Recent Issue Education

September 15th, 2011


The reasons behind education were varied and diverse throughout history.  That makes sense, considering the varied and diverse needs of different groups. The preliterate cultures needed education to teach survival skills and preserve their group’s stories. The cultures of the Renaissance and Enlightenment focused on self reflection, mathematics, and Christian morals; things that weren’t needed in the skill group of the preliterate society. The elite schools of early colonial America focused on Latin, a skill needed by only specific professionals today. As times, skills, and technologies change, so does the preparation. Therefore, it can be said that purpose of education can be changed to fit the needs of the society it is operating in.

For my purposes, in modern America, Martin Luther King Jr. (1947) says it best, “It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture.” (1) The first part of that quote speaks to utility; education should give the learner the skills he or she needs to be a successful, productive member of society.  In preliterate culture the skills needed to be successful were the ones that provided food, shelter, and heat. In current schools, those skills may be the ability to write or read, perform mathematics, or operate a computer.  Also, education provides the ability to maintain our rights. As Thomas Jefferson (1820) said, “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but inform their discretion.”  A democracy only works if the members are able to understand, consider, and respond to the choices that have to be made.

The second part mentions culture. Martin Luther King Jr. (1947) continues in his article, “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.” (1). I believe this is true; though the idea of teaching ‘morals’ in schools raises serious concern. What morals do we want to pass on? Without a religious doctrine providing a framework for American schools, we are left without a universal doctrine on behavior and values. However, schools still, almost universally, operate with no cheating policies, a no bullying rule, no tolerance for physical violence, and an expectation for hard work and responsibility.  Are these not values? Perhaps we no longer teach prayers or preach the Ten Commandments, but we seem to have developed a secular set of character expectations that are being passed on. Taking the initiative to create thoughtful, considerate and tolerant students only benefits society.

 Just for fun: the whole article by Martin Luther King Jr. is an interesting and short read…

    However, to understand the way education needs to work today, and where it is headed, it is useful to look back on the similarities and differences throughout education’s history.

(This “chart” I have compiled from class discussion and from Foundations of Education (2011))


Transmission of Culture (spreading of beliefs, history, traditions)

  • Preliterate societies used education to communicate the important stories and histories of their groups.
  • Hebraic schools were used to preserve the understanding of the ‘special place’ of the Hebrew people.
  • Christian schools used education to train students in biblical history and codes.
  • Arabic schools used education to train in religious traditions.

Skill Training (education used to provide skilled labor)

  • Preliterate society placed great importance on survival education; how to hunt, make shelter, find food.
  • Egyptian schools were primarily used to train scribes and other skilled workers.
  • Though not in the schools of formal education, medieval peasants were trained in skills and trades.
  • Medieval and later schools trained priests and other religious figures

Moral Training (promoting a certain frame of behavior)

 Schools from many times and cultures (Egyptian, Chinese, Arabic, Medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment, and up through certain schools today) had a job of training students in an appropriate moral code. They used educational institutions to teach their religious and political stances. They also introduced proper behavior and social interactions.

 Leaders (educators as respected leaders and figures)

  • Preliterate societies had important leaders, both tribal and religious lead their education. Storytellers were respected keepers of oral histories.
  • Chinese and Egyptians
  • Greek
  • Arabian
  • Medieval, Renaissance, and Enlightenment used important religious clergy.

 Access to education (who was able to attend schools)

  • The vast majority of historic schools only accepted wealthy boys.  Early schools saw only boys who families had enough wealth and power to spare them from work.  Eventually education became a way to maintain political and social control. Education separated the socially dominate, the literate, from the labor. Even further, education separated skilled trade workers from the lower workers of society


  • Gender issues were prevalent throughout. Most time periods saw very little involvement in formal education with girls. Certain times and cultures saw small amount of wealthy women in school, though the vast majority were either religiously or domestically trained.


Just as Martin Luther King Jr. stated, schools throughout time have been places where the student is educated by skill and culture. Each different society took the elements that were important for their members; or at least the members they were interested in educating. Of course, there were differences; who attended the schools, the subjects they found important, the struggle between the importance of the teacher or student, and the techniques they used to impart knowledge.

                Today, evidence of many different historical schools of thought is seen in the classroom. The early Roman orators, like Quintilian, can be seen in debate programs, English, and drama class, where students are encouraged to create compelling arguments and be able to express themselves.  The ideas of hands-on learning, or experience learning, by educators like Dewey and Pestalozzi, are particularly prevalent in science labs or on field trips. Spencer’s theories on the competitive classroom are seen, not only on standardized test as mentioned in the text (pg. 111), but also in the rewards systems of many teachers, college admission, or even in specialized ‘schools-in-schools’. Froebel’s ‘kindergarten’ classes are all but universal in the American school system and children are being educated earlier and earlier with the Head Start program or private instruction.  In fact, one study done through Harvard (2007) reported, “The group agreed that early experiences can influence learning, and that quality preschool can mean immediate as well as long-term benefits.” (Walsh, pg. 1).  The work of Jane Addams and her peers influenced the treatment of women and other ethnicities. Many ‘education pioneers’ worked to increase the training for teachers and the evolution of student inquiry based teaching as opposed to didactic recitation.

                Education should continue to evolve with the changing needs of society. It should reflect the skills needed in the workforce and the skills required to become a conscientious member of a democracy.  Education should include training to interface with the technology of the day, to keep students current and connected to the possibilities, despite their economical or social position. It should also select skills that have developed throughout history; skills like literacy, critical thought, reflection, mathematical reasoning, and logic. Schools should also operate with the duty of producing students of strong character.


King, Jr., M. (1947). The Purpose of education. The Maroon Tiger. Retrieved from :


Jefferson, T. (1820). Letter to William Jarvis. Retrieved from :


Walsh, C. (2007). The importance of early education. Harvard News Office. Retrieved from :


Ornstein, A., Levine, D., Gutek, G. (2011). Foundation of education (11th Ed.). Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth.

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