Category Archives: curriculum history

Christian Education in Antiquity

The dawn of the Christian era brought deep change to Europe and the Roman Empire specifically. This post will provide an overview of Christian education from antiquity.

Early Efforts

Initially, it was difficult for Christians to have schools in the traditional sense. This is because the frequent persecution made it difficult for Christians to settle in one place for long periods of time. For about the first 200 years, Christian education was focused on teaching adult new believers the basic principles of Christianity. These schools were called Catechumen schools. With time these schools would also be opened to children.

The next innovation in Christian education was the Common Schools of the second century. These schools were founded by Protogenes. The curriculum focused primarily on learning to read and to write. Advanced education was not yet a concern.

At about the same time as the founding of the common schools was also the development of catechetical schools. The first of these schools was found in 181 AD by Panteaus in Alexandria, Egypt. Catechetical loosely translated means “question and answer” which is a reference to the teaching style of the school.

The Catechetical schools are famous in part because of their alumni. Both Clement (150-215 AD) and his student Origen(184-253 AD) studied at the Alexandrian school. Clement was a former student of the founder Panteaus.  Origen became a teacher at the school while a teenager, which was an amazing feat. Origen taught at the height of the school and the decline began after his death.

Towards the Middle Ages

By 529ADm the Byzantine Emperor Justinian had outlawed the pagan schools within the empire. For a long time, the Christians and the pagan schools and competed for students and influence. Eventually, Christianity saw the pagan schools as a threat to believers and use their resources to suppress them. As Christianity became the state religion, pagan schools declined and Christianity took over as one of the main bodies for providing education.

By the Middle Ages, some of the educational duties of Christianity had been given to the monasteries. The church had tremendous power and the monks owned as much as 1/3 of Europe. The education consisted primarily of the seven liberal arts divided into the trivium (three) and quadrivium (four).

Towards the end of the Middle Ages,  there began to be resistance to the monastic education in the form of a philosophy called scholasticism. Scholasticism supported the use of reason to learn while monasticism focused on the authority of the church. While monasticism avoided most classical literature as pagan scholasticism embraced and tried to harmonized classical ideas with Christianity. The split that began with scholasticism would have an influence on the church for several centuries as people continue to argue over the role of faith in education.


Christianity started as a persecuted religion to moving to become a state religion. This change in status also brought about a change in how education was viewed and conducted.

Indian and Persian Approaches to Education

India and Persia are two fo the oldest civilizations known to man. Both of these civilizations have had a strong influence on many in the world today. This post takes a brief look at the system of education that each of these civilizations employed during their time.


In India, parents raised their children to be absolutely obedient. Children were also expected to demonstrate politeness, patience, and modesty. These were the traits that parents focused on when raising children.

India has had a rather stringent caste. There are four basic castes and they are the

  1. Brahmans-Priest and teachers
  2. Kshatriyas-Warriors
  3. Vaishya-Merchants and farmers
  4. Sudras-Peasant and laborers

You can see from the above list that it was the Brahmans who provided education to the other classes. This was done through a system that emphasized memorization. The students would memorize what the teacher said in a sing-song call and response style. Students simply did what they were told and never thought to ask why they were learning this way.

Only Brahmans received higher education. However, for those who went into teaching, there was no real preparation. As such, everyone taught in whatever manner they saw fight as there was no real philosophy of education.


The Persian system of education is relatively different from India’s. Early obedience of the children was not as important to Persians as it was to Indians. For example, children were not taught right from wrong in Persian culture until about 5 years of age. Also, children were not spanked until about 7 years old.

Persia also had a more militaristic outlook given that it was several times a world empire. As such, children were seen as belonging to the state. Therefore, at the age of 7, it was the state who educated the child and not the parents or some form of private tutoring. The government educational system was divided into three levels and was primarily a military training, which means it was focused on boys rather than on girls.

The first stage of education lasted form 7-15 years of age. This stage focused on physical training for war and memorizing proverbs. Memorization is a major characteristic of education in the past. This is looked down upon now but living in an age without books, paper, and or computer, memory was much more important in the past than today.

Stage two continued from 15 to the age of 25. This stage involved even more military training. Academics were never that important for the typical Persian. AS such, heavy emphasis on the physical aspects of military preparation was most important.

The final stage of education technically doesn’t end and went from 25 to the age of 50 when a soldier retired from the military. This implies that there was always some form of trying and educating happening within the military. The best soldiers would retire and then become teachers of the same system in which they had gone through.


Indian and Persian education had different goals. India’s education was focused on memorization and caste structure while Persia’s system was geared towards the maintenance and expansion of the state. These differing goals are reflected in how each nation educated their children

China’s Education in the Past

The Chinese system of education has a rich and unique past. This post will discuss briefly some of the traits of this ancient system that has had a strong influence on many educational systems in Asia.


Chinese education in the past and perhaps still so in the present relies heavily on memorization. This is seen in the development of the written language. The written language of Chinese does not have an alphabet as we think of an alphabet in the English language. Rather, there are over 50,000 different characters that need to be memorized to read. This is a massive undertaking in which it is common for many if not most people to never know all the characters. The only tool for learning to read is to attempt to memorize enough of the commonly used characters, which would be mind-blowing to English speakers.

The heavy emphasis in memorization allowed for the preservation of manners and customs. The criticism of this, at least to some, was that innovation was often excluded. However, this was not always the case as the Chinese invented numerous things such as paper and gun powder. Critics will concede that the Chinese invented many things but that they often did not exploit some of these innovations. For example, gunpowder was ignored for several centuries before being used for fireworks and finally as a weapon. Imagine if it took the United States several centuries to figure out the uses for the Atom Bomb.

Teaching and Examinations

Students were taught by a teacher who was located at a temple or his home. Education was divided into three stages. Stage one focused on reading, writing, and arithmetic. At this stage, the student would copy what the teacher said or wrote. There was little focus on the expression of the individual.

Stage two involved the translation of textbooks and lessons in composition. Here students learned to express themselves somewhat. In stage three, students learned how to write essays and this was perhaps the time in which they learned to share their thoughts in writing. For a long time in its history. China did not have high schools as we define them in the West.

China is famous for its complex system of examinations. Passing the exams was considered the equivalent of earning a degree at a university during modern times. There were three levels of exams with an optional fourth level. The first exam, if a person passed, was called “Budding Intellect.” This was not an easy exam because the pass rate was 1%.

The next two levels of exams were given every three years. Level 2 was called “Deserving of Promotion” and people who passed this could reach higher levels in the government bureaucracy. Level three was called “Fit for Office” and allowed those who passed even better government positions.

The final level was reserved for government officials of the highest positions and was called “Forest of Pencils.” To even take this exam a person had to be a member of the royal academy. Passes this examination was highly prestigious and perhaps almost impossible.

The examination system of China wasn’t abolished until the early 20th century. This long time of  services indicates the staying power of this style of assessment. Success in these exams commanded an impressive amount of memorizing that few can obtain. Naturally, when individuals have success in the current system they are not motivated to change it. This may explain why this system refused to change for so long because so many had had success with it.


The Chinese model of education is one in which memorizing and obedience were highly valued. Whether this was right or wrong is s second manner. What is clear is that this system of education served the country for centuries despite whatever flaws this approach may have.

Titles & Degrees of Early Universities

When universities began to sprout during the Middle Ages any things were not standardized. An example of something that was not standardized was the titles and degrees associated with the completion of one’s studies and working at a university.

As early as the 4th century AD there were people who were claiming academic titles they had not earned. As such schools began to examine the process of what constitutes a degree and how to earn one.

Degree System

The universities loosely copied the guild system used by artisans. In the guild system, it is made up of three levels the apprentice, journeyman, and master. This is what the three tiers of education in universities may be inspired by (Bachelors, Masters, PhD). Bachelor students were called apprentices, masters were called assistants, and PhD were called companions. The word bachelor comes from baccalarius and is loosely translated as an assistant.

The first distinction was made between the bachelor’s degree and the masters and PhD. After this separation, a distinction was made between the master’s degree and PhD. Another degree common during this period and still today in some parts of the world was the licentiate. In some situations, the licentiate was the same as a Master’s degree while in others it was a step above a master’s degree.

Degree Completion

Bachelor’s degrees students often completed their studies in their late teens. This was because for several centuries students started university studies at 12-13 years of age. Eventually, the content of this bachelor was placed at the high school level as educators thought that preteens were too young for higher education.

To complete their degree, a bachelor’s degree student had to study for several years and pass an examination before four professors. If they desired to continue on to the master’s degree, they had to agree to teach for two years while working on the master’s degree. This helped to provide them with practical experience in the art of teaching.

To complete a master’s, a student went through a similar yet more rigorous process to complete the degree. If they desired a doctorate they would teach for several more years while studying. In all, masters could be completed by mid-twenties and a doctorate by early to mid-thirties.


Upon the completion of studies, there was also confusion over titles. At first, professors, magister, and doctor were all synonyms and these titles were used for people with and without a doctoral degree. Certain disciplines gravitated more towards one title or the other. For example, it was more common to call theology professors doctors compared to the arts.

With time things become more formalized. Now there is a strong distinction between bachelor, master, and doctoral degree. In addition, there is also a clear hierarchy in terms of the titles for professors based on seniority and the highest degree completed. It would be considered strange to call someone with a bachelor’s degree “doctor” in the world today.


Whenever people come together to try and do something there is always some initial confusion. Rules and policies need to be established and people need to determine what is their function within this system. This can also be seen in the growth of the university system of education which has had its own growing pains as well.

Early Childhood Education in Ancient Rome

The Roman Empire was like any other empire in that it was made up of families. These families raised their children so that the children would, in turn, one day serve or rule. Therefore, it is reasonable to make the conclusion that there was some style or way in which the Romans raised their children. This post will provide a brief look at how Rich and poor Romans went about approaching the challenge of early childhood education.

At birth, a child was swaddled for about two months. This was done to ensure strong limbs and prevent the child from poking at their eyes. During the first seven years of life rich parents had little contact with their child. This was because the infant mortality rate was so high. By avoiding the development of a relationship with the child rich parents avoided a large amount of the grief associated with a premature death of their child. Among the poor, this was not an option and they raised their children from the beginning.

