Schooling Readers investigates the fascinating intersection of two American passions: education and literature. Allison Speicher introduces readers to the common school narrative, an immensely popular genre of fiction–though now often forgotten–set in the rural one-room school in the nineteenth century.

Despite hailing from different regions with diverse histories and cultures, authors in all parts of the United States produced remarkably similar school fictions. These stories, rather than offering idealized depictions of earnest schoolchildren in humble, rough-hewn schoolhouses, expose common schools as sites of both community bonding and social strife. These stories, Speicher shows, reflect surprisingly contemporary problems like school violence and apprehensions about assessments.

In four insightful sections, Speicher illuminates the plotlines that define the common school narrative: school exhibitions, in which common schools were opened to the public for a day of student performances; romances between teachers and students; violence against teachers; and teachers adopting their students. She offers rich examples from one hundred and thirty school stories by well-known authors such as Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, and Edward Eggleston, as well as by educational reform pioneers such as C. W. Bardeen and long-forgotten contributors to nineteenth-century magazines.

By reading these fictions alongside the discourse of reformers like Horace Mann, Speicher illustrates the utility of fiction for uncovering the diverse reactions nineteenth-century Americans had to the expansion of public education as well as the role fiction played in shaping these responses. Throughout she maintains a dual focus, drawing on both literary and educational history, thereby offering much of value to those interested in either field.

Allison Speicher is an assistant professor of English, teaching nineteenth-century American literature and children’s literature at Eastern Connecticut State University.

Schooling Readers will fascinate literary critics as well as historians of education. Speicher has performed a great scholarly service in assembling and providing as an appendix an ample bibliography of common school narratives; this will facilitate future research in this compelling area of study, as will the nature of the book’s chapter topics.”
—Patricia Roylance, author of Eclipse of Empires: World History in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture

Schooling Readers is an important contribution to our understanding of how literature not only informed the arguments concerning education for a democracy but also how it functioned as an instrument of education.”
—Mary Louise Kete, author of Sentimental Collaborations: Mourning and Middle-Class Identity in Nineteenth-Century America and coauthor of the Women’s Worlds: The McGraw-Hill Anthology of Women’s Writing

Trade Cloth
6 X 9, 248 pp
ISBN: 978-0-8173-1916-8 Cloth
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8991-8 Ebook
Price: $54.95