Noah Webster: Reflecting Or Shaping A World View?

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Webster's Readers: Reflecting or Shaping a World View? Ellen Evans ED 711 April 6, 2000 Historians rarely, if ever, describe Noah Webster's spellers, grammars, or readers without referring to the nationalism that practically leaps from their pages. They are seen as tools with which Webster helped shape and define an American language, which in turn helped to "define the American character" (82, Urban and Wagoner 1996). As the "schoolmaster of America," (Spring 1990, Moss 1984) Webster infused his works with nationalism to create a new American form of education, distinct from that of England, that instilled in young people the ideologies which would presumably help them to succeed in the new republic (Rollins 1980). Webster himself wrote that education should provide children with "an acquaintance with ethics and with the general principles of law, commerce, money and government [which] is necessary for the yeomanry of a republican state" (quoted in Kaestle 1983).

Armed with this knowledge of Webster's nationalistic intent, I set about looking through Webster's Reader (which seemed much more interesting than grammar or spelling) in order to see what exactly were the ideologies represented in the stories, poems, dialogues, and other excerpted texts and how these would help further the interests of the republic.

After reading the first two editions, published in 1785 and 1787, however, I was somewhat taken aback by the abrupt and startling differences in both the content of the text and the ideals expressed in the material. I realized that I had expected the texts to present a kind of monolithic representation of hegemonic ideologies; what Elson (1964) refers to as a "continuum of values" in which certain "basic beliefs" remain unchanged for extended periods of time (338). This quickly proved to be a problematic view, based as it is upon the assumption...