The rich employed slaves nutrix and paedagog to look after their children. The nutrix was a wet nurse. She raised the child until about the age of seven. There were actually qualifications for this job. The nutrix had to have perfect Greek/Latin pronunciation because everyone knew that the child would imitate her speech. A child needed to sound like a Roman and not as a slave. This was important because there is a story of how Hadrian, before he became emperor, read a letter out loud to the senate. The problem is that Hadrian was from Spain and like the proper pronunciation of a Roman Senator. He was, therefore, ridiculed because of his pronunciation.

If a child survived to seven they would begin formal education. This is when the work of the nutrix decreased and the paedaog took over. His job was to be a bodyguard/servant of the child. The paedaog went everywhere with the child. Accompanying them to school,  to the bathhouse, and to play with friends. One of their primary jobs was to protect the child from pedophiles.

Besides, the parents would become much more involved in the child’s life as the threat of death was normally much more reduced by this age. The purpose of education was to become an exemplary Roman citizen involved. A parent’s job was to provide an example of what that meant. Girls were taught to aspire towards marriages, having children and managing a home. Fathers had absolute authority over their children and could even lawfully put them to death.

Another key aspect of the early childhood experiences would have been practical matters such as the birth of a sibling or experiencing the entertainment of Roman. Gladiator fights, chariot races, and triumphs would have been experiences that all children would have had. Triumphs, in particular, could have a powerful effect on rich male boys who may have aspired to have their own one day


Childhood in Ancient Rome was really a time of separation from parents during the most formative years combined with the preparation of citizenship. Being a Roman  was considered inherently valuable and parents invest a great deal in this for their children

University Students During the Middle Ages

Universities during the Middle Ages could grow quite large. Some estimates put universities with populations of up to 30,000. However, this number includes not only students but also faculty, staff, administration, and even servants of students. Naturally, with such a large population of people and primarily young people, there were going to be challenges with student behavior.


It was common for university students to be boys between the ages of 12-15. In order to enroll, a young person had to bring with them a letter that attests to their character, similar to a letter of recommendation. In addition, they also needed to indicate what the planned to study, which we would call declaring a major today. If students were disruptive enough they would be whipped and sent home.

Many of these young students were sponsored by the church to serve as clergy in the future. However, it was common and even okay for young scholars to beg in order to support their studies. The idea of the starving students is much older then many of us knew.

Even though many students were essentially pre-teens the older students began to organize into groups based on the country or region they were from and make demands of the school and local government. Among the demands were the following.

  • Inner autonomy-Students wanted the right to judge local problems among themselves within their country or region group
  • Determine who can join the group
  • Protection from foreign powers-This makes sense given the propensity for war among countries during the Middle Ages. To be in the wrong place during war could be deadly.
  • Immunity from public service and taxes-Essentially, nobody likes to pay taxes throughout human history.

TO achieve these means, students would shift their loyalty to whoever supported them whether it was Pope, King or Emperor. Generally, everyone wanted the support of the students for political and or economic reasons. The Pope and Emperor want the political backing of students in order to have greater influence. The King wanted the students support because universities boosted the local economy.

Town-Gown Riots

Despite the best efforts of universities, students still found ways to get into considerable trouble. An example of this is taken from the 13th century at the University of Paris and is one of many instances of what were called “Town-Gown Riots” with town representing the community and gown representing the students.

In this particular instance, a servant of the archdeacon of the university goes to a tavern to get wine for their master. While the servant is at the tavern, he gets into an argument, is beaten, and the master’s flask (bottle) is broken. The archdeacon was English and this led to English students beating the tavern-keeper in revenge for the injury to their countrymen (remember that students live in communities by country).

To avenge the beating of their Parisian brother, the Parisian citizens attack the English boarding house and kill several students including the archdeacon. The university teachers responded by going to the king and complain about the death of the archdeacon who was their peer. Of course, they were also a little concerned about the dead students.

King was afraid of losing the university so he punished the leader of the city and gave the university more autonomy by giving it all freedom from civic authority. However, a second riot happened a few years later and led to many teachers and students leaving Paris to return to England and this contributed to the founding of both Oxford and Cambridge.

One reason for this chaos was that many universities did not own any buildings. Classes and living arrangements were chaotic and spread all over. This lack of centralization made it easy for such violence to take place.


Student life has always been full of challenges. For ages, students have made demands and caused trouble. Perhaps for the stressed administrator, it is reassuring that these problems are not new.

Early Universities

Universities have been around under many names for over a Millennium. What they all have in common is a desire to train primarily young adults for scholar and professional service. In this post, we will look at three early medieval universities along with the influence of the Catholic Church in higher education at that time.


The school that became the University of Bologna was initially a law school.  There was a need for experts in Roman Law, particularly the Justinian code, due to the influence of the Catholic Church. The school was officially recognized in 1158 by Frederick I.

By the 13th century, there were over 10,000 students. This led to a need for better organization among the students. This was done through the development of organizations that represented students by country of origin. The country representation then joined one of two campus-wide groups. The two main organizations in Bologna were the universitas citranontanorum and universitas ultramontanorum.

With organization began a push for social justice. There was often tension between students and teachers as well as students and the local community. As college kids of today, sometimes the university kids could cause the local community behavioral problems. There were scuffles between students and the local community that were called town and gown riots. “Town” refers to the non-academic and “gown” to students. In other parts of Europe, the fighting could be deadly.

At Bologna, the students pushed for and won the right to be judged by the university for their misdeeds. At this time, there were no official university buildings. This led to classes being held all over the city in random places. If there were any disagreements with the locals the students and or even the teachers would threaten to leave.


Salernum was another early university. Some have suggested that it was started in the 9th century. Salernum focused on medicine and was supported by Constantine of Carthage. Constantine was a scholar who studied music,  math, medicine, and even necromancy.

Salernum was also associated with the crusades. The famous Robert de Guiscard, the father of the crusader Bohemond,  supported this institution. Wounded crusaders would visit the school as they returned from battle in the Middle East. As the school grew, eventually students who wanted to practice medicine had to pass a government exam and serve under an experienced doctor for at least one year.


The school that became the University of Naples was organized in the 13th century as a law school. Naples was originally just several independent schools and teachers who were group together to make one academic community. The word “university” means one community.

By creating a single corporate body it was possible for the government to give privileges to the university such as conferring degrees. This prevented just anyone from starting a university and conferring degrees. Even the title of professor was controlled. A professor was a magister or doctor/teacher while a medicus was a practitioner

Role of the Church

The church was always looking for ways to extend its influence. When teachers, students, and the local community were fighting, the Pope was often serving as an intermediary. This naturally increased the influence and prestige of the papacy.

The church was also eager to recognize universities officially. This was similar to accreditation today and allowed students and teachers to work or study all over Europe at other schools. As such, both sides benefited from this transaction. However, the goal was not so much to asses the quality of the school as it was to gain influence over universities. As such, papal approval did not necessarily mean an excellent school but a school that the church had influence over.


These three universities played a critical role in the development of higher education in Europe, in particular, the continental side. Each school was reacting to the needs of the local community whether that was teaching law medicine or some other subject. The church was aware of the growth of this model of education and was sure to have influence in its development.

Religious Education During the 8th & 9th Century

During the 9th and 10th centuries, there were several types of schools available for the education of young people. The schools mentioned in this post were primarily connected with and controlled by the church. These schools are the Claustral/Inner school, the Outer school, and the Cathedral/Episcopal school

Types of School

The Claustral or inner school was a school run within the monasteries of Europe. The inner school was inside the monastery and was for the training of future monks. In relation to cost, tuition was free since these boys were dedicating their lives to the church. The behavior of the students was strictly monitored and controlled due to their future vocation as a monk. As such, there was little individualism as uniformity was the expectation. This was probably not an education for the free-spirited.

A second school associated with monasteries was the outer school. The outer school gets its name from being outside the monastery but often near one. These were schools for future priests. However, it was also common for laypeople to send their children for education there as well. Since these schools had a dual purpose, costs were covered through tuition and also scholarships.

The final school was the cathedral or episcopal school. Each diocese of the church had episcopal schools scatter throughout it. The cathedral and episcopal schools were for the laity. Teachers came from the main cathedral school to the episcopal schools. To do this, the teacher needed to pay for a “facultas” or license to teach from the head of the cathedral school. This word “facultas” is where the word faculty comes from.

Curriculum & Instruction

The Bible, or what people said about the Bible, was one of the chief subjects of these schools, especially the monastic schools. The church did not support the study of the classics or other forms of secular literature at this time. Instead, the focus was always on what the church said was spiritual truth because this was considered immortal and unchanging. This dogmatic position stifled thinking and development in the sciences.

However, this position would change with the reemergence of Greek thought with the Reconquista of Spain and the crusades. When Aristotle was encounter among the writings of the Arabs, he was translated from Arabic into Latin and began to influence Europe. This left the church in a challenging situation in which the world wanted more secular thought that was not considered beneficial by the church elite.

Discipline in school would be considered harsh by today’s standards. Children were frequently beaten for minor problems. For example, it was common for students to be beaten for failing to memorize something. At this time, the only way a person knew something was from their ability to remember it. This may have been one reason for the severity of forgetting.

By the end of the 10th century, many within Europe were convinced the world would end in 1000. This is similar to how people thought the world would end in the year 2000. With this focus on the impending end of the world, churches, houses, farming and schools were neglected.  This contributed to a temporary decline in education.


Education was primarily focused on spiritual development rather than for secular means. This does not mean that people were not educated for other more mundane reasons. With the focus on clerical training, there were certain restrictions placed on learning. With the reemergence of ancient secular thought led to a change in learning that would be weakened with a focus on the end of time.

Early Universities and their Rise

The university, as we know them today, arose sometime during the 12th century. Of course, it is not exactly clear in terms of the exact date. The universities followed the example and traditions laid down by the Romano-Hellenic schools of the Roman Empire and the monastic/episcopal schools of the church.  This post will look at factors that led to universities, characteristics of universities, and the church’s view of the growing influence of universities.

Factors Leading to Universities

Several things had changed over the centuries from the fall of the Roman empire that led to the development of universities. First, the crusades had exposed Europeans to many Arab/Middle East ideas. Among these ideas was Aristotle, concepts related to medicine, and the possibility of some form of higher education.

