EDU 6120: Module 3

“Search for Meaning” Reflection on the EDU 6120 Module 3

“The Emergence of Western Educational Thought” Lecture given by Arthur K. Ellis

“Historical Perspectives: Education in the Old World” reading

As I reflect on this week’s lecture and readings regarding the emergence of education in the Western world, and consider what is meaningful to me personally, I must begin my noting that I am astonished by the relevancy of these ancient Greek and Roman ideas to the needs of today’s students.

According to Ellis, the common and primary purpose of education is, “…to make people good and to develop a good society….Education should be viewed as a way of thinking about life in general.”

The ideas of the “great thinkers”—Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Quintilian are among the most notable and familiar.

Socrates’ emphasis on good citizenship continues to be a major purpose of education today, although more in a general sense, as opposed to supporting one of his specific ideas and teachings of “…a belief in one god and that it is our duty to serve him through virtuous living.”

Plato’s idea of levels of academic achievement which he distinguished as “Gold” (formal education), “Silver” (warrior class) and “Bronze” (workers/vocational) are of particular interest to me as I think about the school district in which I teach and the changes I’ve observed over the decades. My school’s present website contains the following comment within its statement of purpose:  “Whether planning to enter college or workforce training programs, high school students need to be educated to a comparable level of readiness…,” I believe that in the past we (society) placed a greater emphasis on validating offerings through our career and technical education programs, however, I personally see more of an emphasis on “pushing” students into the college bound “track”.  Our mission statement, in fact, says, “Kingston High School students will graduate college ready. They will be prepared to act as informed citizens in a global society and empowered to care for their community.” (2007) Unfortunately, I do not see enough strong evidence of students being what Ellis refers to as, “properly educated to suit their needs and interests”—at least not to the degree that I believe Plato would have emphasized.

Another Greek philosopher, Aristotle, is known to have a primary and significant impact on our modern-day educational thinking by way of promoting the state’s responsibility on providing education and a “common core of knowledge for all…” In today’s schools we find statewide graduation credit requirements as well as the setting of state standards, although I believe the one-credit requirement in the fine arts would not have been viewed as sufficient by Aristotle.

The first century Roman orator, Quintilian, emphasized a number of ideas including; moral attributes such as integrity and self-control, a course of study, public speaking, fulfillment, learner-centered approach. Today, we see a leaning toward these ideas with graduation requirements that  include the completion of a course of study and the public presentation of a portfolio centered on a student’s personal goals and self-reflection on their accomplishments.

As a special education teacher who focuses every day on the special needs and individual differences among my students, I am particularly drawn to some of the Greco-Roman traditions that seemed to highlight the matching of abilities with areas of study.

Ellis, Arthur K. Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Together: The Reflective Classroom. Eye on Education. 2001.

Kingston High School website: (2007)


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