By the 16th century, the Renaissance was in full swing, the Protestant Reformation had already been around for over a generation and people had serious doubts about the intellectual and spiritual grip the Church had on society. Since the Church also controlled education people began to question these methods. As this wave of humanism swept Europe.
It was during this time of doubt and skepticism that Michel Montaigne (1533-1592) arrived on the scene. Montaigne was not so much an educator as he was a person who had a strong opinion of how education should be. He also knew how to write witty insightful essays on the subject of education along with other subjects of his interest. This post will take a brief look at his life and educational philosophy
Montaigne was born into a well to do family in France in 1533. He was natural brilliant and was able to speak Latin, in addition to his mother tongue of French by the age of six. Yes, Montaigne was brilliant but he also had a German tutor who did not know French and used Latin to communicate with the child.
By 13, Montaigne had finished college. He turned his attention to politics and was a member of parliament by the age of 20. Soon after, he became mayor of his 20. Despite what looked to be a brilliant political future Montaigne left politics after becoming Mayor to live a life of quietness. Since he was already well off he did not need to endure the rigors of financial gain and power to maintain his livelihood.
It was in this semi-retirement that Montaigne began writing his famous humanistic “Essays” on various subjects. In fact, Montaigne was one of the first people to popularize the idea of an essay, which is now standard practice in school today. Our attention will be on his views on education.
Views on Education
Montaigne views on education were almost a reaction against Church views on education. Montaigne believed in a wholistic education of the man and not to divide him into pieces. He also criticized the study of Latin and Greek because he supported the development of the mother tongue first. This debate over mother tongue use is a recurring theme in early language education.
Montaigne also criticized the study of the classics as it did not prepare students for practical life but rather bade them conceited. Another target of criticism was the teaching methods of the day, which were often lecture-style. Montaigne views this pouring knowledge into the mind and not useful for the student.
Montaigne supported a more interactional approach to teaching in which the students and teacher take turns talking and listening. THrough action came understanding in his opinion.
Finally, Montaigne was a critic of corporal punishment. He viewed almost as if one was training an animal rather than a person. Again most of these criticisms were of common practices in education at that time period and the education was mostly controlled by the church.
Montaigne was a theoretician on education but not much of a practitioner. His experience as a student led him to write strong reactionary criticisms against education. In spite of his lack of practical experience Montaigne’s thoughts are highly insightful and somewhat applicable to this day.