Friday, May 1, 2009

Historically Recent

Speech is our species' greatest achievement. It speeded up learning. It was a long haul but in time literacy added a further dimension. Printing quickened the process. Now the digital revolution transforms it.

Education existed before literacy. But literacy altered its nature, though the skill remained a privilege for a few. Printing increased its availability. Thinkers and social tinkerers beginning to theorise education should be the right of all young people. Schooling was seen as necessary to ensure that all had access to learning. In Europe protestant clerics added their voice, everyone should be able to read and study the Bible. The industrial revolution added momentum - workers must be educated to be able to calculate, read and obey instructions. Males getting the vote added even more urgency to the demand. In England, in 1870, Robert Lowe speaking in Parliament in support of compulsory education stated "we must educate our masters."

So during the nineteenth century, instead of the earlier casual and fluid educational arrangements for learning, throughout the industrialised world systems of compulsory schooling were introduced. Students were graded by age as well as ability and increasingly taught by teachers specially trained for the task. Systems of inspection were introduced to ensure national standards. It is easy to forget how recent in a historical sense this development has been. Teachers often complain that as a profession they lack recognition. As an occupation it does not possess the weight of tradition that say law or medicine carries.

Lowe was right. The demand for the extension of the franchise, first to all men, then to women, reflected widening literacy as well as beliefs about the nature of humanity. E M Forster’s essay Two Cheers For Democracy argues it may not be the absolute best form of governance but it is the best we can attain. Democracy may clunk along but it does ensure opposing viewpoints can be heard. It relies upon a consensus that the decisions made by the majority will be accepted by the minority. . It assumes the rule of law; and empowerment through learning and literacy. Modern information technology is already altering democracy as we know and have experienced it. This has consequences for education.

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