chapter  6
19 Pages

The Discourse of Americanization Textbooks: 1914–1924


At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the question of immigration and assimilation is once again at the forefront of American consciousness. US citizens are questioning who should be allowed to immigrate and what degree of acculturation is acceptable for naturalized citizens. In a similar fashion, immigration was also a matter of great concern for the United States in the early twentieth century. Whereas today’s responses to immigration are based in a postmodernist philosophy of multiculturalism, the national discourse on immigration was quite different a century ago. This study seeks to interpret the discourse on immigration in the United States during the years known as the “Americanization period,” 1914-1924, most particularly how the nation sought to train its immigrants for citizenship in classrooms, principally through the use of English-language textbooks. The Americanization movement was a grassroots response to the great influx of immigrants coming to the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. Fueled by fear of war in Europe and unsure of the national allegiances of newly arrived immigrants, those leading the movement were successful in organizing assimilation efforts, labeled as patriotism, that spread throughout the country. Their efforts were based on the indoctrination of the immigrant in the superiority of American Democracy, the necessity and benefits of adopting American customs in order to become Good Citizens, and the obligation of all citizens to speak English. This action permeated all areas of life and society at this time, including textbooks for language instruction. This study suggests that the proponents of Americanization combined these three elements for instruction (changing language, customs, and political belief ) in classes and sought to include them in language textbooks in an effort to encourage and help the immigrant to assimilate. It specifically examines textbooks used for language instruction in the Americanization classes for instructional material that taught democracy (change in political belief ), characteristics of the typical American (change in customs), and pragmatic language (change in culturally specific language). Through this type of study, we can discover and recognize elements of our current language instruction that are often hidden, misunderstood, or taken for granted, as well as our concepts of civic indoctrination, and thus identify the current discourse on immigration. In addition, this study has the potential to lead teachers of English as a second language in the early twenty-first century to examine the materials they use for cultural themes, to recognize teaching practices, both old and new, and to better judge the efficacy of these practices.