Before CRT — McGuffey’s Readers Sold a Million Copies a Year for 120 Years!
“At the close of the day, before you go to sleep, you should not fail to pray to God to keep you from sin and from harm.”
Before critical race theory, transgenderism, intersectionality, diversity training, sharia, or equity, students in public schools were taught to treat each other equally with respect by learning the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.
Public education in America can be traced back to the Puritan founders of Massachusetts, who considered it a priority that children know the Bible.
Everyone has worth because each person is made in the image of God “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; male and female created he them; and blessed them” (Genesis 5:1-2);
Everyone is equal because God is not a respecter of persons “Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great” (Deuteronomy 1:17);
Everyone is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18).
The oldest public school in America is the Boston Latin School, opened in 1635, through the inspiration of Puritan Rev. John Cotton, who had previously taught at a school in England.
Cotton willed half his property to found the school, specifying that students include orphans and disadvantaged.
Massachusetts Puritans then opened schools in Charlestown, Salem, Roxbury and Dorchester, being primarily intended to train young men for the ministry.
In 1636, the General Court voted to begin New College in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
It was later named after Rev. John Harvard, as recorded in New England First Fruits, 1643:
“After God had carried us safe to New England, and we had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, rear’d convenient places for God’s worship, and settled the Civil Government:
One of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches, when our present Ministers shall lie in the Dust.
And as we were thinking and consulting how to effect this great work, it pleased God to stir up the heart of one Mr. Harvard (a godly gentleman and a lover of learning; then living amongst us) to give one-half of his estate (it being in all about £1,700) towards the erecting of a College, and all his library.”
In 1642, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed the first law in the New World requiring children be taught to read, so they could learn the Bible and the laws of the Commonwealth.
Children were homeschooled by parents — heads of the household, or tutors, usually ministers.
In 1647, Massachusetts and Connecticut passed the Old Deluder Satan Law, which stated:
“It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former time, and that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers in church and Commonwealth …
It is therefore ordered by this Court … that every township within this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty householders, shall forthwith appoint one within their town, to teach all such children as shall resort to him, to write and read … and it is further ordered,
That where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families or householders, they shall sett up a grammar school for the university.”
Rev. John Elliott and The Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England, 1649, established over a hundred mission schools among native populations.
In 1687, the New England Primer was published.
It was America’s first reading primer, and for a century it was the most popular educational textbook in colonial America.
The New England Primer included lessons such as:
“In Adam’s Fall,
we sinned all.”
“Sum of the Ten Commandments —
With all thy soul love God above,
And as thyself thy neighbor love.”
“Our Savior’s Golden Rule —
Be you to others kind and true,
As you’d have others be to you;
And neither do or say to men,
Whate'er you would not take again.”
“Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Clergy and generous citizens established charity schools to help educate students in their communities.
Education was not merely teaching “how” you do things but “should” you do things, lest schools simply produce educated thieves and creative crooks.
After Harvard, other colleges were founded, primarily by religious clergy, and often for the purpose of training individuals for ministry:
College of William & Mary, 1693, founded under the direction of Anglican clergyman, Rev. James Blair;
St. John’s College, 1696, founded by Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Catholic Charles Carroll of Carrollton;
Yale University, 1701, founded by ten Congregational ministers, led by Rev. James Pierpont;
Washington College, 1723, founded under the direction of Anglican minister, Rev. William Smith.
The Great Awakening Revival inspired the founding of more colleges:
University of Pennsylvania, 1740, with the help of Ben Franklin following Rev. George Whitefield’s revival meetings;
Moravian College, 1742, founded by Benigna von Zinzendorf, daughter of the famous Christian missionary Ludwig von Zinzendorf;
University of Delaware, 1743, founded with help of Presbyterian clergy led the Rev. Dr. Francis Alison;
Princeton University, 1746, founded by Presbyterian clergy led by Rev. William Tennent;
Washington and Lee University, 1749, founded by Scots-Irish Presbyterian pioneers. It enrolled John Chavis in 1795, believed to be the first black student enrolled in higher education in the United States;
Columbia University, 1754, founded by Anglican minister, Rev. Dr. Samuel Johnson.
