Posted by: Democratic Thinker | June 19, 2010

Webster’s American Education—§ 15

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.


NEW YORK, 1788.


§ 15.  The Tour of America, a necessary Part of a liberal Education.

IT is time for the Americans to change their usual route, and travel thro a country which they never think of, or think beneeth their notice: I mean the United States.

While these States were a part of the British Empire, our interest, our feelings, were those of Englishmen ; our dependence led us to respect and imitate their manners, and to look up to them for our opinions. We little thought of any national interest in America; and while our commerce and governments were in the hands of our parent country, and we had no common interest, we little thought of improving our acquaintance with each other, or of removing prejudices, and reconciling the discordant feelings of the inhabitants of different Provinces. But independence and union render it necessary that the citizens of different States should know each others characters and circumstances; that all jealousies should be removed ; that mutual respect and confidence should succeed, and a harmony of views and interests be cultivated by a friendly intercourse.

A tour thro the United States ought now to be considered as a necessary part of a liberal education. Instead of sending young gentlemen to Europe to view curiosities and learn vices and follies, let them spend twelve or eighteen months in examining the local situation of the different States ; the rivers, the soil, the population, the improvements and commercial advantages of the whole ; with an attention to the spirit and manners of the inhabitants, their laws, local customs and institutions. Such a tour should at least precede a tour to Europe ; for nothing can be more ridiculous than a man travelling in a foreign country for information, when he can give no account of his own. When, therefore, young gentlemen have finished an academic education, let them travel thro America, and afterwards to Europe, if their time and fortunes will permit. But if they cannot make a tour thro both, that in America is certainly to be preferred ; for the people of America, with all their information, are yet extremely ignorant of the geography, policy and manners of their neighbouring States. Except a few gentlemen whose public employments in the army and in Congress, have extended their knowlege of America, the people in this country, even of the higher classes, have not so correct information respecting the United States, as they have respecting England or France. Such ignorance is not only disgraceful, but is materially prejudicial to our political friendship and federal operations.

Americans, unshackle your minds, and act like independent beings. You have been children long enough, subject to the control, and subservient to the interest of a haughty parent. You have now an interest of your own to augment and defend: You have an empire to raise and support by your exertions, and a national character to establish and extend by your wisdom and virtues. To effect these great objects, it is necessary to frame a liberal plan of policy, and build it on a broad system of education. Before this system can be formed and embraced, the Americans must believe, and act from the belief, that it is dishonorable to waste life in mimicking the follies of other nations and balking in the sunshine of foreign glory.


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