There were also economic factors such as the establishment of free towns. Free towns were essentially free of feudalism in which you had independent artisans and other free people. With the rise of an independent middle class came a correlated need for specialization in some areas of expertise, especially medicine, law or even theology. The freeman seemed to always have issues with the nobility and clergy and wanted people who were trained separately from the monastic schools. The priest/monks lacked the expertise to thoroughly train people for practical occupations such as doctors or lawyers.

Furthermore, universities provided an education the was free from the rules and oppression of the monastic orders. The rules for monastic life can be highly arduous for a layperson. Waking up early, eating in silence, harsh living conditions, physical labor, all this was a part of the educational experiences in a way that was bewildering to the laity at times. Universities offered a similar education in a secular environment which naturally led to the release of a high amount of licentious behavior that the universities had to suppress eventually. In other words, whereas the monastics schools were too strict the universities were initially to lenient.

Despite the disdain that many had for the church, the church itself helped to contribute to the growth of universities through the stability it provided. Supposedly, if someone was a priest or scholar, they were safe to travel throughout Europe unmolested. The accuracy of this is hard to assess but if scholars could move freely it would have made it easy to start schools and move to the best positions rather than being trapped in a single place due to safety issues.

The church also provided the closes thing to an international language that Europe had through its use of Latin. Latin became the language of government and scholarship. Its influence is still felt today in the Latin names that are used in science for the classification of animals.

University Characteristics

A major difference between the universities compared to monastics schools involves the leadership style. Monastic schools were monarchies in nature in that one person made the decisions. Universities are run by a community, which is a more democratic style of leadership. Universities were also founded by major European leaders such as kings, emperors, and popes. Monastic schools were founded by lesser leaders.

In addition to the specialization, universities emphasis the three R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic). Philosophy would eventually join as well. The course of study was four years, which is supposedly an idea from ancient Greece.

Church’s View

The church supported learning that supported the church. Other lines of thought were either ignored if non-threatening or discourage if they poised a problem. The primary goal was normally the preservation of existing knowledge and the transfer of this knowledge through education. When universities first arose, the church did not have any control over them, as they were independent.

Universities initially had a large number of clergy faculty. However, this slowly changed and the clergy facility disappeared and were replaced by secular facility. With time, the church would begin to have their clergy teach in the secular universities along with starting their own universities. This is especially true with the rise of the Jesuits several centuries later. During this time, priest and monks were still trained by the monastic/episcopal schools


Universities are a standard part of life in the modern world. However, this was not always the case. What first began as a way to escape the power of the church eventually became an expensive requirement in the training of the middle class.

Educational Reforms of Charlemagne

After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th-century learning went into a decline at least temporarily. When the chaos of collapse and invasion settled several types of schools emerged. These schools and the curriculum that was a part of them is the focus of this post.


Charlemagne (748-814) played a major role in reviving learning within Europe. He created Palace Schools to educate members of the Royal court and their children. Charlemagne was also a lover of the arts and incorporated Gregorian chants (worship music) and the organ into worship.



In addition to the Palace schools, other schools developed during this period in part through the support of Charlemagne, and they include the Monastery and Episcopal schools. Monastery schools were created primarily for training for future clergy. The training was of a higher standard compared to Episcopal schools. The episcopal schools were for non-clergy and offered an inferior education. Both were frequently located in the same place with the only difference being the quality of the education. Originally anybody could go to the Monastery schools but this changed after the death of Charlemagne.


In terms of instruction, school began when a child was 7 years of age. Reading was learned through first memorizing the alphabet and then memorizing the Latin Psalter. A Psalter was the book Psalms extracted from the Bible. Imagine a child trying to memorize a book with 150 chapters, over 2,400 verse, and over 40,000 words. Of course, understanding does not matter only memorization. As the Psalter was developed for singing so was singing also taught.


Wax Tablet

Writing was learned through the use of wax-covered tablets. When the child mastered this he would move to pen and paper. This system of writing was used for students to make their own textbooks. Students would write down the message on tablets that were then transferred to parchment.

Grammar was also studied and was considered the queen of the subjects. This is not the grammar of today but one with a slightly different purpose. The grammar of this period is similar to critical thinking and public speaking/communication today. Students learned the art of explanation and persuasion and not so much how to use commas and semicolons.

Latin, the primary language of the Catholic Church, was also studied. It was expected to be the only language used at school but even the teachers lacked the ability to use Latin exclusively. The emphasis was on heavy memorization. Math was studied until the point of learning basic calculations and adjusting the calendar.

Upon graduation job placement was usually predetermined. Graduates of the Palace schools worked in the government. Graduates of the Monastery schools often became monks/priests, and graduates of the Episcopal school did everything else. Even the education represented the 3 estates of Medieval Europe.


The reforms of Charlemagne are really the reestablishing of education in parts of Europe. Once there was some semblance of stability and safety leaders, such as Charlemagne, could focus on other pressing needs of their kingdom.

From Greek to Roman Education

During the transition from the Greek to the Roman Empire, there were several significant changes to education. In particular, we will look at early financial support, the history of the first university, and the influence of the government during this period.

Financial Support

As time progress, it was becoming common for education to be supported by endowments. Several chairs in rhetoric, politic, and philosophy were established. In addition, the fees students paid in the form of a honoraria was the primary source of income for schools and teachers. It was also common for teachers to fight over students. This happened through teachers sending “recruitment” agents to the ports when young people arrived in order for the agent to advertise whatever courses the teacher taught. The more students in a class the higher the honoraria for a teacher.

First University & Changes

Under the Ptolemies in Egypt was founded what is considered the first university by Western standards. Located in Alexandria, the university offered training in medicine, math, grammar. The teaching here in Alexandria was considered to be more practically focused compare to Athens. The purpose was primarily to train people for economic purpose rather than only for intellectual development.

During the height of the Roman Empire under Augustus, Greek and Roman teaching was combined into something that some called the Roman-Hellenic school. However, how this was done varied between the Eastern and Western halves of the Empire. In general, Rome placed an emphasis on practical things such as law and this was combined with Greek philosophy in terms of the education of students. Philosophy became more and more abstract and less and less practical over this time period as well. As philosophy grew in importance it became more and more of an annoyance for the early Christian church.

Growth of Government

Throughout this time period, the influence of the government became stronger and stronger. This was shown through financial support and prestige. For example, the government would provide funding to build buildings. In addition, at one point, teachers were given senatorial rank for their work. All this was done in order to have influence over the education process and prevent teachers from fomenting rebellion it seems that teachers have frequently sparked revolutionary ideas throughout history.

Despite the efforts of the government, one overarching theme of this time was the gradual and steady decline of education. By the end of the fifth century, which aligns with the collapse of the Western Roman  Empire, the majority of the Roman Hellenic schools were no longer in existence. This laid the foundation for the rise of a new system of education that was at first shunned by Christianity,  then influenced by Christianity, and finally controlled by Christianity.


Over time the structure of education became more formalized. It went from individual teachers providing education to the systematic structure of the university. With this new structure came also various costs that were hard to account for. Strangely enough, as the empire collapse so did education in a way that makes one wonder if the collapse of education was because the Roman Empire was collapsing at the same time.

Ancient Higher Education & Christinanity

With the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, there were several gradual and strong changes made to education. All the changes mentioned are not directly caused by Christianity, but they are correlated with it meaning that they happened at the same time Christianity was rising in Europe.

Changes in Curriculum

The trivium and the quadrivium were replaced in part by other subjects. Theology was studied for the obvious reason that Christianity was growing in popularity among people. There was a need for clergy in this religion which begat the need for academic training. In addition, unlike other religions in which the priesthood may be limited by tribe or hereditary, any male could at least express interest in being a religious leader in early Christianity assuming he passed vetting by elders and others.

Law was also added to the curriculum. This may not be directly related to Christianity but it happened around the same time. In particular, people wanted to understand Roman law in greater detail leading to a growth in those who were trained as lawyers. For whatever reason, the natural sciences were sometimes classified as being part of law studies during this time as well. Perhaps this was meant to refer to natural law as alluded to by Aristotle.

The subjects of the trivium and quadrivium were often reduced to a single subject called philosophy. By the dawn of the Christian era in the Roman Empire, the influence of Plato and Aristotle was strongly felt. As such, the study of their work along with anything else related to the humanities was temporarily classified as philosophy.

Changes in Traditions

Within schools, at this time students were encouraged to think independently. Free thought was supported and schools were locally controlled. There was also a discussion style of teaching instead of simply lecturing. Education was about bringing forth from the student rather than filling the head of students. This is in part what the Latin word “educere” means which serves as the root word for education.

The religion of Christianity has several strong absolute beliefs such as what is right and wrong. This influenced education in that academic learning was focused on finding universal truth. Education was searching for the ideal. This is in sharp contrast to education today with its obsession with the subjective. The idea of an absolute God led to the focus on finding absolute ideal truth.

Higher education also had something in common with monasticism. When students went away to study, it was expected that they would live away from society in part and study it objectively before returning to the world and engage with it. The idea of leaving the world is one of the goals of monastic living not with the purpose of studying the world objectively but of trying to have a closer connection with God.


Education like most things in this world, changes with the times. As a new religion began to make its presence felt there was a corresponding change in education. It would be simplistic to trace all the changes provided here solely because of any religion. However, historical people saw education differently when they began to see the world from a Christian perspective.

Ancient Higher Education in Greece

The first universities can be traced back to the days of Ancient Greece and Rome. In terms of location, early universities were located primarily in Athens, Alexandria (Egypt), and Rome. In addition, to being educational centers, these three cities were also seats of spiritual authority with Alexandria and Rome playing critical roles in the development of Christianity.

In this post, we will focus on higher education in Ancient Greece. We will look at the curriculum and teaching styles of this time period.


For Greeks, there were three key subjects students needed to study at university. These were grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Grammar was focused on written communication and not just spelling and punctuation. Instead, the grammar of the Greeks was about learning to write and communicate persuasively in text.

Rhetoric goes by the name of public speaking today. Again, the goal of rhetoric was to learn how to communicate persuasively and to develop ideas and arguments during oral communication. Lastly, logic is often seen as critical thinking today. This subject focused on developing arguments, judging their quality, and applying the same skills to the arguments of others.

