The foundation of all free government and of all social order must be laid in families and in the discipline of youth…The education of youth [is] an employment of more consequence than making laws and preaching the gospel, because it lays the foundation on which both law and gospel rest for success.
A Mission Discovered
Noah Webster is known as the Father of American Education. He was born in West Harford, Connecticut on October 16, 1758, a descendent of Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor William Bradford.This Pilgrim heritage provided him with the ingredients of Christian self-government, sense of responsibility and work habits that would serve him well throughout a long and active life.
After graduating from Yale College, the youthful Noah Webster began his public life as a lawyer, supplementing his law practice with teaching. He recognized early on that the citizens of the newly established United States must be educated with American ideas, and that the arts and literature of the new republic must reflect a distinctly Christian character in order to secure its constitutional liberty.
Over the next 60 years, by dint of his own unflagging industry, he produced a repository of school texts unequalled for consistency in teaching the precepts of American spelling, pronunciation and grammar, and American history, civics, geography and literature. Throughout the innumerable revisions and re-publications, the theme of American Christian morality and patriotism never wavered.
A Nation Changed
The publication of Noah Webster’s Speller in 1783 was followed by a Grammar in 1784, and a Reader in 1785. Webster’s American Spelling Book, the famous “blue-backed speller,” set a publishing record maybe unequalled by any textbook in America. In print for an entire century, more than 100 million copies were sold. The “blue-backed speller” made its way into log cabins in the wilderness, travelled on flatboats down the Ohio, and creaked across the prairies of the West. It was the standard of virtually every young American’s education, consistently teaching the “principles of a republican form of government [that] had their origin in the Scriptures” and embodied “a love of virtue, patriotism and religion,” so that all Americans would be furnished with the foundation for liberty and a way of life that could bring the most happiness and success.
Wherever an individual wished to quench his thirst for knowledge, there along with the Bible and Shakespeare, were Noah Webster’s slim volumes. It might be said that Noah’s books were an “ark” in which the American Christian spirit rode the deluge of rising anti-Christian and anti-republican waters, which so often threatened to inundate the nation.
A Legacy Defined
Today, as American Christians and patriots, we can look to the example of Noah Webster’s life for inspiration. The 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language is still the standard for Biblical scholarship and word definitions. His legacy is his own life and effort demonstrating the power and influence of one individual that is consciously and consistently dedicated to Christ and country.
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Adapted from “Noah Webster Founding Father of American Scholarship and Education,” by Rosalie J. Slater, preface to the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.