- PART II: Adolescence / 1950s–1960s (Volume 12, Number 1, through Volume 32, Number 3)
Editor's Note: In this and all subsequent introductions, citations for The News Letter and The CEA Critic will appear in parentheticals as volume.number.page (e.g. 4.7.3)
Characterizing The CEA Critic during the decade of the 1950s, Joe D. Thomas notes in his history of the CEA an important shift with the ascension of Robert Fitzhugh to editor in 1945. The journal moved from what Thomas describes as the comfortable casualness of editor Burges Johnson to a more serious publication with a greater focus on literary criticism and scholarship (48). That evolution continued into the decade of the 1950s.
Particularly marked for The CEA Critic in its evolution from newsletter to academic journal was the relationship between the academy and the professions. A surprising number of articles appeared throughout the decade in response to Fitzhugh's touting of the "As Others See Us" feature during the late 1940s, after his return from service in the Navy. When it first appeared, the feature prompted letters indicating agreement among readers that English studies needed to reassess its role in post-war America. For example, in 1947, the Chair of the Written and Spoken English Department at Michigan State University advocated, "I am in accord with The News Letter's positive approach towards problems in English education. If college English departments are to contribute vitally to progress in higher education, college English teachers must get out of the stacks; remove the far-off Beowulf-look; humanize their teaching approach; and become aware of the place of English (all phases) in everyday life" (9.9.1) Another respondent was more blunt:
We are living in a world where millions are freezing and starving, where in our own "land of plenty" the four basic necessities of life—food, fuel, clothing, and shelter—are extremely hard to obtain because of scarcity, where peace seems to be getting farther and farther away in the stratosphere of abstractions. Can it be that living in such a world is forcing English teachers to forsake their hitherto swami-like contemplation of the ice cream and cake of "Culture" and "the finer things of life" for a new interest in the bread and butter value of sound thinking? Can it be that English teachers are beginning to see that the Freshman first feels the need for skill in sound thinking when he has to prepare either a spoken or written composition?"(9.9.2) [End Page 138]
Many of the articles on the corporate-college connection were a response to another early "As Others See Us" column that sought to understand what employers found lacking in the college graduates working for them. The column's methodology thereby moved beyond the Ivory Tower: "To gather informed outside opinion on what English departments have done and can do for these students, the editor asked a friendly officer of a large corporation for an appraisal. He in turn solicited comment from officers directly in charge of departments which are heavily staffed with college graduates" (15.9.1). In response, comments addressed topics uncannily familiar to most of us teaching today. For example, under the heading "Muddled Writing," the commentator noted, "In my experience many college trained men do not know how to present the results of their work in straightforward readable reports. All too often the purposes, observations and results of days of experimentation are obscured by the indifferent organization and irrelevant detail of muddled writing" (15.9.1). Other shortcomings included "Rambling Reports" characterized by the employer as
Monotony of sentence structure … as well as a predilection for the complex sentence, where clause is piled on clause for fifty words or so. There are irrational changes in tense, split infinitives, banalities and mannerisms. One report is too flowery, another too verbose, a third too personalized. These faults are regrettable not so much that they fail to convey the ideas but because one gets a poor impression of the writer which is reflected in the judgment of the content.(15.9.5).
Throughout the decade, contributions that looked to define what English departments could do...