Why is it so important that young children in our society receive a good education? The answer to that question is very simple; because they are our future. The old saying “the youth of today are the leaders off tomorrow” holds more truth than many people realize. By giving children a good start at an early age we are only helping ourselves as well as the children. A good example of this is can be seen in our society. By the time a teacher in our society retires from his or her position their students will have made it out into the real world and taken jobs.
This new generation will be the ones to make the decisions about laws such as Social Security, and Medicaid. The students will be able to turn these programs around and make them more beneficial to their recipients. These teachers who are now retired will be the ones who are collecting Social Security and reaping the benefits of the children’s solid education. The idea of educating the youth is not even close to a new idea. Philosophers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau in the seventeen hundreds and even farther back than that to the time of Plato in three hundred eighty-six B.C. and after. Both of these great men shared similar ideas on how children should be taught so that they can get the most out of their education.
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Though educational philosophy dates back thousands of years, there are still many great thinkers who are revolutionizing teaching with their philosophies today. In the later part of the twentieth century, there was also Paulo Friere who is considered by some to be the greatest thinker of his time and also Maxine Greene who has also greatly changed education in today’s society. Thanks to these great minds along with many others, modern-day education was revolutionized. Many of the teaching techniques and ideas that are practiced in the classroom today originated from these philosophers. These four philosophers though from two very different time periods had some very similar ideas about education.
Jean Jacques Rousseau said that children are born innocent and pure, and become contaminated by the world, as they grow older. “Everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Maker of the world but degenerates once it gets into the hands of man”. (Cahn 163) This quote shows that Rousseau saw the world as an imperfect place that corrupted the youth. It was Rousseau’s thinking that it is imperative to teach children what they need at an early age before they become corrupted.
He said that children are like plants; they need to be nourished and for them to flourish and thrive. “ Plants are fashioned by cultivation, men by education”. (Cahn 163) The idea behind this is that children are given a good foundation from which to start and then there is nothing left that we can do. Rousseau said that aside from a human teacher people are also taught by nature and by things. “ The internal development of our faculties and organs is the education of nature”. (Cahn 163)
He said that nature can teach us through internal growth and development and things teach through how they affect us. Something else that Rousseau strongly believed in was that the development of a child couldn’t be rushed in the slightest. He said “let them be children when they are children, playing games and the like.” Trying to force things on children would be bad for their development. Rousseau said that children should be left alone so that they can become more self-reliant, the more that they can achieve on their own the less they will have to come to others for help. This is important because it will promote children to keep on educating themselves once they are out of school. If children or young adults rely on themselves they will go out and figure things out on their own instead of coming back to someone else for help. One other theory that Rousseau had was to let children learn from experience. He said to avoid verbal lessons if possible and let children follow what they feel is natural.
One other classic philosopher whose teachings are still used in modern-day classrooms was Plato. Plato’s views on education were centred around an idea of a perfect society and ideal citizens. Plato felt that children have an innate desire to learn. He said that people naturally want to find things out and discover things in the world. “The power and capacity of learning exist in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into that of being and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being…” (Educational Philosophy 1) Plato also felt that it was very important to teach mathematics to his students. He said that mathematics was the best way to train a person’s mind. “Let no one unversed in geometry enter here.” (Plato 1) This quote was written above the entrance to Plato’s school called the Academy.
This shows how strongly Plato felt about math being incorporated into education. Virtue was also extremely important to Plato’s way of educating his students. He felt that virtue must be instilled at a very early age so that students will not wander around but instead act upon their virtue and dedicate themselves to learning. Throughout Plato’s Meno Socrates and Meno discuss the meaning of virtue and whether it can or cannot be taught. They come up with several definitions for virtue; each proposed by Meno and rejected by Socrates. “For I shall esteem myself truly fortunate if I find that I have been mistaken and that you and Gorgias do really have this knowledge when I have been just saying that I have never met anybody who had.” (Cahn 5)
On the other hand, there are more contemporary philosophers who also have very interesting views on education. One of those being Paulo Friere whose views have greatly changed modern pedagogy. One of the main points that Friere makes in his philosophy is that of the student-teacher relationship. Friere says that it is imperative for students and their teachers to develop a dialogue in the classroom. It is Paulo Friere’s thinking that students and their teachers must communicate with each other. He says that teachers must never just talk at their students. He says that it must be a give-and-take situation where the students are given information that makes them think about things and makes their minds work. “Through dialogue, the teacher-of-students and the students-of-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with student-teachers.” (Cahn 466)
This shows how Friere thinks that the student-teacher relationship must work in the classroom. The quote also shows that education never ends and is an ongoing process throughout life. The teacher is able to learn from the student as well as vice versa because through dialogue you can share opinions and interpretations, which will vary from person to person. In this manner, you can learn so much more about one particular subject because every student will have a different opinion or perspective on any given topic. “Here no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated by the world, by cognizable objects which in banking education are “owned” by the teacher.” (Cahn 466)
One other point that Friere makes in this excerpt is the way people are treated. He makes the observation that of “banking”. In this ideal, knowledge is given to students from a teacher and they receive it and store it as a bank would. Friere says that education becomes the cat of depositing which only allows students to go as far as the teacher will take them. “In which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing deposits.” (Cahn 461) This shows that this way of teaching is very unfulfilling to students and doesn’t give much room for dialogue or conversation between the teachers and the students.
