Education theorists today struggle over whether a single model of learning is appropriate for both sexes (see coeducation), or for students of all ethnic backgrounds; although equality of educational opportunity in the United States is an accepted principle, it is not always easy to practice. Throughout history theories of education have reflected the dominant psychologies of learning and systems of ethics.
An ancient idea, held by Socrates, is that the rightly trained mind would turn toward virtue. This idea has actually never been abandoned, although varying criteria of truth and authority have influenced both the content and the techniques of education. It was reflected in the classical curriculum of the Renaissance, the theorists of which included Erasmus, Sir Thomas More, and George Buchanan.
Since the 17th cent. the idea has grown that education should be directed at individual development for social living. John Comenius, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Johann Pestalozzi, Friedrich Froebel, Maria Montessori, and Horace Mann were outstanding figures in this development. In the 20th cent. John Dewey declared that young people should be taught to use the experimental method in meeting problems of the changing environment. Later in the century the psychologist B. F. Skinner developed a theory of learning, based on animal experimentation, that came to have a strong effect on modern theories of education, especially through the method of programmed instruction. More recent educational models based on the theories of Jean Piaget, Jerome Bonner, and Howard Gardner have gained wide support.