History of Education
History of Education, theories, methods, and administration of schools and other agencies of information from ancient times to the present. Education developed from the human struggle for survival and enlightenment. It may be formal or informal. Informal education refers to the general social process by which human beings acquire the knowledge and skills needed to function in their culture. Formal education refers to the process by which teachers instruct students in courses of study within institutions.
EDUCATION IN PRELITERATE SOCIETIES
Before the invention of reading and writing, people lived in an environment in which they struggled to survive against natural forces, animals, and other humans. To survive, preliterate people developed skills that grew into cultural and educational patterns. For a particular group’s culture to continue into the future, people had to transmit it, or pass it on, from adults to children. The earliest educational processes involved sharing information about gathering food and providing shelter; making weapons and other tools; learning language; and acquiring the values, behavior, and religious rites or practices of a given culture.
Through direct, informal education, parents, elders, and priests taught children the skills and roles they would need as adults. These lessons eventually formed the moral codes that governed behavior. Since they lived before the invention of writing, preliterate people used an oral tradition, or story telling, to pass on their culture and history from one generation to the next. By using language, people learned to create and use symbols, words, or signs to express their ideas. When these symbols grew into pictographs and letters, human beings created a written language and made the great cultural leap to literacy.
EDUCATION IN ANCIENT AFRICA AND ASIA
Teachings of Confucius
Nearly 2500 years ago when intrigue and vice were rampant in feudal China, the philosopher Confucius taught principles of proper conduct and social relationships that embraced high ethical and moral standards. Confucius’s teachings and wisdom were standard scholarly education for the bureaucrats who administered the country. The Confucian tradition, which encompasses education, wisdom, and ethics, persists in China.
In ancient Egypt, which flourished from about 3000 bc to about 500 bc, priests in temple schools taught not only religion but also the principles of writing, the sciences, mathematics, and architecture. Similarly in India, priests conducted most of the formal education. Beginning in about 1200 bc Indian priests taught the principles of the Veda, the sacred texts of Hinduism, as well as science, grammar, and philosophy. Formal education in China dates to about 2000 bc, though it thrived particularly during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, from 770 to 256 bc (see China: The Eastern Zhou). The curriculum stressed philosophy, poetry, and religion, in accord with the teachings of Confucius, Laozi (Lao-tzu), and other philosophers.
EDUCATION IN ANCIENT GREECE
Homer's epic poem the Iliad, which dates from the 8th century bc, was a central text of ancient Greek education. In this audio excerpt from the poem (recited by an actor), Trojan and Greek armies gather for the Trojan War, the classic battle of Western lore. In the meantime, the mythological gods gather to debate the fate of the humans.
Historians have looked to ancient Greece as one of the origins of Western formal education. The Iliad and the Odyssey, epic poems attributed to Homer and written sometime in the 8th century bc, created a cultural tradition that gave the Greeks a sense of group identity. In their dramatic account of Greek struggles, Homer’s epics served important educational purposes. The legendary Greek warriors depicted in Homer’s work, such as Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Achilles, were heroes who served as models for the young Greeks.
Ancient Greece was divided into small and often competing city-states, or poleis, such as Athens, Sparta, and Thebes. Athens emphasized a humane and democratic society and education, but only about one-third of the people in Athens were free citizens. Slaves and residents from other countries or city-states made up the rest of the population. Only the sons of free citizens attended school. The Athenians believed a free man should have a liberal education in order to perform his civic duties and for his own personal development. The education of women depended upon the customs of the particular Greek city-state. In Athens, where women had no legal or economic rights, most women did not attend school. Some girls, however, were educated at home by tutors. Slaves and other noncitizens had either no formal education or very little. Sparta, the chief political enemy of Athens, was a dictatorship that used education for military training and drill. In contrast to Athens, Spartan girls received more schooling but it was almost exclusively athletic training to prepare them to be healthy mothers of future Spartan soldiers.
In the 400s bc, the Sophists, a group of wandering teachers, began to teach in Athens. The Sophists claimed that they could teach any subject or skill to anyone who wished to learn it. They specialized in teaching grammar, logic, and rhetoric, subjects that eventually formed the core of the liberal arts. The Sophists were more interested in preparing their students to argue persuasively and win arguments than in teaching principles of truth and morality.
Unlike the Sophists, the Greek philosopher Socrates sought to discover and teach universal principles of truth, beauty, and goodness. Socrates, who died in 399 bc, claimed that true knowledge existed within everyone and needed to be brought to consciousness. His educational method, called the Socratic method, consisted of asking probing questions that forced his students to think deeply about the meaning of life, truth, and justice.
In 387 bc Plato, who had studied under Socrates, established a school in Athens called the Academy. Plato believed in an unchanging world of perfect ideas or universal concepts. He asserted that since true knowledge is the same in every place at every time, education, like truth, should be unchanging. Plato described his educational ideal in the Republic, one of the most notable works of Western philosophy. Plato’s Republic describes a model society, or republic, ruled by highly intelligent philosopher-kings. Warriors make up the republic’s second class of people. The lowest class, the workers, provide food and the other products for all the people of the republic. In Plato’s ideal educational system, each class would receive a different kind of instruction to prepare for their various roles in society.
In 335 bc Plato’s student, Aristotle, founded his own school in Athens called the Lyceum. Believing that human beings are essentially rational, Aristotle thought people could discover natural laws that governed the universe and then follow these laws in their lives. He also concluded that educated people who used reason to make decisions would lead a life of moderation in which they avoided dangerous extremes.
In the 4th century bc Greek orator Isocrates developed a method of education designed to prepare students to be competent orators who could serve as government officials. Isocrates’s students studied rhetoric, politics, ethics, and history. They examined model orations and practiced public speaking. Isocrates’s methods of education directly influenced such Roman educational theorists as Cicero and Quintilian.