It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.
The 18th century became known as the Age of Enlightenment or Reason because of a rebellion of the intellectuals against superstition and ignorance. Philosophers such as Descartes (1595-1650) and Voltaire (1745-1827) believed in the ability of humans to reason and the power of rational thought. Descartes, though not an educator in the strictest sense of the word, influenced the development of education because of his belief in human's ability to achieve truth through reasoning and rational thought. Voltaire was heavily influenced by Descartes and through his extensive writings helped elevate formal education and bring about a new interest in learning.
Frederick the Great (1712-1786) of Prussia, a friend of Voltaire, believed in the value of an educated populace. He implemented some of the first laws regarding education and the licensing of teachers. He wanted people to learn to read and write in order to become useful citizens. However, he did not see much need for extending general education beyond that point.
While philosophers such as Descartes and Voltaire advocated for reason and scientific inquiry, a second movement signaled a revolution in the way people viewed themselves, which became known as the Emergence of Common Man. Previously, common people had accepted their lot in life and not challenged the fixed order such as the Divine Right of Kings and the strict stratification of society. Now people were revolting against the established order and demanding a better life and more opportunities. Education became important because it was seen as a means of allowing people to better themselves. This philosophy also had profound implications politically, as the 18th century was a time of governmental unrest and revolt against the establishment.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was primarily a philosopher, who wrote the Social Contract, a book that played an important role in influencing the thinking that led to the American and French Revolutions. Though not considered an educator per se, Rousseau wrote a great deal on the subject of education. His book, Émile, described the ideal education of a youth and stated that education should match the child's age of development. Rousseau also believed in the natural goodness of children.
Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1827) was a Swiss educator who actually put into practice many of Rousseau's ideas. Pestalozzi, like Rousseau, was a proponent of designing instruction to complement a child's stage of development. He believed that learning should begin with concrete experiences before moving to the abstract and should start with the simple and progress to the more complex. In addition he advocated that children learn more effectively when they feel secure and have healthy self-esteem. He held that children should be treated with love and kindness. Pestalozzi was especially sensitive to the needs of poor children and expressed a deep compassion for them.
As a student of Pestalozzi's, Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) refined Pestalozzi's theories about education and developed a five step process for teaching that is still being used:
Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) was another proponent of Rousseau and Pestalozzi's theories of education. Froebel established the first kindergarten, where young children were given a developmentally appropriate education with an emphasis on learning through experience and the social growth of the child. Froebel believed that women were the most capable of teaching this age group.
With the rapid growth of industrialization, urbanization and population growth, societies soon felt the need for a more educated populace who could become efficient workers. An Englishman, Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838), developed a monitorial system for overcrowded schools, whereby older students (monitors) would teach younger ones under the direction of a teacher. This system allowed one teacher to teach hundreds of students. The monitorial system spread from England to the United States where it became popular as a way of quickly and cheaply educating an immigrant population.
Though this group of educators and philosophers had a profound influence on the development of educational practice, it is important to remember that the average European actually had access to very little education. Most people during this time could barely read or write and only the upper classes and the wealthy had the luxury of providing a more advanced education for their children. Female children, even in these classes, were still largely educated at home, more often in the arts of running a household and in music, drawing and painting, and sewing.Think about It: