Trends of Continuity and Development in French Educational Thought of the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries

Graul, Anna
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Educational theory in France underwent a dual process of development and continuity in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. The social and political environments provided much of the impetus for the development and formation of educational thought, and thus socio-political thought and conditions are reflected in the writings of educational theorists during this period. Montaigne reflected the humanist tradition in France, that sought as its goal the development of full human potential, and diversity of talents which characterize society, and bring it to the level of the individual. The educational system of the sixteenth century was viewed by Montaigne, as it had also been by Rabelais, as obstructing the initiative of the individual through the establishment of a rigid and uniform curriculum centered around study of the Classics. Such an educational system produced students who could recite what had been memorized by rote, but would soon forget the meaning. It would not inculcate sufficiently the ability to reason and understand that makes the individual well-adjusted, confident, and able to relate effectively with other people. Montaigne emphasized the importance of self-knowledge as the basis for all other knowledge, whether technical or intellectual. Because of the turmoil, social disorder, and dislocation caused by the Wars of Religion, Montaigne sought a broader and surer foundation or basis for the educational system than the traditional clerical control of education. Related to this was Montaigne's belief that knowledge must transcent the dovers of a book, in which learning is of necessity gained through second-hand sources. In some way, the educational system served to develop the uniqueness and potential of the individual as a member of society.
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