Trivium & Quadrivium

Under Alexander the Great there were some changes to what was considered higher education.  The education at the university level was divided into two main components which were the trivium and the quadrivium. The trivium consisted of the three subjects we have already discussed (grammar, rhetoric, logic). However, logic was refocused and renamed dialectics.

Grammar during the days of Alexander the Great was mostly the same with a stronger emphasis on poetry, semantics, and the addition of history to this subject mater. Rhetoric continued to stress public speaking but also included the study of the forms of literary works. Dialectics was more of a teaching tool and encourage dialog and debate. Subjects under this term included metaphysics, physics, and ethics. Generally, the trivium is seen as focusing on human nature are laying the foundation for the humanities.

The quadrivium consisted of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Arithmetic was basic practical math. Geometry dealt with theorems and also geography. Astronomy was not complete about the stars but natural science and philosophy in general. Music included not only music but theatrical arts such as comedy and tragedy, and also dance, lyric poetry, and hymns. The quadrivium is often seen as focused on nature.

Greek education was also highly focused on physical education through gymnastics. This is, of course, one of the inspirations for physical education today.

Teaching Style

The teaching style in Greek universities has been described as dry. There is a focus on memorizing and the minute details of a subject. However, there was also a contradictory emphasis on finding patterns and examining the form of things. It was believed that if students saw the big picture it would help to enlighten the details.

There was a focus on debating. This could have made learning more tolerable and interactive. However, argue for the sake of arguing could lead to a great deal of discord and bruised egos if taken to an extreme.

It also needs to be mentioned that universities were not thought of as universities as we do today. It would better to use the word of higher education or education beyond the basics. Often teachers would have their own school in which they would pass on their knowledge to pupils.


Ancient Greece and its influence are felt to this day. The role of the university was first established in the West by the work of this early time. Without this pioneering work by Greece the world may have been a much different place.

Issues of Early Christian Education

In this post, we will look at two issues that Christian education had to address during the period of AD 300-900. These two concerns are the debate between Christian learning and Greek thought and the teaching capacity of educational leaders.

Faith & Hellenism

With the growth of the Christian church within the Roman Empire was a corresponding tension between Christian thought and Greek philosophy. Church leaders were split over whether Christians should study Greek thought along with church teachings.

This debate continued and perhaps grew when the Christian church had firm control of education within the empire by the fourth century. In general, the divide over the inclusion of Greek thought in the education process was split between those who said avoid Greek thought and those who said embrace it.

For the anti-Greeks, they had a strong example of what happens when a Christian studies Greek teachings in the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate (331-363). Julian’s exposure to the classics of Greek thought (and Neo-Platonism) as a student, led him into outright involvement with mystery cults and magic. To further compound matters, Julian attempted to reestablish paganism as the religion of Rome before his untimely demise at the age of 32. Julian was the last emperor to openly oppose Christianity and his actions were all the evidence anti-Greek Christians had that the writings of Plato and Aristotle should be avoided.

For those who supported the study of ancient Greek writers, their argument rested in caution and temperance when reading the classics. One Christian educator warned against hating worldly sciences and that the ideas of these authors should be supplementary to scripture. Julian’s problem was an intemperate and uncritical study of Plato and his peers.

This debate over faith vs Hellenism has continued for the pass 800-900 years. However, there is not as much objection to studying secular thought as there used to be as Christian education has mostly accepted it with the strong exception of several highly controversial ideas (sexual orientation, creation, etc.).


As time continued, monks and priests began to educate the young. Unfortunately,  the education that they provided was considered of low quality as they generally focused only on teaching the trivium (Grammar, logic, and rhetoric) in terms of knowledge. Quadrivium was rarely taught if at all.

In addition, the monks and the priest were in need of education themselves. It was common for these men of faith to a lack of a formal education in the position in which they served the church. As such, they were frequently not much ahead of the students in terms of their learning. This led to a push for formal training and education of priests and monks in the 7th and 8th centuries.

In terms of the teaching style, there was a move from the discussion-oriented style of the Greeks to a focus on memorization. This was not done simply to stifle the critical thinking of the students. Rather, the price of parchment rose drastically during this time period, which made it difficult to write things down. The only way to learn now was to memorize large amounts of material because there was no other cheap way to retain knowledge.


There will always be differences and issues that challenge education. The purpose is to examine how others have addressed problems in order to learn from their successes and failures. To this day, Christian leaders struggle with the role of secular thought tin the education of its members. In addition, there are still issues with the qualifications of teachers and the style of teaching tat is employed. As such, a look to the past will simply confirm that problems never change.

Friedrich Fröbel

Friedrich Fröbel (1782-1852) was an influential German teacher of the 18th and 19th centuries. This post will take a look at his life and views on education.


Frobel was the son of a clergyman. At an early age, his mother dies and Frobel moves to live with his uncle at the age of ten after his father remarried. As a child, Frobel developed a lifelong love of nature, which would manifest itself in many ways.

Despite being one of the most influential educators of all-time Frobel was seen as a lazy student by his teachers. By 15, Frobel was working as an apprentice to a forest manager. However, the forest manager was not much of a teacher and had little interest in helping Frobel. This compelled Frobel to study all of the forest manager’s books on his own which allowed him to develop an extensive knowledge of plants.

In 1799m Frobel goes to college and studies science, finance, history, and architecture. After completing school he worked as an architect but was not happy with his job. At the suggestion of a friend, Frobel tried teaching and immediately fell in love with it.

From 1808-1810, Frobel was under the guidance of John Pestalozzi and studied at Pestalozzi’s school. This experience had a deep impact on Frobel’s views on education and help to shape his approach towards his innovation in education know as the kindergarten.


Frobel focused heavily on early childhood education and developed the idea of the kindergarten or “child’s garden”. Frobel created the kindergarten to help mothers with the training and teaching of their small children.

In the kindergarten, the play of the student was systematized and serves as preparation for regular school. The children learn through there play various concepts that will help them in the future.

It can not be understated how influential kindergarten has been. Virtually every state in America offers some form of kindergarten and the majority require it. Frobel has made a strong mark in his work in early childhood education.

Frobel believed that early education was critical and should follow the natural development of the child. He agreed with Pestalozzi that education needs to address physical and spiritual needs.

One point of departure between Frobel and Pestalozzi is in regards to early childhood education. Frobel supported early school training outside the home while Pestalozzi was not as enthusiastic. In many ways, Frobel brought Pestalozzi’s ideas down to the youngest of students.


Frobel mark in educational history is assured as the founder of the concept of kindergarten that is still used to this day. All though there have been changes in early childhood education as the younger ages have become more academic. The idea of kindergarten is still there at least in name throughout the world.

Pestalozzi His life and Views on Education

John Pestalozzi (1746-1827) is one of the most influential educators of the most influential educators of the early 19th century and still one of the most influential educators today. This post will examine his life and his views on education.


Pestalozzi was born Zurich, Switzerland in 1746. His father died when he was a child and Pestalozzi was raised by his mother. As a student, Pestalozzi showed no signs of greatness and his teachers accuse d him of being lazy.

Despite this, Pestalozzi goes to college to studying theology before switching to law. After completing school he tried to be a farmer but failed. After his farming venture folded did he turn to teaching by starting his own school.

Teaching during the 18th-19th century was mostly an unappreciated experience. The teachers normally lacked training and were poorly paid. In addition, many leaders did not want the general public to be educated because they believed that educated people were harder to control.

Knowing or experience all this Pestalozzi started his school anyway only for it to fail as well. The main benefit of this experience was that He discovered his love for teaching.

In 1798, Pestalozzi moves to Stanze to care for 80 orphans who had suffered from war. He ran the entire operation by himself with only help from the children. Unfortunately, he had to leave less than a year later and spends several years as an assistant teacher.

In 1805, Pestalozzi starts his second school. This school was by far more successful than his first attempt and became a leader in innovative education in Europe at the time. All the students and teachers lived, ate, and study together. This operation lasted 20 before infighting finally destroyed it. Two years later in 1827, Pestalozzi died.

Educational Views

Pestalozzi views were not so much radical as they were distinct in focusing on the individual development of the child. Teaching should follow the natural progression of the child. In addition, students learn best through repetition and learning by doing.

Combing repetition with learning by doing means that a child should do it over and over again until they are comfortable. Again, it is natural for many children to learn this way. The teacher encourages this by supporting or scaffolding the learning experience of the student

Children should be taught the literal before the abstract because this is appropriate for their senses. This also leads to inductive teaching in many instances but not necessarily always.

Pestalozzi also emphasized that human nature consisted of the physical and moral capabilities. Pestalozzi was a Christian and was convinced that a child must learn more than academics but also develop a sense of right and wrong as prescribed by religion.


Pestalozzi work continues to impact teaching today. Almost every teaching education program talks about his work in one way or another. His philosophy of the whole child approach is a summary of what many believe education should be.

August Francke and Education

August Francke (1663-1727) was a Protestant minister in Germany during the 17th and 18th century. His influence on education was distinct in that he brought a distinct theological view to education. This post will examine his life and views on education.


Born in Germany in 1663 Francke studied the sciences, languages, philosophy, and theology at university. His primary complaint about his theological studies was that he understood what he studied but that he did not have a corresponding experience in his heart. In other words, Francke wanted an emotional experience about the theological concept he studied.

This search for an emotional heartfelt experience led Francke to become sympathetic towards pietism. Pietism was a theological movement that believed protestants should replace the dead orthodoxy of scholastic theology with an emotional or theology of the heart. In many ways, this was exactly what Francke was looking for and he embraces this immediately.

Around the same time circa 1687, Francke starts a school but soon leaves to become a professor at the University of Halle in 1691. It was while working at Halle that Francke reached out to the poor. Initially, his ministry was simple Bible studies. However, with time Francke and his people opened several schools and other institutions to support the poor in Germany. All this was done while he still taught at the university.

Educational Views

Francke believed that education should be linked with the future vocation of the student. This in stark contrast to the generalized education that is common in most countries today. Students destined for trades should have different education form students who are going to be merchants.

With his focus on the emotions, Francke had a lot to say in particular about classroom management. For example, he stated that a teacher should never discipline in anger. This may be because the children will think that discipline is about how people feel rather than right or wrong.

