on education

thoughts from a graduate student at the university of mary washington

education through the ages. week three.


Through the storied history of the world, education seems to have served one primary purpose: to indoctrinate people into the culture of the time and place in which they lived. The leaders of society needed citizens to be molds of exactly what they wanted and needed to further their culture. The early days held true to rigid caste systems in China and Egypt, leaving the elite and their offspring always in power and usually in charge of education. The Hebraic tradition left us with good little children who learned how to pray and how to be, well, Jewish. Greece and Rome changed it up a bit and began to mold citizens into political entities capable of carrying on their culture and their cause. Still, though, people were left in their places and didn’t dare move up the social rungs. Education was purely a political machine. The Renaissance ushered in the classical humanists, who believed that people should be educated to be critical thinkers capable of challenging customs (gasp!). Rather than preach ethnocentrism, the humanists thought it prudent to include a well-rounded repertoire of Latin and Greek in their educational system.

It is important to note that through a large chunk of space and time, education and all of its facets were controlled by a relative few. Access was severely restricted, furthering the social structures of cultures and the suppression of new ideas. The key thinkers in the Reformation understood the value of culture and how closely fused to education it was and used it to further their Protestant convictions by educating more people. Though the social system was drastically changing, the end goal was always constant: the leaders wanted citizens to fit into a prescribed cultural mold to further political and/or social causes. This time, they were allowed to be literate.

Enter the Enlightenment, the key to American education as we know it. For us, education means one thing: progress. (Ornstein, Levine & Gutek, 2011, pg. 91)The promise of something better. The promise of moving out of your social class and up the chain to bigger and better things because knowledge is power! Of course, we had to go through some roadblocks like civil rights, women’s rights, and child labor laws to get there… but we got there! Make no mistake, though. We say we want you to break all of the molds and do amazing things and learn everything you can, but we still want you to look and act like we do. And we’re a long way from 2200 BCE. It’s not all bad bananas, though, right? Having a national American identity is, in fact, critical to our country surviving and thriving.

We’ve gotten some good ideas along the way, though, to help us shape the western ideals of education. Comenius and Piaget both told us that children develop in stages, and we can’t teach them more than they’re ready to learn. Pestalozzi developed a teacher education program and introduced us to process-based learning. I think that Addams got it really right, though. Our job as educators is to both infuse the American culture into our students and to help them learn about and understand the others. “…education needed to take on new and broadened social purposes. Teachers needed to understand the economic, demographic, and technological trends that were reshaping American society…” (Ornstein, Levine & Gutek, 2011, pg. 115) Where we stand in history, we are in the midst of change. And it’s our responsibility to make sure that the future generations are ready for it. We need to restore our American community and teach our children how to read, write, and think critically. John Dewey brought with him the idea that children learn best experientially. It is the educator’s job to arrange experiences which engage students and provide for more meaningful future experiences on which their knowledge base is built. He called this the “experiential continuum.” (Dewey, 1938)

Experience has influenced education in profound ways: with each political, social, or economic change in history, education has been re-thought and re-approached based on peoples’ experiences. Experience is tightly interwoven with how we frame curriculum and how our students receive it and process it and apply it. The question lies in where the healthy balance is between creating an experiential learning environment in which the students explore things that interest them and engage them, and reigning in their individuality to make education less about experience and more about preserving a cultural identity through knowledge and ideas that can be useful both on a global scale and as proactive and productive citizens in their own communities and country.

Consider this video:

What do you think? Is he right? Have we progressed so much that we’ve destroyed American education by nurturing the individual student and neglecting the straight content-based education needed to be good, informed citizens as a collective? Was moving to the progressive idea of experiential education a “disaster?”

I don’t know about you, but I enjoyed learning a lot more when it was culturally relevant to me, when my teachers went out of their way to relate it to my life and let me feel and discover and explore on my own. Then again, I got better grades when all I had to do was regurgitate information, though it was far less enjoyable for me.



Dewey, J. (1938). Experience & education. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Ornstein, A., Levine, D., & Gutek, G. (2011). Foundations of education. (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.



posted under EDCI 506
One Comment to

“education through the ages. week three.”

  1. Avatar September 15th, 2012 at 5:42 pm ocostello Says:

    I really enjoyed reading your blog for this week! I thought that the video was particularly interesting. So of the gentleman’s point I thought were really great and made me think of things that I had never thought before, but some I thought were a little off. For example, I loved his comment on how under privileged children should not have control over their own education because they are not exposed to standard English and the basics at home, therefore, would not really know where to begin in directing their own education. I had never really thought of that before, and it made me think of immigrant children and children in poverty that might attend a Montessori school. If a child has not been exposed to very much than they might not have any clue which direction to take their education in and might not be very motivated to do so. I don’t think that that is the case for all children in poverty or non-stimulating environments, however, it was just something I had never thought of before. As for his statement about teaching based on content and children learning skills through content, I did not really agree. Of course I think that students need a good content foundation, but I also think that they need to do something with that content knowledge in order to expand their mind. I think that by experimenting with knowledge students gain more critical thinking skills, something that is very valuable in today’s society. Great post! It really made me think about certain topics!

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