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History of America's Education Part 2:
Noah Webster & Early America



Date: March 27, 2002

Author: April Shenandoah


Noah Webster would not recognize the dictionary that bears his name today. Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language defines education as: "1. the process of educating especially by formal schooling; teaching; training. 2. knowledge, ability, etc. thus developed. 3. a) formal schooling. b) a kind or stage of this: as, a medical education. 4. systematic study of the methods and theories of teaching and learning."


In Webster's original dictionary published in 1828, his definition was: "Education - The bringing up, as a child, instruction; formation of manners. Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties."


To Webster, the central goal of education was to train youth in the precepts of Christianity. He stated, "In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children under a free government, ought to be instructed...No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people."


In Webster's United States History Book, he has a chapter on the U.S. Constitution. In there is a section with the heading, Origin of Civil Liberty, which contains this: "Almost all the civil liberty now enjoyed in the world owes its origin to the principles of the Christian religion... The religion which has introduced civil liberty, is the religion of Christ and His apostles, which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free constitutions of government..."


Education in Early America: Education in early America was much different than that of today, in form and results. Most education was done by the home or church. This is where the ideas and character were implanted in our founders. Such training produced one of the greatest group of men - in thought and character - of all time.


Samuel Blumenfield says: "Of the 117 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, one out of three had had only a few months of formal schooling, and only one in four had gone to college. They were educated by parents, church schools, tutors, academies, apprenticeship, and by themselves.


Almost every child in America was educated. At the time of the Revolution, the literacy level was virtually 100% (even on the frontier it was greater than 70%). John Adams said that to find someone who couldn't read was as rare as a comet. When tutors were hired they were most often ministers, and those that went to college were instructed by ministers.


The first school in New England was the Boston Latin School. It was started in 1636 by Rev. John Cotton to provide education for those who were not able to receive it at home. The first common (public) schools were thoroughly Christian. In 1642 the General Court enacted legislation requiring each town to see that children were taught, especially "to read and understand the principles of religion and the capital laws of this country..."


As time went on private schools flourished more than common schools (especially as the Puritan influence in common schools decreased). The Christian community saw the private schools were more reliable. By 1720 Boston had far more private schools than public ones, and by the close of the American Revolution many towns had no common schools at all." There were no public schools in the Southern colonies until 1730 and only five by 1776.


History repeats itself, as today the issue of public schools Vs private is a hot button. As far as home schooling goes, we are just returning to the days of old. Statistics show that home schooled children are above average in SAT scores, and best of all they can read.

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