Human Society and Education have always existed together. Intrinsic to the philosophy of education is the propagation of change. Education leads to changes in a person's abilities, perception, and society. Just as education changes a person's society and outlook on life, society changes the education. It is a constantly evolving process of education and re-evaluation that will continue indefinitely.
Education-born change takes many forms, however there are two general classifications that all education can be placed into. The first is when the change is a move from an "unenlightened" mental state to an "enlightened" one such as Plato and Aristotle would promote. The second is when change is brought about to affect external situations ranging from learning how to ride a horse, to learning how to achieve power in a government. These two types constitute what Aristotle calls liberal and illiberal (respectively) education. Liberal Education is typically defined as discussion and contemplation, whereas illiberal education is classified as learning tangible skills; learning how to do something as opposed to learning how to think about it. Initially, the two categories were very carefully delineated, yet as times and education change the distinctions surrounding certain subjects have changed depending on how a person intends to use the learned skills.
The distinction between liberal and illiberal reaches father than just the curriculum. Since the concepts were invented, certain restrictions were placed on who could pursue which type of education simply because liberal education required money and free time. Whereas people who did not have time and money needed to be educated illiberally in hope that the skills that education gave them would allow them to earn money, and with that money allow them to buy time. Thus the first application of the ideas of tailoring an education to the needs of the student, as well as the idea of tracking were accidentally created in what could be called an educational big bang.
Jumping forward hundreds of years we find a man who decided to embrace the educational and intrinsically related soci-economic divisions of his time, and attempted to create an amazing new system of education. Rousseau's ideas differed completely from the educational standards of his time and peers, as his principal docturn was that life, not the tutor was the best teacher. Rousseau believed that where other teachers had students locked in desks all day, he would have them free to move as they chose. Where others had students learning reading, and Latin, and music, he had them practicing drawing. Rousseau wanted so drastically to change from the current stale system of education, that his methods seem to have originated as complete contradictions of the popular ideas.
One of Rousseau's most profound ideas was probably one he was not even aware of. In order for Rousseau's liberal education to work, a student needed to have free time, and rich parents. A student without rich parents would probably be put into a conventional school, or paired with a conventional tutor, assuming they got an education at all! A more likely scenario has the children working in factories or farms along side their parents learning the illiberal money making skills of that trade. Rousseau's brilliance comes from the fact that he saw that there did exist a population of children with leisure time, and they were being educated as if they were on a factory conveyor belt. It was believed that certain things had to be learned at certain times in a certain order, until the child was plopped out into the affluent adult world where most of his education was not needed. Rousseau wondered aloud what the point of forcing kids to unhappily waste their time "learning" information that was largely useless to them in their adult lives. He felt that the negative elements of the experience of their education would become so strongly associated that in this system even subjects that were interesting to the child would be avoided. Rousseau was able to take advantage of the situation created by the culture of the time, and devised a system where children could use the leisure they were born with, and be excited and happy as well as able to eagerly learn about subject that they were interested in.
Looking from the perspective of the population that fit within Rousseau's narrow criteria of clientele, this was a near-perfect solution. However, looking from the perspective of the entire educational world, the implementation of Rousseau's ideas was unfeasible. In addition, many of Rousseau's concepts only worked because very few specific skills and knowledge was expected from the adult life of leisure and luxury that Rousseau's pupils grew in to. As the times changed, the pool of students applicable for Rousseau's education shrank, until one day, it was no more. Fortunately for the educational world, many of the ideas that Rousseau had about children learning from experience, and freedom from the tight leash of the teacher, were reborn in the ideals of a woman named Montessori.
Montessori revived the idea that children learn best when it is regarding something they are interested in, as well as the idea that teachers can learn from students. Like Rousseau, Montessori used the situation of her contemporary society to develop her classroom. Whereas Rousseau saw affluent parents who could spend money on a personal tutor, Montessori saw a population of middle class parents who individually couldn't afford one personal tutor for each of their children, but together could afford one or two highly skilled teachers to share among all their kids. Montessori believed that much of children's learning is social, as opposed to Rousseau's idealized isolation, and set all the kids together to learn and play, much as they did in their urban homes. Montessori was able to take revolutionary ideas about how children learn which were previously available to a select few, and opened them up so that they became readily accessible to members of the middle class-those who fit in both the liberal and illiberal category. Another one of Montessori's great accomplishments is the balanced curriculum she managed to create. Unlike either Rousseau's extreme, almost free-form, liberalized curriculum, or Miller's traditionalist illiberal curriculum, Montessori's curriculum provides both the freedom for children to learn on their own terms, and the practical skills that an adult in the 20th century needed in order to be successful.
