Gateway to the Classics: Stories of American Explorers by Wilbur F. Gordy
Stories of American Explorers by  Wilbur F. Gordy

Front Matter


One of the noteworthy changes made in the curriculum of both the elementary and the high school during the last fifteen years is the large and increasing importance given to history. This change is significant. It emphasizes the school as a social institution, the special function of which is to prepare the learner to become a useful and happy member of the social body. For in doing its proper work the school should give the individual the power to adjust himself to the social conditions surrounding him. Such adjustment experience alone will teach him how to make. But the individual experience which results from contact with others in every-day life is at best limited and narrow. The school greatly enlarges this experience and enables the pupil to share and profit by the experience of all humanity in its struggle to achieve its ideals and to live its best life. In the teaching of history the racial life and experience are to be made part of the pupil's life and experience, to the end that he may grow stronger in mental, emotional, and volitional power, and may also gain such social insight and social disposition as will enable him to render his highest service to the community. The study of history is not only to develop his individual powers, but it is to enlarge his experience.

In the lower grades of the elementary school most of the work in history should be in the form of oral language lessons, and the subject-matter should be presented in story form. The concrete, the personal, and the dramatic, appealing in a special way to children, should be made prominent, for in this way, and in this way alone, can the teacher reach the imaginative and the emotional life of the child.

But as early as the third or fourth grade, historical readers, adapted to the pupil's intelligence and reading ability, should be introduced, and from that time forward reading and language, both oral and written, should supplement each other. With such a purpose in view, the author, who has given long and patient thought to this subject, has prepared this little volume, which is the first of a series covering the entire range of the history of our country. The title of this historical reader indicates its scope and purpose. In its preparation there has been no intention of presenting a complete biographical sketch of each of the explorers selected. On the contrary, the aim has been to narrate, in simple story form, mainly those portions of the explorers' lives that were more or less closely identified with American exploration.

It need hardly be suggested that in using a book like this the problem is to help the pupil to get at the soul of history, or, to put it in another way, to enable him to understand how the man whose life-story is under consideration thought and felt when he was performing the deeds told of him in the text. And in thus helping the pupil we are furnishing him what he desires. For it is more life that he craves, and the teacher is to him an interpreter of that larger life which is to become a part of his own.

The young mind should become stored with pictures, the external features, of events; and special emphasis should be laid upon training the sensuous imagination, so that the pictures may be living ones. In the story of Columbus, for example, the imagination calls to life the great discoverer. By the mysterious process of sympathy the pupil identifies himself with Columbus, and for the time being is  Columbus. The same is true of Sir Walter Raleigh, or of any other heroic character. The child sees, admires, imitates, just as Ernest did in looking at the Great Stone Face. What the pupil imitates, moulds and fashions his ideals—becomes a part of the very soul of his being.

But unless the imagination gets vivid pictures there will be no sympathetic response in the pupil and no organic union between his life and the life symbolized in the recorded deeds. All possible effort should therefore be made to stimulate the imagination to the formation of vivid pictures. To do this both the artist and the publishers have effectively cooperated with the author. It is believed that the fine illustrations and the excellent typographical features of the book will combine in helping the teacher to make real the trials, dangers, and hardships recounted in the various biographical sketches.

Partly as an aid to the teacher in stimulating the pupil's image-forming power, various suggestions and questions are put at the end of every chapter under the heading "To the Pupil." These include only a very small number of the questions and suggestions that may be used. For in the study of almost every page of the book the pupil may well be asked, "What picture do you get from that paragraph?" In this way not only is the image-forming power developed, but the pupil is helped to revive and make real the experience that is embodied in the narrative. As the "Outline for Oral and Written Language" is intended to be merely suggestive, only a small part of the most important of the incidents and facts of the narrative are suggested. It is left for the teacher to enlarge or modify these topics in any way that may be thought best to suit the needs and the capacity of the class.

In conclusion, I wish to acknowledge my obligations to Prof. William E. Mead, of Wesleyan University, who has read the manuscript and made many invaluable suggestions.

Wilbur F. Gordy.
Springfield, Mass., June 14, 1906.

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