American Literature, American Learning (Spring, 2016)

Cathy N. Davidson (Graduate Center, Futures Initiative and English) and Danica Savonick (Ph.D. Candidate, Graduate Center, English and Graduate Fellow with the Futures Initiative)

ENGL 89010, Spring 2016, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Open to all doctoral and Master’s students. Any field. 

Crosslisted as:  Urban Education 75200 and IDS 81620 (The scope and time commitment necessary to complete final research projects will vary depending on the number of credit hours for which students are enrolled.)

Wednesdays 6:30PM-8:30PM. 2, 3, or 4 credits. [CRN 30303] 


This course has three primary intentions; First, we will consider some foundational texts of American educational and cultural history, investigating the strategies of inclusion and exclusion they deploy. Possible topics include: the seventeenth and eighteenth-century establishment of religiously-affiliated institutions designed to educate clergy, schools which in time became bastions of privilege; the yoking of education and republican principle in antebellum America, particularly as that impulse is registered in Thomas Jefferson’s founding of the University of Virginia; the expansion of educational opportunity through the public school movement, as documented in Horace Mann’s reports to the Massachusetts Board of Education (1837-48); the rise of politically and ideologically-fraught institutions to serve women, African-Americans, and Native Americans; the expansion of educational franchise marked by the opening in 1847 of CUNY’s forerunner, the Free Academy, and by the passage of the First Morrill Act in 1862; and the emergence and consequence of liberal education theory at the end of the nineteenth-century. 

Second, we will read contemporary critiques/accounts of American education. 

Third, we will experiment with a variety of pedagogical practices that model different relationships between power and knowledge. 

The range of texts we might read is very wide indeed; writers under current consideration include: Increase and Cotton Mather, Thomas Shepard, Charles Chauncey, John Witherspoon, Jonathan Edwards, Olaudah Equiano, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Bronson Alcott, Susanna Rowson, Catherine Beecher, Margaret Fuller, Lucy Larcom, Emma Willard, Horace Mann, Townsend Harris, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Zitkala-Sa, Henry Adams, John Dewey, Ralph Ellison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lani Guinier, Christopher Newfield, and Craig Steven Wilder. 


Our method is simple: we will have a traditional syllabus for the first half of the course. It will be posted in a public group on HASTAC. For the midterm, each student will create a syllabus for the second half of the course—also posted on HASTAC. Then, during the scheduled midterm class, the professors will leave the room, and the students, having read one another’s syllabi, will use a Google Doc and create the rest of the course—the syllabus, final project (which will entail some public contribution to knowledge), any other requirements.

View the course website and the final, co-authored book project with contributions from each graduate students: Structuring Equality: A Handbook for Student-Centered Learning and Teaching Practices.

For more on how this course will work and why it matters, see Prof. Cathy Davidson’s recent HASTAC post: “How To Move from History and Theory of Higher Education to More Equitable Classroom Practices.”


The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309