Learning from the Past: School Books

“Here, Kitty; see what I have. Oh yes; she sees me now. I have an apple for you, Kit. One for you, and one for me. Kitty is my horse. She will eat grass and apples.”

So goes a reading lesson from page 15 of Classics for Children: A First Reader by J.H. Stickney published by Ginn & Company, Boston, USA, 1893.

I doubt you would find similar subject matter in an early grade English book today. I also doubt many kids know much about horses anymore. Back then, nearly everybody had a horse for transportation and farm work.

I find it interesting that the assumed common knowledge of 1893 differs so much from what we find common today. Digital technology has replaced mechanical technology in most realms of our life, at least on the surface.

If you scratch down deep enough you’ll find that we still rely on mechanical technology the bulk of the time. Until someone invents the replicator of Star Trek fame, we’re going to be planting seeds in the ground and harvesting them for a long time to come. Mechanical muscle gets the heavy work done.

I before E-mail

Flipping through an antique English primer is a fascinating journey into the past. The rest of Stickney’s reader is filled with references to farm animals, the agricultural world, the natural world, physical chores, and old-fashioned games like rolling a hoop.

I can still remember this world from family stories because my maternal grandparents lived it until they died and my parents grew up in it, but I wonder whether youngsters in their twenties and under will understand these basic things if the digital world continues to grow on its current scope and scale.

An old adage of history, and life, is that you have to walk before you run. You need a solid grounding in the fundamentals before you can move on to the complexities.

Learn a little bit about the agricultural world that preceded and still sustains our digital world.

It’s important.

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