Honors College
 

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Publication Date

5-2014

Abstract

This historical research focuses on how literature was taught in American high schools in the early Cold War period (1945-1963) and why it was taught that way. It aims to discover how the Cold War culture of conformity impacted secondary literature education. What were literature teachers’ concerns? What was the historical context of these concerns, and how did they affect methods in the classroom and rhetoric in academic journals? Finally, how did methodology and rhetoric change over time? Research involved gaining familiarity with Early Cold War culture, politics, and events through secondary sources; narrowing to U.S. education in the early Cold War; and examining primary source articles in The English Journal between 1945 and 1963. Throughout the period, literature teachers used this journal to explain how and why literature prepared high school students to be successful in American society. Teachers expressed concern about preparing students for a democratic society and reflected the countrywide focus on demonstrating that the U.S. political and economic model of democracy and free trade would be more successful than the Soviet Union’s communist and socialist model. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, the United States competed to be scientifically superior, and teachers adapted to demonstrate that literature was still relevant to a society focused on science and competition. This project concludes that during the early Cold War, teachers feared for their reputations and jobs if they did not conform to societal expectations and prove that their lessons prepared students to be good Americans. Due to the heightened concern and potential consequence, this is a particularly relevant time period in which to study the ongoingcompulsion for literature educators to demonstrate their subject’s relevance to society.

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