Published in 1975, Margaret Mathieson has drawn on her experience both in schools and in the training of English teachers to relate the discussions and writings of the previous two centuries to the debate, probably livelier than ever before, among English practitioners about the role of their subject.
Of all subjects ┐English' can be the most stimulating and also the most problematic. In order to assess the continual discussion and controversy about English, its nature, purpose and place in the curriculum, an understanding of its development as a subject and its entry into the teaching timetable is invaluable.
For over a hundred and fifty years educators have been making different claims for English as a subject in school and higher education. This book contains a careful, clear examination of the conflicting views of these 'preachers of culture' on the four main activities within English ┐ literature, creativity, discrimination and classroom discussion. These preachers were, in Matthew Arnold's words, to have 'a hard time of it' as English struggled to establish itself; at every stage of the subject's growth urgent demands have been made for teachers with exceptional qualities to undertake the heavy responsibilities of English in the classroom, and it can be seen from this study that an over-abundance of advice often contributed to the dilemmas and tensions among the teachers themselves and between English and other subjects.
The final section of the book is concerned less with making recommendations than with drawing conclusions from the evidence of the past. It shows that generations of writers on English teaching, from Culture and Anarchy to Stepney Words, provide vital insights into the state of the subject today.