Webster’s American Education—§ 3 — Democratic Thinker

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.


Study of the English Language, necessary.

In a few instances perhaps the study of English is thought an object of consequence; but here also there is a great error in the common practice; for the study of English is preceded by several years attention to Latin and Greek. Nay, there are men, who contend that the best way to become acquainted with English, is to learn Latin first. Common sense may justly smile at such an opinion; but experience proves it to be false.

If language is to be taught mechanically, or by rote, it is a matter of little consequence whether the rules are in English, Latin or Greek: But if children are to acquire ideas, it is certainly easier to obtain them in a language which they understand, than in a foreign tongue. The distinctions between the principal parts of speech are founded in nature, and are within the capacity of a school boy. These distinctions should be explained in English, and when well understood, will facilitate the acquisition of other languages. Without some preparation of this kind, boys will often find a foreign language extremely difficult, and sometimes be discouraged. We often see young persons of both sexes, puzzling their heads with French, when they can hardly write two sentences of good English. They plod on for some months with much fatigue, little improvement, and less pleasure, and then relinquish the attempt.

The principles of any science afford pleasure to the student who comprehends them. In order to render the study of language agreeable, the distinctions between words should be illustrated by the differences in visible objects. Examples should be presented to the senses, which are the inlets of all our knowlege. That nouns are the names of things, and that adjectives express their qualities, are abstract definitions, which a boy may repeat five years without comprehending the meaning. But that table is the name of an article, and hard or square is its property, is a distinction obvious to the senses, and consequently within a child’s capacity.

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