thomas Jefferson’s linking of an “educated citizenry” to “our survival as a free people” to educational reformer Horace Mann’s common school movement through John Dewey and other Progressive era pragmatists, from the New Left–era education movements of the 1960s (e.g., Students for a Democratic Society) to the rhetoric of the 2006 Spellings Commission report, education in the name of citizenship endures. Yet as educational historian Derek Heater explains, citizenship—what it means, what kind of behavior it describes,...

    (pp. 38-71)

    In the 1922Federal Textbook on Citizenship Training, an aptly titled lesson called “The Good Citizen” begins with Mr. Brown telling Mr. White, “I have been reading that they intend to build some school buildings.” Their conversation moves through issues of cost (“it will take a great deal of money”) and benefits (“we must give our children the best chance for an education”) and eventually lands on voting for a certain candidate for the school board. The reader is told, “On the day of the election Mr. Brown voted. He was very busy, but he thought every voter should do...

  4. 3 CLASS WORK: Labor Education and Literacy Hope
    (pp. 72-111)

    In the passage above from the labor newspaperJustice, Fannia M. Cohn, educational director of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), explained the rationale behind the development of the workers’ education movement in the United States during the 1910s and 1920s. To labor educators such as Cohn, workers’ education was designed to help unionists become “more intelligent workers and citizens of the community in which they reside” as opposed to the “efficient and better workers,” ones that would be obedient enough to fit easily into the industrial economy, imagined to be produced by other kinds of education, such as...

    (pp. 112-144)

    In his 1916English Journalarticle “The Outside of the Cup,” Louis Rapeer from Pennsylvania State College (now University) asked English educators, “What are you contributing in the way of knowledge, habits, ideals, and appreciations to one or more of these dominant aims of education? . . . What about citizenship?” (382).¹ He questioned whether the focus of English courses should be obtaining knowledge of a particular body of work or the form of language, or as he put it, studying the vessel itself or what lies “outside the cup.” He believed that teachers “have the greatest opportunity . ....

    (pp. 145-178)

    In the context of citizenship training in the United States, literacy has been used as a means to ease anxieties about citizenship by cultivating assimilation, empowerment, and employability. The imperative for literacy in each of the three training sites examined in the previous chapters has been influenced by the imagined ways that literacy will prepare students for future identities in the face of anxiety about changes to work, to the demographics of the country, to the economy, and even to the legal boundaries of citizenship. These anxieties, especially those rooted in concerns about economic survival and creating a culture of...