GEORGE LEWIS EASTON

It took me some 35 years to gather the material for this book, process it and streamline the outcome of my enquiry. Once that was done, I had to pull the whole stuff together, make the story riveting, ensure that the book is hefty rather than bulky and, above all, reader-friendly while retaining its scholarly objective. Hence the abundant chapter-wise bibliographical references and suggestions for further reading at the back of ‘A History of Western Educational Thought. Perspectives on Education from Ancient Greece to Modern Mauritius’.
On the day of the launch I could not help humming a snippet or two of an Elvis Presley song ‘I’ve got to follow that dream’. It was so appropriate and I did it spontaneously just like I am wont to singing Cliff Richard’s emblematic evergreens. During whatever time I had left to myself on those hectic days before the book actually came out, I had been reflecting on what I was to say to my audience. Two things were on my mind: two seminal articles by late Richard Aldrich (1937-2014), the eminent historian of education. ‘Education for survival: an historical perspective’ and ‘Neuroscience, education and the evolution of the human brain’ encapsulate what seems to me the answer to the question ‘Where do we go from here?’ What does my book purport to say about the future of education – or even of humankind – in a fast changing world beset by sundry challenges? What course should we steer once we have taken stock of what has been achieved in more than two millennia of educational thought and practice?
Looking back, I see the way forward not just for us in Mauritius but globally as interacting and thinking anew in this quest for truth. I submit that we should include both the ‘educare’ (moulding) and the ‘educere ‘(leading out) aspects in the objectives we set in our educational blueprints. For one thing in my Facebook post on Teachers’ Day I quoted E. B. Castle, author of ‘The Teacher’ (OUP, 1970, Preface). ‘When the poet Robert Bridges praised teachers as ‘the sainted pioneers of civilisation’ he was not writing of schoolmasters so much as of prophets, poets, saints, rebels and philosophers whose teachings have formed the mind of the Western world. But I like to think that he also had in mind the work of lesser men who contributed to the education of mankind in the narrower confines of the classroom. And so this book is an attempt to unite, in the single theme of The Teacher, the work of men who taught a whole civilisation and the work of men and women who taught children in schools…’
Finally, I see the spin-offs of the publication of my ‘A History of Western Educational Thought. Perspectives on Education from Ancient Greece to Modern Mauritius’ in forums, rare book exhibits (I ordered quite a few titles included in my bibliography), conversations over a cup of tea/coffee and other events targeting our young students eager to learn about a world they had not the slightest notion of.

8th October 2019
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Selected Extracts

« This book grew out of a sustained endeavour to share empathetically with readers the fruits of long years of study of the disciplines of philosophy and history of education – enhanced by several decades of ‘hands-on’ experience as a language/literature high school teacher. It was also conceived to adequately meet a long-felt need to survey, explore, reflect on and take stock of a rich legacy which does not belong exclusively to the Western world. That is also why the last chapter focuses on my own country, Mauritius, which was in turn a Dutch, French and British colony, as a logical extension of the subject under scrutiny in a global perspective. In this critical account English education has generally speaking had more than its fair share, being always in the foreground. However, major Dutch, Italian, Spanish, French, German and American educational thinkers have not been left out. It was thought a strictly chronological perspective would make it easier for the reader to keep his bearings, grasp the developments in the field in stages and relate the wide range of ideas that were formulated, hinted at and taken forward in similar or modified forms over a long stretch of time (some 2500 years). Each period leads on to another, irrespective of its strengths and foibles, its moments of foresight and stagnation. »

« This ambitious survey of thinkers, trends and issues in the history of Western education takes us on a riveting trip back to Ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation and later periods (17th to 20th centuries and beyond). It traces step by step the views expressed by individual thinkers and practitioners along with the changing emphases put on specific aspects of educational theory and practice at various junctures. The book expounds and analyses these ideas both in their contemporary context and in the light of later developments in the field. The picture that unfolds is an engaging and coherent one that helps us better relate to the past as we try to come to grips with today’s issues in the educational arena. Far from suggesting that it was an oasis, the overriding concern has been to suggest that the history of education is a constant interaction between the past and the present, an ongoing dialogue which should teach us the virtue of humility, and that finally many of our contemporary issues are very old ones. Thus Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Sophists, Cicero, Quintilian, Aquinas, Luther, Erasmus, Montaigne, Castiglione, Bacon, Ascham, Lily, Locke, Loyola, Comenius, La Chalotais, Helvétius, Rousseau, Herbart, Kant, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Arnold, Kay-Shuttleworth, Dewey, Montessori and Piaget emerge in turn not as mere awe-inspiring names but seminal influences in the development of a process which can be considered one of mankind’s most prized legacies. In England alone the passing of the English Elementary Education Act of 1870 signalled major developments in education and social welfare in the next century, after several decades of voluntary effort and half-hearted State involvement. Chapter 20 of this book deals at length with this topic, showing that the battle is still ongoing.
Finally, over the last 3 decades interest in the field of history of education has shifted from individual key-figures, the history of institutions and schools of thought to new topics and considerations akin to the economic, technological, social and political changes currently shaping and redirecting our assumptions about the past and the way we relate to it. While this has positively opened up new vistas, sadly it has fostered a fragmented outlook and, above all, diffidence in recorded ‘Western’ educational endeavours. In addition, concentration on developments in the 19th and 20th centuries (educational policies, administration, approaches inspired by gender and social theory) has somewhat overshadowed those achievements which go back to Graeco-Roman times. Precisely the long-term perspective deliberately adopted in the book is an attempt at supplementing those emphases by propounding a continuous and coherent view of this unparalleled contribution. »

« As committed educators blessed with the benefit of hindsight, we have no other choice than to reject the cultural relativism and nihilisms of the more extreme postmodernists. Inspiration can be sought from the Frankfurt School which comprises sociologists, psychologists and philosophers like Erich Frömm and Jurgen Habermas. Appositely we can also return to Emile Durkheim and consider having a try at the tools he has left us. They are still applicable to the diachronic and/or synchronic study of our postcolonial societies, as Professor R. Lucas has brilliantly demonstrated.
Postmodernism logically leaves no room for education in the normal meaning of the word: education implies a planned, purposive rational process, but planning, purpose and rationality have no place in the visions of the more extreme positivists. Educators are likely to be more attracted to other visions of the future such as those of Habermas and Giddens. On this count we cannot but agree with the argument of Lawton and Gordon (2002), who, even so, see educators as having to plan for the future without knowing what it will be.(22) That is why certain principles of education and living in society are essential. Aristotle is reported to have said that no human being could live without other human beings: only a god or beast could live alone. We are thus driven back to considering education about society and for society as the first priority, actually more important than education for work.
Also, my extended review of ‘The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in History of Education’ (2005) in the November 2006 issue of Italiques included the following observation: “The Reader is pertinent to us in Mauritius for several reasons. Above all it is a healthy reminder that in a global and globalizing context we should not get bogged down in futile controversies over scholastic achievements, entrenched bureaucratic postures, and at worst ideological hangovers. There are two social institutions especially that challenge modern mass schooling in terms of their significance for an understanding of the history of education: the family and the church.”
Finally, while guarding ourselves against the naïve optimisms of the Enlightenment, we can be led to believe that 21st century education will be a fulfilment of some Enlightenment ideas about education, as refined by the 19th and 20th century experiences. »