Tag Archives: Lou LaBrant

What Shall We Do About Reading Today? (1942)

LaBrant, L. (1942, November). What shall we do about reading today?: A symposium [Lou LaBrant]. The Elementary English Review, 19(7), 240-241.

As one of ten contributors (including Dora V. Smith and Paul Witty), LaBrant notes that inductees into the military exposed literacy problems with young men in the U.S. She challenges the military-based crisis in literacy with “A greater tragedy is that they are and have been unable to read with sufficient under- standing to be constructive peace-time citizens” (p. 240). The focus of LaBrant’s contribution, however, is to reject the blame placed on progressive pedagogy for the literacy problems and caution about calls for a “return to drill and formal reciting from a text book” (p. 240).

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41382636

Quoting LaBrant:

The induction of American youth into the armed forces, and the attendant examinations and classifications have called attention to a matter long of concern to those who teach reading or who are devoted to the cause of democracy: the fact that in a land which purports to offer universal education we have a considerable number of youth who cannot read intelligently. We are disturbed now because we want these men to be able to read military directions, and they cannot. A greater tragedy is that they are and have been unable to read with sufficient understanding to be constructive peace-time citizens.

As is to be expected, immediate explanations have been forthcoming, and immediate pointing-of-fingers has begun. Most of the explanations and pointing have come from those who have had least to do with teaching reading, and who are least conversant with the real problem. Moreover, as is again to be expected, the diagnosis is frequently in terms of prejudice or pet complaint, and could be used in other situations as logically. Many are hunting scapegoats; there are scores of “I-told-you-so’s.” It is best to look at the situation critically….

Within the past ten years we have made great strides in the teaching of purposeful reading, reading for understanding (the kind of reading, incidentally, which the army and navy want). Nevertheless, we hear many persons saying that the present group of near-illiterates are results of “new methods,” “progressive schools,” or any deviation from the old mechanical procedures. They say we must return to drill and formal reciting from a text book. (p. 240)

1. Not many men in the army now have been taught by these newer methods. Those few come for the most part from private or highly privileged schools, are among those who have completed high school or college, and have no difficulty with reading.

2. While so-called “progressive schools may have their limitations, and certainly do allow their pupils to progress at varied rates, above the second grade their pupils consistently show superior ability in reading. Indeed, the most eager critics have complained that these children read everything they can find, and consequently do not concentrate on a few facts. Abundant data now testify to the superior results of purposeful, individualized reading programs.

3. The reading skills required by the military leaders are relatively simple, and cause no problem for normal persons who have remained in school until they are fourteen or fifteen. Unfortunately the large group of non-readers are drop-outs, who have not completed elementary school, come from poorly taught and poorly equipped schools, and actually represent the most conservative and backward teaching in the United States. (pp. 240-241)

An easy way to evade the question of improved living and better schools for our underprivileged is to say the whole trouble is lack of drill. Lack of drill! Leťs be honest. Lack of good food; lack of well-lighted homes with books and papers; lack of attractive, well equipped schools, where reading is interesting and meaningful; lack of economic security permitting the use of free schools—lack of a good chance, the kind of chance these unlettered boys are now fighting to give to others. Surround children with books, give them healthful surroundings and an opportunity to read freely. They will be able to read military directions—and much more. (p. 241)

We Teach English (1951)

LaBrant, L. (1951). We teach English. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company.

NOTE: Most of LaBrant’s published works were included in professional and research journals. She tended to avoid traditional textbooks as a writer and as a teacher, but she also primarily worked as a practitioner instead of a researcher, thus few extended works.

Below is a review (May, 1951) of We Teach English from The High School Journal, 34(5), 154-155.

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40367787

We Teach English. By Lou LaBrant. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1951. viii-342 pp. $2.75.

Once in a decade or so, a really important professional book is likely to appear. For English teachers, Lou LaBrant’s We Teach English is that book. It will be helpful in educating prospective teachers, but its major appeal should be to experienced teachers. It might be called a philosophical book, although it rests on the solid foundation of a lifetime of experience. LaBrant’s approach to language is scholarly and she ably includes the semantic approaches to the functional teaching of language.

Oral English and its counterpart, listening, so sadly and inexplicably lacking in many present English programs, receive adequate consideration here. The interpretation of literature receives the least emphasis of any aspect of the English curriculum but the stimulation of reading and the place of reading in meeting personal needs is well treated.

In short, this is no “how to teach” book. Rather, it is a book which will cause the reader to re-examine the bases of his teaching methods and the content of his courses. It should assist him to develop English courses suited to the needs of present day high school students. As such, this book belongs in the hands of every English teacher. And, thanks to the publisher’s reasonable price of $2.75, we can afford it.

Dorothy McCuskey

Lou LaBrant: Memoir (October 1987)

Lou LaBrant prepared her memoir for the Museum of Education at the University of South Carolina near the end of her life.

This work was the basis of my dissertation through USC, and then the published biography of LaBrant:


Thomas, P. L. (2001). Lou LaBrant: A woman’s life, a teacher’s life. Huntington, NY: Nova Science publishers, Inc.

A digital version of her memoir is available HERE, as a part of the NCTE Centennial celebration in 2011.