HISTORY OF AMERICA'S EDUCATION, PART II:
NOAH WEBSTER & EARLY AMERICA
By 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 of 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 inportant 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, Webster has a chapter on the U.S. Constutution. In that chapter, there's 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 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, different 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 groups of men--in thought and character--of all time.
Samuel Blumenfeld says: "Of the 117 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution, one out of three 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 who went to college were instructed by ministers.
The first school in New England was the Boston Latin School. It was started in 1636 by Reverend John Cotton to provide education for those who were not able to receive it at home. The first common (public) schools were throroghly Christian. In 1642, the Massachusetts General Court (colonial legislature) enacted legislation requiring each town to see that children were taught to read, especially taught "to read and understand the principles of religion and the capital laws of this country...."
As time went on, private schools flourished more than did schools (especially as the Puritan influence in common schools decreased). The Christian community saw the private schools as being more reliable than the common schools. By 1720, Boston had far more private schools than public schools, 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. Today, the issue of public schools versus private schools 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.
Next time: Universities, Textbooks, and Our Founders.
A Practical Guide to Homeschooling
April Shenandoah is the author of SO HELP ME GOD! (Eden Street Publishers, 1999), served as the Los Angeles press contact for the 1988 Pat Robertson presidential campaign, spent more than ten years researching and gathering material pertinent to the changing world we live in, conducts Freedom Tea Party forums which educate those unaware of the stripping of America's freedoms, sits on the board of the National Council of Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, and wears the unofficial title of Ambassador of Prayer.
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