In 1750, Quaker Christian Anthony Benezet began teaching black children, eventually founding the Negro School at Philadelphia.
In 1755, Benezet founded the first public school for girls on the American continent.
Universities founded just prior to the Revolutionary War included:
Brown University, 1764, founded by Baptists and Congregationalists;
Rutgers University, 1766, founded by Dutch Reformed Church through the efforts of Rev. Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen and Rev. Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh;
Dartmouth College, 1769, established by Congregational minister, Rev. Eleazar Wheelock;
College of Charleston, 1770, founded with the help of its first president, Anglican minister Rev. Robert Smith, who later became the first Episcopal bishop of South Carolina;
Salem College, 1772, founded as a girls school by Moravian Christians;
Dickinson College, 1773, its first president was Presbyterian minister Charles Nisbet;
Hampden-Sydney College, 1775, founded by Presbyterian minister Samuel Stanhope Smith;
Transylvania University, 1780, founded by Episcopalians and Presbyterians;
Washington & Jefferson College, 1781, founded by Presbyterian ministers.
Noah Webster’s Blue-Backed Speller became the most popular school book during the nation’s first century.
First printed in 1783, it was the mainstay of public education,selling over 100 million copies.
It went through numerous editions, and included many moral sentences (1840, 1866, 1908):
“God has made two great lights for our world – the sun and the moon; the sun is the superior light, and the moon is the inferior light.”
“God ordained the sun to rule the day and the moon to give light by night. The laws of nature are sustained by the immediate presence and agency of God. The heavens declare an Almighty power that made them.”
“All mankind have their origin from God.”
“All mankind are brethren, descendants of common parents.”
“Noah and his family outlived all the people who lived before the flood.”
“God is the divine legislator. He proclaimed his ten commandments from Mount Sinai.”
Webster’s Blue-Backed Speller also included the lines:
“The Bible, that is the Old and the New Testament contains the Holy Scriptures.”
“God made the ear, and He can hear.”
“God will bless those who do his will.”
“The heathen are those people who worship idols or know not the true God.”
“The wicked transgress the laws of God.”
“The wicked know not the enjoyment of a good conscience.”
“We are apt to live forgetful of our continual dependence on the will of God.”
“Those who enjoy the light of the gospel, and neglect to observe its precepts, are more criminal than the heathen.”
“Men devoted to mere amusement mis-employ their time.”
“The preacher is to preach the gospel.”
“God will forgive those who repent of their sins, and live a holy life. Thy testimonies, O Lord, are very sure; holiness becomes thine house forever. Do not attempt to deceive God; nor to mock him with solemn words, whilst your heart is set to do evil. A holy life will disarm death of its sting. God will impart grace to the humble penitent.”
“God governs the world in infinite wisdom; the Bible teaches us that it is our duty to worship him. It is a solemn thing to die and appear before God.”
Colleges founded after the Revolutionary war included:
University of Georgia, 1785, founded by Lyman Hall, an ordained Congregational minister, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Governor of Georgia;
University of Pittsburgh, 1787, founded by Hugh Henry Brackenridge, a Justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, who studied divinity at Princeton and was a fiery chaplain in George Washington’s army during the Revolution;
Franklin & Marshall College, 1787, founded by four ministers who were Lutheran and German Reformed;
Georgetown University, 1789, founded by Rev. John Carroll, the first Catholic Bishop in the United States;
University of North Carolina, 1789, founded by former members of the Continental Congress, Generals, Judges, and Governors, including Hugh Williamson, a Signer of the U.S. Constitution, whose first career was an ordained Presbyterian preacher.
