Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 3/3.1.2

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Educational Milestones of the 17th and 18th Centuries

Learning Targets

Students Should Be Able To:

a) Identify the two major institutions founded by Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Froebel that are still in use today.

b) Be able to name the major methods or practices invented by Sir Francis Bacon, René Descartes and Thomas Jefferson.

c) Be able to identify early education practices and their purposes. I.e. Hands on or object centered learning and learning through play.

d) Name the common theory held by many 17th and 18th century philosophers and apply it to teaching in today's classroom.

Education Today: Lets See How Far We've Come[edit | edit source]

The first concept of a teacher instructing a body of students and spreading the "love of learning" or philosophy was introduced by the great thinkers of Ancient Greece and Rome who taught and explored subject areas ranging from art, nature and science to "rhetoric" the ability to sway audiences much like today's modern public speaking classes. (Spielvogel, 2009) From then on, as this early idea of learning through instruction spread, pedagogy or the study of learning became one of the most speculated on and debated subject areas among mankind and remains to be so today.

For the purpose of this text, we will examine some of the ideas and philosophies that were developed by the great thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries in particular, that continue to be practiced by the instructors of today.

Famous Philosophers of Education in the 17th and 18th Centuries[edit | edit source]

Like their predecessors in Ancient Greece and Rome, the learned men of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries liked to assess the world around them, questioning their existence, methodologies and practices (Spielvogel, 2009) . At times, these men debated their ideas with their colleagues and other times they wrote pieces based on their findings that occasionally would gain popularity and would eventually make these men famous. Some of the more famous of these men included Sir Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, a man named John Locke and the American founding fathers Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

The first name mentioned, Sir Francis Bacon, belongs to the man who was long known as the father of modern science and was the founder of the still widely used today Scientific Method (Review:scientific, 1975). Born in 1561, Bacon theorized that scientific experimentation should be experienced first hand, and that any such experimentation should be done for a practical purpose, or end in sight (Review:scientific, 1975). Students today still actively participate in experiments in the classroom and in labs in schools worldwide. They also still use Bacon's Scientific Method to record their observations and findings during these firsthand experiences with science.

Another great mind of that era was René Descartes(1596-1650), is best known for creating a systematic form of what is known as analytic geometry, sometimes now referred to as Cartesian geometry (Descartes, Rene, 2009). He also invented the way that equations are plotted on graphs, and made considerable contributions to algebra and its use of lower case letters in variable equations (Descartes,Rene, 2009). The mathematician's theory on learning and philosophy drifted considerably from the romantic notions of limitless possibilities and causes of things in nature and of man into a more logical way of looking at the world around him (Descartes, Rene, 2009). He is famously quoted as saying "I think; therefore I am," meaning that because he was of sound mind and the thought had occurred to him that he must, therefore exist. In short Descartes thought it was a waste of time to dwell on that which could not be proven by fact (Descartes, Rene, 2009).

In 1632, another scientific theorist, and close friend and colleague of famous physicist Sir Isaac Newton, John Locke was born (Axtell, 1965). John Locke is ironically most famous for an essay written to a student of his that is speculated to have been a collaborative effort between himself and Mr. Newton (Axtell, 1965). The genius of what was written was the reason for why it was written in the first place (Axtell, 1965). Locke wanted to write an essay on the current scientific findings of the day in such a way as to be easily understood and learned by the student (Axtell, 1965). He wanted the this essay to be an aid of understanding scientific method and research rather than a study of the broad spectrum of scientific phenomena (Axtell, 1965). His desire for easily understood material for his pupil, lends itself to one of the commonly sought after goals in the world of teaching today for learning to be student centered rather than authoritarian and teacher based (Axtell, 1965).

Perhaps a man after Locke's own heart, Benjamin Franklin lived between the years 1706 and 1790 (Korty, 1965). Among several of his more famous quotes, Franklin once said on writing that it should better it's reader in some sense either intellectually or morally and above all things, a good piece of writing should be, "smooth, clear and short (Korty, 1965)." He was also a big proponent of student based learning and believed that pupils retained knowledge best when they were involved in the lesson in some way (Korty, 1965). His desire for widespread education of the masses also led him to become the developer of the first library (Korty, 1965). The Library Company of Philadelphia began in 1731, and was the first institution of its kind that lent books, which were very expensive at the time, to the public in exchange for promissory notes as collateral (Korty, 1965). Arguably, the library could be considered one of the most provincial additions to the educational system in history (Korty, 1965).

