The History of Education Reform

Classical times

Plato believed that children would never learn unless they wanted to learn. In The Republic, he said "...compulsory learning never sticks in the mind."

One of the most important educational debates in the time of the Roman Empire arose after Christianity had achieved broad acceptance. The question concerned the educational value of pre-Christian classical thought: given that the body of knowledge of the pre-Christian Romans was heathen in origin, was it safe to teach it to Christian children?

In general, works of history, science, philosophy and literary art were preserved. Works on magic and non christian religions were not preserved. For example, Euclid's books on Geometry were widely used. Aristotle's works in logic, politics, law and natural science were used. Plato's Socratic debates and Aristophanes' plays included questions of philosophy, morality and ethics, and were preserved despite their occasional moral ambiguity. The writings of Herodotus and Plutarch were considered acceptable for teaching history.


Modern Reforms

Education reforms in modern times arose first against neo-classical education, known in America as "humanistic" education, which resembled in many respects classical education. Motives for parting with classical methods were diverse, and included economic factors, differences in the aims of education—normalizing immigrants and the poor as opposed to training the upper and middle classes, and differences in educational philosophy.


Reforms of Classical Education

Western classical education as taught from the 8th to the 19th century has weaknesses that inspired reformers.

Classical education is most concerned with answering the "who, what, when, where" and "how" questions that concern a majority of students. Unless carefully taught, group instruction naturally neglects the theoretical "why" and "which" questions that strongly concern a minority of students.

Young children with short attention spans often enjoy repetition, but only if the subject is changed every few minutes. Skilled, compassionate primary classical teachers (always a rare breed, now nearly nonexistent) have always changed subjects continually and rapidly. Unskilled, or unkind classical teachers have drilled the joy of learning right out of young heads. ()

Some people can regurgitate words and yet never understand what they mean in the real world. This was terribly common among classically educated scholars.

Classical education in this period also deprecated local languages and cultures in favor of ancient languages (greek and Latin) and their cultures. This produced odd social effects in which an intellectual class might be more loyal to ancient cultures and institutions than to their native vernacular languages and their actual governing authorities.