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What are the historical roots of education?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This is a big question, but in the Western European and American tradition, the push for education was often rooted in Protestant religious belief. As the Reformation took over in many parts Europe, the supremacy of Sola Scripture, meaning using only the Bible as a guide to teach conscience and behavior, became widespread. Bibles were translated from Latin into the vernacular—the common languages of Europe—but this was of no help if people couldn't read. Therefore, Protestants and often, in countries like England, dissenting Puritan groups, set up schools to teach poorer children to read and, sometimes, write.

A certain level of education is also required in most cultures for the mass of the people to be functioning, working, productive, and contributing members of society. Therefore, the people with power and wealth will often allocate a certain number of resources to making sure that most of their people have at least a basic education in reading, writing, and arithmetic, along with whatever other skills are deemed essential by their society.

Finally, education is also rooted in the need to indoctrinate young people into the most important values of the culture they are part of so that they have a sense of social morality, pride, and belonging. They are taught the stories and doctrines that transmit what is distinctive about their culture and their way of life.

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shakespearessis | Student

In the history of the US, education has largely emerged from two ideologies: the traditional, focusing on memorization and regurgitation of answers (think catechism), and the progressive, which delves more deeply into individual subjects and allows students more room to explore and choose their educational interests. Mandatory schooling began to be established in the early 1800s, and was taught using traditional methods, with the progressive schooling movement emerging later as a response to/departure from the more strictly structured traditional ideology.

By the late 1800s, schools intended to assimilate Native Americans into American (read: white) culture were also established, forcing young children to erase their identities; this is a chapter of American education that should not be overlooked.

Now, a third paradigm, the critical, is considered by some to be the most useful; it focuses on how each student is different and how we must always be aware of the diverse mindsets and identities that comprise our world.

For a detailed timeline of the history of American education, refer to the reference link.