Pierre du Pont de Nemours helped organize the educational system in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
He barely escaped the guillotine during the France’s Reign of Terror.
After immigrating to America, his son founded a gunpowder mill which grew into the chemical company, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, one of America’s wealthiest business dynasties.
Pierre du Pont, at the request of Thomas Jefferson, toured America for the purpose of documenting the state of education, and reported:
“The United States are more advanced in their educational facilities than most countries.
They have a large number of primary schools; and as their paternal affection protects young children from working in the fields, it is possible to send them to the schoolmaster — a condition which does not prevail in Europe.
… Most young Americans, therefore, can read, write and cipher.
Not more than four in a thousand are unable to write legibly — even neatly; while in Spain, Portugal, Italy, only a sixth of the population can read; in Germany, even in France, not more than a third; in Poland, about two men in a hundred; and in Russia not one in two hundred.
England, Holland, the Protestant Cantons of Switzerland, more nearly approach the standard of the United States, because in those countries the Bible is read; and in that form of religion the sermons and liturgy in the language of the people tend to increase and formulate ideas of responsibility …”
Du Pont concluded:
“In America, a great number of people read the Bible, and all the people read a newspaper.
The fathers read aloud to their children while breakfast is being prepared — a task which occupies the mothers for three-quarters of an hour every morning.
And as the newspapers of the United States are filled with all sorts of narratives — comments on matters political, physical, philosophic; information on agriculture, the arts, travel, navigation; and also extracts from all the best books in America and Europe —
they disseminate an enormous amount of information, some of which is helpful to the young people, especially when they arrive at an age when the father resigns his place as reader in favor of the child who can best succeed him.
It is because of this kind of education that the Americans of the United States, without having more great men than other countries, have the great advantage of having a larger proportion of moderately well informed men; although their education may seem less perfect, it is nevertheless better and more equally distributed.”
During the Napoleonic Wars, 1803-1815, an estimated six million died across Europe, leaving innumerable orphans.
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi started common schools for poor orphans in Switzerland, Germany and France.
In 1804, Pestalozzi traveled to Paris to meet with Napoleon, but he was not interested in helping.
Pestalozzi compiled a textbook series titled Leonard and Gertrude, which taught children to live upstanding moral lives through the belief in and love of God.
The four main characters in his books were:
- Gertrude — a mother from the village of Bonnal who taught her children;
- Glüphi — a school teacher who used Gertrude’s methods;
- a parish clergyman who promoted these methods, and finally
- Arner — a politician, who procured state funding for the common schools.
Inscribed on his grave in German is:
— born in Zurich January 12, 1746
— died in Brugg February 17, 1827
— Saviour of the Poor on the Neuhof.
— Preacher to the People in Leonard and Gertrude
— In Stans, Father of the orphan,
— In Burgdorf and Münchenbuchsee,
— Founder of the New Primary Education.
— In Yverdon, Educator of Humanity.
— He was an individual, a Christian and a citizen.
— He did everything for others, nothing for himself!
— Bless his name!
Pestalozzi’s common schools inspired Horace Mann, a founder of America’s public common school system.
Mann was a Massachusetts state representative, 1827-33, a state senator, 1833-37, and in 1848, a U.S. Representative, filling the seat previously held by John Quincy Adams.
Mann was most remembered as Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, where he founded the first state-funded common school in the United States in 1839.
Emphasis was on “the three R’s” — Reading, wRriting, and aRithmetic.
Mann wrote in his Tenth Annual Report, 1846:
“In obedience to the laws of God and to the laws of all civilized communities, society is bound to protect the natural life of children …
We prohibit infanticide under penalty of death …
The life of an infant is inviolable, even before he is born; and he who feloniously takes it, even before birth, is as subject to the extreme penalty of the law as though he had struck down manhood in its vigor, or taken away a mother by violence from the sanctuary of home where she blesses her offspring.
