An Ignorant People cannot be a Free People – Noah Webster & the Importance of Education

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Published on: May 29, 2015

The earliest human records appeared about 3,000 or 4,000 BC – Sumerian cuneiform on clay tablets in the Mesopotamian Valley.

This was followed by Egyptian hieroglyphics on papyrus, and Chinese characters in bamboo books.

Writing was first an accounting method for scribes to keep track of what their king owned.

Then it was used to keep record of kings’ decrees, genealogies and astronomy.

Only kings, upper classes and scribes could read, leaving ancient Egypt with an overall literacy rate of less than one percent.

The thousands of cuneiform and hieroglyphic characters were not only difficult to learn, the lower classes and slaves were not allowed to learn them. This facilitated the government’s control of the illiterate masses.

Kings wanted subjects to blindly obey, not think for themselves.

Pre-Civil War America experienced something similar to this when Southern Democrat States made it a crime to teach slaves to read.

Anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss wrote:

“Ancient writing’s main function was to facilitate the enslavement of other human beings.”

Kings ruled by honoring and rewarding those who obeyed them, and by dishonoring and striking fear of death into those who did not.

The first well-recorded instance in history of an entire nation ruling itself without a king was Israel when it broke away from Egypt’s Pharaoh around 1,500 BC.

When Moses came down Mount Sinai, he not only had the Law, he had it in a 22 character alphabet that was so easy to learn the entire nation could read it.

Israel is, perhaps, the first instance in history of an entirely literate population.

Not only were the children of Israel free, they could maintain their freedom because everyone could read.

And not only could they read the Law, they were required to, as the Law was addressed to each individual citizen.

E.C. Wines wrote in The Hebrew Republic (Philadelphia: c1853):
r/>“A fundamental principle of the Hebrew government was…the education of the whole body of the people…

An ignorant people cannot be a free people. Intelligence is essential to liberty.

No nation is capable of self-government, which is not educated to understand and appreciate its responsibilities… Upon this principle Moses proceeded in the framing of his commonwealth…

…There is reason to believe that the ability to read and write was an accomplishment more generally possessed by the Hebrews than by any other people of antiquity.”

Wherever there is a king, the friends of the king are ‘more equal’, those not friends with the king are ‘less equal,’ and those who are enemies of the king are dead – it is called ‘treason.’

For Israel’s first four centuries it did not have a king, being ruled instead by the Law.

The Law declared there was no respect of persons in judgment; rich and poor were to be treated the same; male and female made in the image of the Creator; even the stranger living among them was under the same Law that they were under.

This was the beginning of the concept of ‘equality’, as there was no royal family to seek favors from, no superior or inferior class, no caste system.

Israel’s experiment in self-government was dependent on one thing – the priests teaching the people to read the Law.

The Law was empowered when people were taught that:

  1. There is a God who knows every thought and sees every action;
  2. God wants you to be fair; and
  3. God will hold you accountable in the next life.

When the priests neglected teaching the Law, everyone did what was right in their own eyes and the country fell into moral chaos.

Out of their rebellious moral chaos, Israel got a totalitarian ruler, King Saul, who soon killed a large number of the priests, with the notable exception of Abiathar escaping to David.

The pattern was clear – for a country to maintain order without a king, there needed to be a citizenry educated in moral restraints.

This was understood during America’s colonial era, where education and morals were a high priority.

After Independence, large numbers of immigrants arrived in America.

The response was to create ‘common’ schools for them.

The ‘Father of American Scholarship and Education’ was Noah Webster, who died MAY 28, 1843.

Noah Webster attended Yale, founded as a Puritan Congregational school, but when the Revolutionary War started, he left for four years to fight.

After graduation, Noah Webster became a lawyer and taught in New York.

Dissatisfied with children’s spelling books, Noah Webster wrote the famous Blue-Backed Speller, which sold over one hundred million copies.

Early editions had a “Moral Catechism” with rules from the Scriptures.

For generations, American school children learned letters, morality and patriotism from Webster’s spellers, catechisms, history books, and his Webster’s Dictionary.

Noah Webster served 9 terms in Connecticut’s Legislature and 3 terms in Massachusetts’ Legislature where he lobbied for funding of public education, arguing the government should:

“Discipline our youth in early life in sound maxims of moral, political, and religious duties.”

Noah Webster stated:

“Society requires that the education of youth should be watched with the most scrupulous attention. Education, in a great measure, forms the moral characters of men, and morals are the basis of government. Education should therefore be the first care of a legislature…for it is much easier to introduce and establish an effectual system for preserving morals, than to correct by penal statutes the ill effects of a bad system…”

Webster continued:

“The goodness of a heart is of infinitely more consequence to society than an elegance of manners; nor will any superficial accomplishments repair the want of principle in the mind… The education of youth…lays the foundation on which both law and gospel rest for success.”

Noah Webster stated:

“To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.”

Noah Webster wrote:

“Practical truths in religion, in morals, and in all civil and social concerns, ought to be among the first and most prominent objects of instruction…Without religious and moral principles deeply impressed on the mind, and controlling the whole conduct, science and literature will not make men what the laws of God require them to be; and without both kinds of knowledge, citizens can not enjoy the blessings which they seek.”

Noah Webster wrote in ‘On the Education of Youth in America’, printed in Webster’s American Magazine, 1788:

“In some countries the common people are not permitted to read the Bible at all. In ours, it is as common as a newspaper and in schools is read with nearly the same degree of respect… Select passages of Scripture…may be read in schools, to great advantage… My wish is not to see the Bible excluded from schools but to see it used as a system of religion and morality.”

