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“Young children too may die…” (The New England Primer 129). When reading this statement it is difficult to comprehend that this is written in a children’s book. The New England Primer is the book that was used to teach Puritan students to read in the 1700’s. There are many differences in the way that students were taught in the 1700’s and how they are taught today.
A few of these differences are; that in the 1700’s, being taught religion was more important than to gain actual knowledge, and learning to have obedience and morals was an important part of a child’s school day, the content of The New England Primer and other modern children’s books, as well as the ultimate reason for children learning to read is altogether different. Religion was the main focus of the reading in The New England Primer. Today, children are taught to read by using a list of ABC’s, and saying, “A is for Apple, B is for Boy…” and it is made so that it is easier for younger students to understand.
The list of ABC’s in The New England Primer has the letter and then a picture next to it, but instead of having a word that would make it easier for the children to understand there is a sentence such as, “A – In Adam’s Fall/ We Sinned all, B – Thy Life to Mend/ This Book Attend…” (The New England Primer 128) but some were more appealing to the students (Kreilkamp), “The Cat doth play/ And after flay, Nightengales fing/ In Time of Spring” (The New England Primer 128).
The students learned in the book through sin, disobedience, and death, instead of learning through things that children learn through today such as dogs, love, and happiness. All of the ABC’s sentences are about God and the Bible, so there is no room for the child to disagree with any part of the ABC’s. The children read about things such as, God’s Works, Fall of Adam, Jesus, Justification, Adoption, and Sanctification. These are things that are important for a child to learn, but also make it harder for them to read with large words and concepts that are difficult to understand.
Children today read about things that interest them and have different reading levels to make learning to read easy and fun. If a child today were handed The New England Primer they probably would not want to read it or may not even have the ability to read it. The Puritan children did not know anything other than The New England Primer, so they did not have anything to compare it to. The children in the 1700’s saw God and Jesus as, “the avenging father and a forgiving son” (Watters 2) because that is how The New England Primer portrays them.
In the time between the 1660’s and the 1690’s, God went from being portrayed as an angry and wrathful God, to being a loving and caring God. (Elliot 13-14) The New England Primer failed to show that shift in beliefs so the children would continue to fear God and obey their parents and elders. The parents wanted the students to have a thorough understanding of God, Jesus, and the Bible, so it was the first thing that they learned and everything was based on this particular concept.
The New England Primer was used to teach students to read as well as to teach them to be obedient and to have good morals. It tells the students that Adam and Eve were sinful and disobedient so they were punished by God, but it also says that children are guilty for their own thinking and deserve continued punishment. The children read, “The Dutiful Child’s Promises”, which is a list of things that a dutiful child does, or strives to do. The children are told to “honour my Father & Mother” and to “Fear God and honour the King” (The New England Primer 129).
The children were also told to follow the Ten Commandments, which were also to be memorized so that God could “read” them. This shows how fearful and compliant the children are to their parents and to God. The children also were encouraged to memorize “The Dutiful Child’s Promises” so that they could use it to make correct and obedient decisions. Punishments for the Puritan children were emphasized in the ABC part of The New England Primer, by “F – The Idol Fool Is whipt at School”. This was an additional warning to the students that they must behave in the classroom or there will be punishments.
The punishments in the 1700’s and today are very different, back then teachers could hit their students with rulers, but today teachers may not even raise their voices with students without the risk of losing their jobs. The first theme that you read about in The New England Primer is death, and death is a very heavy topic for children in today’s age for many different reasons. In the 1700’s, children understood death, better than children today, because it surrounded them every day.
The hardships that the Puritans faced are nothing like any young student today could possibly understand. Death is understood by the Puritan children, and when The New England Primer says, “Rachel doth mourn for her fifst born”, the children understand it because they many of them have lost a sibling because of the lack of medical knowledge in the 1700’s. It seems dark and depressing to people today, because today’s society is uncomfortable with talking about death and dying. For the children in the 1700’s it was just a way of life and something that happened every day.
The New England Primer emphasized that very point in the Verses of “The Dutiful Child’s Promise” in saying that death does not only take away the old, but that children can die as well, and so they need to be prepared when they do die to go to Heaven. Children today are getting saved, but they are not doing so to get prepared for death, they are getting ready to serve God with all of their heart and soul. Students today are being taught with the mind set of learning everything they can to reach their own personal goals in life.
In the 1700’s the reason for reading was very different from the way that it is today. The parents wanted to children to be able to read so they could read the Bible, not so they could learn about different topics or to read for enjoyment. When educating students today, it is understood that it is the end goal for teachers to help the students get ready to be able to provide a living for themselves with the knowledge that they learn, but in the 1700’s it wasn’t necessary to learn to read for any other reason than the bible because the poems emphasized how to live and act.
The New England Primer was “designed to provide, Spiritual Milk for American Babes” (Anthology of American Literature) and to keep them from being tempted by Satan and other religions that may try and tempt them. The people of the 1700’s believed that there were, “millions to read, and not one to sin” (Anthology of American Literature), which means that it was believed that the people who read The New England Primer, understood what God wanted them to do and how He wanted them to live, never sinned again, for fear of angering God.
The idea of people never sinning again from reading a book is not accurate and students today will read and understand what is going on in the book and be able to enjoy it. The New England Primer was the most important book in teaching Puritan students in the 1700’s to read, but the most important book that they could read was the Bible. The Puritans emphasized their belief in God in every aspect of their lives, especially in teaching their children to e good and kind members of the Puritan community. Teachers of student’s today want to see their students progress and keep learning even after they have learned how to read, because it teaches them about the world that we live on and what is going on outside of their houses and towns. There are many differences between the teachings in the 1700’s and the teachings today, but in the end the important thing is teaching the students to read.