Better Aims for English: An Inquiry Into What it Means to Teach English in a Democratic Society
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Perceptions surrounding the subject of English in American public secondary schools have become increasingly narrowed to the practical pursuit of language skills. However, there should be more meaningful aims for English. English should involve not only the study of communication, but also the practice of moral reasoning, the search for identity, and the appreciation of words. In this thesis, I will address why multiple purposes are necessary to the subject of English, detail the essential components of each proposed purpose, and make suggestions for how English teachers should proceed with curriculum and lesson planning with a plurality of aims. First, I draw on John Dewey and Neil Postman to justify the need for aims in education and provide examples of aims which have guided public schooling. Next, I employ Arthur N. Applebee’s concern that English does not have purposes outside of those aligned with public school to begin a discussion of which purposes are relevant to the teaching of English. In each of the chapters on a different aim for English, I consult a number of leaders in educational thought and practice: I work with E. D. Hirsch, the Common Core Standards, and Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe to address trends in teaching English with regard to the purpose of communication; I explore the opportunity to revel in the wizardry of words by consulting Nel Noddings, Maxine Greene, Martha C. Nussbaum, Neil Postman, and Paulo Freire; I connect previous work about the practice of moral reasoning in schools with the moral components of studying English with references to Nicholas J. Karolides, Katherine Simon, and Martha C. Nussbaum; and finally, I use the scholarship of Toni Morrison and Diane Ravitch to consider English as an investigation of identity. All of these purposes are linked to one of Dewey’s proposed aims of public education, to support a democratic nation.
Travis, Kara E., "Better Aims for English: An Inquiry Into What it Means to Teach English in a Democratic Society" (2018). Educational Studies Honors Papers. 2.