But why preserve the natural life of a child, why preserve unborn embryos of life, if we do not intend to watch over and to protect them …
Therefore, every State is morally bound to enact … a code of laws establishing free schools.”
Horace Mann wrote in his Twelfth Annual Report, 1848:
“The common school … may become the most effective … of all the forces of civilization …
According to the European theory, men are divided into classes … According to the Massachusetts theory, all are to have an equal chance for earning, and equal security in the enjoyment of what they earn …
Tried by any Christian standard of morals … can anyone hesitate, for a moment, in declaring which of the two will produce the greater amount of human welfare?…
Moral education is a primal necessity of social existence. The unrestrained passions of men are not only homicidal, but suicidal; and a community without a conscience would soon extinguish itself …
There is one experiment which has never yet been tried … It is expressed in these few and simple words: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go; and, when he is old, he will not depart from it’…
… Practical morals is a consummation of blessedness that can never be attained without religion, and that no community will ever be religious without a religious education.
Both these propositions I regard as eternal and immutable truths …
That our public schools are not theological seminaries, is admitted … But our system earnestly inculcates all Christian morals; it founds its morals on the basis of religion; it welcomes the religion of the Bible …
One of the moral beauties, of the Massachusetts system … there is one place in the land where the children of all the different denominations are brought together for instruction,
where the Bible is allowed to speak for itself; one place where the children can kneel at a common altar, and feel that they have a common Father, and where the services of religion tend to create brothers, and not Ishmaelites …”
Horace Mann continued:
“Such, then … is the Massachusetts system of common schools.
Reverently it recognizes and affirms the sovereign rights of the Creator, sedulously and sacredly it guards the religious rights of the creature …
In a social and political sense, it is a free school-system.
It knows no distinction of rich and poor, of bond and free, or between those, who, in the imperfect light of this world, are seeking, through different avenues, to reach the Gate of Heaven.
Without money and without price, it throws open its doors, and spreads the table of its bounty, for all the children of the State.
Like the sun, it shines not only upon the good, but upon the evil, that they may become good; and, like the rain, its blessings descend not only upon the just, but upon the unjust, that their injustice may depart from them, and be known no more …
For twelve years … with all the school officers in the state … I have never heard an objection made to the use of the Bible in school, except in one or two instances … the objection was put upon the ground that daily familiarity with the book in school would tend to impair a reverence for it …
The Bible is in our common schools by common consent …
If I were able to give but one parting word of advise to my own children … if I were sinking beneath the wave, and had time to utter but one articulate breath … that dying legacy should be, ‘Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth.”
In 1845, an Irish potato famine brought millions of Irish Catholics to America.
Irish-born John Joseph Hughes, the first Catholic Archbishop of New York, protested to the King James version of the Bible being used in the common public schools.
He pulled Catholic students out and proceeded to pioneer the Catholic parochial school system.
William Holmes McGuffey joined the staff at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 1826, serving as a professor of ancient languages, then as the chair of moral philosophy.
He was a licensed Presbyterian minister and preached frequently at Bethel Chapel.
In 1835, abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe recommended McGuffey be hired by Truman and Smith Publishers to write a series of educational reading books for students.
McGuffey’s Readers went on to become the most popular school textbooks in the nation, selling a million copies a year for over 120 years.
McGuffey’s Readers were the mainstay of public education in America from 1836 to 1960.
The only other books in that sales category were Webster’s Dictionary and the Holy Bible.
Generations of school children read them, making them some of the most influential books of all time.
McGuffey became a professor at the University of Virginia and president of Ohio University.
Lincoln referred to him as “Schoolmaster of the Nation.”
McGuffey began one of nation’s first teachers’ associations.
In the foreword of McGuffey’s Reader, 1836, he wrote:
“The Christian religion is the religion of our country.
From it are derived our prevalent notions of the character of God, the great moral governor of the universe.
