Title page for ETD etd-07072006-223611

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Reed, Deborah Davis
URN etd-07072006-223611
Title A Historical Examination of the Tradition of Experience in the Teaching of Literature in English Education
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Curriculum & Instruction
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Nancy Nelson Committee Chair
Claudia Eppert Committee Co-Chair
Petra Munro Hendry Committee Member
William Doll, Jr. Committee Member
Gaines Foster Dean's Representative
  • Stephen Toulmin
  • literature instruction
  • progressive education
  • teacher education
  • secondary English
  • educational history
Date of Defense 2006-06-23
Availability unrestricted
By examining major documents for tensions regarding the teaching of literature in the field of secondary English education, this dissertation addressed the following questions: (1) What assumptions about learning and knowledge helped to shape the field? (2) To what extent does the field demonstrate consistency or change in its discourse defined-positions? and (3) How might current conversations in the field fit within a larger historical, social, and political context, thus equipping English educators to better articulate and situate their own pedagogical beliefs?

Stephen Toulmin’s (1958) model of an argument served as a means of analyzing the field’s ongoing conversation about the teaching of literature, as revealed in its central documents and publications. The study examined these works, which were generally offered in response to texts from outside of the field, during three periods throughout the history of English education as a profession: the inaugural era of the field, the social reform era, and the era of accountability. Analyses, which focused on asserted claims and the data and warrants supporting them, demonstrated that the field has remained relatively consistent in its claims about the purposes and methodologies for the teaching of literature, particularly with its emphasis on experience, a concept commonly associated with the progressive movement in education.

This study, which provides insight into the shared values among English education, serves as a continuation of the conversation in the field. It highlights the relevance of key works from the field and of the voices of major historical figures as well as of current participants, and it provides a historical lens for examining contemporary issues in English education. In doing so, it promotes a synonymous, rather than dichotomous, relationship between tradition and reform. Throughout history, when English educators have felt outward pressure to redefine their field, they have turned to the progressive notion of experience as their guiding tradition. Despite the connotations usually associated with traditional education, this analysis demonstrates that reform or progress—typically juxtaposed against tradition—is the tradition for the field of English education.


Toulmin, S. E. (1958). The uses of argument. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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