Socrates' and Rousseau's Impact on Education

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Socrates' and Rousseau's Impact on Education Powered By Docstoc
					Anthony P. Vignola, Spring 1999, Sister John Raymond McGann, Saint Joseph 鈥檚
College, NY, Sociological and Philosophical Foundations of Education
  Two philosophers that had a great impact on education were Socrates and Jean
Jacques Rousseau. Socrates 鈥 ?main contribution was the Socratic Method of
teaching. In particular, he would lead the students to a conclusion by asking a number
of questions. Many teachers still use this method today. Rousseau impacted the field
of education through his writing. The book Emile illustrated his philosophy of
education. He called for a return to man 鈥檚 鈥渘 atural state.鈥? In addition,
Rousseau believed children were naturally good. The belief in the innate goodness of
children ultimately became widely accepted. Formal education developed at about
500 B.C. in Greece. Specifically, the Age of Pericles lasted between 455 and 431B.C.
During this time Athens prospered in many ways. Hence, the discipline of formal
education was refined. Sparta and Athens were the most powerful city-states of
Greece. The educational system in Sparta emphasized military skills. This was
different from Athens. The young were given an intellectual and aesthetic education in
Athens. Although, some limited military training was offered to Athenian males in the
later years. Three important philosophers that came from Athens were Socrates, Plato,
and Aristotle. All of these individuals contributed to the field of education; however,
Socrates was the first of these educators. One may conclude that he was the most
important because he taught Plato who, in turn, taught Aristotle. After the Persian
threat was eliminated the Greeks, once again, began to flourish. In particular, the high
point of Greek civilization took place in Athens during the lifetime of Socrates. He
lived between 470 and 399 B.C. At this time many people did not know how to read.
So, Socrates developed a teaching style that did not require reading. 鈥淗 e believed
that if one studied diligently and searched inward, one could gain right action and
right thinking, both which were necessary for the well being of the 鈥榩 olis 鈥欌
€?(Manus 1). The ultimate aim for Socrates was the search for truth. He would
assemble a number of students, in a group, around him. Then, he would ask the
students certain questions. As the students answered the questions they would be lead
to a conclusion. This resembled a type of philosophical argument. Instead of the
teacher simply dictating to the students what the answer is, the students would be
guided to the answer. This type of teaching is known as the Socratic method. Many
teachers use this method in modern day schools: ...Socrates sometimes described the
progress of the discussion by means of analogies with the martial arts. The
comparison is appropriate. In order to learn the art, the novice spars with the master.
At first the master will win easily, with moves like fool 鈥檚 mate in chess. But
gradually the novice learns how to respond , and causes increasing difficulties for the
master. The process of training is complete when the pupil has become an equal
match (Ross 2). Socrates often criticized the government of Athens. Unfortunately,
this political aspect of his teaching created many enemies for Socrates. He was
eventually put on trial for turning the people against the Athenian state. After being
found guilty he was ordered to suffer the death penalty or stop teaching. Surprisingly,
instead of ending his teaching career, Socrates chose to die. Another person that
impacted the discipline of education was Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau lived
between 1712 and 1778. He was a major contributor to education and the
enlightenment during the eighteenth century. Rousseau worked to improve the lives of
the general population. He was also concerned about the 鈥渃 ommon man.鈥? His
writings influenced the French Revolution and the American Revolution; moreover,
he inspired many people around the world to work for the improvement of society. He
believed that the collective welfare of the entire community should be put above the
wants of the few. Rousseau 鈥檚 most important book on education was Emile. This
book was published in 1762, and it had a romantic theme. As the character Emile
states, 鈥淢 y master, you have made me free by teaching me .... Rich or poor, I shall
be free 鈥?(qtd. in Iheoma 3). The book advocated a reform of the educational system;
in particular, Emile put forth the idea that education should be designed to suit the
child 鈥檚 needs. Rousseau believed that a proper education would enable a person to
attain a 鈥渘 atural state.鈥? This philosophy of education is called 鈥渘 aturalism.
鈥? An example of Rousseau 鈥檚 educational technique would be a child roaming
through the countryside and exploring the surroundings to learn about nature. Another
major impact that Rousseau had on education was the view of a child 鈥檚 nature. In
the eighteenth century children were often seen as miniature adults and were treated
as such. Children were considered to be born sinful. This view encouraged children to
be treated in a harsh manner. Rousseau did not see children as naturally sinful. He put
forth the idea that children were born as good human beings. Moreover, he wrote that
children should be dealt with in a compassionate way. This went against the
prevailing opinion. Nevertheless, Rousseau 鈥檚 point of view ultimately was
accepted. 鈥淪 o, Rousseau helped to establish modern educational concerns and
suggest some answers to today 鈥檚 question of what should be the focus of
schooling 鈥?(Masters 4). In closing, two philosophers that influenced education were
Socrates and Rousseau. Socrates 鈥?main contribution to education was his Socratic
Method of teaching. His ultimate goal was to lead students to a conclusion by asking a
number of questions. This method is still used in modern day schools. Rousseau 鈥檚
gift to education was his book Emile. He believed that education should enable the
student to attain a 鈥渘 atural state.鈥? Moreover, Rousseau went against the idea
that children were naturally sinful. He believed children should be treated
compassionately because they were naturally good. Ultimately, Rousseau 鈥檚 belief
in the innate goodness of children became widely accepted. Indeed, society should
thank both of these philosophers for their dedications to the field of education.

 Iheoma, Eugene O. 鈥 淩 ousseau 鈥 檚 Views on Teaching. 鈥 ? Journal of
Educational Thought 31 (April 1997) : 69-81.
 Manus, Alice L. 鈥淧 rocedural Versus Constructivist Education: A Lesson From
History.鈥? The Education Forum 60 (Summer 1996) : 312-16.
 Masters, Mitchell and Mitchell L. Holifield. 鈥淩 ousseau Revisited: Compassion as
an Essential Element in Democratic Education.鈥? Education 116 (Summer 1996) :
 Ross, George MacDonald. 鈥淪 ocrates Versus Plato: The Origins and Development
of Socratic Thinking.鈥? Thinking 12 no4 (1996) : 2-8.

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