Mary Beheler

Why Have Public Schools?

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2016 at 3:58 am

By Mary Beheler. First published in Feb/Mar 2002 issue of Tri-State Christian News

Doctor, mechanic, employee, employer, food handler—nearly everyone in our society has gone to school somewhere.  The public spends great amounts of money supporting a system they hope will …. Well, just what is it we hope the school system will do?  Why have public schools at all?  Shouldn’t parents train their own children?

The early settlers of New England saw fit to enact these two laws, which still capture the attitudes of many Christians.

Massachusetts Bay School Law (1642)

         Forasmuch as the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any Common-wealth; and wheras many parents & masters are too indulgent and negligent of their duty in that kinde. It is therfore ordered that the Select men of everie town, in the severall precincts and quarters where they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren & neighbours, to see, first that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families as not to indeavour to teach by themselves or others, their children & apprentices so much learning as may inable them perfectly to read the english tongue, & knowledge of the Capital Lawes: upon penaltie of twentie shillings for each neglect therin. Also that all masters of families doe once a week (at the least) catechize their children and servants in the grounds & principles of Religion …


The Old Deluder Act (1647)

 From Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (1853), II: 203

It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times by persuading from the use of tongues, that so that at least the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded and corrupted with false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers; and to the end that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors.

It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, …
Full text of act may be seen at:


McGuffy’s Readers Still Valuable Today

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2016 at 3:53 am

by Mary Beheler
First published Feb/Mar 2002 issue Tri-State Christian News
Huntington, WV
—Some critics of today’s educational system say using “McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers”  would restore quality to America’s  schools.  The readers were first published in 1834 and became the standard textbooks of  35 states. Many people regarded William Holmes McGuffey as “Schoolmaster of the Nation,” because of the books’s popularity, says biographer John H. Westerhoff III.

Christian educators often still use the books, both in home-schools and private schools.  There are two reasons for this, method and content.

“Eclectic” means (1) selecting what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods or styles (2) composed of elements drawn from various sources.  (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary)

McGuffey blended the phonic and whole word methods of  teaching  reading.  Pupils proved their mastery by reading aloud.  He said, “To read with a loud and full tone, to pronounce every syllable properly and distinctly, and to mind the pauses:—are the three most difficult points to be gained in making good readers.  If these three things are attained, the various intonations that express sentiment will generally follow, as soon as pupils have knowledge enough to understand the sense, and will give their attention to it.”  Each lesson included a list of ERRORS.  “Kiv-erd for cov-er-d; yal-ler for yel-low; sar-tin-ty for cer-tain-ty.” The standard American accent of the mid-west is largely the product of these pronunciation guides in McGuffey’s Readers.

To teach listening, sometimes pupils were not allowed to take notes while the teacher read. After the reading, pupils would write an abstract of what was heard.

Many passages were committed to memory.  This was considered good exercise for the mind.  (Today this skill is often scorned as “rote memorization.”)

Pictures were included with the lessons.  This was a relatively new practice and brought him some criticism.  McGuffey replied, “There is no person but the veriest smatterer in the business of education, who does not see at once, that visible delineations are indispensable in every grade of education, from the primer to the Principia.”

This small sample of McGuffey’s methods shows they were indeed “eclectic.” In today’s terms, the visual, auditory, and tactile-kinesthetic learning styles were all used.

He said, “But the most difficult part of a teacher’s duty, arises from the great variety of intellectual and moral character, found amongst his numerous pupils. No two minds are alike, in all their powers and susceptibilities. Every mind, therefore, requires a mode of treatment, somewhat different from that which is suitable for any other mind; and here, both the skill and the honesty of the teacher are put to the test. Every new pupil is not only a new lesson, but a new book, which the teacher must study!”

McGuffey was not only a college professor, he was a Calvinistic Presbyterian minister.  Thus, when choosing the best literature to put in his eclectic readers, it was natural many passages from the Bible were included, and works about the scriptures.

Separation of church and state was a respected principle even in 1834—but to most  people it meant public schools should not be “sectarian.”  “Common Christianity” could be taught.  Nevertheless, when the books were revised in 1858, W. H. McGuffey was not on the editorial board, and the selections became more secular.

The 1879 editions were made after McGuffey’s death.  Scripture is rare in that revised edition.  However, the tone of the books remained highly moral.  Stories were chosen to emphasize honesty, hard work, perseverance and cheerfulness.  “If at First You Don’t Succeed” is a poem in the Third Revised Reader.

A small survey of Internet articles about McGufffey revealed a variety of criticisms:  Male and female roles are stereotyped.  No mention is made of slavery, though it was part of life then and beginning to tear the nation apart.  The science is outmoded.  Children should not be subjected to lessons about death, Hell and judgment.

