traditional British approach to schooling has always been based on the
"essentialist" view: that a truly liberal education can best be produced through
certain selected subjects. To that the great British universities of Oxford and Cambridge,
and the great "public schools" such as Eton and Rugby, also added the
responsibility for the moral training of future members of Britain's political and
administrative classes, and those that would guide the British Empire.
Despite improvements in recent years, the hierarchy of
Britain's class society has been inextricably linked with its streaming of education:
"public schools" and Oxbridge for the "leaders", "industrial
training" for tradesmen, and elementary "three Rs training" for the 50
percent who until recently ended up as farm or general laborers.
Elsewhere in Western Europe a different approach has
predominated since the Moravian-born Czech bishop and educator John Comenius effectively
introduced the modern textbook in 1658.
Some call this approach encyclopedism: the
premise that the content of education should include all human knowledge, with illustrated
"textbooks" on each subject.
Comenius also argued strongly that good education
should flow from "natural laws"; and since learning takes place first through
the senses, his curriculum was designed to develop these first.
Comenius's theories have strongly influenced some
aspects of French education since the revolution there in the late 18th century: that, as
all are created equal, society should not be divided into rulers and the ruled.
Since the 19th century, when Napoleon Bonaparte created
a system of national education, France has concentrated on a curriculum of more than 10
compulsory subjects. Even today every child in France, in whatever school, is expected to
be learning exactly the same body of information as other children of the same age, on the
Germany has used many of Comenius's theories, but
added them to its own Lutheran Protestant work ethic. Hence the continuing large
percentage of Germans who undergo apprenticeships, linking together practical training
with academic education.
Another European movement also owes its beginnings to
Comenius and to Aristotle's philosophy that there is nothing in the intellect that
does not first exist in the senses. The 18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau
took this further, proposing that the key to learn lies with developing each child's
senses, starting with concrete experiences.
Contents Page Preface