[caption id="attachment_16690" align="aligncenter" width="600"]<img src="https:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2017\/07\/IMG_8264.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="466" class="size-full wp-image-16690" \/> Practically every American who attended public schools during the second half of the nineteenth century learned not only how to read and write, but learned foundational ethical lessons from their McGuffey readers. Photo courtesy of the One Room Schoolhouse Project[\/caption]\r\n\r\nLaura Dean Bennett\r\nContributing Writer\r\n\r\nOld McGuffey Readers are highly collect-ible antiques these days, but as old-fashioned as many people might assume them to be, they stand today as one of the first and one might say, most successful American educational systems ever conceived.\r\n\r\nWhether your grandparents or great-grandparents went to school in a one room schoolhouse, were home-schooled or attended a village school, it\u2019s likely that they were familiar with McGuffey Readers.\u00a0\r\n\r\nMany generations of American school children were raised on them and have them to thank for a strong foundation that prepared them for advanced education and living a good life.\r\n\r\nDuring the 17th century, the first textbooks in the American colonies were primers borrowed from our cousins across \u201cthe pond,\u201d as they were brought over from England.\u00a0\r\n\r\nBy 1690, Boston publishers were reprinting the\u00a0English Protestant Tutor\u00a0as an Americanized version, called The New England Primer.\r\n\r\nIt is estimated that at least 120 million copies of McGuffey Readers were sold between\u00a01836 and 1960, placing its sales right up there with the Bible and Webster\u2019s Dictionary.\u00a0\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_16691" align="alignleft" width="400"]<img src="https:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2017\/07\/McGuffFourth1901CovUSE.jpg" alt="" width="400" height="577" class="size-full wp-image-16691" \/> McGuffey readers became the standard textbooks in one room schoolhouses across the country, from 1836 well into the 20th Century.[\/caption]\r\n\r\nThe\u00a0England Primer was\u00a0widely distributed in colonial schools until the \u201cblue backed speller\u201d of\u00a0Noah Webster came along.\r\n\r\nWebster\u2019s \u201cspeller\u201d was the most common textbook in America from the 1790s, that is, until the first McGuffey Reader came along and\u00a0was an instant success.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe McGuffey Reader was\u00a0first published in 1836 by William Holmes McGuffey.\u00a0\r\n\r\nMcGuffey was born in 1800 in Pennsylvania to a staunchly religious family of Scottish immigrants. \r\n\r\nHis family had immigrated to America from Scotland in 1774, and brought with them their strong opinions on religion, hard work and a fervent belief in education.\u00a0\r\n\r\nMcGuffey\u2019s early education began in the family\u2019s log cabin, where his mother taught her children \u201cthe three Rs.\u201d\r\n\r\nLocal subscription schools, generally taught by a young man or a minister, provided further education.\u00a0\r\n\r\nLike Abraham Lincoln in western Kentucky amid similar wilderness conditions, young McGuffey borrowed books from neighbors, memorized portions of the Bible and sermons, read before the fireplace, and taught his younger brothers and sisters at home.\r\n\r\nEducating the young people and preaching the gospel were McGuffey\u2019s passions.\u00a0\r\n\r\nHe had an amazing ability to memorize, and memorized most of the books of the Bible.\u00a0\r\n\r\nHis father crafted an adjustable wooden candle stand to provide better light for his reading.\r\n\r\nIn 1814, before his 14th birthday, \u201cMaster McGuffey\u201d opened his own school at West Union (now Calcutta), Ohio. Thus\u00a0began his professional teaching career in a one room schoolhouse with 48 students who paid two dollars each for his instruction.\r\n\r\nThe size of the class was\u00a0just one of several challenges faced by the young teacher.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIn many one-teacher schools, children\u2019s ages varied from six to twenty-one.\u00a0\r\n\r\nLike many frontier teachers back in those days, McGuffey often worked 11 hours a day, six days a week in a succession of schools, mostly in Kentucky.\r\n\r\nFew students had any books to bring to school for reading practice, and since few textbooks were available, many brought their family bible. \u00a0\r\n\r\nBetween teaching assignments, McGuffey received a classical education at the Old Stone Academy in Darlington, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Washington College in 1826.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThat same year he was appointed to a position as Professor of Languages at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIn 1827, McGuffey married Harriet Spinning, and the couple had five children.\u00a0\r\n\r\nWhile McGuffey was teaching at Oxford, he established a reputation as a lecturer on moral and biblical subjects.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIn 1835, his friend, Harriet Beecher Stowe, recommended McGuffey to a small Cincinnati publishing company, Truman and Smith, as the right person to create a series of four readers for primary level students.\r\n\r\nHe completed the first two readers within a year of signing his contract, receiving a fee of $1,000.