In the great Superman vs. Batman debate, I am a Superman supporter, through and through. Batman is dark and conflicted, operating from a sense of vengeance and instilling fear and dread in his foes. He is very much a “one-of-us” hero, demonstrating our faults writ large. In contrast, Superman is not natively one of us, but he shows us what we can aspire to be. As originally conceived, he is a light to be followed and an example to be emulated. He operates from a sense of justice and fair play, instilling courage and hope in his friends. Where Batman is more descriptive of who we are, Superman shows us who we could, and should, be.
Our contemporary culture celebrates Batman and other characters like him. “Good” good guys are characterized as boring (and are often written that way, too!), whereas “bad” good guys are portrayed as infinitely interesting and worthy of our study. The ratio of Batman to Superman movies produced over the last 25 years is evidence of this, as is the quality of the writing that has gone into each. While Batman’s psyche has been thoroughly mapped out and its depths plumbed, Superman (in the movies, at any rate) has yet to be written with any real moral authority and the heights to which he is capable of soaring, both physically and morally, left largely unexplored.
This preamble sets the stage for a conversation about McGuffey Readers. These small volumes of moral tales designed to be read aloud by elementary school students were at one time a cornerstone of education in America. The first reader teaches reading by phonics, and then each successive reader increases in difficulty. There is an emphasis throughout the series on spelling, grammar, and proper articulation and emphasis in public speech.
These lessons, if they are bothered to be taught at all, can be presented through any number of vehicles. What sets the McGuffey series apart is its content. Communicated in its pages are a multitude of lessons in virtue: honesty, patience, bravery, self-control, thinking for oneself, appropriate obedience to acknowledged authority, kindness to others and to animals, and, above all else, self-sacrificing love for others lived out as a reflection of God’s great love for us. The content of these lessons aims to show children the heights to which they can aspire and the ways they can take to make the ascent.
I want to challenge my boys with a vision of the good they can achieve and the love they are capable of through the power of Jesus Christ. I endeavor each day to help my children discover who they have been created to be and then help equip them to achieve their purpose. Where this direction is still unclear — and it only comes into focus a little bit at a time, it seems — I seek to surround my children with as much light as possible. Along those lines, McGuffey Readers are a wonderful addition to our practice.
We read Scripture after supper each evening together as a family. My wife and I usually both read a selected passage. We’re going to be adding a reading from McGuffey to that routine and have one or both of the boys read a lesson aloud for the edification and encouragement of us all. Having just finished the Third Reader myself, I am very much looking forward to reading it together and the discussions that will ensue.
The world has plenty dark, conflicted, sad, angry, confused young people. It desperately needs more loving, kind, patient, honest, and self-controlled “Supermen”. I aim to give it (at least!) two more.