Education in a Burkian Society

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  • Topic: Middle class, Social class, Sociology
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  • Published : November 8, 2006
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Education in a "Burkian" Society
The Enlightenment period was host to a variety of reforms spanning social structures and government infrastructures. There is no better example of these reforms than the French Revolution which Edmund Burke saw unfold and led him to write Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke was strongly against these reforms and argued for tradition and rigid social structure. Had Burke written an education plan, like Rousseau's Emile, the pupil would be well prepared to function in a society and contribute to the greater good having learned his duty from his forefathers.

In a world dominated by a "Burkian" education, people would be "inheriting privileges, franchises, and liberties from a long line of ancestors" (203). As such, the education of a child can be divided into two main categories (with slight variance for members of the middle, and upper middle class): leaders, or the aristocracy, and followers, members of the working class. Despite following two different forms of education, the child's first year remains the same in either. Burke agrees with Rousseau in the fact that "we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man's estate is the gift of education" (141). In the case of both categories, the child must be cared for and allowed to reach an age at which he can begin to learn. Once the child has reached this stage and has passed from "one to the other" (146), his education can begin.

Stage Two, between the ages of two and twelve years, also varies little between the two divisions. Both impress upon the child that "people will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors" (203). It is important to look at your ancestors as guides. They say that history is the best teacher and it is wise to learn from it. Burke could not agree more. He believes knowledge from one's ancestors should be used to the utmost advantage. The knowledge of a society rests upon its history. Citizens are called to act upon this knowledge and continue the passage of information down blood lines. Fathers and mothers are the most important teachers in both divisions and educate their children on their ways of life.
Parents are a child's first tie to the knowledge of their ancestors. Working class children are often oriented with the trade of their parents. Particularly during stage two, these children should see their parents working in such things as "the occupation of a hairdresser or of a working candlemaker" (207). The natural curiosity of a child should guide his burgeoning knowledge of the skills he will acquire in Stage Three upon reaching age 12. No matter the occupation, the child should be allowed every opportunity to witness the parents' duty to society.

Religion should be introduced to the working class child at a very early age. He should be familiarized with organized religion and a firm believer in such before reaching Stage Three. It is not until Stage Three that aristocratic children are introduced to religion, however. Children of workers need to believe in a supreme power and cling to it. "Man is by his constitution a religious animal," (215) and needs to be given the opportunity to attend worship services and practice his religion. The practice of attending services and praying should be learned from the child's parents. Religion imparts upon the child civil order. Another benefit is that the child sees the community acting as a whole and believing in one entity. Those who learn that religion is beneficial and see their place in the community tend to follow their lot in life instead of rebelling against the common social order and trying to institute reforms. Religion is another way to teach children that lineage is important and the basis of societies functioning.

Children of the aristocracy are not immune to the demands of learning their duty from their parents. These children should be educated in manners...
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