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) who, like Benjamin Franklin, is also one of the great founding fathers of the great nation, the United States of America, shared and expounded upon many of the aforementioned pioneers in education's beliefs and ideologies greatly (Honeywell,Jefferson,1969). A core belief he held in common with Franklin was his great desire for a citizen base in America that was well educated (a philosophy that also began in the republic of Ancient Greece)(Spielvogel, 2009). Jefferson, one might speculate, was probably thrilled by Francklin's library because it was his belief that "no person of legal age [at the time it was 15] should enjoy the privileges of citizenry unless they were able to read in some language (Honeywell, Jefferson, 1969)." The father of the University of Virginia, contributed greatly to our modern educational system through the idea of creating districts for schools and making them accessible for free by the nation's children (Honeywell, Jefferson, 1969). At the time, this free education would last for the first three years of one's schooling, after that Jefferson, established that "poor but promising students" could compete for free tuition (Honeywell, Jefferson, 1969). Thus Jefferson, really created the idea of scholarship that continues to give less affluent students today an opportunity to afford an education that they might not otherwise be able to through the merits of their academic performance.

17th and 18th Century Influences on Modern Early Education[edit | edit source]

While the philosophers of Ancient Greece shared with those of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the vision of a well educated and able bodied citizenry, it wasn't until the latter period that early education had really become a major focus area and source of debate.

Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1827), the developer of the idea of intellectual property, or the idea that ones the products of ones thoughts, words, and actions belong to their originator, was arguably one of the most influential persons in the history of early childhood education (Classics of science, 1929). He was responsible for the spread of ideas like teacher education and lesson plans (Pestalozzi,Johann, 2005). Pestalozzi believed that education began in the home and that child play had the ability to be incredibly influential in ones learning (Classics of science, 1929). He encouraged learning from objects and believed that teaching could occur in almost any situations or occurrence in ones early experiences (Classics of science, 1929). In a letter to a friend, Pestalozzi wrote, "...Let the child not only be acted upon, but let him be an agent in intellectual education (Classics of science, 1929)."

File:A summer day in december 039.jpg
Jacob age 3 and Amaya age 7 are the age groups that were taught in the first kindergarten. They are engaged in the type of free play that would have been encouraged by Pestalozzi and Froebel (Taken from the Wiki Community Portal, 2009)

Ten years after the death of Johann Pestalozzi, Frederick Froebel established the first Kindergarten in Blackenburg, Germany in 1837 (Kindergarten, 2005). This school taught children age three to age seven by game play, story reading and singing songs (Kindergarten, 2005). It served as a transition from the home to the school environment, Froebel believed like, Pestalozzi that a great deal could be learned from play and encouraged the children to interact and take part in games freely (Kindergarten, 2005).

The first person credited with creating the first illustrated children's text is Jan Komensky, also known as Comenius, a name affectionatley given to him by his colleagues (Comenius, John Amos, 2009). Comenius also believed that learning should not focus on words but on the things or objects around the student (Review:[untitled], 1970). Another major contribution made not just to early education but to learning as a whole was the learning of languages through "parallel passages", that is taking a sentence from ones native language and corresponding it with the same sentence of the targeted language (Review:[untitled], 1970).

Finally, eighteenth century education philosopher Jean Jacques was born in 1712 and lived until 1778 (Rousseau, 2009). His major contribution to early education in particular was the idea of psychologically based childcare (Rousseau, 2009). His theory that expression rather than the repression of children's thoughts produced more liberal thinking and "well-balanced" children, an idea that was adopted both by Froebel and Pestolozzi (Rousseau, 2009).

Summary[edit | edit source]

Students actively participating in a modern day elementary school classroom (Taken from the Wiki Community Portal).

Although many important contributions were made during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries such as the library, and the establishment of the kindergarten, a unifying theme and theory of education was notably unique to the philosophers of this period. Although the Greeks and Romans both undoubtedly influenced this era with the idea of pedagogy or the study of learning, Locke,Bacon,Froebel,Pestalozzi,Komensky, and Rousseau, all shared the revelation that education should be experienced first hand. Every time a student dissects a frog and records their observations about it, or a child observes the similarity between a bouncing ball and an orange, they do so via the influence of these men. When teachers are trained to put the student at the center of the lesson rather than simply regurgitate the thoughts and writings of others that have gone before them, they do so because of these men.

As future educators it is your job to take these philosophies and put them to practice. Make them valid in your classroom and with the technologies available to you. Make the student your priority, and remember another famous statement by Benjamin Franklin:

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."

