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Reading Daniel Defoe in Twenty-First Century American High School Textbooks

Elizabeth Zold


1. Applebee also found nearly twenty years ago that literary works were arranged chronologically in high school literature textbooks.

2. The absence of selections from texts written by women of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is noticeable. Incidentally, excerpts from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein are the only texts written by a female to make the list of "Most Frequently Anthologized Selections." This trend has changed slightly since Applebee's study. Each textbook now has at least one or two selections by women (typically poems) or, on occasion, as in both of the Holt editions, they are relegated to a special section entitled "Views on Women’s Rights."

3. I am including an earlier edition of one of these textbooks to determine how textbook companies change these books and supporting materials over time, although it is important to remember that some schools still use the older edition. Given the significant difference between the two Holt editions, though published only four years apart, it is easy to see how Holt adapted to keep up with the standard text choices in the marketplace, which helps to keep their textbook competitive.

4. Exactly who chooses and edits the texts for inclusion in the textbook is unclear. Each textbook provides several lists of people with titles like "Program Consultants," "Advisory Council," and "Teacher Reviewers" that vary from publisher to publisher. All included, these names can number around fifty or more depending on the textbook; however, none of the publishers state which group selects or edits the selections in the book.

5. The poetry or nonfiction essays of Margery Kempe, Margaret Cavendish, Queen Elizabeth I, and Aphra Behn are excerpted in some of the textbooks.

6. I suspect that the punctuation in excerpts from A Journal of the Plague Year was modernized, in part, to reflect current "correct" English punctuation and usage in order to prevent students from imitating Defoe's insertion of semicolons, colons, and commas in places where current usage does not permit them. That is, the excerpts are modernized so that Defoe's works can serve as an example to modern students of how to write properly or effectively.

7. The "Teacher Preparation Selection Summary" in the teacher's edition (Holt 2009) claims that the excerpt is part of a larger essay entitled The Education of Women written by Defoe in the early 1700s. The editors of the Holt textbooks seem to have gotten incorrect both the date and the original work; various searches on the database Eighteenth-Century Collections Online yielded no results for this essay as a standalone piece or under this specific title.

Continue to Works Cited . . .

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