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Friday, September 14, 2012

It Went Far Beyond The Classroom

Last week I quoted Noah Webster, one of the Founding Fathers of America, and the author of the original Webster's Dictionary of 1828, saying that education which neglected the "aids of religion" in developing character, was "essentially defective." But that's not all Webster had to say on the matter. He also declared: "...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.”  

What? Morals are the basis of government? I haven't heard this little detail mentioned in any recent political speeches. But that's what the most influential educator in early America said. He didn't say morals are "a good thing." He said they are the basis of government. The basis!

I have no doubt Webster would have also said morals are the basis of business. And medicine. And the media. And art, or any other topic of concern relevant to education itself. 

He also maintained: “...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.” I think we’re finding this true today.

It is worth noting that when Webster talks about “morals,” he has a specific kind of morals in mind. He has a biblically-based, Judeo-Christian morality in mind. He once said the Bible is “that book which the benevolent Creator has furnished for the express purpose of guiding human reason in the path of safety, and the only book which can remedy, or essentially mitigate, the evils of a licentious world.”

In an atmosphere were virtue is the foundation for all arts and sciences, it’s remarkable how much knowledge can actually be transferred in the classroom! In an environment where students practice self-government under God (the way people in Webster's day thought of "self-control"), not only can a teacher accomplish a great deal of teaching, but students can accomplish a great deal of learning. To bring this one element back into American schools would revolutionize the entire system.

It's important to understand that virtue was not a part of the early American curriculum for virtue’s sake. Many early Americans, particularly the Puritans, had a compelling reason for laying virtue as a foundation for education. It wasn’t just to bring order to the classroom. No, they saw a greater purpose for virtue. It went far beyond the classroom.