The changes that amount to Montessori's critical acclaim are not so much in the information presented to students, but in the way the information was made available to students. The balance between liberal and illiberal philosophies woven into all areas of the Montessori method separate it from earlier revolutionary ideas concentrating mainly on the information. This previously untapped idea is an excellent entry point for developing new ideas in education.
Anyone living in America in the year 2001 could tell you all about life in a consumerist society. Despite the pervasiveness of consumerism, the American schools are run like some sort of socialist commune. Everyone is expected to take turns; everyone is equal; you can't chew gum unless you brought enough for everyone. Is that the life children are will live when they are adults? If not, then why are we raising children in a society that is so different than the society school is supposedly preparing them for? If Rousseau were born today, he would very likely have the same disdain for this juxtaposition that he did for the contemporary schooling practices of his time.
Reflecting on the advice of Ben Franklin, I have used the examples set forth by Rousseau and Montessori to devise my own ideas for solutions in the classroom. The key that both these philosophers utilized, is that people learn more readily when what they are learning relates to their interests. Many of today's educators are forgetting this simple rule, and thus, students grow disinterested and disengaged from their learning. I believe that getting kids interested in their learning is a large step to improving our education problems.
Pulling from the work of Rousseau and Montessori, I believe that the solution can be extracted from the prevailing aspects our own society. The principal motivation of our adult society is money. Adults get jobs not because they enjoy summarizing reports and sending memos, but because they like the money those jobs earn. No one believes that this is ideal, yet the motivation of getting money is what runs our society. In that case, why shouldn't the schools use the same motivation? Children will spend their adult lives chasing the elusive dollar, why not teach them about it before they leave school and are dumped out into the real world? An example application would be to create a classroom where getting good grades directly translates into real money that goes into a students account, much like getting paid for working at the office. Misbehavior results in a decrease in the money in that account, much like a fine for a parking ticket does. At the end of the month, kids would get to spend that money on things that they want, similar to getting to spend a paycheck at the end of the month. Children would also have the opportunity to save their money and it would carry over to next month, where they could buy even more. It's the perfect motivation for our society. No more trying to convince students that "education is an investment for your future," simply convince them that it is an investment for right now.
The beauty of this plan is that it simultaneously teaches illiberal skills as it teaches liberal skills. If a student doesn't learn the names and ideas of the philosophers, they don't get their 50 cents. It will prepare them to live in the adult world, as well as get their education taken care of.
The next idea moves from the motivation of the consumer to the motivation of the producer. As you know, there are things that kids like to do, and things that kids don't like to do. Generally speaking, kids like to play and watch TV, and they don't like to do homework. The trick is to apply the techniques that make kids enjoy playing and watching TV to school; treat the promotion of school like the promotion of a product. If marketing can convince kids that they want to buy a certain toy, or see a certain movie, or eat at taco-bell, why cant it also convince them that they like school?
Related to that is the idea of completely eliminating the line between school and contemporary culture by fusing the things that kids enjoy and can relate to with their lessons. How is diagramming sentences about Sam and Jim any more valid than diagramming sentences about Pok駑on? An exercise about prepositions is much more interesting when it is about Tony hawk 360ing over the bench as opposed to the cloud drifting over the tree. The pop references don't need to come only from the teacher, children working on their creative writing skills could write an adventure about the Dragon Ball Z characters and still get excellent practice out of it. In fact, it is possible that because they are interested and actually care about it, they are motivated to do an even better job.
Like Rousseau's philosophies, these ideas are only applicable to our contemporary society. Years from now when a working version of communism is invented, these motivational tactics would be unfeasible. Fortunately, these ideas can be piggybacked with classroom organization philosophies to create a more effective, more balance classroom. In this sense, ideas such as the Montessori method can be viewed as the current evolutionary culmination of thousands of years of education reform. The ideas and changes made by countless other educational philosophers are collected and integrated together into one comprehensive method. Alas� similar to the fate of every other "perfect" institution before it, it is only a matter of time before society changes and the Montessori method is no longer feasible. However, The balance between liberal and illiberal philosophies woven into all areas of the philosophies such as the Montessori method make it them one more important step in the evolution of education.