Three elements came together to prod me to create "School Tales in 19th Century Fiction":
- My frustration with the inadequate body of information about 19th century U.S. classrooms.
- My love of literature and my belief that good literature can also be good history.
- My desire to create a better educational/scholarly website.
I have taught high school for almost three decades, mainly as an English teacher. For the past ten years, I have developed a growing interest in U.S. educational history, leading me to read in the field and take quite a few graduate level courses in educational history and theory. The more I have searched for my educational ancestors in scholarly works, however, the more disappointed I have become. Most of what I found is, for lack of a better term, a view from the administration building. Just as tourists who visit foreign countries are often said to come away with "a view from the Hilton" that misses the daily lives and culture of the cities they visit, educational histories often fail to convey the sights, sounds, and day-to-day lives of classrooms as they existed in our nation's past. As a teacher who is looking for the origins of my school and my classroom, these omissions are glaring.
A few books have given a more comprehensive look at classrooms, students and teachers. The most important is probably "Governing the Young" by Barbara Finkelstein, in which the author describes and discusses 19th century classrooms and includes narratives from the time, using first hand accounts to take us into the schoolrooms of the day. Other books written over the last twenty years have shown us the lives of teachers and included pieces of their journals, all of which add to the "people's history" of education.
Nineteenth century fiction tends to be overlooked in these important studies, yet contemporary works of fiction often contain complex and revealing documentation of the classrooms of the day. Freed from the restraints of purely factual narrative, writers of fiction are able to create three dimensional vistas recreating the classrooms they attended as children and sometimes taught in as adults. Their vibrant renditions of the day-by-day and minute-by-minute worlds of the 19th century schoolroom have allowed me to understand my educational predecessors in a more holistic sense than I have received from a history book or even through factual narratives of the time. Some essays and personal narratives contain a similar vibrancy, and I have included them as well.
I have created "School Tales in 19th Century Literature" to add this dimension to the exploration of U.S. educational history.
My research has evolved into this website, tapping into my interest in the internet and its value in promoting the dissemination of scholarship and general education. Commercial web design and applications have advanced rapidly over the past few years, but educational websites have remained rather hidebound and uninspired. In this website, I have tried to expand the use of hypertext in education, creating pages that are easy on the eyes at the same time they use some of the unique properties of the web to expand the quantity and quality of information.
Hence, "School Tales in 19th Century Literature." This is a work in progress, one I plan to add to as time and texts make themselves available. I would appreciate any comments and suggestions, especially ideas for texts I should include in this collection.