Caleb Bingham, author of a number of children’s readers, first published his popular “The American Preceptor: Being a New Selection of Lessons for Reading and Speaking” in 1794. Selections from the 1805 edition are included in the First American West collection. The Preface of “The American Preceptor” outlines Bingham’s choice of selections.
…Convinced of the impropriety of instilling false notions into the minds of children, he has not given place to romantic fiction. Although moral essays have not been neglected; yet pleasing and interesting stories, exemplifying moral virtues, were judged best calculated to engage the attention and improve the heart. Tales of love have not gained admission.
- Read the entire Preface. What can you learn about the purpose of schoolbooks from reading the Preface? Why do you think “American genius” was emphasized? Why was romantic fiction not included? According to the author, what criteria were used in selecting items?
- Read some of the “Select Sentences” in “The American Preceptor.” What moral values are embedded in these sentences?
- Remember that this book was written early in our nation’s history, when leaders believed that schools and families should teach young people that citizens have a responsibility to care for their government and to rein in their own selfish interests. In what ways are the excerpts from “The American Preceptor” in line with those goals?
- How is this book similar to and different from textbooks used in schools today?
The collection also includes several other school primers including “The American School-master's Assistant: Being a Compendious System of Vulgar and Decimal Arithmetic” and “The Defining Orthographer, and Youth's Plain Guide to Pronunciation and Reading.”