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Producing Good Citizens

Literacy Training in Anxious Times

by Amy J. Wan

Publication Year: 2014

Recent global security threats, economic instability, and political uncertainty have placed great scrutiny on the requirements for U.S. citizenship. The stipulation of literacy has long been one of these criteria. In Producing Good Citizens, Amy J. Wan examines the historic roots of this phenomenon, looking specifically to the period just before World War I, up until the Great Depression. During this time, the United States witnessed a similar anxiety over the influx of immigrants, economic uncertainty, and global political tensions. Early on, educators bore the brunt of literacy training, while also being charged with producing the right kind of citizens by imparting civic responsibility and a moral code for the workplace and society. Literacy quickly became the credential to gain legal, economic, and cultural status. In her study, Wan defines three distinct pedagogical spaces for literacy training during the 1910s and 1920s: Americanization and citizenship programs sponsored by the federal government, union-sponsored programs, and first year university writing programs. Wan also demonstrates how each literacy program had its own motivation: the federal government desired productive citizens, unions needed educated members to fight for labor reform, and university educators looked to aid social mobility. Citing numerous literacy theorists, Wan analyzes the correlation of reading and writing skills to larger currents within American society. She shows how early literacy training coincided with the demand for laborers during the rise of mass manufacturing, while also providing an avenue to economic opportunity for immigrants. This fostered a rhetorical link between citizenship, productivity, and patriotism. Wan supplements her analysis with an examination of citizen training books, labor newspapers, factory manuals, policy documents, public deliberations on citizenship and literacy, and other materials from the period to reveal the goal and rationale behind each program. Wan relates the enduring bond of literacy and citizenship to current times, by demonstrating the use of literacy to mitigate economic inequality, and its lasting value to a productivity-based society. Today, as in the past, educators continue to serve as an integral part of the literacy training and citizen-making process.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-15

If you want to take the temperature of a nation, just turn to its discussions about citizenship. In 1916, in the midst of the First World War and a spike in immigration from countries outside of northern Europe, the United States Bureau of Naturalization sponsored a Citizenship Convention in Washington, DC. Various stakeholders, including teachers, labor leaders, and congressional...

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1. In the Name of Citizenship

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pp. 16-37

The charge of producing citizens has long been an integral part of the mission of education in the United States. From Thomas Jefferson’s linking of an “educated citizenry” to “our survival as a free people” to educational reformer Horace Mann’s common school movement through John Dewey and other Progressive era pragmatists, from the New Left–era education movements...

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2. Literacy Training, Americanization, and the Cultivation of the Productive Worker-Citizen

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pp. 38-71

In the 1922 Federal Textbook on Citizenship Training, an aptly titled lesson called “The Good Citizen” begins with Mr. Brown telling Mr. White, “I have been reading that they intend to build some school buildings.” Their conversation moves through issues of cost (“it will take a great deal of money”) and...

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3. Class Work: Labor Education and Literacy Hope

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pp. 72-111

In the passage above from the labor newspaper Justice, Fannia M. Cohn, educational director of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), explained the rationale behind the development of the workers’ education movement in the United States during the 1910s and 1920s. To labor educators such as Cohn, workers’ education was designed to help unionists become...

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4. English and Useful Citizenship in a Culture of Aspiration

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pp. 112-144

In his 1916 English Journal article “The Outside of the Cup,” Louis Rapeer from Pennsylvania State College (now University) asked English educators, “What are you contributing in the way of knowledge, habits, ideals, and appreciations to one or more of these dominant aims of education? . . . What about citizenship?” (382).1 He questioned whether the focus of English courses should be...

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5. Teaching Literacy and Citizenship in the Twenty-First Century

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pp. 145-178

In the context of citizenship training in the United States, literacy has been used as a means to ease anxieties about citizenship by cultivating assimilation, empowerment, and employability. The imperative for literacy in each of the three training sites examined in the previous chapters has been influenced by the imagined ways that literacy will prepare students for future identities in...


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pp. 179-196

Works Cited

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pp. 197-208


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pp. 209-220

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780822979609
E-ISBN-10: 0822979608
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822962892
Print-ISBN-10: 0822962896

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture
Series Editor Byline: David Bartholomae and Jean Ferguson Carr, Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 875633881
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Producing Good Citizens

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Literacy -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Citizenship -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Immigrants -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Acculturation -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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