We often quote Montaigne’s essay as one of the precursors of modern education.
If we have a closer look at how we handle the training of the young minds nowadays, this could not be further from the truth.
According to Montaigne, the goal of education is to birth skilled individuals, meaning, people capable of judging, rather than mere scholars. Inspired by the wisdom of many ancient Greek philosophers, Montaigne proposes core educational values such as the absence of dogma and independent thinking.
More than a theoretical essay, the humanist defines the role of a tutor. A teacher acts as a guide easing the learning process without ever resorting to violence, which, at the time, went against the common practices of medieval scholasticism.
I find it ironic that we take pride in self-proclaiming us the heirs of Montaigne’s teachings, when in fact our educational system tends to the very thing Montaigne despised:
But, amongst other things, the strict government of most of our high schools has always displeased me […] They are mere jails, where imprisoned youths are taught to be debauched, by being punished for it before they are so. Do but come in when they are about their lesson, and you shall hear nothing but the outcries of boys under execution, and the thundering of pedagogues, drunk with fury. A very pretty way this to tempt these tender and timorous souls to love their book!
Institutional education is a huge step forward. It is trendy to criticize the schooling system, but mass education is still an amazing thing. We grow by interacting with others. Campuses happen to gather thousands of students. It doesn’t mean we can’t do better. We have a lot of progress to make. We have to re-learn how to learn. We have to favor free thinking, introspection, and collaboration. Science, with awareness.
We still have many things to learn from Montaigne’s On Education.