Noah Webster and William McGuffey played a critical role in shaping and defining America culture through their work in education. This post will take a look at the contribution of each of these important men in American education.
After the Revolutionary War, America was free but lacking in a distinct identity. There was no literary tradition to think of and being a diverse group of immigrants further complicated the problem. As such, the question of language was one of many the new country had to deal with.
Noah Webster was one of the first to push for a distinct American language. He believed that the country should have both an independent government and an independent language. Having a separate American language would help to declare cultural independence in a way that the war provided political independence.
In order to develop American English, Webster wrote several books on reading and spelling. He also wrote dictionaries and almost everyone in the United States has heard of “Webster’s Dictionary.” The development of these books led to uniform speech throughout much of the young nation.
The impact of Webster’s work is immense. His books were the curriculum of many schools and colleges. He developed many of the orthographical rules of American English. Lastly, his support of American English contributed to the development of an American identity. Webster rightly earned his nickname the “schoolmaster of the Republic.”
McGuffey’s contribution was similar to Webster’s in that he was seeking to differentiate America from Europe. However, McGuffey was more willing to acknowledge the European roots of America. He made it clear that the contribution of America to the world was not cultural but political. The United States had shown the world that equality and representation can be used to maintain a government.
In terms of curriculum, McGuffey’s contribution to education is his “McGuffey Readers.” These books taught children to read. The stories in the books included ideas of patriotism, hard work, virtuous living. The ideas of capitalism, nationalism, and religious themes were sewn into the text. The concepts in these books became what is the American mindset.
McGuffey understood the importance of influencing the young. He did this by putting what he thought was important into these textbooks that taught children to read. Without McGuffey, the American way would look much different.
Webster and McGuffey were men with a vision to form a distinct American identity. They both want to break away from the limits of the European mindset. Webster focused on the mechanics of language while McGuffey focused on the transmission of distinct American ideas into the impressionable minds of children learning to read. Through their work, we have a language that is different from British and a mindset that is often unrecognizable.
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