\u00a0\r\n\r\nMcGuffey was offered a professorship in languages\u00a0at Woodward College in Cincinnati.\u00a0\r\n\r\nHe studied law at the Cincinnati Law School and was admitted to the Ohio bar as a lawyer in 1839.\u00a0\r\n\r\nWhile McGuffey compiled the first four Readers (the 1836-1837 edition), the fifth and sixth were created by his brother, Alexander McGuffey during the 1840s.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe series consisted of stories, poems, essays and speeches.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe advanced readers contained excerpts from the classic works of great writers such as\u00a0John Milton,\u00a0Daniel Webster and Lord Byron.\r\n\r\nMcGuffey readers became the standard textbooks in one room school houses across the country, from 1836 well into the 20th Century, with tens of millions of copies sold nationwide.\u00a0\r\n\r\nChildren were taught according to their ability, not their age. A student moved on to the next reader when they had mastered all the material in their previous reader.\r\n\r\nTeachers taught the subject as long as the subject\u00a0needed to be taught. They were expected to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their students and tailor lessons to each individual student.\r\n\r\nMcGuffey Readers were not only in the established schoolhouses of every state in the Union, but the readers were also the constant companions of millions of children as they made their way West in covered wagons with their brave families.\r\n\r\nBetween 1836 and 1890 alone, McGuffey\u2019s\u00a0publisher printed and sold more than one hundred million copies of McGuffey\u2019s Reader.\r\n\r\nPractically every American who attended public schools during the second half of the\u00a019th Century learned not only how to read and write, but learned foundational ethical lessons from their McGuffey Readers.\r\n\r\nAfter the Civil War, they were the\u00a0standard textbooks in schoolhouses in 37 states.\u00a0\r\n\r\nMcGuffey believed it unwise to begin a child\u2019s formal education at too young an age.\u00a0\r\n\r\nUnlike many educators of his time, McGuffey believed in adapting the learning process to each student\u2019s ability and interests.\u00a0As no two children are alike, he believed that each student should be treated accordingly.\u00a0\r\n\r\nBut, like most educators of the period, McGuffey was a fan of \u201crote learning\u201d (memorization).\r\n\r\nHe was a staunch Christian and believed firmly in the principles of morality as presented in the Bible and used it as the foundation of much of his method.\u00a0\r\n\r\nHis readers were more than a series of textbooks \u2013 they helped frame the country\u2019s morals and tastes, and helped shape the American character.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe lessons in the readers encouraged high standards for civilized society throughout the United States for more than a century.\u00a0\r\nWhile improving students\u2019 spelling and sharpening students\u2019 vocabulary, the readers also helped youngsters develop the art of public speaking.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIn the 19th Century, elocution played an integral part in public life,\u00a0and McGuffey was undoubtedly responsible for creating a generation of gifted orators and readers.\r\n\r\nThe McGuffey Readers encouraged children\u2019s natural curiosity and placed a high value on allegiance to country and religious values.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThey were chock full of lively stories of the importance of truthfulness, character and goodness, touching on such topics as\u00a0lying, stealing, cheating, poverty, teasing, alcohol, overeating, skipping school and foul language.\u00a0\r\n\r\nLate in the 20th Century, McGuffey Readers became quite collectible.\u00a0\r\n\r\nSince 1961 they have continued to sell at a rate of some 30,000 copies a year. No other textbook bearing a single person\u2019s name has come close to that mark.\u00a0\r\n\r\nMcGuffey Readers are still in use today in some school systems, and by parents for home-schooling purposes.\u00a0\r\n\r\nEven today, in the early 21st Century, there is still a population of loyal McGuffey followers. \u00a0\r\n\r\nThe textbooks have been edited and updated throughout the years to be available to mostly home-schooled students and Christian academies.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe latest version of the series was printed in 2010 and published by both General Books and Applewood Books.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThere are also McGuffey Readers on eAudiobooks, produced by Mission Audio in 2010.\r\n\r\nThe basic alphabetical rules of writing and reading strategies for novice readers have been preserved in updated versions of the readers and now, \u201c\u00a0there\u2019s an app for that!\u201d\u00a0\r\n\r\nModern moms and dads can now buy McGuffey Readers on iTunes.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe McGuffey app is called, \u201cPhonics and Reading\u201d and it offers a modern reading primer based on the original McGuffey readers.\r\n\r\nFor anyone who enjoys a good read, whether a child or adult, I heartily recommend McGuffey Readers. Some things never change, and I firmly believe that\u00a0the love of good literature will always be part of the American tradition.