IN the history of education the seventeenth century is a period of much interest and importance. It is a time of earnest thought, of noble expression, and of zealous and faithful effort; yet throughout the century educational progress is at best sporadic. For education, it is a century of preparation. That the reformers of the period were thus pioneers whose endeavor bore, for the most part, little immediate fruit, was an almost inevitable consequence of the circumstances of their day.

Theirs was an age of reorganization in religion, in political life, and in philosophy and science. The Thirty Years’ War and the Civil War in England were conflicts in which the basis of modern religious toleration was laid in suffering and desolation. In America the Colonies were begun. In England the continued struggle with the House of Stuart resulted in the assurance of political liberty, to be secured at length by an evolution without the price of blood which the Continent, and especially France, had later on to pay. On the Continent itself, despotisms, big and little, were strengthened, often to the direct detriment of education. Meanwhile modern science had its birth in the work of many a courageous intellectual adventurer, from Kepler and Galileo, astronomers, to Harvey, physiologist.

Francis Bacon was herald and journalist of that revolt against scholasticism which attacked mediæval error and superstition by the new method of observation, experiment, and inductive reasoning. With the writings of Descartes and his contemporaries began modern philosophy. In a century of such spiritual and material disturbance, what wonder that there should have been much inspiration to educational effort, with but little fixed accomplishment?

A new world of knowledge had already been partly explored; but the schoolmasters had not entered it, and it was only years afterward that science became even meagerly available for school purposes. A new method had also been discovered, a method not more important in the search for truth than in the attainment of intellectual freedom; but the schoolmasters did not know it, or thought less of intellectual freedom than of more obvious results in linguistic proficiency. A new need for universal education had begun to be foreseen; but to the schoolmasters of the seventeenth century democracy was not even a Utopian promise. Schools remained, therefore, narrow in curriculum and authoritative in method, and education the opportunity of the privileged. Writers on practical school keeping, such as John Brimsley and Charles Hoole, were more concerned over improvements in the teaching of the classics than over fundamental changes in programs of study, in the spirit of instruction and discipline, or in the extension of educational opportunity.

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