There is hardly a higher class animal on the planet that doesn’t go through some type of education. From tiny cheetahs learning the art of the hunt to the human animal’s relentless pursuit of abstract knowledge, education forms the basis of any young creature’s success in future life. With so many of the world’s education systems in turmoil with the coronavirus pandemic, we thought it might be a good idea to look back at how we’ve reached this point in our education history.
Before we started tilling fields and turned from hunter-gatherers to stable agriculturalists, children learned mostly by themselves or by imitating adults. Games and exploration were the main learning tools, as they are in most of the animal kingdom. A guess can be ventured that adults, who most likely were busy with other things, did not take a very engaged approach to teaching their offspring, while some instruction on the correct use of tools was likely.
Antique society wants loyal subjects
While education in hunter-gatherer societies focused on the needs of the child or a small clan, education in antiquity developed into a tool for maintaining a particular social order. In the various empires, formal education was reserved for only the sons of the high-born. The education of poor children was left as the sole responsibility of their parents, some of the luckier ones may have been able to learn a trade from a local craftsman. In contrast, the children of rich families in Ancient Rome, for example, were extremely well educated. If the family could afford it, many would employ tutors to give instruction to their children.
It was also this era that saw what was perhaps the first formal school in history in Egypt’s Middle Kingdom.
The driving philosophy of education in this era was to uphold the rigid social structure of society. The children of rich families were taught to become the new generation of administrators and leaders, while the poor were expected to be happy with their lot in life.
The crossroads of Middle Ages
In Europe during the Middle Ages, social order was still very much the driver of education – paupers were seldom given any in-depth schooling, which was still reserved for the rich and powerful. However, the Christian ethos of charity started to change the view. Churches started providing education even to the working class. Of course, this consisted mostly of very basic reading and writing of religious texts.
While schools became more widespread, so did the inhumane treatment of children. In this era, physically mistreating children in schools was commonplace and widely held to be acceptable.
At the same time, higher education was taking off, with more universities being founded across Europe. Of course, they, too, were mostly focused on theology, while Roman and Grecian influences were felt with rhetoric and logic being among the subjects taught.
To the industrial world
The end of the Middle Ages started seeing the rise of a rich merchant class and a more egalitarian society. The newly-founded bourgeoisie was interested in having their children educated and rattling the walls of the centuries-old social order. What happened next in the history of education is the topic of our next blog post.
History of humanity is the history of education. From other species, ancient hunter-gatherers, and the Middle Ages, schooling has marched along a line of less-formal to formal schooling. In many ways, the children of hunter-gatherers, who focused on self-directed learning with little supervision, might have been much happier than the ones in the following centuries. How the formal education system took on global proportions is going to be the focus of our next blog post.