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Spring 2021, 51.2, pages: 109-121

Products of US Performance: A Material Rhetorical Education at North Bennet Street Industrial School, 1890–1910


This essay examines rhetorical education for children of immigrants at North Bennet Street Industrial School (NBSIS) during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. NBSIS, located in the predominantly Italian neighborhood of Boston’s North End, taught children of elementary and grammar school age through a manual training pedagogy and specifically, the Sloyd method of handiwork. I analyze archival documents using frameworks of Sloyd, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and usability theories to argue that products made during manual training and Sloyd taught children of immigrants how to become citizen workers as defined by white, middle-class values. Students’ material works were products of US performance intended to develop students into industrious, moral workers; influence immigrants’ households and other users of products; and direct students to self-correct and strive to become better workers. This essay highlights that materials help define, assess, and regulate learning, especially for young learners, within complex historical contexts.


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