Early American Reading Instruction

To this day reading instruction in the United States is fraught with controversy; this was not always the case. Reading instruction in the early United States through the 19th century was based on a few texts, often with religious connections. Initially The New England Primer was the main text used for reading instruction, adapted from previous texts brought from England, further images and information follow. As the United States comes into itself, The McGuffey Reader gains popularity and continues to be the main source for reading instruction through the 19th century. As education and literacy spread, more readers and primers were put on market, several of these can be seen in the "American Primers and Readers" resource. The following resources provide a glimpse at the materials used for reading instruction from the early United States through the Civil War. Additionally, several resources provide context for who was being taught to read and how since although literacy was nearly universal by the end of the 19th century for white male landowners, this was not the case for women and slaves who were actively denied access to education through specific legislation or simply because of custom.

The New England Primer: One of the earliest primers to come from England to the colonies, this website provides context and history for The New England Primer along with scanned images of an original copy. Links to additional versions are provided to explore and see the changes made throughout the editions.

American Primers and Readers: The Cubberly Education Library at Standford provides an overview of American primers and readers at this site. Materials provided are from Richard L. Venzky's collection and work, a scholar of the history of literacy and reading. Search by era or theme to find imagines of readers and primers from the colonial to modern era of literacy instruction.

Literacy in Early America: This article provides a overview of literacy in colonial America. Background information is provided on the reasons for specific types of reading instruction. The author includes a clear acknowledgement and discussion of literacy as a white male phenomema, along with a discussion of female literacy as something outside of "universal literacy." Literacy is power.

Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America: An overview text guiding the reader to understanding the rise of literacy through the end of the of the colonial era in the United States. The particular work takes the actual instruction used to increase literacy into account as part of the study, as well as what and how children were being taught.

The Role of Phonics in Reading Instruction: This work provides a concise history of phonics instruction in the United States from The New England Primer through the spellers of the 19th century through and beyond Horace Mann's questioning of the importance of phonics in reading instruction. The author tracks the reading instruction though the much debated whole language versus phonics debate that continues in education circles to this day.

The Slave Experience: Education, Arts, & Culture: A companion to the PBS Documentary "Thirteen," this website provides first hand accounts of former slaves intereviewed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression about reading instruction they did or did not receive while held in bondage. Few accounts are available about literacy of slaves, making these first hand accounts all the more important. (Although the website is not being updated, all links worked at the time of this writing, 3.19.2018.)

The McGuffy Reader: Project Gutenberg provides several options for viewing scans of The McGuffey Readers. A varieity of editions are provided to track to the changes in the readers throughout the editions.

What is the Longevity of the McGuffy Reader:McGuffey readers persist in their popularity to this day, though not to the extent at the high point of their popularity in the 19th Century. The author details the process of updating the readers throughout the 19th century based on audience (for example: Western writers employed to revise editions as the frontier expanded further west.)

A History of the McGuffey Readers: A detailed history of the McGuffey Readers is contained within these pages from their original inception through the various editions to their decrease in popularity. In addition, the author shows the connections made within the readers to biblical references and moral learning. A digital copy of the complete book is available through Google Books.

McGuffey Reader Collection: The Library of Congress houses a collection of original McGuffey readers than can be accessed on site. Nearly all editions of the readers and spellers can be found in this collection.

Reading in the 18th Century: Mother, children, and texts: A compilation of various stories and research, this book puts together the story of Jane Johnson. The analysis of her commonplace books allow for understanding of her role in instructing children to read through her nursery library. Additional chapters relate the changing role of reading along with how women were education and their role in education especially are moral education. A unique case study in literacy education and women's role therein.