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  • A Shared HistoryWriting in the High School, College, and University, 1856–1886
  • Henrietta Rix Wood
Amy J. Lueck. A Shared History: Writing in the High School, College, and University, 1856–1886. Carbon-dale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2020. 248 pp. ISBN: 9780809337422 (paperback). $37.00.

In 1860, a high school student spoke about women's rights at a public event in Louisville, Kentucky. Asserting that society should allow women to pursue higher education and professional opportunities, Marie B. Radcliffe displayed the writing and speaking skills she had developed as a student at Louisville's Female High School. Radcliffe's persuasive prowess may seem exceptional, but she is representative of many students at many high schools of the mid-nineteenth century in the United States, according to Amy J. Lueck in A Shared History: Writing in the High School, College, and University, 1856–1886. Lueck argues that high schools of this period often offered instruction in composition and rhetoric that was comparable to the instruction of colleges and universities, and distinctions among these three [End Page 96] educational institutions were not clearly delineated. Furthermore, high schools served women and students of color whose access to colleges and universities was more limited than that of white men.

Yet Lueck's purpose is more than historiographical; she seeks to establish precedent for viewing education as a process rather than a place, for thinking about higher learning and higher schooling rather than high school and college. In fact, the agenda of her historical case study of the first three public high schools in Louisville is ambitious: analyzing assumptions that high school education was inferior to and qualitatively different from college education in the mid-1800s, Lueck intervenes in current debates about the high school–college divide. This debate about the supposed differences between teaching and learning in high schools, colleges, and universities has important contemporary ramifications at a time when college cost is rising, taxpayer support for college is waning, and the COVID-19 pandemic is creating new economic constraints for students and educational systems.

Astutely limiting the scope of her study to three decades and one site, Lueck discusses a boys' high school and a girls' high school established in Louisville before the Civil War and a high school for African Americans established after the war. Her primary sources include school records, assigned textbooks, accounts by and about Louisville educators, and citizen commentary and student writing, such as Radcliffe's speech, which was published in local newspapers. Reading these sources in conjunction with secondary scholarship on the history of education and composition and rhetoric, Lueck argues that "the nineteen-century high school—as a public nexus of debates about the very purpose of higher education—was always contested, shaped by its relation to other educational and social institutions. The practices, pedagogies, and status of individual high schools were also reflective of the racism, sexism, and classism of the time (and our own)" (154). She rightly asserts that historical narratives of education and composition and rhetoric provide limited perspective on high schools from the mid-1800s to the 1880s. Broadening views of the "complex interface between high schools and colleges" in this era will enable us to better understand and perhaps bridge the high school–college divide today (155).

To explore that interface, Lueck summarizes the history of the first public US high schools that emerged in major eastern cities in the 1820s and 1830s and compares them to colleges. [End Page 97] Turning then to Louisville high schools, she makes a good case that the pedagogies and practices of high school writing both influenced and often constituted college writing. Lueck observes: "Because many high schools themselves offered a classical curriculum similar to that available in colleges, then, the high school can be read as an intervention not into what should be taught in higher learning but who and how" (74). Given the dearth of extant student writing from the period, she cannot provide many examples of student writing, but she supplements her discussion with excerpts from the treatises of Louisville educators such as William N. Hailmann, who promoted European educational theories and anticipated the experiential learning and teaching methods of progressive educational...


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