Fifty Major Thinkers on Education: From Confucius to Dewey

By Joy A. Palmer; Liora Bresler et al. | Go to book overview

ÉMILE DURKHEIM 1858-1917

We must never lose sight of the fact that the class is a small society. 1

Amongst disciplines such as philosophy and psychology, which have contributed to educational studies, the last on the scene was sociology. In England at least, one of the reasons was the slowness of sociology to be accepted as a creditable university discipline. The pioneer who showed the value of sociology to educational studies was Émile Durkheim, born in Epinal in Lorraine in 1858, who may truly be called the father of the sociology of education. Part of the reason for such a claim was his dedication to establishing sociology as a science, as he defined it, in French academe. Before his time, Auguste Comte (1798-1857) and Frédéric Le Play (1806-82) wrote on sociology, but their work was never accepted in universities, whereas Durkheim's sociology later was. Another factor related to the training of teachers at all levels which, from the time of the French Revolution, was taken more seriously in France than it was, for example, in England, where colleges of education were established only later in the nineteenth century. The French colleges, the Écoles Normales and the Écoles Normales Supérieures were created under Napoleon. From the time when Durkheim went as a lecturer to the University of Bordeaux in 1887 until his death, when he was Professor at the Sorbonne, he lectured in education. This he did despite his considerable output of books and articles on sociology, along with the production of the very influential journal, L'Année sociologique.2 Interestingly enough the journal never included a section on education and nearly all his publications on education appeared posthumously.

Although he felt that so much lecturing on education prevented him from working on sociology itself, he was fully aware of the paramount importance of education for the continuance of any society. Education in the widest sense had existed ever since human societies began. Education is therefore an essential part of society as an ongoing process and is hence an eminently social matter. Sociology was therefore just as important, if not more important, to educational theory as the then more popular approach based on the individual (and therefore on psychology), such as that found in Herbert Spencer (1820-1903).

Basically Durkheim saw education as part of a socializing process which begins when the child is born and prepares him or her for adulthood in society. A person is made human by living in a society. Each society needs a certain degree of homogeneity for it to operate. The task of education is to give what the collective life requires and to make the individual truly human. Some might argue that socialization is a never-ending process. But for Durkheim, and for most practitioners, education meant focusing on the period when the child is educated in school and perhaps in university. He rejected the notion that education had the task of changing society: the young were not to be taught to carry out this task. But neither were they puppets of the ideology of the state. He held that each child was to be envisaged as an individual who, as a result of education, was to achieve his or her autonomy within society. Here stands his basic ideology of liberal humanism. He maintained that the true function of education was first and

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Fifty Major Thinkers on Education: From Confucius to Dewey
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Chronological List of Contents v
  • Alphabetical List of Contents viii
  • Preface xiii
  • Confucius 551-479 Bce 1
  • Further Reading 5
  • Notes 9
  • Books on Aristotle''s Educational Ideas 20
  • Saint Augustine 354-430 25
  • John Wesley 1703-91 50
  • Kant''s Major Writings 64
  • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 1770-1831 84
  • John Henry Newman 1801-90 100
  • Herbert Spencer 1820-1903 120
  • Thomas Henry Huxley 1825-95 128
  • Further Reading 146
  • Alfred Binet 1857-1911 160
  • Émile Durkheim 1858-1917 165
  • Addams'' Major Writings 187
  • Notes 191
  • Harvard (1924-39) 205
  • Émile Jaques-Dalcroze 1865-1950 206
  • Martin Buber 1878-1965 239
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