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s The SCHOOL CODE and Other Laws Relating to the Public Schools, compiled by Nathan C. Schaeffer, Superintendent Of Public Instruction (Harrisburg, PA, Wm. Stanley Ray, State Printer, 1915, page 172; also J.L.L. Kuhn, Printer, 1917, page 176):

“ARTICLE I – THE HOLY BIBLE TO BE READ IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

That at least ten verses from the Holy Bible shall be read, or caused to be read, without comment, at the opening of each and every school day by the teacher in charge:
Provided, That where any teacher has other teachers under and subject to direction, then the teacher exercising this authority shall read the Holy Bible, or cause it to be read, as herein directed.

That if any schoolteacher, whose duty it shall be to read the Holy Bible, or cause it to be read, as directed in this act, shall fail or omit so to do, said school teacher shall, upon charges preferred for such failure or omission, and proof of the same, before the governing board of the school district, be discharged.” (Act May 20, 1913, P. L. p. 226.)

Dallas Public High School published Bible Study Course-New Testament, Bulletin No. 170 (Dallas Public Schools Printshop, authorized by Board of Education, April 23, 1946):

“Foreword….the Dallas public schools allowed one-half credit toward high-school graduation for the successful completion of a general survey course in the Bible, given in the churches and Sunday schools of the city.”

In 1939, it was decided to provide separate courses in the Old and the New Testaments, each course carrying one-half unit of credit toward high-school graduation. E.B. Comstock, Assistant Superintendent in Charge of High Schools.

INTRODUCTION REGULATIONS GOVERNING NEW TESTAMENT STUDY COURSE

1. Classes may be organized by any Sunday school or church or any other religious organization for the purpose of studying the Bible in their respective organizations with a view to obtaining high-school credit. Successful completion of the course gives one-half unit credit toward high-school graduation.

2. An application blank, giving necessary information about the class, must be filled out and filed with the Assistant Superintendent in charge of Dallas High Schools.

3. There must be a minimum of forty class periods of 90 minutes net teaching time; or sixty 60-minute periods, net time; or eighty 45-minute periods, net time. In no case will fewer than forty different class sessions be accepted.

4. The text used is the NEW TESTAMENT STUDY COURSE, a syllabus published by the authority of the Dallas Board of Education for use in Bible Study credit classes.

5….9. MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS (NEW TESTAMENT) The course is itself a “minimum course,” since teachers are expected to supplement rather than subtract from the topics included.

Dallas Public High School listed the following summary requirements…for purpose of emphasis and review:

1. Ability to name and classify the books of the Bible (common classifications).

2. General knowledge of the New Testament as outlined in the course of study. Reading of the entire New Testament is required.

3. Ability to reproduce the memory passages indicated in connection with the lessons and given in full in the appendix.

4….10. APPENDIX REQUIRED MEMORY VERSES (for review purposes) (Pupils should be able to reproduce from memory each of the following quotations when given the accompanying lead, the book, chapter, and verse reference.)

LESSON I. The pre-existence of Christ: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made…. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 3, 14)

LESSON II. Jesus to the devil in the wilderness: It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God…. It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God….Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10)

LESSON III. The purpose of Christ’s coming: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

In ‘Advice to the Young, included in his History of the United States, 1832, Noah Webster wrote:

“The brief exposition of the Constitution of the United States, will unfold to young persons the principles of republican government…

that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament or the Christian religion…

Republican government loses half of its value, where the moral and social duties are imperfectly understood, or negligently practiced…”

Noah Webster added:

“To exterminate our popular vices is a work of far more importance to the character and happiness of our citizens than any other improvements in our system of education.”

Noah Webster wrote:

“Moral evils constitute or produce most of the miseries of mankind and these may be prevented or avoided.

Be it remembered then that disobedience to God’s law, or sin is the procuring cause of almost all the sufferings of mankind.

God has so formed the moral system of this world, that a conformity to His will by men produces peace, prosperity and happiness; and disobedience to His will or laws inevitably produces misery.

If men are wretched, it is because they reject the government of God, and seek temporary good in that which certainly produces evil.”

In the preface of his American Dictionary of the English Language, republished 1841, Noah Webster wrote:

“If the language can be improved in regularity, so as to be more easily acquired by our own citizens and by foreigners, and thus be rendered a more useful instrument for the propagation of science, arts, civilization and Christianity.”

Noah Webster published his translation of the Holy Bible, The Webster Bible, in 1833, stating:

“The Bible is the chief moral cause of all that is ‘good’, and the best corrector of all that is ‘evil’, in human society; the ‘best’ book for regulating the temporal concerns of men, and the ‘only book’ that can serve as an infallible guide to future felicity.”

In ‘Letters to a Young Gentleman Commencing His Education (New Haven, 1823), Noah Webster wrote:

“It is alleged by men of loose principles…that religion and morality are not necessary or important qualifications for political stations.

But the Scriptures teach a different doctrine.

They direct that rulers should be men who rule in the fear of God, able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness…

And it is to the neglect of this rule of conduct in our citizens, that we must ascribe the multiplied frauds, breeches of trust, peculations and embezzlements of public property which astonish even ourselves;

which tarnish the character of our country; which disgrace a republican government; and which will tend to reconcile men to monarchs in other countries and even our own.”

Noah Webster wrote:

“Men may devise and adopt new forms of government; they may amend old forms, repair breaches, and punish violators of the constitution; but there is, there can be, no effectual remedy, but obedience to the divine law.”

In his 1834 work titled, Value of the Bible and Excellence of the Christian Religion, Noah Webster wrote:

“The Bible must be considered as the great source of all the truths by which men are to be guided in government, as well as in all social transactions….

The Bible (is) the instrument of all reformation in morals and religion.”

Noah Webster wrote in The History of the United States, 1832:

“All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.”

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