The Continuing Debate: Essays on Education

The Continuing Debate: Essays on Education

The Continuing Debate: Essays on Education

The Continuing Debate: Essays on Education

Excerpt

The essay dealing with education is as old as education itself, older in fact than any surviving institution of learning. Plato, for instance, though he wrote in a world which had not yet invented higher education, imagined a world that could not survive without it. The school system which he describes in The Republic, however, is primarily designed to sustain and support his ideal state, that is, to inhibit social change. And whatever disagreements he may have had with Plato about the nature of a desirable society, no writer on education up to the eighteenth century contested the view that its end was to inculcate currently accepted values in a ruling class, and myths reinforcing those values in the rest of society.

This view still persists, of course, though almost universally now it is "the people" in general rather than a governing elite who are thought of as the intended beneficiaries of indoctrination. And we are likely to call such indoctrination "brain-washing" when it serves values and ideals obviously different from our own. Not until the time of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, however, was the Platonic or conservative theory of education successfully challenged by a libertarian or revolutionary one; until that time, modern educational theory cannot be said properly to have begun.

This book, therefore, opens with an excerpt from Rousseau Émile, in which a peculiarly modern series of questions is posed: Shall man be educated to challenge rather than accept, dissent rather than pledge allegiance, seek change rather than oppose it? Shall he be educated not to suit the needs of a church or state, but rather to satisfy the demands of his own nature? Shall he, in short, be educated not to submit, but to be free? Once sounded, Rousseau's key words -- "freedom" and "nature" -- never cease . . .

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