Aristotle with his mentor Plato by Raphael
As one of the preeminent philosophers of his era and as a man whose influence on subjects ranges from biology to zoology and everything in between has transcended time, Aristotle rightly sits as an intellectual giant among many pedagogues. Apart from being the first true scientist in existence, his mentor was none other than the famous Plato, another scholarly colossus, and held Alexander the Great as his pupils. Aristotle’s unparalleled contribution to learning across various fields is too wide to constrict into this short article and thus, for brevity, we focus on his pedagogy.
The cornerstone of his pedagogic ideas centred on balanced, holistic development: the body, mind, and soul all are nourished by play, physical training, music, debate, as well as the study of both philosophy and science. Learning, in his day, was dictated by experiencing life events and learning of these fundamental bodies of knowledge occurred at different phases of an individual’s life. The great educational philosophers of the post-Enlightenment and Modern eras – Fröbel, Pestalozzi, Montessori, Steiner – all emphasised play during the early aspect of an child’s life, in addition to segregating the study of science and philosophy according to the individual’s age.
Another key idea focused on educators and pedagogues, whom Aristotle insisted to go beyond merely ‘correct’ onto that which is ‘good’ or ‘right’ in their teaching. They must instil their thoughts and practices with a coherent life philosophy, in which ethics and politics play a deep role, in order to guide their students methodically. Additionally, ethics and morals play a key role in guiding educators towards creating a virtuous and happy character.
The third key idea focuses on education by reasoning and by habit; essentially, this is learning by doing – or experiential learning – and then repeating it until excellence is achieved. “Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it… We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate ones, brave by doing brave ones” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, p.91). Teaching the “cause of things” is given the same importance as experiencing them and then relating to the theories surrounding them.
Lastly, Aristotle was the first to distinguish between the various disciplines labelled as being theoretical, practical, or technical. A mix between the three is the best for a holistic education but recently education has continued to emphasise the thinking – or the theoretical – for too long.
Aristotle viewed learning and teaching not as expressions of feelings or interpersonal relationships but as a regimented investigation into some aspect of reality, some body of knowledge or discipline; without an object to investigate or study, schools are unable to develop an individual’s rationality. His ideas have become infused in education today but certain aspects seem to be left out, as educators today believe that catering to the mind is all that is required for a “decent education”; nonetheless, alternative forms of schooling inspired by the Germanic “social pedagogy” approach – influenced largely by Aristotle’s ideas – are fast becoming popular.
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.