Noah Webster, Jr., was a political writer, author, and editor at the turn of the eighteenth century. He has been granted the title of “Schoolmaster to the nation” (Blinderman, 9). His “blue-backed” spelling books taught American children how to spell and read, and his name became synonymous with “dictionary” in the United States. Webster wrote A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, a three volume work including a speller, a grammar, and a reader. He also completed An American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828 after twenty-eight years of work (Blinderman, 25). In 1821, Webster helped found Amherst College in Massachusetts (Blinderman, 8).
Webster hated the American education of his day so he forged ahead to change it. Some states failed to educate the poor, and there were few good textbooks. Incompetent teachers taught children Latin before teaching English in the grammar schools. Webster, as the nation’s schoolmaster, outlined a plan to correct America’s educational system in the introduction to his speller. He believed that American children should be patriotic and speak “American” English (Blinderman, 27). Strangely enough, he opposed the establishment of school libraries, believing they would be of little worth for the poor. Webster also opposed Bible reading in school because daily Bible study would alienate children from religion (Webster, 50). However, Webster strongly advocated for the education of females as long as women did not assume men’s roles in business (Blinderman, 29).
No man has left such an impact on the American language as Noah Webster. Even during his own lifetime, he received awards from his peers, and his pragmatic views influenced future educators. Webster freed America from intellectual inferiority, and his dictionary promoted English courses in school curriculums (Blinderman, 32-33). The speller sold over a hundred million copies until the 19th century when it was replaced by the McGuffey reader, and the dictionary has gained renown as the greatest dictionary of the English language. Few secular critics oppose Webster, if any.
Webster’s theories about language should be applied to all areas of education, because students should have a thorough knowledge of English to use in their vocation. Textbooks should be strong and appropriate to the age of the student. Webster’s advocacy for female education is also appreciated and applied in the modern era. While secular critics praise Webster’s work, Christian critics must carefully analyze Webster’s theories because his opposition to Bible teaching must be addressed. Bible teaching is essential for Christian education, and it cannot be ignored. Students trained in the Bible will have their faith strengthened, not diminished.
– Hannah S. Bowers
Blinderman, A. (1976). Three early champions of education: Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and Noah Webster. Bloomington, IN: The Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.
Webster, N. (1965). On the education of youth in America. In F. Rudolph (Ed.), Essays on education in the early republic (pp. 41-77). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.