There are two answers to such criticism. The first is the observations are not entirely correct. The “Tribute to Wilberforce” in the Fourth Reader praises him for helping end the curse of slavery in Great Britain.

Many  selections in the books are by women authors.  Both men and women are shown as wage earners, and the wise as well as the foolish are represented.

Observation and experimentation is encouraged in the science readings.  Creation is to be treated with kindness and respect.  If a few of the “facts” presented are a little outdated, it helps one learn the limitations of science, as well as its benefits.

Death still visits children and parents today.  Can it be foolish to prepare for it?

The second answer to the criticism is that children need to learn there are other times and places than our  own.  Comparing and contrasting then and now provides an opportunity to take a fresh look at both.

The material in McGuffey’s Readers is the best the 19th century had to offer, in one conservative Protestant clergyman college professor’s opinion. Millions of parents and hundreds of school boards agreed with him.

The books are available at the public library, on the Internet and from booksellers. John H. Westerhoff III has written a companion volume, “McGuffey and His Readers.” Its appendix contains several essays on education by McGuffey and a list of other books he is known to have written.

At present one in five adults do not have the basic literacy skills they need to function well in today’s society.  Not even a high school diploma is proof of literacy.  Sometimes graduates cannot recite the entire alphabet, much less write it.

If you can read this, perhaps you can find time this summer to sit down with a child and McGuffey and introduce them to each other.


April 2000 Heritage Note

In Uncategorized on July 10, 2011 at 7:12 am

I awakened in a hospital on the first Saturday in April ten years ago. The room was bright, the ceiling was white, and my glasses were gone. The last thing I remembered seeing was the headlight on the big gray train that hit me. I hadn’t seen it coming until it was too late to even get scared. Surely, I was in Heaven.

I wondered where everybody else was. Maybe this was a waiting room of some kind. No, God knows where we are supposed to go; there wouldn’t be any wait. “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” It couldn’t be Heaven. I finally figured out I must still be alive, and probably in a hospital. I got out the evening before Easter.

As glad as I was to still be alive, I did have to get over some disappointment that I wasn’t in Heaven yet. Maybe that seems strange to you. This “Easter,” this Feast of the Resurrection we are celebrating now is part of the reason the idea of dying wasn’t a thing to be feared. (Getting hurt is another matter.)

You see, long ago I did something very simple. I believed God, and it was counted for me as righteousness, same as Abraham. (Genesis 15:1-6, Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23.) This is what God wants from us — to be believed.

For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your household.” Acts 16:31.

(Jesus said) “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14:1

You know how you feel when someone doubts your word? We are made in God’s image. We can imagine how it grieves Him to be doubted. You want the God who created the universe feeling like that when He thinks of you?

Maybe we humans do need someone to plead our case for us when we come to His judgment. But who could do it? Only someone with no doubt at all in his mind. Only a person with perfect faith, perfect trust, perfect belief could please an offended perfect God.

The ancient Hebrews demonstrated they knew their unworthiness before God by placing their hands on the head of a flawless animal as it was being killed. They were acting out a scene that said, “Lord God, I know this should be happening to me for all I’ve done wrong. Please forgive me.” (Leviticus) All over the world our ancestors enacted less accurate pictures of the same admission: I am not worthy to stand before God. Even today, millions still make sacrifices to their god or gods. The few people who think they are absolutely perfect on their own are called “crazy” by the rest.

No wonder the fear of death is natural to us. If that were all I knew or believed about God, I would rightly be terrified of death.

I also believe the God who created me in His image cares enough, loves enough, to prepare a way to preserve the life He gave me, and tell me how to find that way. That way is Jesus.

One of the best explanations of this is in Hebrews 2:9-15 (NIV) “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.

Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

Many years ago a frail woman from Ona, WV went to Zambia, Africa to be a missionary. “Aunt Candy” (Claudia Peyton) created a school in that country, and even adopted many of her students. Many became leaders in Zambia.

I had the privilege of hearing one of them speak in my home church. He said sometimes people ask why he is a Christian. His answer was simple: freedom from fear.

He described how it had been before he believed Christ. Fear pervaded everything. Had he offended any spirits? How could anyone keep them all happy? Superstition ruled his life. Maybe this neighbor or that one would place a curse on him. Now he was a free man, no longer in bondage.

Most have heard the saying, “The truth will set you free.” Not if you don’t believe it, it won’t. Pilate, the Roman governor who authorized Jesus’ crucifixion asked him, “What is truth?” The question should be, “Who is Truth?”

Jesus had said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6 (NIV)

I believe that. That is one reason the Tri-State Christian News exists. I believe He has given those who know Him the responsibility and privilege of introducing Him to others. Matthew 28:18-20 Acts 10:34-44.

The God who created the universe, who created you, has sent you many love letters. They are called the Bible. Pick it up. Read it or listen to it. If you believe it, you need no longer fear death.