Vanguard Spotlight Book of the Month: July/August 2015

Monthly Reads from ASU-Beebe Students, Faculty and Staff.

Faculty/Staff/Student Favorites

Each month Abington Library will feature a favorite book from a faculty, staff member, or student. They will give a brief synopsis of their chosen book. All books featured are available for check-out at the library. 

Featured ASU-Beebe Faculty Member: Jimmy Brooks


About Jimmy

Jimmy Brooks, P.h.D. is adjunct instructor in the history department at ASU-Beebe.

About the Book

The Puritan Revolution and Education Thought by Richard L. Greaves

It may be a misnomer to call this book my favorite, as I had never read it prior to selecting it for this project.  However, it is an early work of a world-renowned scholar in Tudor and Stuart England, a man I knew at the end of his highly-decorated 40-year career, and the book provides a scholarly overview of changes from four centuries ago that affect the academic world today.

The Puritan Revolution and Educational Thought, written by Richard L. Greaves in 1969, weaves together influential movements in a story that benefits all who today seek a formal education at any level.  Addressing the changing landscape of the English university in the mid-17th century, Greaves surveys major voices in the evolution of the formal educational curricula, describing changes from the scholasticism of the medieval world to a system of education that extended beyond the church, lessened the emphasis on logic, and embraced the emerging field of natural history and particularly the Copernican theory.

Education had long been under the purview of the church.  In 17th-centrury England, an anti-papist would have called it the demagogue of popery, and English separatist would have argued that it was the training ground for fighting the battles of religious conversion, political freedom, and intellectual enlightenment.  In 17th-century England, the church’s control of education and the system of education itself were both changing. 

In his survey, Greaves looks particularly at the question of how education worked and benefitted those within English society.  His writing assumes validity of the nonconformist movements in 17th-century England, though not everyone held education in the same esteem:  English Puritans saw education as necessary for its ministerial functions within the church.  Sectarians, however, compared an unregulated University to a “cage of unclean birds.”  These terms may not be familiar to everyone, and the reader would do well to be acquainted with the political and religious circumstances of the century to truly appreciate the details Greaves provides.   

Sir Francis Bacon figures prominently in the changing role of education, and his interest in education as a tool to improve society provides an early glimpse of what would later become a key of the Enlightenment.  Puritans pressed for continued religious instruction, but others did not.  Puritans and sectarians both advocated for a transition to a system that was relevant rather than one that required mastery of classical knowledge, and all understood the emerging natural sciences as key to “relevance” in the 17th century.

Greaves includes in his survey a review of education and the poor, who stood the most to gain if the trajectory of education were the betterment of society.  It was argued—and eventually accomplished—that education should be extended to all children, for whether the goal be political, social, or religious reform, a formally-structured educational process that begins with children can lead to permanent change in society. 

Additionally, Greaves reviews how the curricula of universities began to expand.  He provides overviews of the developing fields of mathematics, astronomy, optics, chemistry, and the biological sciences, among others, and he also considers how linguistic studies and the humanities were integrated into these changes.

Near the end of his work, Greaves addresses a worldview issue at the heart of educational reform:  How does one come to know what he knows, and where do reason and faith converge or diverge in this quest?  Of course, this was not a new question; Thomas Aquinas and many others had systematically sought to sort out this issue.  Immediate questions for the 17th-century context though included the following:  Does the Holy Spirit deliver knowledge, and if so, how?  Is God the God of all truth?  Is there a difference between spiritual and human knowledge?  Is practical experience a teacher of knowledge, and is such knowledge supreme to other learning?

The book does not try to answer these questions or even argue for one side or against another in the transformation of education in 17th-century England.  Rather, it seeks to show the major responses of Puritans and separatists to the new purposes for and authority structure in formal education. 

One may question the relevance of such a text to today, but Greaves’s epilogue shows how we all stand in the heritage of conversations nearly four centuries old.  Greaves writes, “The sectarian reformers of Puritan England sought a society in which men were motivated by the Spirit in religion (as did the Puritans), educated in subjects with utilitarian value (as did the liberal Puritans), and free from reliance on a professional caste (as the Puritans generally did not)….What the sectaries wanted was not professionalism but lay intellectualism” (p. 137).

Today, all who are engaged in the intellectual quest share in the legacy of this goal, for a key assumption of our educational system is that everyone can and should be formally educated to some degree.  Thanks to the events Greaves surveys, and to many others, we all share in the participation of a universally-enlightened society that existed as merely a dream in 17th-century England.




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