One other contemporary philosopher whose views on education are very significant is Michael Walzer. Walzer believes that the entire school system should shut down and start up again in a very different way. In Walzer’s opinion, the school system should be run on a specialized basis. Walzer says that there should be specialty schools for individuals that wish to pursue certain fields.
Walzer states that students should feel the desire to go after what they want in education. “After that, education must be shaped to the interests and capacities of individual students.” (Cahn 394) Once the core subjects are taught to students, Walzer says that the particular needs of students have to be met. “And the schools themselves must be more receptive to the particular requirements of the workday world.” (Cahn 394) this shows that Walzer thinks that there need to be specific schools for certain individuals.
It is important to start education at an early age so that children can begin to see where their interests lie and what they wish to do with their lives. Another theory that Walzer had about education was school vouchers. He said that more schools should be opened so that less fortunate families in the inner cities can have an opportunity to get a good education. Walzer says that the vouchers should be distributed to families that cannot afford to pay for tuition. “A voucher plan for specialized schooling and on-the-job training would make a lot of sense. But this would not serve to associate children in accordance with a parental preference; it would allow them to follow their own preferences.” (Cahn 404) This supports Chan’s theory that it is important for children to make their own decisions about education.
In my opinion, all four of these philosophers have very good points towards education. If what these men stated were applied on a greater scale I think that teachers would begin to see great improvements in their classrooms. I fully agree with the main point of these four philosophers; it is essential that we reach out to children while they are still very young and turn them on to learning. Whether you look at it from Rousseau’s point of view where you have to reach children before they are corrupted; or Walzer’s point of view where the children need to begin schooling early so that they can choose where they want to go in education its all the same. Children must begin their education early so that they can fully develop.
I feel that if learning is enjoyable to children and it is something that they want to participate in, that attitude will stick with them throughout their lives and as Plato says learning will be a continuous growth pattern. One other point that Rousseau made that I very strongly agree with is that children need to try and figure things out on their own. Take the example of a child attempting to put a puzzle together. The child tries to put a square block into a round hole, and obviously, it will not fit. If you simply take the block away from the child and place it where it belongs then he or she will learn nothing from that experience. If the child eventually comes to the right conclusion on his or her own they will learn something and walk away from the experience with valuable knowledge.
One other point that Plato and Friere made was that of conversation in the classroom. Though Friere called it dialogue and Plato the Socratic method the point is the same. Having a discussion with the students in class with giving and taking going on from both parties will be infinitely more beneficial. One point that Rousseau made that I really don’t agree with is that you are born with innately good human nature. I think that as you are born and grow from infancy, you will develop into the person that you are going to be from your experiences and from what you learn from others.
In this manner, your education begins at birth and continues on throughout your life with every experience shaping and moulding who you are. This is why I agree that is so important to begin teaching children at an early age and to continue their education until they have become mature adults. By doing this I think that there is less of a chance for children to stray off the right path and pick up a different one that will lead them into trouble.
Overall, I felt that all four of these philosophers had some very interesting things to say about education. In my opinion, many of the ideas that these men expressed should be incorporated into modern-day pedagogy. I think that all of the philosophers showed that they had a firm grasp of what it takes to give children a proper education and to prepare them for the real world. The approaches that they proposed would give students more of a drive or desire to learn. In today’s society school is just a hassle that kids have to put up with.
I think that if children were taught in the way that Plato, Rousseau, Friere, and Walzer said they should be, our society would be very different. One other thing that I found interesting about these philosophers is the fact that they all had very similar philosophies about education even though one lives around 300 B.C. and another in the seventeen hundreds while the other two in the latter part of the twentieth century. I guess that no matter the time period, its like they always say; “great minds think alike.”
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