Education: Past and Present

It seems to me that education is a metonym for society. Schools are a small part of our life, our community, our world-as-we-know-it, and yet reflective of our entire culture. It is easier to see this concept in retrospect, of course, but the way we run our school systems today serves as a pretty accurate descriptor of the climate of our modern society. Education has changed because society has changed. Education has remained the same because people have always been (and always will be people).

The ancient Chinese culture was rigid in terms of government and class, and we see that same rigidity manifest within their educational practices, i.e. intense memorization and recitation drills and testing. Sparta is another perfect example of education as metonym for society. Sparta was, of course, intensely devoted to military matters (and the military state-of-mind) and that is exactly what we see in their schooling: drills, military tactics, physical priming of young bodies (Ornstein et al, 2008). These are just two examples, but we can see this metonymic relationship between education and society in every historical group.

This is heavily opinionated, but to me our current education system reflects the fear

American Fear

American Fear

(almost paranoia) of our society, as well as our All-American-Competitiveness. As a society, we are afraid of being weak, or perceived as weak; quite literally, we are afraid of being “left behind.” The reason we strive to get students to pass standardized tests is to prove our worth as a nation, because America is (historically and currently) rather bold, brash, and full-of-itself. This climate of fear and competitiveness, I believe, is what gives birth to the myriad of American educational acts, procedures, rules, requirements, etc. There’s so many that we literally have to take these courses to learn about them all!

Stepping down from my opinions, I find it inspiring and refreshing to look at what has stayed the same in education. The study of text, for one, has always been important. Although those texts have changed, the ability to read and comprehend and recreate has always been paramount in education. As an English teacher, I grin at this. Also, as much as we may like to rally against it, there has been and always will be a memorization element to education. Maybe not in every situation or subject, but effective memorization is a valuable tool—in both education and in life—and it’s important to remember that (pun) as educators. Last, but certainly not least, the world always needs teachers. Regardless of what role they play in the classroom, a student needs guidance, a leader, a role model, and a source of information. So when you’re having a rough day, bogged down in whatever legislation that is pissing you off, remember: you are needed! Doesn’t that feel good?



Ornstein, Allan, & Levine, Daniel, & Gutek, Gerald. (2008). Foundations of Education. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Color-Coded Terror Warnings Red-Lighted. (2011). [image of homeland security alert system, 2002]. Retrieved from

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One Response to “Education: Past and Present”

  1. alongerb says:

    I agree with you completely that education is a metonym for society. In modern-day society, with the next presidential election approaching, school systems reflect the intense political climate. NCLB reflected society’s needs to step up our educational system, and now educational funding is being used as a bargaining tool for politicians in the upcoming election.