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History of Education

I think that by learning about and reviewing past purposes of education I will be better suited to respect the act of educating the youth’s of America today.  It is interesting to me how far the history of education has come from early, preliterate societies.  Beginning in preliterate societies, the main purpose of education was for older generations to transmit cultural knowledge to their successors.  Through the process of enculturation, defined as “the process beginning at infancy by which a human being acquires the culture of his or her society” (Ornstein, Levin, & Gutter, 2001, p. 537), preliterate societies passed down the necessary information that was vital to their culture’s survival.  Through oral tradition elders of many preliterate societies were able to transmit their knowledge.   In my opinion, the same concept of “oral tradition” is still used in today’s classrooms to serve a purpose of education. The interaction of speaking and listening are constantly occurring between teacher and student in today’s classroom. Although modern education is not necessarily about teaching students how keep alive their culture and survive physically, they still teach children how to become successful members of society in an ever-connected global world.

In ancient societies, where writing and recording cultural knowledge became a norm, religion became prevalent in societies.  In addition to enculturation, all major ancient societies mentioned in chapter three of the textbook, the Chinese, Egyptians, and Hebrews had another purpose of education: to transmit religious and philosophical ideals.  Throughout other major periods of history ranging from ancient Greece and Rome to the medieval period and the Renaissance, education’s primary goal was to teach people to be productive members of society.  In nearly every major historical period religion played a significant influence in the development of the purposes of education.  It is remarkable to me how the United States came to be such a secular society when it comes to public education, eliminating nearly every reference of religion from the public sphere of education.

It never occurred to me just how significant the Enlightenment was to Thomas Jefferson’s personal values and to today’s public school system.  According to the textbook, the leaders of the American Revolution were influenced by the Enlightenment’s principles of rights to life, liberty, happiness and a democratic government (Ornstein, Levin, & Gutter, 2001, p. 91) in which everyone had the right to an informed opinion.  The Enlightenment period focused on education and learning that would advance the future.  The Enlightenment period philosophers and educators believed in the use of human reasoning and the scientific method to develop ways to better their future.  Thomas Jefferson believed education’s main purpose to “promote a democratic society of literate and well informed citizens…that the state, not the churches, had the primary education role.  (Ornstein, Levin, & Gutter, 2001, 135). These schools would be public, state sponsored, and therefore religion was to no longer play a role in the American public school system.  I do understand Thomas Jefferson’s desire to separate church and state because of his want to have citizens making decisions based on scientific skills and subjects for development of a nation.

For myself, I still see education to some extent still as and act of culture transmission and advancement.  Although one particular cultural idea is specifically transmitted from teacher to student in the modern day American public school, there are still ways to promote respect for other’s cultural heritages regardless of how different students are. I think that education is important to help students become informed members of the society they live in.  I also believe that part of education is to help students appreciate and respect differences in cultures and to be able to find ways to incorporate other traditions into their own lives.  Especially in today’s connected and socialized global community, it is ever more important to consistently teach students the importance of respect for other cultures, both historical and modern.


Ornstein, A. C., Levine, D. U., & Gutek, G. L. (2011). Foundations of Education   (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth CengageLearning.

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~ by hgluchow on .


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