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138 | 2013
Apprendre à lire aux débutants dans les pays de langue romane (1750-1950)

Teaching beginning readers in Romance language countries (1750-1950)
Edited by Anne-Marie Chartier and Elsie Rockwell

Issue 138 of Histoire de l’éducation presents a comparative history of beginning reading instruction. Various studies on the enduring problem of illiteracy have undermined the assumption of previous national histories that the joint action of legal requirements (compulsory schooling) and scientific advances in reading instruction (new methods) would guarantee universal and irreversible access to literacy. Rather than assuming continuous progress, the historical approach should seek to understand how novel uses of writing in societies have produced changes in both the purposes of teaching literacy and the means of instruction. For example, two contrasting conceptions of knowing how to read are expressed by the Anglo-Saxon term literacy and the French term alphabétisation (and its equivalents in Romance languages). Can the distinction be attributed to religious heritage (Catholic vs. Protestant), to cultural aims (instructional vs. utilitarian texts), to the origin of languages (Latin vs. non-Latin), or to instructional (didactic) choices?  If “knowing how to read” is not an invariant, a comparative analysis of the instruments used to teach reading might shed light on how decipherment and comprehension were (or were not) articulated in classroom practices at different times, in different contexts. 

The special issue coedited by A-M. Chartier and E. Rockwell presents articles on primers in five languages from eight countries (Italy, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Portugal Brazil, France and the United States) for the years 1750 to 1950. They jointly examine the different phases of change in reading instruction in these countries, the effect of technical innovations (illustrations, writing tools), and towards 1900 the emergence of contemporary debates on reading methods (syllabic, phonic, global or whole word). In these studies, the convergence of theoretical discourses contrasts with the heterogeneity of conditions in which reading was taught (urban/rural milieus, school language/local language). Furthermore they show that in the course of adapting prescriptions to local realities teachers have fashioned national school cultures in unexpected ways.