The New Abolitionism: Toward a Historical Bockqround'
Since the required course in freshman composition was conceived at Harvard in 1885 and quickly adopted by most u.S. colleges and universities, it has been at the heart of a continuing series of arguments about its worth and standing. Arthur Applebee (1974) characterized the history of English teaching in the United States as being marked by periods of tradition and reform, and in this chapter I want to borrow one of his terms and, changing its meaning rather seriously, claim that the history of American higher education in composition over the last century has been marked by alternating periods of what I call reformism and abolitionism. During reformist periods, freshman comp, although problematical, is seen as the thin red line protecting the very life of literacy. Abolitionist periods are times during which at least some English teachers call for the end of freshman composition, declaring the large sums expended on this all-but-ubiquitous course a gross waste.