The teacher also needs to maintain discipline without being harsh and severe. Of course, this is easier said then done but it still needs to be said. On the other hand, a teacher also needs to avoid the other extreme of being too nice as this is equally detrimental. Again, this is easier said than done.

Lastly, Francke counsels teachers that they must be sure that they are not the source of the students’ behavior problems. In other words, the teacher’s poor management should not be the source of the misbehavior in a classroom. Misbehavior should originate from the student and not because of an inconsistent teacher.


Francke was a man who was looking for an emotional experience to support his theological knowledge. In reality, what he was looking for was the practical application of his theological knowledge. This is said because as Francke helped people according to his religion he also experience the emotional satisfaction he so desperately needed.

Life and Educational Views of John Locke

John Locke (1632-1704) was an influential philosopher during the 17th century. Locke also had some significant views on education. This post will look at Locke’s life and his positions on education.


Locke was born in 1632 in England. He went to college at Oxford and graduated in 1655. During, his university studies Locke developed a negative attitude toward the scholastic approach to education with its heavy emphasis on rote memorization. This experience would help to shape his educational views later in life.

After completing his bachelors, Locke attended medical school. Locke was not interested so much in being a doctor as in taking better care of his own health which he had problems with. After completing medical school, Locke work as a tutor to the son of an influential nobleman.

Due to the political actions of Locke’s boss he had to leave England for a time. However,  when a new king ascended the throne in England Locke was able to return. Upon returning Locke writes one of his most famous works “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” as well as other important works.

With his return to England, Locke actually worked for the government that used to be suspicious of him. He continued to serve until his health failed him and  he died in 1704.

Educational Views

Locke primarily had a practical view of education. The learning of a student should be focused on practical. Today it is tempting to spread a child across many subjects and electives but this was not what Locke supported. Education should be simplified and to the point

Locke did not hold that education should only be academic. Reading and writing are important but they were not everything in his view. This was in stark contrast to his scholastic education experience were academics is everything.

Locke believes that character development was the ultimate purpose of education. Understanding right from wrong and showing integrity were much more important than academic prowess.

Due to his medical training, Locke also supported the idea of an education that caters to the needs of the body. Fresh air, exercise, sleep, and a plain diet were critical to successful education.

Temperance was also another key item of success as the workload of the child should be adjusted to individual needs and not all the same. For Locke, a standardized education is insensible and treats children as objects rather than as living creatures. The teacher’s job is to study the child and find what is appropriate for them.

Locke also had much to say about language. He boldly claimed that the learning of Latin was overrated and really an activity for the upper class and not really for everybody. Locke also said that the best way to learn a language was through practice and not through the study of theoretical rules of language use.  In many ways here, Locke is laying the foundation for modern beliefs in TESOL.


John Locke was a highly influential philosopher of the 17th century who had unique views on education at his time. His ideas on wholistic education are still relevant today and his thoughts on language acquisition are perhaps the main view in that discipline today.

Life and Educational Views of John Comenius

John Comenius (1592-1670) was a Czech educator who has had a tremendous influence on education. This post will take a look at his life and educational philosophy.


Comenius was born in 1592. Early in life lost his parents and was raised by guardians. Due to this chaos, there were some delays in Comenius education as he did not study Latin until he was 16, which was considered late during this time.

Comenius late exposure to Latin allowed him to observe with a critical eye how it was taught compared to if he had studied as an uncritical small child. This would lay the foundation for his views towards language teaching and education in general.

Comenius would later go on to college and would graduate and take the position of minister in his church. These first few years were peaceful as he would work and marry. In addition, Comenius continues to nourish his views on education. However, were would soon break out and Comenius would lose all of his property in the process.

From here, Comenius goes fully into education and teaches and writes. Comenius would work in several countries writing about education as well as teaching. He focused a great deal on reforming how language was taught in particular Latin. In addition, he produced several highly influential books such as”The Gate of Tongues Unlocked” which may be one of the first language teaching books ever and “Didactic Magna” which may be one of the first books on teaching methods. In 1670, Comenius died at the age of 77.

Educational Views

Comenius believed that education should not only improve the main but should be focused on the development of the whole man which means physical, mental, and social development. The teaching should be inductive and based on examples. this means that you teach by using examples and have the students make conclusions.

The focus on inductive teaching and observation made Comenius critical of rote memorizing. Instead, understanding should be the primary goal. Lastly, Comenius was a support that everyone should be educated and not just males. This idea was somewhat ahead of its time.

Comenius is most famous for proposing grade levels. His system had four levels.

  1. Level 1 Domestic school-Home with mother
  2. Level Proper School-Basic reading and writing
  3. Latin School-College Preparation
  4. University

Comenius also had views on specifically teaching language. He supported teaching the mother tongue first until mastery. His point was that comprehension of the language must move in step with the tongue.  Comenius claimed there was no benefit to teaching a language without understanding. Of course, this is in strong contrast to Audiolingualism which is a strong support of nonsense repetition.

He also believed that learning by doing was the most appropriate way to learn a language. After the students do it you can teach them the rules. This allows the students to build on their strengths.


The life work of Comenius is an example of practical Reformation of educations. Many of his ideas and views are still influencing education to this day.

Wolfgang Ratich

Wolfgang Ratich (1571 – 1635)was a practitioner of education during the 17th century. His work during his lifetime was mostly a failure but time was a better judge of his practical insights into education. In addition, Ratich was an early influence on Comenius who was one of the greatest educators of all time.

Ratich studied philosophy and theology at university with the goal of becoming a preacher. However, a speech impediment put an early end to his career in ministry. This led him to try teaching as his career.

Views on Education

Ratich quickly formed strong views on education. He believed that children should study their mother tongue first before learning about others, which is an idea that is still supported to this day.

Teaching should also be inductive in nature which means that the students learn from examples and experience first and use these experiences to form conclusions. This was radical at the time because most believe that learning involved making grand conclusions first and finding support for them which is called deductive thinking.

Ratich also despised rote learning as intellectual harmful to students. He preferred to allow a child to learn according to nature. This idea was further spelled out in the work of Piaget and Kohlberg who stressed development in young children.

Language Teaching MEthod

Ratich method for teaching English was methodical, to say the least. His method included about 6 steps.

  1. Teach the alphabet
  2. Form words and syllables
  3. Teacher reads a book out loud to the class with students following along
  4. Students take turns reading parts of a chapter from the book the teacher read
  5. Teacher teaches grammar
  6. Students identify grammatical examples of the English terms in the book

It’s rather amazing this system worked. However, it was ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the results were mixed but maybe not for the method but rather because of the teacher


After several years of trying Ratch was finally allowed to put his ideas into practice at a school. With his thoughts on education and detailed method results were assumed o be coming. However, the school was a failure. This is due primarily to the poor people skills of Ratich

Ratich alienated everyone with his personality and stubbornness. He was rude and considered arrogant. Even Ratich’s religion was a point of contention as Ratich was Lutheran and he was living and working among Calvinist. Eventually, Ratich irritated the prince and was thrown in prison for a while before leaving.


Ratich in many had the right ideas and wrong personality. His ideas were revolutionary and in many ways laid the foundation for ideas in TESOL such as inductive learning, the use of authentic reading etc. Ratich only problem was Ratich which may be one of the lessons a young Comenius learned when he visited Ratich’s school.

Melancthon Life & Educatioal Views

This post will take a brief look at the life and educational views of Philip Melancthon (1497-1560) a highly influential protestant reformer in Germany.

Life of Melacthon

Melanchthon was considered by many to be a highly gifted prodigy. In addition to his mother tongue of German, Melanchthon was a master of Greek and Latin to a level that astonished his teachers.

In 1512, at the age of 15, Melanchthon did not start college, rather he would finish college. This means that he probably started university studies at 11-12 years of age. He was also supposed to receive his master degree but the university may him wait because of his age.

In 1518, Melancthon begins teaching and of course, was a phenomenal teacher. His primary field was theology and Greek but he was formidable in other areas as well. It was at this point in his life that Melancthon would become friends with Martin Luther, the reformer.

Melancthon was also a prodigious writer of books. He wrote on various subjects including Greek, Latin, ethics, logic, rhetoric, physics, and theology. Some of the textbooks he wrote were so good that they were used for almost 100 years. A feat that is impossible to with the speed at which new knowledge now develops.

Views on Education

Melancthon believed in leading by example and that attitude was contagious. Target students to study teacher needed to have energy and enthusiasm for the subject. Melancthon was a voracious student and at times this infected his students as well.

Melancthon also developed what is now known as the “Saxony Plan.”  This plan was a brief philosophy of education with three tenets.

  1. Teachers should not teach children several languages at the same time. This is overwhelming for the child. Instruction in Germany should first be focused on Latin.
  2. Teachers should not teach too many subjects. This also is damaging to the student.
  3. Development of different levels or classes should be used. Melancthon, in particular, believed that there should be three grades or classes for young students.
    • LEvel 1-Teaches reading, writing, arithmetic and basic concepts from the Bible
    • Level 2-Adds Latin  grammar and continues bible instruction
    • Level 3-More Latin along with rhetoric, logic, and classes were now taught in Latin

Looking back, these ideas do not seem revolutionary, however, at the time these were ground-breaking concepts. Melancthon was reacting to common teaching habits of the time. In other words, it was common to teach children several languages at once, to focus on too many subjects, and to not have the students organized into groups based on ability.


Melancthon provides us with a look at a reformer of education during the protestant reformation. His work as a teacher and scholar is second to none. In addition, his ideas on education help to rectify many problems in German education at the time.

Educational Views of Michel Montaigne

By the 16th century, the Renaissance was in full swing, the Protestant Reformation had already been around for over a generation and people had serious doubts about the intellectual and spiritual grip the Church had on society. Since the Church also controlled education people began to question these methods. As this wave of humanism swept Europe.

It was during this time of doubt and skepticism that Michel Montaigne (1533-1592) arrived on the scene. Montaigne was not so much an educator as he was a person who had a strong opinion of how education should be. He also knew how to write witty insightful essays on the subject of education along with other subjects of his interest. This post will take a brief look at his life and educational philosophy

Montaigne’s Life

Montaigne was born into a well to do family in France in 1533. He was natural brilliant and was able to speak Latin, in addition to his mother tongue of French by the age of six. Yes, Montaigne was brilliant but he also had a German tutor who did not know French and used Latin to communicate with the child.

