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Monday, July 29, 2019

A 'Masculinity Crisis' and the McGuffey Readers

A month ago, I wrote a post about the effects of the elimination of the McGuffey Readers on America's 'civic virtues,' and especially how they affected Freemasonry and similar voluntary associations – along with almost everything else.  (See How the 1960s Really Killed American Freemasonry's Future).

This idea is getting around.

It turns out I'm not the only one who was struck by Charles Murray's observations in his brilliant 2012 book Coming Apart. Have a look at this essay from last July by Jon Miltimore on the Intellectual Takeout website that talks about the 'code of manhood' that the Readers used to reinforce that stopped when the books were phased out.

Miltimore's concentration is on what he describes as the "disappearance of manliness" in America, and he was just as taken with Murray's fascination with the McGuffey Readers as I was. From A Code of Manhood for a Generation Suffering a ‘Masculinity Crisis’:
For generations, every child who attended school was taught codes of behavior, usually through McGuffey Readers, of which about 120 million copies were sold between 1836-1960. As the National Park Service explains, the books were far more than a compilation of textbooks; they essentially framed the country’s morals and shaped American character:
“The lessons in the Readers encouraged standards of morality and society throughout the United States for more than a century. They dealt with the natural curiosity of children; emphasized work and an independent spirit; encouraged an allegiance to country, and an understanding of the importance of religious values. The Readers were filled with stories of strength, character, goodness and truth. The books presented a variety of contrasting viewpoints on many issues and topics, and drew moral conclusions about lying, stealing, cheating, poverty, teasing, alcohol, overeating, skipping school and foul language.”
Even after circulation of McGuffey Readers declined, the code essentially survived for some time and was still being communicated to boys. For a boy growing up in the early 50s, as Murray did, the code went something like this, he writes:
“To be a man means that you are brave, loyal, and true. When you are in the wrong, you own up and take your punishment. You don’t take advantage of women. As a husband, you support and protect your wife and children. You are gracious in victory and a good sport in defeat. Your word is your bond. Your handshake is as good as your word. It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. When the ship goes down, you put the women and children into the lifeboats and wave good-bye with a smile.”
Some will read these lines and see it as a series of banal platitudes. That, Murray would say, is the whole point. The fact that these clichés existed demonstrated that boys had a clear model to which they could align their behavior. This code of behavior was taken seriously enough by the people who ran America that it was propagated in its institutions. Those days are gone.
“If you see or hear any of those clichés used today among the new upper class, it is probably sarcastically,” Murray writes. “The code of the American gentleman has collapsed, just as the parallel code of the American lady has collapsed.”
What has replaced the code? “A mushy set of injunctions” Murray calls “ecumenical niceness.”

But Coming Apart was published in 2012. Since that time, much has changed. One suspects Murray might have a different answer today.
Social justice morality has become a new religion of sorts in American institutions, embraced and propagated by schools, corporations, libraries, and universities. The problem with social justice morality—well, one of them—is that it tends to emphasize what boys should not do and largely ignores the classical virtues and religious values emphasized in McGuffey Readers.
This is the product of what Murray calls nonjudgmentalism. Timeless values like temperance, hard work, and self-denial are often practiced by the cultural elites who design America’s systems but almost never preached, presumably because this would be viewed as a sort of judgment upon the have-nots...
Read the whole article HERE

H/T John Nagy


  1. Most people of color and many women were denied education. A great many died because of medical conditions.

  2. The literacy rates for the 19th century are sad: in fact less than 20 percent of he non white population could read and write. The umber of all colors in high school was miniscule. We need to keep this in mind: see the government figures at https://nces.ed.gov/naal/lit_history.asp


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