by Len Lear
A local author who hasn’t published in 250 years is back — and with a new book, no less! Christopher Dock, a Mennonite schoolmaster from Germantown, wrote his “A Hundred Necessary Rules of Conduct for Children” in 1764.
Over 100 years later, Samuel Pennypacker, onetime governor of Pennsylvania and president of its Historical Society, knocked on the door of a Mennonite farmer’s Germantown home and purchased a fragile copy of Dock’s work. Seeking to honor this early colonial teacher and share his wisdom, Pennypacker translated and republished the Rules in 1863. Now, 150 years later, the Rules are back again.
The new version, “Necessary Rules for Children in Pennsylvania Dutch Country,” contains the entire original text of the Rules, in addition to a discussion guide for parents and teachers, bringing the Rules into context for today’s kids. Also, period photographic illustrations show three siblings doing their best to try to follow the rules.
Notable for being the first publication on the subject of etiquette written in the colonies, the Rules are sure to inspire conversation and questions from kids and parents alike. The book is available now from the History Press/Arcadia Publishing in Glenside or from Amazon.com.
The editor of the book, Paul Breon, 43, who lives in Northumberland County, is a graduate of Bloomsburg University with a Master’s in Instructional Technology who has been teaching social studies, science, and engineering for 15 years in his home county.
He also wrote an article that was published in “Chicken Soup for the Single’s Soul,” and he has written newspaper articles, but “Rules” is his first book. “About 15 years ago, I was visiting a tourist site in Lancaster,” he explained last week, “and I found the ‘Rules’ just lying on a table.
“Someone had copied them from a book, Samuel Pennypacker’s 1863 English translation. I read them and thought these are fascinating! They were just so quaint and charming. I was fascinated by them. They capture a moment in time in our history so clearly. So after I started teaching Social Studies in fifth grade, I decided to share them with my students.
“And when I did, they got all excited and upset, and they laughed. The Rules just naturally create a response from people. Not only that, but there’s so much to learn there — about the culture, about children, about our country, even. And I thought these should be republished as a book.”
Paul approached a friend, Tonya Wilhelm, to see if she’d help with the project. She is a professional portrait and fine art photographer and has three children that Paul thought would be great to photograph trying to follow the rules. She agreed, and so they got a wavier to photograph at a late 1700s’ era historical home.
She purchased Colonial-style clothes for the kids, so they were able to achieve a really great quality of “period photography” for the book. The second publisher they sent it to accepted it. All in all, they worked on and off for about a year on the project.
“It’s important as a historical document,” said Paul. “Not only that, but the Rules are fun to read, especially to our modern children. Most modern children have never heard ‘Do not speak until you are asked’ before, for example. It’s interesting to hear what they think of that.
“There is one rule that says in the winter that children are ‘not to ride upon sleds with disorderly boys.’ I’ve always thought, come on! You can’t ride on a sled? But then I wonder: did he mean you CAN ride on a sled with ORDERLY boys? Like they’re all taking turns and not yelling. Maybe then.”
What are the differences between etiquette then and etiquette today? “We might be temped to think sometimes that we don’t have standards today, but we do,” said Paul. “Every culture has standards; it’s just now in American culture it’s so ill-defined. There’s little clarity to our etiquette today, certainly few common standards we all agree on that children should follow.”
Breon’s hope is that history buffs will enjoy the book for its peek back 250 years to the pre-Revolutionary days and that teachers will share it with their students to teach them about the culture of children then. “And I hope parents will share the book with their children to teach them how things were, and talk about why, and also get them talking about what the standards of behavior should be today.”
Breon’s son likes to work on their family history, by the way. He has a family tree with thousands of entries, so he likes to find historical sites in Pennsylvania they have a family connection to. “Not any one site in particular,” said Paul, “although, of course, I love the Dutch Country area.”
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