Where did yesterday go?


There is a growing trend in the school system that disturbs me. The first time I noticed it I was attending primary education myself, it was high school. Somehow I had managed to get into an advanced history class when my GPA was abysmal. As the term went on I found myself actually interested in the material being presented. This was the first time I can remember feeling this way. Until then history, and then turned social studies, was relegated to the colonial times up through whatever the current year was. It covered the ever increasing time frame in such broad strokes as to only be able to leave out more and more detail as the years progressed until, finally, all we have are names and dates and we call it history. It is far from any recognizable version of such. The substance, the stories, the how and why are virtually gone. As I looked around the other subjects being taught it was the same everywhere. We were given basic function and broad familiarity with all of the form and substance removed.


I noticed it once again as my own children attended public education. Only it was worse. Absolutely little to no effort was even required to pass the classes. At one point, and it was in the Department of Defense version of the education system, it was going around to introduce a new letter to the grading system. An ‘E’.

It meant you failed, but we’re trying so you could move to the next grade. Whether or not that particular decision came to fruition is past my knowledge, but the thought that it could even be entertained is appalling.


The million dollar question then becomes: what happened to teaching children, people, How to think, instead of What to think?

I referenced in an earlier post my love of older books. Particularly the old school readers from generations ago. I usually won’t procure such a book unless it’s publication date is one hundred years or older. Today I’m going to share with you the difference in the level of depth from those times. I’m not going to go into today’s materials as I do not collect them and my children are past those ages. Instead, I’m going to cover, briefly, an overview of a lesson from the Appleton’s fourth reader from 1878. It must be stated ahead of time that the system of books and what Readers were assigned to what ages throughout the school system is only vaguely to me. This being said it is generally known that the Readers correlated with the grades as we currently know them. There was the Primer, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and finally (I believe it was called) the Classic Reader. If I am mistaken in any of this please let me know. This being the Fourth Reader would be relevant to students of roughly the fourth grade, approximately 10 years of age.


First are the preparatory notes:

The work to be done by the pupil is included under:

  1. Biographical, historical, geographical, scientific, and literary allusions or references. The notes under this head are intended to suggest topics for discussion in the recitation, and the pupil is not required to study these, although he may read them with some profit.
  2. Spelling and pronunciation. In the appendix to this volume will be found suggested method of teaching spelling by analysis. If preferred, the old method of oral or written spelling will suffice.
  3. Language-lesson on the principles of written or printed language as found in the lesson. If carefully learned, the pupil will acquire a practical knowledge of grammatical forms, without the usual technicalities. He will learn to write and speak correctly. But the logic of language as given in technical grammar is not attempted here.
  4. Definitions, synonyms, and paraphrases, to be given by the pupil in his own language, i.e., in such words as he uses in his every-day life, and not in words borrowed from the dictionary. He must find the words in the piece and study their connection with the rest, and give the special sense of the words as there used, not the general definition. This method will secure the most rapid mastery of a good vocabulary on the part of the pupil. (Numbers 2, 3, and 4 are to be studied by the pupil, and he may be held responsible for the work required)
  5. Style and thought of the piece. The notes under this head should be read and discussed in the recitation, and they will answer a useful purpose in sharpening the pupil’s faculty of criticism, even if the thoughts advanced are condemned and refuted.

It is evident that each selection from classic literature furnishes work enough for three, four, or five recitations. First, the pupil should learn the spelling, pronunciation, peculiarities of form, and meaning of the words in the lesson (2, 3, 4); second, the references and allusions made in the piece (1); third, the thought and style of expression (5); fourth, the proper rendering of it as taught in the lessons on elocution.

That is directly from the reader mentioned above. While this is applicable to all the lessons in the book, and references the application to those lessons, even as a general overview you can see that there is far more detail, attention, and learning required of a 10-year-old than was expected when my children were 10 and in public education. Today, schools are happy if students can spell the word most the way correctly and have an inkling of what it means.

history and literature

When I started writing this article I did not realize just how in depth nor how involved I truly am on the topic. Therefore I will be making this a series of articles walking us all the way through the first lesson and what is required of the pupil by the final recitation of the material.

literature (1)

Thank you for joining me.

Tim R.

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