Education – some notes on etymology

What does the word education mean? Where does it come from?

I came across the word educe the other day, which means ‘to lead out’ – from the Latin ducere – ‘to lead’. Exchange the prefix ‘e’ for ‘de’ and you have the more familiar word deduce – ‘to lead down’ or arrive at.

Normand Baillargeon – in A Short Course in Intellectual Self-Defense (2007) says the following:

“Partisans of a liberal conception of education have claimed that the word ‘education’ comes from ‘educere,’ etymology that invites a conception of education as an act of leading (induco) out of (ex) ignorance – which conforms to the liberal notion of education. On the other side are those who favor a notion of education understood as nourishing and, more broadly, furnishing the conditions necessary for a person’s development. They invoke a second etymological hypothesis, according to which ‘education’ comes from ‘educare,’ which means ‘nourish’ or ‘raise.’ And still others maintain that education is an indeterminate concept and support their thesis with the very uncertainty of the etymology. You see that etymology, as illuminating as it sometimes is, cannot, in any instance, resolve problems of conceptual definition on its own.” (p48)

Now, I got an A in my Latin GCSE in 1995, and I think that definitely qualifies me to say that it’s the ‘duc’ part of either infinitive that is the important bit; it signifies a ‘drawing out’. Ductility is a particular kind of plasticity; the ability of a substance or object to undergo change of form without breaking. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about ductility:

Ductility is especially important in metalworking, as materials that crack, break or shatter under stress cannot be manipulated using metal forming processes, such as hammering, rolling, and drawing.

I like to think of education like this; a process that requires a kind of flexible resilience on the part of the student and the teacher. You are always in flux, and you must never let it break you. Something to bear in mind in the face of looming assignment deadlines 😉

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