- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2001

One of the nation's most beloved schoolbooks, the McGuffey Reader, is making a comeback, particularly among home-schooling families, who are returning to the historic texts to help their children learn reading and language skills.
While most schools moved beyond the McGuffey Eclectic Readers in the 1920s, the seven-book series today is being sold by several online publishing sites. They tout the books' traditional, value-infused lessons, which were taught in many of the nation's one-room schools from the mid-19th through the early 20th century.
"People are looking to the past for quality material," says Wesley Strackbein, a spokesman for Vision Forum, a San Antonio Christian ministry and publishing company, which sells the McGuffey Reader and other historical books. "They are not happy with a lot of the things that are coming off the presses today."
Mr. Strackbein, 24, was home-schooled from the fourth grade on, and says he fondly remembers his mother using the McGuffey books, not only with him, but with his six sisters, ages 8 to 22.
He says books from the past, including the G.A. Henty historical fiction series, are becoming more popular inside and outside the home-schooling movement because people are searching for materials that offer a substantive, basic approach to learning and are infused with character.
The McGuffey books teach such skills as phonics and memorization, which were written off in the late 20th century by educators who called them passe.
"One of the reasons we used it is that the stories promoted moral values," he said of studying from the McGuffey's as a child.
"They were progressively challenging for our vocabulary and helped us think about the deeper issues of life."
Born in 1800, William Holmes McGuffey was known as "the schoolmaster to the nation." He took his first teaching job at age 13, presiding over 48 pupils in a one-room school.
Described by some as dour and strictly devoted to his work, Mr. McGuffey became a Presbyterian minister as well as a professor. He served as president of two Ohio universities and finished his career at the University of Virginia, where the McGuffey Reading Center at the Curry School of Education is named in his honor.
Mr. McGuffey published the first of his reading texts in 1838. Up until his death in 1873, he revised the series of seven readers and a spelling book. An estimated 122 million copies of the readers have been published.
"It is said that Professor McGuffey sought to understand the interests, abilities and comprehension of children by arranging them in groups by age and reading them selected pieces which he intended to include in his readers," according to the McGuffey Center's Web site. "Those selections that generated interest and excitement were included while others that failed the test were discarded."
The readers taught everything from the alphabet to handwriting to grammar and punctuation and the Bible. They included classic speeches by John Adams and essays by Francis Bacon, as well as poetry and readings from Shakespeare, Tennyson and Dickens. Students who progressed as far Mr. McGuffey's fourth reader were, in their day, considered well educated.
The McGuffey readers, wrote historian Henry Steele Commager, "gave to the American child of the 19th century what he so conspicuously lacks today a common body of allusions, a sense of common experience and of common possession."

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