In the article “English in Secondary Schools; A Review” Allan Abbott discusses the study of English in secondary schools. If you didn’t know the article was published in 1901, you might not realize it aside from the dated and sexist language. Over a hundred years later, professionals in the field are still trying to figure out how to prepare students for college and the real world in the English classroom.

I was struck by what seemed like a reference to a writing-across-the-curriculum stance in the following passage:

After the elementary steps, proficiency in composition and  taste  for literature  can  be  obtained only  by several years of  constant writing and reading,  which  can  be  done  with  but few  recitation periods.  A boy cannot write with ease and force until he has reasonable accuracy, nor can he criticize without a fairly wide knowledge of books.  The  intermediate  high-school  years are crowded with  other subjects that  need  time,  and  that  also,  if properly taught, afford English  training. In short, the middle high-school years demand for other subjects time that English can well spare .

Abbott is essentially claiming that it should be the English teacher’s job to teach the basic skills early on and then allow for less time spent in English and Literature classrooms during the middle years because the other subjects can incorporate writing into the lesson plans. I agree that it is important to encourage writing, and good writing, in other subjects, but does this really work?

It was also amazing to read, again in an article published in 1901, that “interest, the psychologists tell us, depends on ability to connect the new object with something interesting already in the mind, and to hold the interest of pupils, we must discover what resident or natural interests they have, and make our work branch out in a sort of network from them”(395). I wasn’t surprised to read that “very little work has been done in this direction”(395).