Saturday, December 12, 2009

Prove that you have human feelings/ Ere you proudly question ours!

I have a book from 1825 in my collection of old textbooks: The Historical Reader, Designed for the Use of Schools and Families. On a New Plan. Written by Rev. J.L. Blake, A.M., Minister of St. Matthew's Church, and Principal of a Literary Seminary, Boston. Because I've moved around so much, and especially since I started teaching, I've gotten much better at culling my books, but I mostly seem to cull useful ones that have served their purpose, and I keep the etiquette guides, the shorthand manuals, the children's biography of Richard Nixon published in 1970, after he was elected and before Watergate. I have too many old textbooks, among them The American Nation Yesterday and Today, For Seventh and Eighth Graders as outlined by the New York State Syllabus (1930); Here is New York City (1962); Foods for Home and School (1949); Citizenship Readers Good Citizens Club (1930); A Book of Americans (1933); The Girl Next Door (1948); Human Body and Health: Advanced (1908); Healthy Living, Book One (1918), and Historical Reader (1825).

I don't have many English textbooks, since the Dick & Jane type books really only interest me for their illustrations. I love health textbooks and history textbooks, always fascinated by any erroneous information presented as fact, because it was, then, and curious about what is emphasized and what is not mentioned. Also interested in what is the same, and what is different. I also like the rare literature text that isn't Dick & Jane or McGuffey* because the literature recommended for students fascinates me.

The other day, browsing through my books, curious about what I have that I don't know of, I flipped The Historical Reader open to "The Negro's Complaint." There was no author included by the publisher of the book, but someone had written in Wm. Cowper, using a fountain pen and black ink that had probably faded to gray over a hundred years ago. Googling the poem, I found this , and followed the link to John Newton, whose "horror stories of the Middle Passage play a part in Cowper's poem." There I learned that John Newton wrote "Amazing Grace," but he once was lost, and before he was found, he was a slave trader! This is an excerpt from his account of those voyages.

Later that day, my iPod shuffled up Sam Cooke and the Soul Singers' version of "Amazing Grace." I heard it in a different way from how I'd ever heard it before.

Postscript: Looking through Expressive Reading (1907), I found a very old fern between pages 22 and 23. The "Gettysburg Address" is a "gem of high literary value" recommended for eighth graders.

*Though I did just read the Wikipedia entry on McGuffey and I'm now very curious to look at an 1830's McGuffey Reader and compare it to the 1879 version. Other interesting stuff in there too, if you're curious--worth checking out.

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