Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

McGuffey’s Readers were once widely used schoolbooks

I have owned a set of McGuffey’s Readers for many years. Recently I took the set off the shelf and re-acquainted myself with it. I was reminded that the “Readers” were first published in 1836, the same year that Johnson County was carved out of Carter County. I’m sure some of you who read my column remember those popular readers. My “Readers” are a boxed set in paperback.

The set of McGuffey’s Readers I own includes books suited for the primer through the sixth grade. The “Readers” were popular in the United States for many years. In addition to teaching reading, the stories included in the books usually had a moral lesson as well.
Honesty, kindness, a good work ethic, as well as stories of patriotism were included in the books. McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer included samples of writing in both cursive and print and capital and lower case letters as well.

I have heard it said several times recently that maybe the time has come to end the teaching of cursive writing altogether. The reasoning is that most students use computers and never need to write in longhand. In my humble opinion cursive writing should definitely be taught to today’s students.

Personal notes and thank you notes just aren’t the same when they are typed out on a computer. Computer generated notes are better than nothing I suppose. But, just to know that someone has taken the time to set down and write a note with a pen in my opinion makes the correspondence much more personal and meaningful.
One of the teachers that stand out in my mind who taught cursive writing was the late Mr. John A. Shoun. He was my Eighth Grade teacher at Dewey Elementary School and he emphasized good handwriting. He would drill us often in the methods used at that time to improve our cursive writing ability.

Some of you may remember writing the coils and up-and- downs within horizontal lines to improve the flow of letters in the words and sentences of our writing. Sometimes we were told to write sentences over and over to improve the flow and legibility of the letters.
While my writing isn’t the best when I’m taking notes at a lecture, when I have more time I do a lot better. I’ll always be indebted to Mr. Shoun for his emphasis on handwriting.

But I digress. I’ll get back to the McGuffey’s Readers. The set includes McGuffey’s First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Readers. From the Primer to the Sixth Grade editions, the content gets progressively more difficult. The progression is from stories with simple sentences for young children to literary works of note for the older student.

Another distinction the “Readers” have is the beautiful illustrations that are plenteous throughout the books. The illustrations appear to be skillfully made woodcuts that add to the overall appeal of the books.
The Sixth Grade reader includes selections from William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Daniel Webster, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and many other literary giants of yesteryear. The selections included in the “Readers” are interesting and are good examples of the some of the best in literature.