The Pupil and the Teacher

In 1911 Luther Weigle authored a 217 page textbook on teaching Sunday School, a book that remained in production more than 30 years and eventually sold more than 1 million copies. Were there really that many Sunday School teachers in America?

The book was titled The Pupil and the Teacher. Its byline read “Officially recognized as a Text-book by the International Sunday School Association.”

Royalties from the book enabled Luther and Clara Weigle to build their summer home at Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire. In the previous blog I disclosed how Sunapee fulfilled my every childhood dream for a place to visit for several weeks almost every summer. Yet until mid-adult life I had never opened the book that made it possible.

What would a long book about teaching Sunday School look like? Below is the Table of Contents for my grandfather’s book. (You can also find the entire book free online.)


The first chapter is an introduction. The second on physical activity seems to prefigure the Montessori movement in early education. Weigle wrote –

It is out of this very turmoil of activity, all lacking in unity as it is, and out of it alone, that growth and development, experience and intelligence, habit and will, can come…. We will seek to use and direct, rather than repress, the physical activity of childhood. The child who is forced to be quiet and to sit still is failing to get what he needs most to build for him a sturdy body, a sound mind, and the right sort of character. “A child shut up without play,” said Martin Luther, “is like a tree that ought to bear fruit but is planted in a flower-pot.”

He gave this warning:

Unhappiness and discouragement, distrust and alienation, sullenness and defiance, or else weak-willed dependence – are some of the results within a child who is continually assailed with don’ts.

He continued

Our grown-up point of view almost inevitably distorts our interpretation of what children do and say. One way to guard against this is to go to the “child you knew best of all.” Remember from your own childhood how a child thinks and feels. Get back to your own point of view, your interests and activities, your reasonings and attitudes, when you were the age of those you now teach. But, after all, if you are really to know and help children, you must share their life. “If we want to educate children,” said Martin Luther, “we must live with them ourselves.” Nothing can take the place of this direct personal relationship. With it, you perhaps need know but little of the laws of the mind or of the scientifically observed characteristics of child life; without it, no amount of training can make a teacher of you.[1]

The next 5 chapters in The Pupil and the Teacher followed the stages of children’s physical and mental growth as outlined in John Mason Tyler’s Growth and Education, published in 1907. The 3 chapters on Instinct, Habit, and the Will leaned heavily on William James’ Psychology: the Briefer Course (1892), a debt openly acknowledged.

Weigle summarized interactions of instinct, habit, and will as follows:

Any ordinary action is partly instinctive, partly voluntary, and partly habitual. Instinct determines our general tendencies or attitudes in presence of a situation, and so lays down certain broad limits within which action will lie. The will determines its specific character and purpose. Habit, finally, takes care of the details of its execution.[2]

The inclusion of habit among three determinants of action may reflect the influence of Charles Peirce, the founder of pragmatism, who said, “The whole function of thought is to produce habits of action.”[3]  William James and subsequently Weigle urged that good, useful habits should be formed as early in life as possible.

Regarding the role of teachers, Weigle provide this quote from Martin Luther:

“For my part, if I were compelled to leave off preaching and to enter some other vocation, I know no work that would please me better than that of teaching. For I am convinced that, next to preaching, this is by far the most useful, the greatest, and the best labor in the world; and, in fact, I am sometimes in doubt which of the two is the better. For you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, and it is hard to reform old sinners, yet that is what by preaching we undertake to do, and our labor is often in vain; but it is easy to bend and to train young trees.”[4]

For the hard work of developing character in children, Weigle reminded the Sunday School teacher –

You have God’s help in your work…. But consecration alone will not make of you a teacher. Spirituality does not insure efficiency. God’s help does not relieve you of responsibility…. God will not do all the work; you are more than a tool of His, more than a mere channel for His Spirit. God asks your help – that is the greatest thing life can bring to anybody. The consecration He seeks is not passive submission, but a consecration of work – of brain and hands and feet that are able as well as willing to do something for Him. He asks you not simply to trust Him, but to remember how He trusts you. He has faith enough in you to give you a piece of work to do.[5]

My own Sunday School experience through teenage years seemed to focus repeatedly on trusting God. Of course, that’s very important. But what a powerful message is delivered when we read, “He asks you not simply to trust Him, but to remember how He trusts you.”