By 13, Montaigne had finished college. He turned his attention to politics and was a member of parliament by the age of 20. Soon after, he became mayor of his 20. Despite what looked to be a brilliant political future Montaigne left politics after becoming Mayor to live a life of quietness. Since he was already well off he did not need to endure the rigors of financial gain and power to maintain his livelihood.

It was in this semi-retirement that Montaigne began writing his famous humanistic “Essays” on various subjects. In fact, Montaigne was one of the first people to popularize the idea of an essay, which is now standard practice in school today. Our attention will be on his views on education.

Views on Education

Montaigne views on education were almost a reaction against Church views on education. Montaigne believed in a wholistic education of the man and not to divide him into pieces. He also criticized the study of Latin and Greek because he supported the development of the mother tongue first. This debate over mother tongue use is a recurring theme in early language education.

Montaigne also criticized the study of the classics as it did not prepare students for practical life but rather bade them conceited. Another target of criticism was the teaching methods of the day, which were often lecture-style. Montaigne views this pouring knowledge into the mind and not useful for the student.

Montaigne supported a more interactional approach to teaching in which the students and teacher take turns talking and listening. THrough action came understanding in his opinion.

Finally, Montaigne was a critic of corporal punishment. He viewed almost as if one was training an animal rather than a person. Again most of these criticisms were of common practices in education at that time period and the education was mostly controlled by the church.


Montaigne was a theoretician on education but not much of a practitioner. His experience as a student led him to write strong reactionary criticisms against education. In spite of his lack of practical experience Montaigne’s thoughts are highly insightful and somewhat applicable to this day.

Luther and Educational Reform

Martin Luther (1483-1546) is best known for his religious work as one of the main catalysts for the Protestant Reformation. However, Luther was also a powerful influence on education during his lifetime. This post will take a look at Luther’s early life and his contributions to education

Early Life

Luther was born during the late 15th century. His father was a tough miner with a severe disciplinarian streak. You would think that this would be a disaster but rather the harsh discipline gave Luther a toughness that would come in handy when standing alone for his beliefs.

Upon reaching adulthood Luther studied law as his father diseased for him to become a lawyer. However, Luther decided instead to become a monk much to the consternation of his father.

As a monk, Luther was a diligent student and studied for several additional degrees. Eventually, he was given an opportunity to visit Rome which was the headquarters of his church. However, Luther saw things there that troubled him and in many laid the foundation for his doubt in the direction of his church.

Eventually, Luther had a serious issue with several church doctrines. This motivated him to nail his 95 theses onto the door of a church in 1517. This act was a challenge to defend the statements in the theses and was actually a common behavior among the scholarly community at the time.

For the next several years it was a back forth intellectual battle with the church. A common pattern was the church would use some sort of psychological torture such as the eternal damnation of his soul and Luther would ask for biblical evidence which was normally not given. Finally, in 1521 at the Diet of Worms, Luther was forced to flee for his life and the Protestant Reformation had in many was begun.

Views on Education

Luther’s views on education would not be considered radical or innovative today but they were during his lifetime. For our purposes, we will look at three tenets of Luther’s position on education

  • People should be educated so they can read the scriptures
  • Men and women should receive an education
  • Education  should benefit the church and state

People Should be Educated so they Can Read the Scriptures

The thought that everyone should be educated was rather radical. By education, we mean developing literacy skills and not some form of vocational training. Education was primarily for those who needed it which was normally the clergy, merchants, and some of the nobility.

If everyone was able to read it would significantly weaken the churches position to control spiritual ideas and the state’s ability to maintain secular control, which is one reason why widespread literacy was uncommon. Luther’s call for universal education would not truly be repeated until Horace Mann and the common school. movement.

The idea of universal literacy also held with it a sense of personal responsibility. No one could rely on another to understand scripture. Everyone needs to know how to read and interpret scripture for themselves.

Men and Women Should be Educated

The second point is related to the first. Luther said that everyone should be educated he truly meant everyone. This means men and women should learn literacy. The women could not hide behind the man for her spiritual development but needed to read for herself.

Again the idea of women education was controversial at the time. The Greeks believed that educating women was embarrassing although this view was not shared by all in any manner.

WOmen were not only educated for spiritual reasons but also so they could manage the household as well. Therefore, there was a spiritual and a practical purpose to the education of women for Luther

Education Benefits the Church and the State

Although it was mentioned that education had been neglected to maintain the power of the church and state. For Luther, educated citizens would be of a greater benefit to the church and state.

The rationale is that the church would receive ministers, teachers, pastors, etc. and the state would receive future civil servants. Therefore, education would not tear down society but would rather build it up.


Luther was primarily a reformer but also was a powerful force in education. His plea for the development of education in Germany led to the construction of schools all over the Protestant controlled parts of Germany. His work was of such importance that he has been viewed as one of the leading educational reformers of the 16th century.

Education During the Reformation

By the 16th century, Europe was facing some major challenges to the established order of doing things. Some of the causes of the upheaval are less obvious than others.

For example, the invention of gunpowder made knights useless. This was significant because now any common soldier could be more efficient and useful in battle than a knight that took over ten years to train. This weakened the prestige of the nobility at least temporarily while adjustments were made within the second estate and led to a growth in the prestige of the third estate who were adept at using guns.

The church was also facing majors issues. After holding power for almost 1000 years people began to chaff at the religious power of Europe. There was a revival in learning that what aggressively attacked by monks, who attacked the study of biblical languages accusing this as the source of all heresies.

The scholars of the day mock religion as a superstition. Furthermore, the church was accused of corruption and for abusing power. The scholars or humanists called for a return to the Greek and Romans classics, which was the prevailing worldview before the ascension of Catholicism.

Out of the chaos sprang the protestant reformation which rejects the teachings of the medieval church. The Protestants did not only have a different view on religion but also on how to educate as we shall see.

Protestant Views of Education

A major tenet of Protestantism that influenced their view on education was the idea of personal responsibility. What this meant was that people needed to study for themselves and not just listen to the teacher. In a spiritual sense that meant reading the Bible for one’s self. In an educational sense, it meant confirming authority with personal observation and study.

Out of this first principal springs two other principles which are education that matches an individual’s interest and the study of nature. Protestants believed that education should support the natural interest and ablities of a person rather than the interest of the church.

This was and still is a radical idea. Most education today is about the student adjusting themselves to various standards and benchmarks developed by the government. Protestants challenged this view and said education should match the talents of the child. If a child shows interest in woodworking teach this to him. If he shows interest in agriculture teach that to him.

To be fair, attempts have been made in education to “meet the needs” of the child and to differentiate instruction. However, these goals are made in order to take a previously determined curriculum and make it palpable to the student rather than designing something specifically for the individual student. The point is that a child is more than a cog in a machine to be trained as a screwdriver or hammer but rather an individual whose value is priceless.

Protestants also support the study of nature. Be actually observing nature it reduced a great deal of the superstition of the time. At one point, the religious power of Europe forbade the study of human anatomy through the performing autopsies. In addition, Galileo was in serious trouble for denying the geocentric model of the solar system. Such restrictions stalled science for years and were removed through Protestantism.


The destabilization that marks the reformation marks a major break in history. With the decline of the church came the rise of the common man to a position of independent thought and action. These ideas of personal responsibility came from the growing influence of Protestants in the world.

Secular Education During the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages (500-1500 CE) is often viewed as a low point in the world of education. This was a time a strong superstition among people and a lack of scientific progress.

The European world was divided into three classes or estates which were the Priest, Nobility, and lastly, everyone else. These were the three estates. The Priestly estate held significant power over the other two estates. The priests would use the psychological terror of removal from having access to the sacraments of the church to maintain power.

When an individual was denied the sacraments it was called excommunication, when a region loss access to the sacraments it was called an interdict, final if an entire province or kingdom was denied the sacraments war was then declared and this was called a crusade.

There were two common forms of education below the university and these were the Knightly schools and the Burgher schools.

Knightly Schools

Knightly schools trained boys to become knights. The training was divided into 3 segments of seven years each. The first segment was from 0-7 years of age under the care of the mother. From ages 7-14, the boy would live with another knight perhaps as a page. The third stage from 14-21 had the boy serving as a squire. At the age of 21, a young man was declared a knight.

The subjects taught in the KNightly practicum focused on the physical, artistic, and strategic. Music, chess, manners, poetry, and military training were all part of the curriculum. There was almost no intellectual training but an obsession with practical learning.

Burgher Schools

Burgher Schools were for tradesmen and artisans and provided a basic education. The subject taught included reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as geography, history, natural science, and Latin.

THere was a constant power struggle between commoners and the priest for control of these schools. Locals wanted to control these schools themselves. However, technically only the church had permission to teach. This resulted in alternating back and forth in terms of control.

Teachers in these schools were paid almost nothing and traveled from school to school as vagrants. Teaching was not seen as a noble profession at this time thus having a powerful effect on the quantity and quality of education.


Education in the Middle Ages was designed to meet the needs of the three estates. People would often attend school corresponding to their rank in society. This system had an air of stability until rapid social changes brought about the decline of this system.

Monastic Schools

During the early Middle Ages (500-1000 CE) monastic schools began to take shape and heavily influence education. Their influence was felt for over a millennia providing education directly or indirectly to a countless number of people.


The monastic schools grew out of the philosophy of Asceticism. Asceticism is the belief in a life of severe self-denial from the viewpoint that the body was evil. Practitioners of asceticism would forego marriage, financial gain, and most earthly pursuits, in order to focus on spiritual development usually in isolation. This a strong reaction to the non-Christian world’s focus on eating a drinking

There were two common ways to follow Asceticism. Hermits would often live in nearly complete isolation to pursue spiritual development. Monks, on the other hand, practice asceticism as well but would stay near communities of people in order to provide spiritual care for others. In addition, monks would live together in monasteries to support and encourage each other. Of course, at least in the past, monks were only men. Women could become nuns if they desired to live in similar conditions among women.

The largest order of monks was the Bendectin Order. The monasteries served as an asylum for the oppressed, as a missionary station, and most importantly as a preserver of knowledge.


The curriculum of the monastic schools consisted of the 7 liberal arts. These seven subjects can be broken into two categories, which are the trivium and the quadrivium.

