Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Mattingly, Carol, 1945-

Author's Keywords

Moonlight schools; Composition; Americanization; Immigration; Literacy; Appalachia


Literacy--Appalachian Region--History--20th century; Adult education--Appalachian Region--History--20th century; Americanization


This dissertation analyzing the rhetorical interplay between the Moonlight Schools-an adult literacy education program initiated in 1911-and two other literacy programs: the Americanization movement and U.S. college composition. Through my analysis, I demonstrate that the Moonlight Schools played a vital role in (re)defining literacy in the public sphere. In particular, exchanges between Moonlight Schools advocates and Americanizers helped to solidify public attitudes regarding the professionalization of literacy teaching-attitudes that remain entrenched in public discourse and that have had negative consequences for the disciplinary status of Rhetoric and Composition. I argue that incorporating the Moonlight Schools into our disciplinary imaginary can help compositionists craft more effective responses to public perceptions of our work. The dissertation consists of five chapters. Chapter 1 examines the recurrence of rhetorics of literacy crisis. I argue that these rhetorics exhibit a pattern, one element of which is the development of education programs, like the Moonlight Schools, designed to remedy the "illiteracy problem." By examining the subtle differences that occur within each iteration of crisis rhetoric, Rhetoric and Composition can better respond to current invocations of literacy crisis. Chapter 2 analyzes the pedagogies proposed by the Moonlight Schools, Americanizers, and compositionists at the University of Michigan, demonstrating that the pedagogical methods each group enacted reveal how each group conceived of its students, students' value to society, and the role of literacy in society. Chapter 3 focuses specifically on the rhetoric of the Moonlight Schools and Americanization movements; I suggest that though the Moonlight Schools movement invoked a rhetoric of whiteness and nativism to gain support for its educational programs, the movement also worked to promote an image of immigrants as both literate and intelligent and of non-white people as worthy of educational opportunity. Chapter 4 analyzes the Moonlight Schools' and Americanizers' models of professionalization, and argues that the public discourse created by the two groups both encouraged specialized training for teachers and dismissed the need for such training. Chapter 5 details how this discourse continues to influence attitudes toward literacy education.