April Tea Party Winners

Six Year Blog Anniversary WINNERS: Carla Gade - Pattern for Romance audiobooks go to Andrea Stephens and Megs Minutes and winner of Love's Compas is Terressa Thornton, PEGG THOMAS's signed copy of The Pony Express Romance Collection is Debra Smith, Janet Grunst's debut book goes to Kathleen Maher, Carrie Fancett Pagels' winner's choice goes to: Connie Saunders, Denise Weimer's print winner of, Angela Couch's winner's choice goes to Susan Johnson, Debra E. Marvin reader's choice of any of her novellas or a paperback of Saguaro Sunset novella -- Teri DiVincenzo and Lynne Feurstein, Jennifer Hudson Taylor's "For Love or Country" go to: Lucy Reynolds, Bree Herron and Mary Ellen Goodwin, Shannon McNear's winners are Becky Dempsey for Pioneer Christmas and Michelle Hayes for Most Eligible Bachelor, Roseanna White's winner for Love Finds You in Annapolis is Becky Smith.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Noah Webster's Blue-Back Speller

Noah Webster by Samuel F. B. Morse
Have you ever heard of Noah Webster’s Blue-Back Speller? I hadn’t until I happened to run across a short article about it a few days ago. I did some research and learned that if you attended school in the United States during the late 1700s and well into the 1800s, you likely learned spelling using this book. Because it was usually printed with a blue cover, it soon became known as the Blue-Back Speller. It was the first of a three-volume collection originally titled A Grammatical Institute of the English Language. Webster added a grammar in 1784 and a reader in 1785.

Noah Webster, Jr. (1758–1843) was a teacher, lawyer, editor, and author. He has been called the father of American scholarship and education. As a teacher, he learned to dislike American elementary schools because they were often overcrowded and the teachers underpaid. And textbooks, such as The New England Primer or Thomas Dilworth’s A New Guide to the English Tongue, either focused primarily on teaching the Bible or came from England. Webster believed fervently that the American Revolution was not only about changing the nation’s political and economic institutions, but also about shaping a new American identity. Therefore, American children should be taught using American books that fostered republican ideals.

The Grammatical Institute
Webster’s goal was to transform the way Americans were taught to speak and write English in order to extend the ideals of the American Revolution to language and literature. The American people were the proper judges of correct speech, he maintained, and spelling should be simplified to agree with how words were actually pronounced. Through his speller and dictionary he aimed to cut the nation’s cultural ties to Britain and establish an intellectual foundation for American nationalism that would maintain republican values and social stability.

Webster observed that children pass through distinct learning phases in which they master increasingly complex or abstract tasks, and that they learn most easily when complex problems are broken into their component parts so they can master one part before moving to the next. He consequently arranged his speller to present words and the rules of spelling and pronunciation in an orderly manner that progressed by age, beginning with the alphabet and moving systematically through the different sounds of vowels and consonants. Syllables followed, with simple words coming next, then more complex words, and finally sentences. The speller was also intentionally secular; it did not mention God, the Bible, or any biblical events, although later in his life he did add some religious themes.

Blue-Back Speller
Generations of Americans learned how to read and spell using Webster’s Blue-Back Speller. He revised it several times, in 1786 changing its title to The American Spelling Book, and then in 1829 to The Elementary Spelling Book. It was the most popular American spelling book of its time. By 1837 it had sold 15 million copies, and some 60 million by 1890. In fact, his earnings from the speller allowed him to spend many years working on his famous American Dictionary of the English Language, first published in 1828.

After 1840 William Holmes McGuffey’s McGuffey Eclectic Readers began to challenge Webster’s books and eventually took over the market. But both Webster’s speller and dictionary changed American education dramatically by establishing the idea that spelling, grammar, and usage should be based on spoken language instead of on artificial rules.

When I was in first grade, I learned to read with the Dick and Jane books. I loved the pictures of Jane, Dick, Sally, Spot, and Puff and the stories that opened the world of reading to me. Every time I see pictures of the books, they bring back happy memories. Did you have a favorite textbook when you were in elementary school, and if so, why did you like it? Please share your memories!
~~~
J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 INDYFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, released in April. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year.


11 comments:

  1. I was totally unaware of this speller. Thank you, Joan, for bringing it to light.

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    1. I don't know why I never ran across it before in my research, Judith. What an effect it had on education in this country! Much of what we take for granted in education in this country is due to Webster's 3 books. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. Interesting post, thank you for sharing Joan. I often used/use the Webster dictionary but did not know about his earlier speller books. I too learned to read with the Dick & Jane books. They were fun books.
    Blessings, Tina

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  3. All I knew about Webster was his dictionary, Tina, so this came as a revelation. Looking back on the Dick and Jane books, they did a great deal to promote American values too, while teaching reading. I have a couple of them, and they bring back a lot of memories. Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. A very interesting post, Joan. I still have the McGuffey Readers.

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    1. That's cool, Janet! I love old schoolbooks, and the McGuffeys sure taught a lot of kids over the years too. Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Beverly Duell-MooreMay 17, 2017 at 11:07 AM

    Interesting post. I have heard of Blue-Black Speller. I have some McGuffey Readers I bought when I was homeschooling Meg. I also have a McGuffey speller from the late 1800's. If, you remind me next time you come I'll show it to you.

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    1. Bev, yes, I'd love to see it! Those old spellers were great and included lots of words they don't teach in the schools anymore, which is a shame. Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. The Dick and Jane readers part really jogged my memory back a few years. I agree it was so fun and every time I see them posted somewhere, I just love it.

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  7. They were icons of the educational system back then, Sonja. lol! Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. I found this post fascinating. I too remember learning to read with Dick and Jane. Seeing anything about those books bring back fond memories of learning to read and the wonderful worlds that has opened up for me.

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