The Trivium consisted of three subjects which were Latin, logic, and rhetoric. Latin was the lingua Franca of the Chuch at the time so its grammar was taught extensively. Logic was derived from the ideas of Aristotle and included deductive and inductive reasoning. Rhetoric is another term for public speaking and this was studied for the purpose of developing communication skills.

The quadrivium consisted of four subjects which were arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Many of the subjects are not studied as they are today. Arithematic study the mysterious or gnostic properties of numbers. Geometry was studied superficial and of little use. Astronomy was treated almost the same as astrology.

However, music was studied for the purpose of worship. The chants that the monks sang came to be called Gregorian chants named after Pope Gregory who had the chants codified. This is some of the earliest written version of western music. The notational system was different from modern notation using four lines instead of five and use squares instead of ovals to indicate notes.

The significance of Gregorian chants cannot be overestimated as they laid the foundation for modern music. Chants in the halls of monasteries provided the beginnings of most music found today.


Radical views in terms of the body led to the idea of asceticism. From this focus on self-denial comes the idea of living among like-minded people in monasteries. While in monasteries the monks would pursue education for personal development. This led to the liberal arts curriculum that is still used in part to this day.


Education in the Early Church

The early church provides a unique look at the development of a system of religious education fairly recently in history. With the death of the apostles, believers who were still alive had to face the reality of two major problems.

  1. What do we do with our children in terms of their education?
  2. How do we educate people who want to join the church?

The answers to these two questions intersect in many ways. This post will examine education in the early church.

Education of Children

The education of children was a problem for the early church. Children needed an education but state-run schools were not really an option. The reason has to do with the difference in philosophy of Christian education and state education.

Christian education is focused on character development and being prepared for eternity. In contrast, state education is focused on skill development and the here and now as eternity is often not a concern. As a result of this, Christians did not consider state-controlled schools as an option for their children.

In addition, it was common for state-led schools to mix Roman worship with education and for the Christians this was unacceptable. It is also important to realize that Christians were frequently persecuted as atheists during this time so it was impossible to go to school when one’s life was in danger.

The solution to this was the one that the Jews used, which was homeschooling. The focus of the child’s training was to develop a trust in the Christian God. By keeping the child at home he or she was protected from the influence of the world for a time. This led to a simplicity of taste that non-Christians found bewildering.

The Bible was the sole book for most children. The stories within it served as nursery tales. Scripture was memorized and the Bible was even used for learning to read.

With the focus on character development and a sense of morals, Christian education was vastly different from the education of other societies. Even without the focus on the classics and even technical training Christians were a spectacle to the world at this time. In terms of the results of this education among women one heathen author exclaimed “What wives these Christians have” indicating his awe in how these people conducted themselves.

Catechetical Schools

As the church grew, it became difficult to address the needs of new members. In particular, there were concerns over how to prepare prospective members for church membership. One answer to this problem was the development of Catechetical schools which were a place for prospective and current members to receive training in Christian beliefs.

For people considering baptism, the training could last anywhere from a few months to as long as three years. The curriculum consisted of learning the Ten Commandments, Lord’ Prayer, other parts of scripture, and as well as a confession of faith.

For people who were already Christian, they could receive advanced training that would prepare them for ministerial work as a teacher or leader. Some of the subjects covered for believers included philology, rhetoric, math, and philosophy.

The most prominent of these schools was found in Alexandria, Egypt. For several centuries after this,  Alexandria has a powerful influence on the Christian church.


The purpose of education is to meet the needs of the people in the context in which it is needed. The Early Christian Church had the dilemma of having to be separate from the world while still developing skills needed to survive in it. This led to the development of the homeschool for children and the Catechetical School for new converts.

Education in Ancient Rome

The Roman Empire was around in one form or another for over 1,000 years. To attempt to try and cover the educational approach of an empire over such a long period is not practical in a blog post. Instead, certain key ideas will be highlighted to provide a brief picture.


The Romans had a war-like spirit due in part to the context in which they found themselves. They were surrounded by enemies on all sides and had no choice but to fight for their survival. This war context influence education in that the Romans were focused on a practical utilitarian education for their children. This is in stark contrast to the aesthetic education of the Greeks who loved beauty for beauty sake.

Another unique characteristic of Roman society was the status given to women. Women in Roman culture were often viewed as Queens of the Household and wielded tremendous power behind their husbands.

What they Taught

The Romans taught the same basic subjects of many other ancient cultures. Some of the subjects included reading, writing, math. grammar, poetry. However, due to their practical nature, the early Roman empire did not have a strong aesthetic culture. This came later as Rome began to absorb and imitate Greek life.

How Learning was Organized

Education was divided into three main stages of life. The first stage lasted from birth until about the age of 7 and was under the mother. Basic life skills were taught and not too much in terms of academics. Later, the mothers would reject this responsibility and leave their children in the care of a pedagogue but this did not happen until Rome began to decline.

From ages 7-12 a child went to elementary school and studied under a literature. Being a literator was often viewed negatively as someone who had failed in life. Therefore, primary education was full of washed up men. Corporal punishment was common as well and stern discipline was instilled.

From age 12-16 a boy would receive advanced training under a literatus. Unlike the primary teacher, the literator, the literatus was highly respected and could earn a great deal of money from his occupation.

At the age of 16, a boy was considered an adult and would pursue his life work which could be anything such as agriculture, law, politics, military, etc. were some of the many options available.


Roman education was focused on what was necessary to improve the practical life of the people. There quest for conquered lands help them to spread their influence over the entire planet.  Therefore, Rome is remembered for their sense of independence that is still remembered until this day.

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.


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.


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.

The Life of Pythagoras


Pythagoras was a highly influential educator during the time of ancient Greece. In this post, we will take a brief look at his life and impact on education.

Early Life

Pythagoras was born around 570BC on the island of Samos. His early life was spent in private study. However, as a young man, Pythagoras traveled to Egypt to acquire additional education.

Down To Egypt

While in Egypt, Pythagoras studied with the Egyptian priest. The Egyptian priest were the masters of education in Egypt and was the only class in Egypt that received an advanced education. Under their tutelage, Pythagoras was exposed to various math and science subjects as well as some of the religious practices of Egypt. He was particularly touched by their way of life and it led him to develop his own style of living that would eventually be called Pythagoreanism.

After completing additional studies in Egpyt, Pythagoras moved to Italy and founded his own school. The school had essentially two levels which were the exoteric and esoteric. Students began in the exoteric studies and stayed there for at least 3 years. After completing exoteric studies a student would begin esoteric studies with Pythagoras himself.

In Italy

The subjects taught at Pythagoras’ school includes physics, geography, medicine, math and even metaphysics. In terms of math, it was Pythagoras who gave algebra students the Pythagorean theorem which states that the square of a  hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the square of the base and the square of the height as shown in the expression below

 base2 + height2 = hypotenuse2

Pythagoras also had distinct metaphysical views. He believed in one true called as a form of monotheism. This was in stark contrast to the commonly held beliefs of Greece at the time. This could have made him unpopular in a world of polytheism

Pythagoras also believed in the transmigration of the soul. This essentially means that when an animal died they would come back as a lower animal. This is in many ways a form of reincarnation. It was simply another way of saying “You shall not really die” which was an idea shared in a garden by a snake to a woman.

Pythagoras’ school was known for being authoritative, strict, and even have a habit of being aristocratic. This along with other ideas made Pythagoras school unpopular. So unpopular that a mob would eventually burn his school down to the ground.


It is not clear if Pythagoras died in the flames or lived on as scholars are still debating this. What can be seen is that Pythagoras view of education has continued to live on to this day. His way of life had an influence on many people and his contribution to mathematics has touched the life of practical every algebra student on the planet.

Education in Ancient Sparta

With Ancient Greece there was a small city-state called Sparta. MAny today know of Sparta because of the movies that have been made of this war-like people. Spartan education was primarily a one about military training.

The reason for this emphasis on developing soldiers was due in part to the context in which the Spartans lived. In their own country, they were a minority with a large population of neighboring freeman and an even larger population of slaves. The only way in the Spartans minds to maintain power was through the use of strength. As such this was the focus of their education.


The founder of the government of what makes up classical Sparta was Lycurgus. After spending time in Egypt Lycurgus came to Sparta and developed their constitution. Some of the practices he made lawe included the making all money out of iron to discourage greed and to require men to live in barracks together to encourage unity towards the military and state over the family.

By discouraging greed and familial affections Spartan men were focused on developing strength and military prowess almost to the exclusion of anything else. What else is there for a man to do when he cannot acquire wealth or enjoy his family?

One last point to mention is that children were seen as the property of the state. In a rather cruel way, weak children were eliminated at birth and only the strong were allowed to live. This further strengthens the idea of the state over family.

What They Learned

The training was primarily physical in nature. Young boys were taken from their homes at the age of 7 to live in the state barracks. Once there, they were given a minimum amount of clothes and food. The cold and hunger often compelled the boys to steal. Stealing was actually encourage as it taught stealth. However, being caught was punished severely because it indicated carelessness, which could prove deadly on the battlefield.

Gymnastics, wrestling, and the use of weapons were also emphasized. Despite the contradiction in encouraging stealing the Spartan education also strongly inculcated moral training as well. Boys were to control their appetites, respect the aged as well as their parents, and to be indifferent to suffering. It was considered shameful to lose control of one’s behavior in any way. This naturally discourages such behaviors as drunkness.

Unlike other ancient cultures, the Spartans loved music and spent a large of amount of free time developing this skill. Songs were frequently about war and brave acts.

Women also received an education and the focus was on the development of the physical nature.

How Were They Taught

Spartan boys were taught primarily by the senior citizens or the aged of the society. The old would spend time with the young boys. The common forms of instruction involved a question and answer format. This instilled a great deal of practical wisdom in the youth.

Another primary method of learning was imitation. Young people would learn simply through copying the actions and behaviors of the aged. This imitation of the aged rather than of other young people help Spartans to mature and develop a seriousness to them that would be hard to find in young people today.


The Spartans were a military culture with a strong state apparatus. Their educational system was developed to suppress the people around them in an attempt to maintain their own safety. This desire to survive contributed to a highly oppressive system from the viewpoint of an outsider but perhaps a saving grace for the Spartan.

