The History of Education

This course surveys three millennia of educational thought, focusing on the big picture aims and curricular-pedagogical frameworks in Western education. We’ll start with the emergence of curricular education in antiquity, follow the development of classicism through the 19th century, and then examine burgeoning progressive movements. Montessori will be considered as a third historical alternative to these two schools.

Price $90 – $180
Duration12 Weeks

Program Overview

This course is a partnership between Montessorium and The Prepared Montessorian Institute. Montessorium is a Montessorian school of educational thought, one grounded in philosophy, history, and the humanities. We will see how the current status quo emerged from conflicting ideas & understand Montessori’s special role on the 2,500 year timeline of education.

Instructor: Dr. Matt Bateman, Theory Instructor at The Prepared Montessorian Institute and Executive Director of Montessorium

Location: Online on Zoom Video Platform. You will need a Zoom account to join the course. Sign up for a Zoom account at: https://zoom.us/freesignup/

Schedule: [Keep an eye out for announcements of future cohorts of this course! To be notified when we launch our next cohort, subscribe to our newsletter.]

Course Syllabus: Download the PDF Here


This course explores the broad brushstrokes history of education in the West, from Antiquity through the present. Special attention will be given to the underlying philosophies of education and to their programmatic substance, their curriculum and teaching methods.

The aim of this study of the past is to illuminate the present. Education today is a motley brew. Early childhood, K12, and higher education all instance multiple aims with multiple methods, many of which conflict and or are ineffective, and which conflicts and problems coexist without any sort of emerging framework to help make sense of them.

How did we get to this point, and what trends and patterns from history might help us make sense of this?

Special focus in the course is given to:

  • The emergence of education in antiquity
  • The cementing of (and variations within) what is now called classical tradition
  • The gradual rise of progressive critiques and approaches in the modern period
  • The Montessori approach in historical context

We will be looking at education across all ages, from birth through higher education, though different emphases will be given in different time periods in accordance with historical data and the interests of the educators and theorists living through those times.


We’ll meet every week through the fall semester, excepting Thanksgiving. Classes will be held Tuesday nights at 8pm eastern time.

The classes will be lectures and will meet online via Zoom. Class is 90 minutes, though we may not always use the entire time.

The readings for each class will be sent the week prior. The course will be relatively didactic, but will have ample opportunity for discussion and questions for live participants.


Week 1: The Birth of Education in Antiquity

Themes: What is education? Education as practice first, theory second. Why did education emerge? Skepticism about education. The domains of education. Texts and methods at the dawn of education.

Week 2: Sparta, as Inspiration and Foil

Themes: Totalitarian, public education. Systematic education. Educating for public virtue. The “whole-child” pedagogy of the spartan system. Endorsement and critique.

Week 3: Plato’s Intellectualization of Education

Themes: Virtue as fundamentally intellectual; education as fundamentally intellectual. Ethics and epistemology as inputs to education. Education and social reform. Math, logic, dialectic, and virtue. Elitism in education, in Plato and prior.

Week 4: The Path to the Liberal Arts

Themes: From Plato to Martianus Capella. The seven liberal arts: the trivium and the quadrivium. Academic learning for the first millennium AD. From De nuptiis to Aristotelian scholasticism.

Week 5: Pansophism and Pictures

The Renaissance reaches education: learning from experience, rejecting authority. Comenius’s vision for education reform. The Orbis Pictis as a textbook. Classicism in the Enlightenment.

Week 6: Enlightenment Philosophy of Education

From moderate independence of thought to increasingly radical freedom of thought, choice, and interest. Locke’s moderate program. Rousseau’s radical program. The lack of implementation of either.

Week 7: Education in 19th c. America

The status quo. Webster’s speller. Classicism… still! Generalism vs. specialization in education in America. Emersonianism. From a society without systematic education to progressivism about institutions.

Week 8: The Birth of Social Science

Education finds scientific footing? Early psychology, sociology, developmental medicine and science, learning disorders, and more. Early attempts at engineering a pedagogy scientifically.

Week 9: Progressive Education

Wilson, Tocqueville, and progressive technocracy. The rejection of classical education. American Pragmatism meets Enlightenment natural philosophy. The relative lack of programmatic substance in progressive educational institutions.

Week 10: Montessori in Context

A “progressive” approach—rejected by progressives. A detailed programmatic plan, to a fault. Education reform reaches early childhood. Education reform and the dark realities of the first half of the 20th century.

Week 11: 20th c. Threads

Contemporary learning science. The ossification of K12. Progressive and classical educators try to meet the moment. Higher education, standardization, credentialing, advanced/specialized degrees. Science education comes into its own.

Week 12: Wrapping Up

Was “the factory model” ever a thing? Is the way forward in education paved by research? How do we make sense of modern policy and pedagogical debates and issues, like school choice and STEM education, in light of history? Are there any emerging consensuses in the field of education, and if so, what is driving them? A discussion of these and other issues that have emerged in the class.


There is no coursework. It is highly recommended that you complete the readings before each class, as they will be assumed as context.


Matt Bateman is our Montessori Theory Trainer and Educational Historian. Matt earned his BA from Sarah Lawrence College. While there, he worked in their Child Development Center researching the nature of early personality development in children. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied the history of thought in philosophy and psychology. Matt brings to Prepared Montessorian his expertise in intellectual history and experience in teaching in higher education. He serves as a Montessori theory trainer for all levels and works with other trainers and trainers-in-training in keeping the organization’s depth of theoretical understanding fresh, consistent, and sharp. He is constantly pushing himself and others to better understand the pedagogy of teacher training.

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