On its doctrines are founded the peculiarities of our free institutions …”
“The Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus are not only basic but plenary (complete in every way).”
McGuffey’s Eclectic Sixth Reader, 1907, included a quote from Lyman Beecher, whose daughter, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin:
“While most nations trace their origin to barbarians, the foundations of our nation were laid by civilized men, by Christians …
The memory of our fathers should be the watchword of liberty throughout the land;
for, imperfect as they were, the world before had not seen their like, nor will it soon, we fear, behold their like again.
Such models of moral excellence, such apostles of civil and religious liberty … To ridicule them is national suicide.”
William Holmes McGuffey, in McGuffey’s Fifth Eclectic Reader (revised edition, 1879, Lesson XXIII), had a chapter by Mason L. Weems, “King Charles II and William Penn”:
“King Charles: How then will you get their lands?
William Penn: I mean to buy their lands of them.
King Charles: Buy their lands of them? Why, man, you have already bought them of me! …
William Penn: … How can I, who call myself a Christian, do what I should abhor even in the heathen? No … I will buy the right of the proper owners, even of the Indians themselves.
By doing this, I shall imitate God himself in his justice and mercy, and thereby insure His blessing on my colony, if I should ever live to plant one in North America.”
William Holmes McGuffey’s Fifth Eclectic Reader (revised edition, 1879, Lesson LXV, pp. 200-204) memorialized John Peter Gabriel Muhlenburg in a poem titled “The Rising” written by Thomas Buchanan Read:
“The pastor rose: the prayer was strong;
The psalm was warrior David’s song;
The text, a few short words of might,-
"The Lord of Hosts shall arm the right!”
He spoke of wrongs too long endured,
Of sacred rights to be secured;
Then from his patriot tongue of flame
The startling words for Freedom came.
The stirring sentences he spake
Compelled the heart to glow or quake,
And, rising on his theme’s broad wing,
And grasping in his nervous hand
The imaginary battle-brand,
In face of death he dared to fling
Defiance to a tyrant king.“
In McGuffey’s 5th Eclectic Reader, 1879, is a lesson titled "Religion–The Only Basis of Society,” by William Ellery Channing, whose grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence:
“How powerless conscience would become without the belief of a God …
Erase all thought and fear of God from a community, and selfishness and sensuality would absorb the whole man.
Appetite, knowing no restraint … would trample in scorn on the restraints of human laws …
Man would become … what the theory of atheism declares him to be – a companion for brutes.”
William Holmes McGuffey’s Fifth Eclectic Reader, 1879, included Lesson CXIII, “A Picture of Human Life” by Samuel Johnson, renown British compiler of A Dictionary of the English Language, 1755:
“Temptation succeeds temptation, and one compliance prepares us for another; we, in time, lose the happiness of innocence, and solace our disquiet with sensual gratifications.
By degrees we let fall the remembrance of our original intention, and quit the only adequate object of rational desire.
We entangle ourselves in business, immerse ourselves in luxury, and rove through the labyrinths of inconstancy till darkness of old age begins to invade us, and disease and anxiety obstruct our way.
We then look back upon our lives with horror, with sorrow, and with repentance; and wish, but too often vainly wish, that we had not forsaken the paths of virtue …”
Johnson’s lesson concluded:
“Happy are they, my son, who shall learn, from thy example …
Reformation is never hopeless …
The wanderer may at length return after all his errors;
and … he who implores strength and courage from above, shall find danger and difficulty give way before him.
Go now, my son … commit thyself to the care of Omnipotence; and when the morning calls … begin anew thy journey and thy life.”
William McGuffey died May 4, 1873.
In McGuffey’s Eclectic First Reader, there was included a lesson titled “Evening Prayer”:
“At the close of the day, before you go to sleep, you should not fail to pray to God to keep you from sin and from harm …
You should thank Him for all His good gifts;
and learn, while young, to put your trust in Him; and the kind care of God will be with you.”
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