Few people hold such power over the course of generations than educators. They are the ones who shape developing minds, providing them with the structure they need to frame and answer the questions that matter. These are seven of the most influential teachers of all time, based on their impact on both the profession and the societies that followed them.
The second President of the United States, John Adams began his revolutionary career teaching in Massachusetts. His time as an educator was brief, and he departed only a year later to go into law.
From there, he would be an active voice in the debate for independence and the drafting of the Constitution. He served as George Washington’s vice-president before assuming the presidency in 1796.
Anne Sullivan, at the age of five, became blind due to a disease, in an era where the disabled were rarely given a formal education. Sent to the Perkins School for the Blind, she discovered her passion for teaching and underwent surgery that partially restored her vision.
Today, she is best known for her work with Helen Keller, a deaf and blind little girl who had never communicated with anyone prior to Sullivan’s arrival. Sullivan proved that the deaf and blind could be taught, opening the door for thousands more like Helen Keller as a result.
Isaac Newton is remembered for his revolutionary work in physics, which explains how objects move and is still used in Earth-like situations. He was also a master of optics, discerning that light is made up of many colors, and astronomy. During his career, Newton explained his ideas as a professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge.
According to legend, Gautama Buddha was an Indian prince living in the fifth or sixth century BCE. He was raised in luxury without knowledge of suffering, but as a young man journeyed out into the world seeking spiritual enlightenment.
Through heavy meditation, he became awakened and spent the next 50 years traveling and spreading a message that has lasted millenniums.
Whether or not an individual recognizes him as the son of God, there is no denying Jesus Christ’s effect on history. Wars were started and lands conquered in his name, and missionaries traveled the entire globe, bringing both the Bible and modern scientific knowledge with them.
He preached peace and forgiveness in an era not particularly known for them, and his influence continues to shape society and policy to this day.
Confucius laid down the foundations of Chinese culture around the same period as Buddha’s enlightenment. Although interrupted by the Legalist movement early on and the Communist doctrine more recently, Confucianism is still an integral part of the daily lives of billions.
It advocates strong family ties and veneration of ancestors, as well as a culture of respect and mutual aid in both personal life and government.
Finally, it is hard to understate the importance of Socrates, despite the complete absence of any written works. The first great philosopher, he pioneered the concept of using dialogue to work through the thorny problems of why and how.
He spent his time debating with students to draw insights into ethics, logic, and natural sciences. He was condemned for corrupting youth with his ideas and is said to have committed suicide to avoid execution. His work lives on through the writings of his most famous pupil, Plato.
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