Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Searching for Search

On the Friday of the C’s, I escaped the 20-ring circus for a short while by making my way over on the BART train to UC Berkeley. My interest was in two boxes of archival materials held in the UC Berkeley Music Library: the papers of Preston W. Search.

Here’s a picture of Search from his career as a public speaker:

Search was the Superintendent of Schools in Pueblo, CO, Holyoke, MA, and Los Angeles, CA, from around 1888 to shortly past the turn of the 20th century, and, as far as I can tell, was one of the first proponents of the idea of classroom as laboratory. Here how Search described the Pueblo, CO, schools:
The work is now conducted largely by what may be called laboratory methods. . . . Every room is a true studio or workshop, in which the pupils work as individuals. The province of the teacher is not to line up the pupils and to consume time by entertainment, lecturing, and development of subjects; but to pass from desk to desk as the inspiring director and pupil’s assistant.

I’m intrigued by Search because of his writing-centered way of thinking about teaching and learning all the way back in the late 19th century. He was part of a general movement that criticized “mass instruction”—namely the same old lecture and recitation to numbed students—as completely bankrupt, if not harmful. Here’s another quote:
Man’s highest possibilities in achievement must demand individual opportunity. There must be elimination of much of class method, the passivity of the many while listening to the few, the marking of time, and the substitution of the teacher’s effort for the child’s. The greatest thing a child gets from his teacher is not subject matter, but contact with a great personality.

I think if Search were alive today he’d be directing a writing center or a writing program. Instead, few have heard of him, an all-too-familiar story in our educational system that looks ahead far more often than it looks back.


At 5:42 AM, Blogger Rosa G. said...

What an interesting person! How did you find him?
I think that blogging is one way to help us look back at education in the U.S., given its ease of use for reader and writer. I'd like to see more historical studies of writing/teaching/comp and rhet, and the textbooks used at each juncture.

This is my first visit to this blog--won't be my last!
Joanna at Community College English

At 7:04 AM, Blogger /WCJ/ said...

Joanna, I found out about Search a couple of years ago when I was trying to figure out the origins of what we know as writing centers. Here's the progression: Christina Murphy had written something about Helen Parkhurst as perhaps the first person to conceive of the idea of a writing center (Parkhurst created something called "The Dalton Laboratory School Plan" in the early 20th century). Parkhurst in a publication had credited Edgar James Swift as the originator of the idea of school as laboratory. Swift in his book Mind in the Making referenced Preston Search as did a biographer of Parkhurst. That led me to Search's publications, including his book An Ideal School and an 1894 article in Educational Review called "Individual Teaching: The Pueblo Plan" (which is where my first quote in the blog entry comes from).

The odd presence of Search's papers at a music library is because his son, Frederick P. Search, became a relatively well-known composer in the first half of the 20th century, and his papers as well as his father's were donated to UC Berkeley in 1980.

Historical research really is much like uncovering a mystery, don't you think?

Thanks for asking, Joanna.

Neal Lerner

At 9:44 AM, Blogger theorris said...

He does sound like a WC kind of guy. I'm struck, now that I think about it, how much the laboratory model of the science class reflected in a recollection like Samuel Scudder's chapter on Louis Aggasiz (http://philosophy.lander.edu/intro/introbook2.1/x426.html)
kind of reflects a similar model. Neal, what was the influence of "new-fashioned" science at the time on the laboratory model of education? Were folks like Search working against what they perceived to be "bad old models" of education?

At 10:25 AM, Blogger /WCJ/ said...

Clint, the historical relationship between teaching science and teaching writing as "laboratory subjects" is one of my current obsessions (sometimes known as "an area of research"). It was around the same time, the 1890s, that school science laboratories started to become widespread, and it was all part of a general trend away from mass teaching and toward seeing students as individuals. The use of the laboratory was both individual and somehow more "real." You mention Louis Aggassiz of Harvard; here's an 1879 quote from him on the inadquacy of then-current methods of teaching science:

The pupil studies nature in the schoolroom, and when he goes out of doors he can not find her.

Similarly, Albert Kitzhaber in Rhetoric in American Colleges, 1850-1900 reported that college rhetoric teaching up to the 1890s largely focused on "a mass of principles to be committed to memory" (219).

So both science and composition turned to having students practice rather than merely regurgitate. Of course, it hasn't been smooth sailing for either discipline, and many of the same struggles are continually revisited.

Thanks for taking this trip with me down memory lane.


At 10:57 AM, Blogger theorris said...

I'm going to be really interested in what you find out from your trip to Minnesota too.

Anyway back to the subject at hand--I was thinking recently that the Writing Center model purposefully switched away from the "Lab" to a less "scientific name" (Center signifies a variety of things to a variety of people)--and now we seem to be moving to the "artistic" ala the "Writing Studio" discussion that recently occurred on WCENTER. There also seems to be a movement to a "sports" analogy with the use of "writing coaches" instead of "tutors." I am fascinated by the names we choose for our work and our places of work. Do you know of any work that explores the significance of names and naming in WC work? I can think of a couple, but want to pick your brain for more. (And I suppose a good brain-picking is a good thing to happen in a public blog.)

At 11:39 AM, Blogger /WCJ/ said...

You're giving me lots of reasons to avoid responding to my students' writing, Clint (like I need any).

Here are my favorite references on "naming":

Boquet, Beth. Noise from the Writing Center, Ch. 1. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 2002.

Carino, Peter. "What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Our Metaphors: A Cultural Critique of Clinic, Lab, and Center." WCJ 13.1 (1992): 31-42.

McCall, William. "Writing Centers and the Idea of Consultancy." WCJ 14.2 (1994): 163-172.

Pemberton, Michael. "The Prison, the Hospital, and the Madhouse: Redefining Metaphors for the Writing Center." Writing Lab Newsletter 17 (September 1992): 11-16.

Runciman, Lex. "Defining Ourselves: Do We Really Want to Use the Word Tutor?" WCJ 11.1 (1990): 27-35.

What's on your list?


At 12:04 PM, Blogger theorris said...

Oh sure make me dig though my piles of journals! ;-) Actually I can dodge the question for now since I have a department meeting, but thanks for the early 90's WLN and WCJ articles. I will have to dig into those. I have read Pemberton's and Carino's pieces previously, and know that Peter has a piece in The Center Will Hold as well; isn't there a piece about names and naming in CWH? My copy is at home somewhere, so I can't take a peek at it. One piece that comes to mind that is a bout naming and metaphors is Wendy Bishop's "You Can Take the Girl Out of the Writing Center, But You Can't Take the Writing Center Out of the Girl: Reflections on the Sites We Call Centers" in her Teaching Lives..

I agree with the Noise reference; I think it is a book that deserves more attention and discussion, overall.

I'll pull some more out later...if I can find it in all the mess.

As I recall there have been some recent pieces in WLN, but I'm not completely certain about that.

At 6:27 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

I don't really have anything interesting to add except to say, Neil, that your historical research is such an important contribution to the field. Search sounds fascinating!

Lisa Ede

At 6:17 AM, Blogger /WCJ/ said...

Thanks, Lisa. Unfortunately, I had only 20 minutes to take a look at the Search archives before the library closed and I had to head back to SF. I need to go back and really dive in. Good stuff.


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