Learning to read while reading to learn: Marcius Willson’s basal readers, science education, and object teaching, 1860–1890

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June 29, 2022 - 4:03pm

Critical Commentary

Abstract: 

The essay discusses innovations in reading education by the schoolbook author Marcius Willson (1813-1905) through an examination of two popular series of basal readers he produced during and after the American Civil War. His School and Family Series (Harper & Brothers, 1860-) generated acrimonious debate about science education, literacy, and object pedagogy in the primary grades. His successor Popular Series (Lippincott, 1881-) went beyond compilation of classic literature in a basal reader by creating a fictitious community populated with a diverse cast of characters and storyboard of incidents that could draw young readers out of the classroom and into a broader world of nature and commerce. Both series competed effectively against rivals in national and regional markets and foreshadowed modern concepts of reading education based on the idea of “learning to read while reading to learn.” The essay also affirms the centrality of individual authorship and scholarship as the textbook market industrialized.

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Peter B. Knupfer, "Learning to read while reading to learn: Marcius Willson’s basal readers, science education, and object teaching, 1860–1890", contributed by Prerna Srigyan, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 29 June 2022, accessed 12 August 2022. https://stsinfrastructures.org/content/learning-read-while-reading-learn-marcius-willson’s-basal-readers-science-education-and