When our family visited Sunapee on vacation, it was Grandpa who would sit down in the evening to read to the smaller children (see header image). The books mostly from the 1920s and 1930s might include Fraid Cat, or The Whineys, or another I recall in which vegetables dressed up as knights of medieval times, assisted by their worthy servants, the vitamins.

Sometimes he would tell a story just from memory. One of our favorites described faithful Tobey, a little dog who protected his family’s children from hopgoblins. Warning – old German fairy tales are not sugar-coated! As you read, think about Luther Weigle’s deep voice and preacher’s pacing –

Tobey was just a little dog, but he was very brave. When the hopglobins came in the middle of the night, Tobey barked “R-r-rarff! Rarff! Yip-yip-yip!” loudly as he chased and shooed them away. The children’s father heard the noise and came running, but he didn’t see the goblins. They were already gone. He was angry, because Tobey had waked him up from a deep sleep! What do you think the father did? He cut off Tobey’s left front leg to teach him not to bark in the middle of the night.

The next night the hopglobins came back! Tobey barked “R-r-rarff! Rarff! Yip-yip-yip! Rarff! Rarff!” and the goblins ran away. Here came Father again. Do you think he was angry? Tobey had waked up everybody again. He cut off Tobey’s right front leg. “Tobey, that will teach you a lesson,” he said.

Hopglobins don’t give up easily, and they came back again the next night. Tobey barked again “R-r-rarff! Rarff! Yip-yip-yip!” and he scared them away. Father came in, and he said not a word. He cut off Tobey’s left hind leg.

Now the hopgoblins knew that Tobey could not chase them easily, and the next night they became bold enough to come into the children’s room again. But Tobey barked “R-r-rarff! Rarff! Yip-yip-yip! Rarff! Rarff! Rarff!” and hopped around on his one leg, and what do you think? The goblins ran away. But Father came in and said, “Tobey, you must never do this again,” and he cut off Tobey’s last leg.

The hopgoblins knew now that Tobey could not chase them at all. They came back the next night. But Tobey barked louder than ever, “R-R-RARFF! RARFF! YIP-YIP-YIP!” And the goblins ran away.

What did Father do this time? He cut out Tobey’s tongue.

The next night the hopglobins came back. Tobey could not do anything to help, because he had no tongue and could not bark. He had no legs and could not chase. And the goblins carried all the little children away.

I’m not sure why we liked that gruesome and scary story so much, asking for it just before bedtime many evenings. Maybe because Grandpa liked it even more than we did. “Do you think that Father was sorry for what he did?” he asked.

In the next blog, I’ll present a slightly abridged version of my grandfather’s chapter on The Will.


Next post:  The Will – Circa 1911

Previous post:  Clara and Luther

Searching for GSOT outline:  Home

Header image:  Luther Weigle reading to grandchildren, circa 1964. Family photo.

[1] Weigle, L.A., The Pupil and the Teacher, Hodder & Stoughton, New York, 1911, p. 11. (Here is a link to the whole book. I recommend the PDF version, since electronic text translation may be flawed.)

[2] Ibid., p. 65.

[3] For a longer quote, see this earlier blog. Charles Peirce and William James enjoyed a close, lifelong friendship. The quote is from How to Make Our Ideas Clear, first published in Popular Science Monthly (Jan. 1878), pp. 286-302, reproduced in Charles S. Peirce: Selected Writings ed. Wiener, P.P., Dover, New York, p. 124.

[4] Martin Luther. Sermon on the Duty of Sending Children to School, quoted in Weigle, L.A., The Pupil and the Teacher, Hodder & Stoughton, New York, 1911, p. 12.

[5] Weigle, L.A., ibid., pp. 9-13. Boldface and italics are Weigle’s.


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