[i] “…McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers…”
“McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers were written by William Holmes McGuffey who began teaching school at the age of 14. He was a professor of ancient languages at Miami University from 1826 until his resignation in 1836. He then served as president of Cincinnati College (1836-1839) and Ohio University (1839-1843). Returning to Cincinnati, McGuffey taught at Woodward College from 1843 until 1845, when he became a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Virginia. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1829. It was during his years at Miami when McGuffey was approached to write a series of readers for school children. In addition to the work done on these by William Holmes McGuffey, he was assisted by his brother, Alexander Hamilton McGuffey, who also compiled a speller and had sole responsibility for the Fifth Reader. Alexander taught school while working on his law degree and opened a law office in Cincinnati in 1839. The McGuffey Readers sold over 125,000,000 copies.
McGuffey became a “roving” teacher at the age of 14, beginning with 48 students in a one room school in Calcutta, Ohio. The size of the class was just one of several challenges faced by the young McGuffey. In many one-teacher schools, children’s ages varied from six to twenty-one. McGuffey often worked 11 hours a day, 6 days a week in a succession of frontier schools. He had a remarkable ability to memorize, and could commit to mind entire books of the Bible.
The first Reader taught reading by using the phonics method, the identification of letters and their arrangement into words, and aided with slate work. The second Reader came into play once the student could read, and helped them to understand the meaning of sentences while providing vivid stories which children could remember. The third Reader taught the definitions of words, and was written at a level equivalent to the modern 5th or 6th grade. The fourth Reader was written for the highest levels of ability on the grammar school level, which students completed with this book.
McGuffey’s Readers were among the first textbooks in America that were designed to become progressively more challenging with each volume. They used word repetition in the text as a learning tool, which built strong reading skills through challenging reading. Sounding-out, enunciation and accents were emphasized. Colonial-era texts had offered dull lists of 20 to 100 new words per page for memorization. In contrast, McGuffey used new vocabulary words in the context of real literature, gradually introducing new words and carefully repeating the old.
McGuffey believed that teachers should study the lessons as well as their students and suggested they read aloud to their classes. He also listed questions after each story for he believed in order for a teacher to give instruction, one must ask questions. The Readers emphasized spelling, vocabulary, and formal public speaking, which, in 19th century America, was a more common requirement than today.
Henry Ford cited McGuffey’s Readers as one of his most important childhood influences. He was an avid fan of McGuffey’s Readers first editions, and claimed as an adult to be able to quote from McGuffey’s by memory at great length. Ford republished all six Readers from the 1857 edition, and distributed complete sets of them, at his own expense, to schools across the United States.
McGuffey’s Readers contain many derogatory references to ethnic and religious minorities. For example, Native Americans are referred to as “savages”. There are those who regard the references in the book to the Jews and Judaism as anti-Semitic. For instance, in Neil Baldwin’s Henry Ford and the Jews, the author makes the case that Henry Ford’s self-avowed anti-Semitism originated with his study of McGuffey’s as a schoolboy. Baldwin cites numerous anti-semitic references to Shylock and to Jews attacking Jesus and Paul. He also quotes the Fourth Reader to the effect that “Jewish authors were incapable of the diction and strangers to the morality contained in the gospel.” The readers further characterize Jews as “Christ killers” and labels their reverence of the Old Testament as “superstitious,” and teach that Jews have been rejected by God for being “unfaithful”.”
You may download text versions of the McGuffy’s Reader from the following website: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/14640
[ii] “… the phonics method …”
“Phonics refers to an instructional method for teaching children to read English. Phonics involves teaching children to connect sounds with letters or groups of letters (e.g., that the sound /k/ can be represented by c, k, or ck spellings) and teaching them to blend the sounds of letters together to produce approximate pronunciations of unknown words.”
– Reference: Wikipedia.org
EDITOR’S NOTE: Here are links to McGuffy’s Readers online”
Free Download from Gutenburg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14640
Purchase printed copies of the Readers individually, or as a set online: http://www.amazon.com/McGuffey-McGuffeys-Eclectic-Readers-William/dp/0880620145
Link to the original 1836 version of McGuffy’s Readers, with teaching guide: http://www.howtotutor.com/guffy.htm