Forces in Education

Forces in Education

A Chapter by Debbie Barry

An essay on the history of modern education. Written for HIS 324: History of American Education.


Forces in Education



The medieval tradition in education was based largely on religion, in the form of the Catholic Church, and was not available to most people in the early part of the period.  As Robert Guisepi (n.d.) reports in his History of Education, "[i]n the early Middle Ages the elaborate Roman school system had disappeared. Mankind in 5th-century Europe might well have reverted almost to the level of primitive education had it not been for the medieval church, which preserved what little Western learning had survived the collapse of the Roman Empire" (para. 22).  This religious orientation in education impacted early American education, which relied heavily on the Bible and religious teaching, as illustrated by Pulliam and VanPatten (2007) in our text: "[a]t the dawn of the eighteenth century ... [l]earning ... is considered a serious matter and a duty for every child.  Today the opening exercise is a lecture on the behavior God expects from good children and the consequences of failure to meet those expectations" (p. 7).

The greatest impact of the European Renaissance on education was the invention in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg of the printing press.  As reported in our text by Pulliam and VanPatten (2007), "the most salient invention [of the past 1,000 years] in terms of its impact on human life and culture originated as educational technology" (p. 2).  The Renaissance is known as the "rebirth of learning" (Pulliam and VanPatten, 2007, p. 21).  It spanned about three centuries, and turned the emphasis of education away from religion and toward human concerns, "art, literature, and the government" (Pulliam and VanPatten, 2007, p. 21).  According to Steven Kreis (2000), "Renaissance culture adapted itself to conditions unknown in Italy, such as the growth of the monarchical state and the strength of lay piety ... Intensely Christian and at the same time anticlerical (shades of what was to come!), the people ... found in Renaissance culture the tools for sharpening their wits against the clergy -- not to undermine faith, but restore its ancient apostolic purity" (para. 1).  This rise in secular education was enabled by the growing "availability of books at a low cost" (Pulliam and VanPatten, 2007, p. 21) that was made possible by Gutenberg's printing press.  Along with the ready availability of the written word and the associated rapid dissemination of information, the effect of the European Renaissance on modern education may be seen in the secularization of public education.

Scientific thinking in the 16th to 18th Centuries grew out of the "classical humanism of the Renaissance period ... [as] commercial interests and cultural diversity gave rise to the growth of scientific facts and methods" (Pulliam and VanPatten, 2007, p. 21).  These centuries exploded with the discoveries of men whose names are household words in modern America: daVinci, Bacon, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Boyle, Newton, Descartes, among others.  Although the scientific methods that were developed during this period were not embraced in American education until the period was ending in the 18th Century, the impact of the period of scientific thought may be seen in almost every modern American classroom.  The scientific method is a common feature in our public schools today, and is taught from kindergarten through high school and college.

The Protestant Reformation gave rise to "universal education for all children, regardless of wealth ... [and] Protestants also provided secondary education of higher quality for the elite destined to enter positions in the government or the Church" (Pulliam and VanPatten, 2007, p. 22).  The impact of this educational movement is felt today as universal public education for all children, and is echoed in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which provides equal education for all American children.  Separatism, which came out of the religious reformation period, also impacts modern education in our policy of the separation of church and state, and in the subsequent removal of religion from most public classrooms.  Separatism "denied the establishment of religion and held that each man must be free to worship as he thought fit" (Pulliam and VanPatten, 2007, p. 23).



Guisepi, R. (n.d.).  The history of education.  Retrieved January 5, 2010, from http://history-

Kreis, S. (2000).  The printing press.  Lectures on modern European intellectual history.    Retrieved January 5, 2010, from

Pulliam. J.D. and VanPatten, J.J. (2007).  History of education in America.  Upper Saddle   River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

© 2017 Debbie Barry

Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Initial reactions and constructive criticism appreciated.

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Added on November 10, 2017
Last Updated on November 10, 2017
Tags: essay, education, history

A Journey through My College Papers


Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI

I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..