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Education Should Instill Liberty Not Indifference

What makes up the ideal way to educate a child? Concerns education but also has implications for how I think therapy should be conducted.
education-liberty

What follows is from a paper my (Scott) son wrote for a college level class he is taking. It concerns education but also has implications for how I think therapy should be conducted. I think most of us will agree that we did not get the ideal education and it has led many of us to be indifferent or apathetic. I’m so proud of my son for understanding what a good education consists of.

Here is what he said in his essay:

Michel de Montaigne is a philosopher and essayist born in France during the 16th century Renaissance. His early intellectual formation is carefully planned by his father and greatly influences his later views on education. He is taught to relish learning and to use his mind in a spirit of liberty and joy. Montaigne spends the majority of his career as a statesman, and it is only upon retirement that he begins his prolific writing. He becomes known as the father of the modern essay and greatly influences such philosophers as Descartes, Pascal, and Rousseau. In his essay, On the Education of Children, Montaigne asserts that children should be taught how to use their mind in order to question, think, and understand. He argues that forced learning and memorization does not bring knowledge, that the Socratic Method is the best form of education, and that using one’s mind brings man to full maturity.

 

An ongoing theme in Montaigne’s essay is that an educator should never teach a child through force and memorization alone. He criticizes this harsh approach to education. A tutor thundering his words of “wisdom” into his student’s ear is not education, and the memorization and recitation of the words he has learned does not guarantee knowledge. The child is taught well to parrot his teacher’s words, but all questioning and probing is extinguished from his mind. As Albert Einstein states, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

 

To Montaigne, a child should be brought naturally to knowledge. It is natural for the child to inquire into the mysteries of the world, to question, and to share his thoughts. It is contrary to the nature of a child to simply recite a formula or memorized line without understanding or asking “why.” As a result, the student loses his attention and interest in the subject. According to Montaigne, the pupil should think about and evaluate what he is learning. The freedom of wonder should be instilled in the child instead of the slavery of indifference. As Montaigne rather candidly explains in his essay, On the Education of Children:

 

“Tis a sign of crudity and indigestion to disgorge what we eat in the same condition it was swallowed; the stomach has not performed its office unless it have altered the form and condition of what was committed to it to concoct. Our minds work only upon trust, when bound and compelled to follow the appetite of another’s fancy, enslaved and captivated under the authority of another’s instruction; we have been so subjected to the trammel, that we have no free, nor natural pace of our own; our own vigour and liberty are extinct and gone.”1

 

This freedom, this natural pace, is the road that guides a pupil most surely to knowledge. The pioneers of this road are old friends to intellectual men: Socrates and Plato among others. These ancient Greek philosophers taught their pupils using a technique developed by Socrates which is known today as the Socratic Method. It utilizes conversation to teach the student and impart wisdom. The tutor gently steers the student through a journey of questioning and probing which eventually leads to true knowledge.

 

Montaigne concurs:

“I would not have him [the tutor] alone to invent and speak, but that he should also hear his pupil speak in turn. Socrates, and since him Arcesilaus, made first their scholars speak, and then they spoke to them….It is good to make him [the pupil], like a young horse, trot before him, that he [the tutor] may judge of his going, and how much he is to abate of his own speed, to accommodate himself to the vigour and capacity of the other”2

 

Once again, a natural relationship exists between the nature of man and learning. This relationship is the cornerstone of the Socratic Method. Education should not be forced but allowed to freely guide the student in his natural desire for knowledge.

 

This natural yearning for knowledge and understanding and the ability to freely use one’s mind to think and inquire lead to the maturation and growth of the human person. A mature individual refuses to blindly follow unreasonable ideas. He deliberates and considers ideas before coming to any significant conclusion.

 

According to Montaigne, a mature individual is embodied with good character and noble virtues. Not only does he have the ability to hold intelligent conversation and make thoughtful decisions, he is modest in conversation, is willing to be corrected, and is reluctant to condemn others. Because of his reasonable behavior and consideration for others, he is deemed a gentleman, both refined and cultivated. In the end, the mature individual recognizes that he will always be a student and will always be searching for truth and understanding.

 

In conclusion, Montaigne asserts that education is not accomplished through forced learning but through the use of one’s mind as taught by the Socratic Method. As Aristotle says, “All men desire to know.” Teaching children to wonder and seek understanding nourishes this desire. It frees the child from indifference and allows him to fully realize his purpose and potential in life. A mature individual develops who produces goodness and virtue in the world. To Montaigne, the beauty of education lies in the freeing of the mind to wonder and to know. As the Irish poet, W. B. Yeats, says, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” This fire is exactly what Montaigne hopes to feed with this insightful and thought-provoking essay.

 

Bibliography

1 Michel de Montaigne, The Essays of Montaigne, Complete, On the Education of Children, trans. David Widger, accessed December 12, 2014,http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3600/3600-h/3600-h.htm#link2HCH0025.

2 Michel de Montaigne, The Essays of Montaigne, Complete, On the Education of Children, trans. David Widger, accessed December 12, 2014,http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3600/3600-h/3600-h.htm#link2HCH0025.

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