America's Public School Bible Textbook
The New England Primer was the first reading primer designed for the American Colonies. It became the most successful educational textbook published in 17th century colonial United States and it became the foundation of most schooling before the 1790s. The NEP was taught in America's Public Schools for 150 YEARS.
The New England Primer was the first textbook ever printed in America and was used to teach reading and Bible lessons in our schools until the twentieth century. In fact, many of the Founding Fathers and their children learned to read from The New England Primer.
In the 17th century, the schoolbooks in use had been Bibles brought over from England. By 1690, Boston publishers were reprinting the English Protestant Tutor under the title of The New England Primer. The Primer included additional material that made it widely popular with colonial schools until it was supplanted by Noah Webster's Blue Back Speller after 1790.
The New England Primer was first published between 1687 and 1690 by printer Benjamin Harris, who had come to Boston in 1686 to escape the brief Catholic ascendancy under James II. It was based largely upon The Protestant Tutor, which he had published in England, and was the first reading primer designed for the American Colonies.
Many of its selections were drawn from the King James Bible and others were original. It embodied the dominant Puritan attitude and worldview of the day. Among the topics discussed are respect to parental figures, sin, and salvation. Some versions contained the Westminster Shorter Catechism; others contained John Cotton's shorter catechism, known as Spiritual Milk for Boston Babes; and some contained both.
David H. Watters argues that the Primer was built on rote memorization, the Puritans' distrust of uncontrolled speech, and their preoccupation with childhood depravity. By simplifying Calvinist theology the Primer enabled the Puritan child to define the "self" by relating his life to the authority of God and his parents.
Two of the most famous example verses are as follows
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.
In Adam's Fall,
we sinned all.
The New-England Primer, the principal textbook for millions of colonists and early Americans. First compiled and published about 1688 by Benjamin Harris, a British journalist who emigrated to Boston, the primer remained in use for more than 150 years.
The historical milieu in which the primer emerged contributed to its rise to prominence. In 1630 a group of Puritans settled the Massachusetts Bay area with the goal of developing a society based on biblical principles as embodied by the English Reformation. The doctrine of the priesthood of the believer motivated Puritans to teach reading to all citizens so that they could know and follow the Christian scriptures.
As early as 1642, Massachusetts law required literacy instruction to all children, servants, and apprentices. The 1647 Old Deluder Satan Act—in order to ensure that “learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers”—required every township of 50 households to hire a teacher. Towns twice that size were mandated to set up schools that would prepare students for Harvard. qblue With only the Bible and a laminated alphabet available in most schools,-z New England was ready for a textbook that would be affordable, portable, and compatible with the predominant worldview.
Themes of sin, death, punishment, salvation, and respect for authority were displayed through alphabetic rhymed couplets, poems, prayers, and scriptures. The theme of punishment, for instance, was exhibited in the rhyming couplet for the letter F: “The idle fool / Is whipt at school.” Such themes for a child’s textbook may seem morbid in light of the 18th-century Swiss-born philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s notions of childhood innocence, but they would not seem so to Puritan families who embraced the doctrine of infant corruption caused by the original sin of Adam.
The influence of the Great Awakening—a religious revival in the American colonies in the 1720s, ’30s, and ’40s—brought about several changes to the primer. For example, the couplet for the letter C was amended from “The cat does play / And after slay” to “Christ crucify’d / For sinners dy’d.” The Great Awakening’s influence shifted the primer’s emphasis from God’s wrath to God’s love and contributed to the addition of more prayers and hymns, such as Isaac Watts’s “Cradle Hymn.” As moral education became more secularized, the emphasis on punishment and sin softened. For example, in later versions, consuming fire as a punishment was replaced with the threat of having treats taken away. Literacy as a means to finding eternal salvation was replaced in one 1790 version as a path to financial security, and in an 1819 edition the rhyme for K expressed the value of play—“ ’Tis youth’s delight / To fly their kite.”
Various adaptations included the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, John Cotton’s Milk for Babes, and the common children’s prayer “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.” Also present in some editions was an account of John Rogers’s martyrdom accompanied by a woodcut of his burning at the stake while his wife and children watched. The catechetical drill included some of the following questions: “What is the chief end of man?” “What is the first commandment?” “What is faith in Jesus Christ?” Later secular questions were included, such as “Who saved America?” and “Who betrayed America?”
"Though criticized for depicting children as depraved and for using God as a metaphor to manipulate submission to the political and religious authority of New England, the primer made a lasting impact on the moral landscape of America. Of the millions printed, fewer than 1,500 copies remain, the earliest having been published in 1727. This relatively low number of surviving texts indicates the constant use the primer received and the impact its principles had on the development of American values. The multiple editions of existing copies serve as a valuable record chronicling the changes in early American philosophy of education." - Encyclopedia Brittanica
New England Primer: David Barton, John Cotton: 8601400334270: Amazon.com: Books
Read The New England Primer, 1777 edition