Go now and become a philosopher of education in your era, and perhaps the students of tomorrow will be writing contributions to pedagogy in the Wiki texts of the future!

References[edit | edit source]

Axtell, J. L. (1965). Locke, Newton, and "the elements of natural philosophy". Paedagogica Europaea, 1, Retrieved February 5, 2009, from

(1929). Classics of science: Pestalozzi on education.. The Science News-Letter, 15, Retrieved February 5, 2009, from

(2009). Comenius, John Amos. Retrieved February 8, 2009, from Discovery Education Web site:

(2009). Descartes, Rene.. Retrieved February 8, 2009, from Discovery Education Web site:

Honeywell, R. J., & Jefferson, T. (1969). A note on the educational work of Thomas Jefferson. History of Education Quaterly, 9, Retrieved February 8, 2009, from

(2005). John Locke, philosopher and political theorist.. Retrieved February 8, 2009, from Discovery Education Web site:

(2005). Kindergarten.. Retrieved February 8, 2009, from Discovery Education Web site:

Korty, M. B. (1965). Benjamin Franklin and eighteenth-century American libraries. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, 55, Retrieved February 5, 2009, from

(2005). Pestalozzi, Johann Heinrich.. Retrieved February 8, 2009, from Discovery Education Web site:

(1970). Review:[untitled] reviewed work(s): Comenius:versucheines umrisses von leben;werk und schicksal des Jan Amos Kemensky by Milada Blekastad.. The Slavic and East European Journal, 14, Retrieved February 5, 2009, from

(2009). Rousseau, Jean Jacques.. Retrieved February 8, 2009, from Discovery Education Web site:

Schmitt, C. B. (1975). Review: scientific knowledge in the seventeenth century.. History of Education Quarterly, 15, Retrieved February 5, 2009, from

Spielvogel, J. J. (2009). Western civilization.. Belmont, C,A,: Thomson Higher Education.

(2005). Thomas Jefferson, Washington's secretary of state. Retrieved February 8, 2009, from Discovery Education Web site:

Review[edit | edit source]

1. In 1731, Benjamin Franklin established what institution that allows the public to freely borrow books and have free access to the internet and other resources

    a) the library.
    b) the forum.
    c) the shopping mall.
    d) Barnes and Noble.

2. This institution was created and established by Frederick Froebel in 1837 in Blackenburg, Germany.

    a) Die Hochschule
    b) Kindergarten
    c) der Bibliothek
    d) Klassenzimmer

3. When a student, usually in science class, does an experiment and records the details of that experiment along with his/her predictions and findings what longstanding method should they use and who created it?

    a) Software Developement Process, ISO
    b) Method Acting, Stanislovsky
    c) The Scientific Method, Sir Francis Bacon
    d) Discourse on Methodology, Descartes

4. René Descartes developed Cartesian geometry and how we plot these on graphs...

    a) Rates
    b) Ratios
    c) Parts of Speech
    d) Equations

5. A student performing well in high school should apply for one of these, if he gets one he could possibly get a free ride to college, and if he does he has Thomas Jefferson to thank for the invention.

    a) Pell Grants
    b) Scholarships
    c) Congratulations
    d) Salutations

6. You are teaching a class of very young students, you might have them do this to learn the similarities and differences between shapes. Pestalozzi would recommend it.

    a) Set out an assortment of blocks and balls and ask the students questions about what they see and feel.
    b) Set out an assortment of blocks and balls and explain the differences between the shapes.
    c) Set out an assortment of blocks and balls and have the children throw them at each other.
    d) All of the above.

7. Pestalozzi believed that a good teacher could create a lesson from any experience. The children in your class are playing with a pretend kitchen set. What type of lesson could be taught in this situation?

    a) Ask the children to describe what steps they might take to bake a cake.
    b) Ask the children to make a list of the different action words that take place in a kitchen after their play.
    c) Have the children demonstrate how to work together in a group by asking each group member to "make" a different part of the 
    d) All of the above.

8. Locke, Bacon, Froebel, Pestalozzi, Komensky and Rousseau all believed in this basic principle.

    a) Learning is best done through experience and allowing the student to participate in his/her education.
    b) Learning is best done in the sunlight.
    c) Learning is done best when the instructor dictates passages from a famous author.
    d) Learning is best done when students memorize scientific facts or phenomena.

Answers[edit | edit source]

1)a 2)b 3)c 4)d 5)b 6)a 7)d 8)a

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