Foundational Topics

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Historical Changes in Education


I support the idea that education exists as a means to preserve and strengthen a society, and to provide a way in which all citizens have the opportunity to be productive and contributing members.  In a broad sense, goals for comprehensive learning through academic and social growth are at the root of my thoughts on education.  In order to be effective, goals have to be supported by appropriate objectives established at various levels in the learning process.  More importantly, these goals must remain fluid and respond to influential forces in education.  The main influential forces in education are: 1) societal changes, 2) developments in knowledge through advancements in science and technology, and 3) changes in beliefs about the nature of the learner through advances in cognitive sciences (Ornstein,  Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p. 413).

The influential forces in education are evident in the changes that have occurred in learning throughout history.  As we discussed in class, education in preliterate societies existed to ensure the survival of the group and focused on the teaching of basic skills such as hunting and food gathering.  Without written language, learning
occurred through informal instruction that included songs, stories and dances.  Later in history as societies developed, the focus of education shifted to civics and religion.  In early Greek education, male children were taught civic responsibility and military tactics through recitation and drills.  Indications of the influence of knowledge in
Greek education could be seen through the use of written language and arithmetic in curriculum.  Societal influences were also reflected through the introduction of drama, music and physical education in curriculum as a means to produce well-rounded citizens of Greek society (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, pp. 82-83).

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries during the Reformation, societal changes through the rise of the middle class and religious conflict resulted in further shifts in education.  Reformation leaders such as Martin Luther and John Calvin rejected papal authority and focused on education as a means to advance their cause.  They insisted that all citizens had a right to read the Bible and vernacular primary schools were created and made available to all children. These schools provided instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic.  Perhaps this move to vernacular schools is early evidence of the influence of changes in beliefs about the nature of the learner.  Maybe the reformers recognized that children would learn more easily if instructed in their common language.  Religion was also a main focus of instruction
and students were trained in the concepts and rituals of the Protestant faith (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p. 88).

Despite the enormous changes that have occurred in education throughout history, the ways in which education has remained the same are equally remarkable.  As in preliterate societies, we still incorporate songs, stories and dance in the learning process.  Especially with younger children, these methods of informal instruction remain as effective tools for relaying cultural values and history.  Like the early Greek
societies, we continue to include music, art and physical education in curricula
in an effort toward providing comprehensive education that produces well-rounded members of society.  We also continue to respond to changes in knowledge through the use of instructional technology in teaching.  Most importantly, we carry on the commitment to universal education that was introduced during the Reformation and continue to develop school systems and philosophies toward education that are inclusive of all student populations.

The influences of early educators can be seen in all areas and levels of education today.  On the primary level alone we can see the influence of several pioneers in education through current instructional practices and methods.  The influence of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi is evidenced through our promotion of warm, nurturing learning environments for students.  We also incorporate his beliefs of the effectiveness of group instruction and charts through our practice of “circle time” where instruction occurs in informal group settings through the use of calendars and other instructional supports.  Friedrich Froebel also influenced early education through his use of songs, stories and games in instruction.  Regarding the role of the teacher and methods of instruction used today, we see the footprint of Johann Friedrich Herbart.  Herbart introduced the idea of organized instruction as a series of steps that begins with preparation and ends with a form of assessment that helps determine if the students have mastered the information (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, pp. 100-101).

As early as preliterate societies, we can see examples of experience in education.  During this period, educators relied on hands-on learning to teach the skills necessary for survival.  In the early twentieth century John Dewey advanced the thinking of experience and learning in his book Experience and Education (1938) but Dewey
maintained that experience could only be considered educational if it led to further individual growth.  Years later, twentieth century educator Kurt Hahn created schools throughout the world based on the theory of experiential education (State  University, n.d.).  Today the idea of experiential education continues in many instructional practices.  It’s even used in higher education as a method of pre-service instruction.  I believe that today more than ever experiential learning must be part of a comprehensive learning plan.  It is this “learning by doing” that allows us to apply knowledge to our lives and make education relatable to the world around us.  In doing so, societal goals for education can be better met.

Horace Mann. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2011, from Web site:

Ornstein,  A. C., Levine, D. U., & Gutek, G. L. (2011). Foundations of Education.
Belmont: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

State University. (n.d.). Retrieved September 18, 2011,  from



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