Cultural history of education


Western scholars note that the history of education is intrinsically linked to the history of society. In most cases, there is a close relationship between school and social order.

It has been difficult to assess whether the former more strongly influenced the latter from one era to another, or vice versa. It’s important to understand.

golden age of learning

From the mid-17th century to the present, the European Age of Enlightenment has greatly influenced the progress of learning in the United States and Canada. Enlightenment thought evolved from a new philosophical position, challenging the authority of the Christian Church and raising concerns about the problems of reason, the scientific method, and the development of technology.

In myriad ways, scientific and Enlightenment thought improved our material well-being and opened the door to effective democratic governance in a free society.

Enlightenment philosophers questioned authoritarian ways of thinking, acting, and governing. They eagerly looked to support new educational methods that played a central role in communicating their ideas and ideals. The development of such ideas took place from the late 18th century through the decades following the American and French Revolutions.

By the 1820s and 1830s, advances in the school system created more readers, resulting in a greater demand for printed materials from readers with a wide range of interests across a wide range of social strata. This era was generally regarded as the golden age of learning.

From the 18th century onwards, education, like democracy, steadily increased in social esteem. Assuming that all schooling is a “good thing,” North Americans have developed a deep respect for education, and it is no surprise that interest in it has grown since the early days of the pioneers. I’ve been proud of myself.

Departure from the Gregorian calendar

Somewhere in the midst of the Scientific Revolution and the fascinating rationalist thought of the Age of Reason, many Western intellectuals began to lose their taste for the wisdom of the Bible and the virtues of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

in the “Battle of the American MindAs mentioned in Part 1 of this series, authors Pete Hegseth and David Goodwin point to a century-long intellectual trend that is pushing culture away from Christianity and Western traditions.
By the last quarter of the eighteenth century, most North Americans agreed that Christianity was the guiding light of Western civilization. By the time of the American Revolution, the classical Christian form of education had been in use for his more than 1,500 years.

During the Age of Enlightenment, particularly in England, France, and North America, various Western philosophers critically rejected the Judeo-Christian revelations and turned to philosophical positions they felt were established by reason alone.


Hegseth and Goodwin point out that the seeds of opposition to Western Christian Paideia first appeared in the form of eighteenth-century deism.

Deists held that a common God created the universe and established rationally understandable moral and natural laws. However, Deist said that God does not intervene in human affairs through miracles or spiritual forms of revelation. Therefore, ecclesiastical authority and biblical regulation should not occupy a special place in the government of a country.

Hegseth and Goodwin argue that deism charted an early course away from Western Christian culture. They point out that more radical American revolutionaries, such as Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, longed for a “revolution in the system of government” that followed a “revolution in the religious system.”

Some of America’s revolutionary leaders had already returned to the pre-Christian Greek idea of ​​education on the basis of God-informed reasons alone: ​​the “Logos.” Enlightenment thinkers saw the idea of ​​revolution as a redeeming force in itself, offering a new kind of promised land and a new order for the age.

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the American Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States, subscribed to the ideas of British and French Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke, Bacon, Montesquieu, and Voltaire. Jefferson saw the independent Yeoman and farming life as a model for the “Republican” party, although he did not necessarily see it as a Christian “virtue.”

President Jefferson distrusted cities and financiers and favored limited government over corrupt political institutions. But he was also a deist who called for the dismantling of Christianity and the separation of church and state to prepare the way for the disguise of the Western Christian worldview.

Pursuit of utopian perfection

In hindsight, the Enlightenment was closer to modern ideologies than traditional religions. It was the beginning of the cultural preponderance of empirical reason over the divinity of Christ, the authenticity of the Bible, and the authority of the church.

At a historic moment when the fusion of Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and other forms of Protestantism created considerable dissension among North American Christians, the introduction of deism had practical political advantages. brought.

The conservative Christian vision of an orderly life was combined with a desire to live for the glory of God and His Kingdom. The thought leaders of the Enlightenment saw a new human order develop from the process of revolution itself. They cleverly blended the goals of the Christian Kingdom with the more utopian (out-of-this-world) promises of America, France, and the subsequent communist revolutions.

Deism provided a politically convenient quasi-religious bridge between the society that the enlightened intellectuals were leaving and the new order they were trying to introduce.

Fortunately, both Christians and deists in America recognized the dangers of political tyranny and sought to limit the power of government. But the diminished role of Christianity from the 19th century to his 20th century created a cultural vulnerability that more secular movements ultimately exploited.

Government administrators across North America quickly took steps to create powerful new forms of civilian agency. Commonly known as public schools, the institution was intended to serve ambitious modern man in pursuit of human perfection.

Part 3 of this Cultural History of Education in North America further examines the role of the secular state as headmaster.

Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Epoch Times.

William Brooks


William Brooks is a Canadian author writing for the Epoch Times from Halifax, Nova Scotia. He serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of “The Civil Conversation” of his Civitas Society in Canada.