"You have something to say. Something of your very own. Try to say it. Don't be ashamed of any real thought or feeling you have. Don't undervalue it. Don't let the fear of others prevent you from saying it...You have something to say, something that no one else in the world has said in just your way of saying it."
- William Hughes Mearns (1875-1965), Creative Power

In 1920, William Hughes Mearns (an English teacher and writer) became the head of the Lincoln School, a laboratory school founded by Abraham Flexner and run under the aegis of Teachers College at Columbia University.

Mearns created for his students an English curriculum that focused not on historical analysis or grammatical correctness but on self-expression. Following Flexner's injunction that students' "intellectual and aesthetic capacities ought to develop on the basis of first-hand experience", Mearns replaced the traditional lower-school English curriculum of grammar, spelling, penmanship and literature with what he labeled "creative writing."

What lay behind Mearns' missionary zeal about creative writing was his assumption that we are each an isolato, that each student was sequestered in his own life. It was his contention -- indeed, religion -- that creative writing was a technique by which experience could be conveyed from individual to individual: Mearns called it simply the "transfer of experience." Because each student was so fundamentally isolated, his only recourse when writing was to delve into himself.

Mearns viewed his task as teacher to be one of guide, not instructor. Writing, Mearns said (1925), is: "an outward expression of instinctive insight that must be summoned from the vasty deep of our mysterious selves. Therefore, it cannot be taught; indeed, it cannot even be summoned; it can only be permitted." As a form of self-expression, writing reflects one's own voice. In fact, Mearns once described poetry as "when you talk to yourself".

Mearns' curricular innovations (and those of kindred spirits in progressive education) were to have two important effects on pedagogy later in the century. The first was on perceived relationships between spoken and written language. By emphasizing the importance of student self-expression and diminishing the role of teacher as expert, progressive education supported a model of writing as the transcription of thoughts initially expressed through speech rather than thoughts mediated by writing as a distinct form of language. This model was further reinforced by the assumption that the mechanics of "correct" writing should take a back seat to the unfettered expression of ideas.

Richard Richard, illustrated by Ralph L. Boyer, 1916.
Vinegar Saint, illustrated by Ralph L. Boyer, 1919.
I Ride in My Coach, illustrated by W.T. Schwarz, 1923.
Lions in the Way, 1927.
Creative Youth, 1928.
Creative Power: The Education of Youth in the Creative Arts, 1958.

The Boy in the Blue Blickey, The Saturday Evening Post Jan 25 1913.
The Changing Elementary Schools, The Saturday Evening Post Jan 4 1913.
The Land-Babies: Caring for Children who Leave School, (ar) The Saturday Evening Post Mar 1 1913.
Our Medieval High Schools, The Saturday Evening Post Mar 2 1912.
Six Million Workers: The Public School and the Self-Supporting Woman, The Saturday Evening Post Mar 22 1913.

The Little Man, (pm) The Psychoed, 1899.

A variety of other Internet sources.

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