Posted by: Democratic Thinker | June 5, 2010

Webster’s American Education—§ 1

American Thought

 
 
Noah Webster, shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War, publishes an essay in his American Magazine outlining his reasons and methods for revising the educational system in the new republic.


On the EDUCATION of YOUTH in AMERICA.

NEW YORK, 1788.

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§ 1.  General Remarks.

THE Education of youth is, in all governments, an object of the first consequence. The impressions received in early life, usually form the characters of individuals; a union of which forms the general character of a nation.

The mode of Education and the arts taught to youth, have, in every nation, been adapted to its particular stage of society or local circumstances.

In the martial ages of Greece, the principal study of its Legislators was, to acquaint the young men with the use of arms, to inspire them with an undaunted courage, and to form in the hearts of both sexes, an invincible attachment to their country. Such was the effect of their regulations for these purposes, that the very women of Sparta and Athens, would reproach their own sons, for surviving their companions who fell in the field of battle.

Among the warlike Scythians, every male was not only taught to use arms for attack and defence; but was obliged to sleep in the field, to carry heavy burthens, and to climb rocks and precipices, in order to habituate himself to hardships, fatigue and danger.

In Persia, during the flourishing reign of the great Cyrus, the Education of youth, according to Xenophon, formed a principal branch of the regulations of the empire. The young men were divided into classes, each of which had some particular duties to perform, for which they were qualified by previous instructions and exercise.

While nations are in a barbarous state, they have few wants, and consequently few arts. Their principal objects are, defence and subsistence; the Education of a savage therefore extends little farther, than to enable him to use, with dexterity, a bow and a tomahawk.

But in the progress of manners and of arts, war ceases to be the employment of whole nations; it becomes the business of a few, who are paid for defending their country. Artificial wants multiply the number of occupations; and these require a great diversity in the mode of Education. Every youth must be instructed in the business by which he is to procure subsistence. Even the civilities of behavior, in polished society, become a science; a bow and a curtesy are taught with as much care and precision, as the elements of Mathematics. Education proceeds therefore, by gradual advances, from simplicity to corruption. Its first object, among rude nations, is safety; its next, utility; it afterwards extends to convenience; and among the opulent part of civilized nations, it is directed principally to show and amusement.

In despotic states, Education, like religion, is made subservient to government. In some of the vast empires of Asia, children are always instructed in the occupation of their parents; thus the same arts are always continued in the same families. Such an institution cramps genius, and limits the progress of national improvement; at the same time it is an almost immoveable barrier against the introduction of vice, luxury, faction and changes in government. This is one of the principal causes, which have operated in combining numerous millions of the human race under one form of government, and preserving national tranquillity for incredible periods of time. The empire of China, whose government was founded on the patriarchical discipline, has not suffered a revolution in laws, manners or language, for many thousand years.

In the complicated systems of government which are established among the civilized nations of Europe, Education has less influence in forming a national character; but there is no state, in which it has not an inseparable connection with morals, and a consequential influence upon the peace and happiness of society.

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