This chapter contrasts the philosophies that governed language instruction when Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy were growing up. When McCarthy said that “every word” Hellman wrote was a lie, “including ‘and’ and ‘the’,” she provoked a fight about language itself. In a basic sense, their differences stem from the ways they learned languages as children. Language lessons in public and parochial schools shaped their worldviews, and the chapter tells the story of their formative years, and of how Americans have thought about childhood and language acquisition more broadly. In their work, Hellman and McCarthy often reflected on how to teach languages and on the instruction they received as children. Examining historical attitudes toward education also indicates how language lessons in America have been related to shifting ways of understanding the private lives and public responsibilities of teachers.
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