Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

SCHOOL: The Story of American Public Education Logo
Roots in History
Evolving Classroom
Photo Gallery
About the Series
Get Involved
background image for Public Education in America section
  Evolving Classroom  


McGuffey's Second ReaderThe religious and moral education of youth was paramount in early American schools. The first book in the classroom was the Bible. It was central to a child’s education, not only for its content, but the way it was used to build skills. Students learned how to read using the Bible. Much of the school day was devoted to memorizing and reciting passages from it, and passages were copied to learn penmanship.

The first textbook was the New England Primer, used between 1760 and 1843. The most popular schoolbook in the nineteenth century was the McGuffey Reader, introduced in 1836. Based on landmarks of world literature, the set of six readers, which increased in difficulty, were the basis for teaching literacy, as well as basic values such as honesty and charity. The readers gave the teacher flexibility she lacked before, allowing her to more easily teach a classroom of pupils of different ages and levels. Tens of millions of copies were sold in the nineteenth century. In rural America the McGuffey Reader was often the only exposure people had to world literature.

boy in libraryToday’s schools are equipped with libraries run by a professionally trained school librarian. Although books are still the primary source of instruction for children, electronic media such as CD-ROMs and Internet-based software are widely used. The exponential growth of literature and media provides many choices to teachers and students. Rather than memorizing from a set of finite literary sources, students learn research skills so that they can access information on their own.

Then & Now:
Pens, Ink, and Paper
School Lunch
Slate and Slate Pencils

Home | Roots in History | Innovators | Evolving Classroom
Photo Gallery | About the Series | Get Involved

Copyright © 2001 Roundtable, Inc. All rights reserved.