Resisting functional-critical divides : literacy education at Moor's Indian Charity School and Tuskegee Institute
This dissertation reconsiders the long-standing divide between skills-based, job-oriented approaches to education and liberal learning through in-depth archival studies of literacy education at two distinct educational institutions: Moor’s Indian Charity School, a seminary for Native American missionaries that operated in Connecticut in the mid-eighteenth century (and later became Dartmouth College), and Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, founded in 1881, where African-American students were trained in agriculture, the trades, and domestic work. These are institutions where a functional approach to literacy education prevailed over what we might now recognize and label as more overtly critical lenses. As such, they exemplify, and thereby also illuminate, what are ongoing tensions between “critical literacies,” often deemed “liberating,” and “functional literacies,” often deemed “oppressive.” These tensions have had profound implications both for disciplinary histories of English Studies, in which literacy education within vocational contexts has largely been excised, and for contemporary adult literacy initiatives. Part One of this dissertation (Chapters Two and Three) reconstructs the language arts education provided at Moor’s Indian Charity School in the 1750s and 1760s, and then examines the pedagogical and rhetorical practices of two Moor’s students--Samson Occom and Joseph Johnson--who went on to become, among many other roles, literacy educators in various Native communities in Connecticut and New York. Considering literacy at and beyond Moor’s expands the ways we think about “functional” literacy, since in this case “functional” literacy included the linguistic and analytical skills needed to perform the duties of a minister and to advocate for the autonomy of Native communities. Part Two of this dissertation (Chapters Four and Five) documents the language arts curriculum at Tuskegee Institute in key years between the school’s founding in 1881 and Principal Booker T. Washington’s death in 1915, a period in which the active integration of the school’s academic and vocational tracks became a dominant (and dominating) principle. Such an approach had clear limitations, but it also allowed students to claim significant kinds of authority. The first and sixth chapters bring to light the contemporary implications of recognizing the intertwining of “functional” and “critical” literacy education at these historical sites.