Education in Ancient Athens

In many ways, Athens is the home of Western thinking. Countless philosophers were either from Athens or at least spent time there. In this post, we will take a look at education in Ancient Athens.

Background

Athens is located in Central Greece and during antiquity had a population of about 500,000 with about 80% of this population being slaves. This huge disparity between freemen and slaves makes it more amazing that a population of only 100,000 could contribute so much to history.

Generally, slaves and women were not educated. It was considered embarrassing for women to obtain an education. It was the father’s responsibility to educate his son for usefulness.  Failure to do so meant the father forfeited whatever support his son would give him in old age.

The government was shaped largely by Solon. As a democracy, Greece was revolutionary for its time. Solon also established other laws such as outlawing the selling of children and requiring fathers to train their children.

What they Taught

The Athenian education was focused on aesthetics. The idea of beauty influenced everything that was taught.  Subjects taught in Ancient Athens included reading, writing, rhetoric, math, philosophy, music, and poetry. Music and poetry often worked together as poems were set to music. Music was viewed positively as a hobby but professional musicians were looked down on as common laborers.

Physical education was also rigorously taught as beauty was so important. Subjects include swimming, wrestling, running, jumping. One field of study that was often neglected was moral training. The Greek gods were not the best role models.

In place of morals, Greek boys were taught to be patriotic, respect religious rights, and generally to always strive to maintain a good appearance in public.

The teaching methods involved primarily transmission approaches. The teacher would read or say something and the student wrote it down. This was how most subjects were taught.

How they Organized Education

There were essential four levels of education in Ancient Greece. From 0-6 years of age, a boy was under domestic training under his mother or a nanny. Nannys were for the rich.

From 7-14 years of age, the boy was placed under a guardian called a pedagogue and sent to school. There he studied with private teachers the basics of education.

From 14-18 there was a split, the rich continue their education while the poor would branch off and focus on learning a trade from their fathers. For the rich, they would study more complex subjects such as philosophy or higher match. At 18 years of age, a boy would enter military service.

Conclusion

The education found in Ancient Athens was unique in its focus on aesthetics. However, there was at times an indifference to substance and there was almost no interest in moral development. However, educational systems have their flaws and even Ancient Athens is without exception in this regard.

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