Education in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt is perhaps one of the oldest if not the oldest civilization on the planet. With a rich history dating several thousand years Egypt also had a reputation for education as well. This post will discuss education in Egypt with a focus on training by caste.


Egypt was famous for their wisdom and architectural work. In terms of architecture, we are probably all familiar with the pyramids that are still standing after several thousand years. In terms of wisdom, Egypt was so highly regarded in the past that the Greeks sent several future philosophers and leaders to Egypt to study. Among those who went include Plato perhaps the greatest philosopher of all time, Lycurgus, the founder of Sparta, and Solon, the famous Athenian Statesman.

Egypt also had a strong caste system similar to India’s. There were essentially three classes. At the top were the priests, second, was the military, and the lowest classes was everybody else. The lowest class was also sub-divided into three subclasses of farmers/boatmen, then mechanics and tradesman, and lastly the herdsman, fishermen, and laborers. A person was born into their class and it was almost impossible to move from one to the other.

The priestly class was also exempt from taxes and owned as much as 1/3 of the land in Egypt. Their skills and training also commanded high salaries. Egypt was essentially a priests’ country in terms of status and privileges.

What They Study

The education an Egyptian received was heavily influenced by the caste they came from. The priest received the most extensive training. They studied philosophy, natural history, medicine, math, history, law, etc. With this training, a person from the priestly caste could be a physician, historian, surveyor, customs inspector, judge, counselor, etc.

Everyone else received a basic education depending on their occupation. Merchants learned how to read, write, and perform simple math. Tradesman only learned their trade from their parents.

The writing was also divided along class lines. THere were two types of writing systems. The Demotic style was for the masses while the Hieratic style was for the priestly class. The main difference between these two styles is the proportion of hieroglyphics used.

Two subjects commonly ignored in Egyptian education was gymnastics and music. Gymnastics was considered dangerous due to the risk of bodily harm. Music was considered to have an effminate influence on a man if studied to excess.


Ancient Egyptian was unique in terms of the dominance of the priestly class. The priest was allowed to study extensively while everyone else did not seem to enjoy the same access to education. This allowed the priest to wield tremendous informal power within Egypt and to quietly work behind the scenes to achieve goals

Education in Ancient China

As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, China has a rich past when it comes to education. This post will explore education in Ancient China by providing a brief overview of it. The following topics

  1. Background
  2. What was Taught
  3. How was it Taught
  4. The Organization of what was Taught
  5. The Evidence Students Provided of their Learning


Ancient Chinese education is an interesting contrast. On the one hand, they were major innovators of some of the greatest invention of mankind which includes paper, printing, gunpowder, and the compass. On the other hand, Chinese education in the past was strongly collective in nature with heavy governmental control. There was extreme pressure to conform to ancient customs and independent deviate behavior was looked down upon.  Despite this, there as still innovation.

Most communities had a primary school and most major cities had a college. Completing university study was a great way to achieve a government position in ancient China.

What Did they Teach

Ancient Chinese education focused almost exclusively on Chinese Classics. By classics, it is meant the writings of mainly Confucius. Confucius emphasized strict obedience in a hierarchical setting. The order was loosely King, Father, Mother, then the child. Deference to authority was the ultimate duty of everyone. There is little surprise that the government support such an education that demanded obedience to them.

Another aspect of Confucius writings that was stressed was the Five Cardinal Virtues which were charity, justice, righteousness, sincerity, and conformity to tradition. This was the heart of the moral training that young people received. Even leaders needed to demonstrate these traits which limited abuses of power at times.

What China is also famous for in their ancient curriculum is what they did not teach.  Supposedly, they did not cover in great detail geography, history, math, science, or language. The focus was on Confucius apparently almost exclusively.

How Did they Teach

Ancient Chinese education was taught almost exclusively by rote memory. Students were expected to memorized large amounts of information.  This contributed to a focus on the conservation of knowledge rather than the expansion of it. If something new or unusual happened it was difficult to deal with since there was no prior way already developed to address it.

How was Learning Organized

School began at around 6-7 years of age in the local school. After completing studies at the local school. Some students went to the academy for additional studies.  From Academy, some students would go to university with the hopes of completing their studies to obtain a government position.

Generally,  the education was for male students as it was considered shameful to not educate a boy. Girls often did not go to school and often handle traditional roles in the home.

Evidence of Learning

Evidence of learning in the Chinese system was almost strictly through examinations. The examinations were exceedingly demanding and stressful. If a student was able to pass the gauntlet of rot memory exams he would achieve his dream of completing college and joining the prestigious Imperial Academy as a Mandarin.


Education in Ancient China was focused on memorization, tradition,  and examination. Even with this focus, Ancient China developed several inventions that have had a significant influence on the world. Explaining this will only lead to speculation but what can be said is that progress happens whether it is encouraged or not.

Education in Ancient Israel

The Nation of Israel as described in the Bible has a rich and long history of several thousand years. This particular group of people believed that they are the keepers of the knowledge of the true God. Their influence in religion is remarkable in that a large part of the theology of Christianity is derived from Hebrew writings.

In this post, we will only look at a cross-section of Hebrew education around the time of the time of the monarchy period of David and Solomon.

What Did they Teach

The goal of Hebrew education was to produce people who obeyed God. This is in stark contrast to other educational systems that emphasized obeying earthly rulers. The Hebrew system stress first allegiance to God and then allegiance to man when this did not conflict with the will of God. When there was a disagreement in terms of what man and God commanded the Hebrew was taught to obey  God. This thinking can be traced even in Christianity with the death of martyrs throughout Church history.

The educational system was heavily inspired by their sacred writings. At the time we are looking at, the majority of the writings were by Moses. The writings of Moses provide a detailed education of health principles, morality, and precise explanation of performing the rites of the sacrificial system.

The sacrificial system in the Hebrew economy is particularly impressive in that the ceremonies performed were all meant to help the Israelites remember what God had done for them and to be shadows of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as understood by some Christian theologians.

In order for children to learn all of the laws and sacred writings of their nation, it required that almost everyone learn to read. People were held personally responsible to understand their role in society as well as in how to treat others and God’s will for them. Again this is in contrast to other religions in which people simply obeyed the religious leaders. The Jew was expected to know for themselves what their religion was about.

How Did They Teach

Despite the theocratic nature of the government and the details of the religious system, the educational system in Ancient Israel was highly decentralized. The school was the home and the teachers were the parents. Most nations that reached the strength and level of the Monarchy of Israel had a state ran educational system. However, the Hebrews never had this.

The decentralized nature of education is unusual because secular leaders normally want to mold the people to follow and obey them. In Israel, this never happens because of the focus on serving God. The personalized education allowed children to grow as individuals rather than as cogs in a nation-state machine. The idea of allowing parents to all educate their children as they decide would seem chaotic in today’s standardized world. Yet the Israel monarchy lasted as long as any other kingdom in the world.

How Did They Organize 

Once a child completed their studies they would learn a trade and begin working. Higher education was not focused on secular matters and was often reserved for the priestly class to learn skills related to their office. Example include law, sacred writings weights and measures, and astronomy to determine when the various feast days would be.

Another form of additional education was the Schools of the Prophets. Apparently, these were independent institutions that provided training in the scriptures, medicine, and law. At least one author claims that the Schools of the Prophets were established because Hebrew parents were neglecting the education of their children.  In other words, when the parents began to neglect the education of their children is when the nation begin to decline as well.


The Israelite educational system during the early monarchy period was an interesting example of contrasts. Highly detailed yet decentralized in execution, focused on obeying God yet having a monarchy that probably wanted to keep power, and little regard for higher education while producing some of the most profound theological works of all-time.  The strength of this system would be considered a weakness in many others.

Education in Ancient Persia

The Persian Empire was one of the great empires of ancient civilization. It was this Empire that defeated the Babylonians. This post will provide a brief examination of the educational system of Persia.


The religion of Persia was Zoroastrianism. The priestly class of Persia were called Magi. They responsible for sacred duties as well as the education of princes.

These are the same Magi that are found in the Bible in reference to the birth of Jesus. Due to their priestly responsibilities and knowledge of astronomy, this information merged to compel the Magi to head to Jerusalem to see Christ as a small child.

Teachers for the commoners were normally retired soliders. Exemption from the military began at the age of 50. At this age, if a male was able to live this long, he would turn his attention the education of the next generation.

What was Taught

The emphasis in Persian education was gymnastics, moral, and military training. The physical training was arduous, to say the least. Boys were pushed well nigh to their physical limits.

The moral training was also vigourously instilled. Boys were taught to have a strong understanding of right and wrong as well as a sense of justice. Cyrus the Great shared a story about how, as a boy, he was called to judge a case about coats. Apparently, a large student had a small coat and a small student had a large coat. The large student forced the small student to switch coats with him.

When Cyrus heard this story he decided that the large boy was right because both boys now had a coat that fitted him. The large boy had a large coat and the small boy had a small coat. However, Cyrus’ teacher was disappointed and beat him. Apparently, the question was not which coat fit which boy but rather which coat belonged to which boy.

Something that was neglected in ancient Persian education was basic literacy. The reading, writing, and arithmetic were taught at a minimal level. These skills were left for the Magi to learn almost exclusively.

How Was the Curriculum Organized

From the age of 0-7 education was in the home with the mother. From 7-15 boys were educated by the state and were even considered state property. After the age of 15, students spent time learning about justice in the marketplace.

Girls did not receive much of an education. Rather, they focused primarily on life in the home. This included raising small children and other domestic duties.


Persia education was one strongly dominated by the state. The purpose was primarily to mold boys into just, moral soldiers who could serve to defend and expand the empire. This system is not without merit as it held an empire together for several centuries. The saddest part may be the loss of individual freedom and expression at the expense of government will.

Education in Ancient India

In this post, we take a look at India education in the ancient past. The sub-continent of India has one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Their culture has had a strong influence on both the East and West.


One unique characteristic of ancient education in India is the influence of religion. The effect of Hinduism is strong. The idea of the caste system is derived from Hinduism with people being divided primarily into four groups

  1. Brahmins-teachers/religious leaders
  2. Kshatriyas-soldiers kings
  3. Vaisyas-farmers/merchants
  4. Sudras-slaves

This system was ridged. There was no moving between caste and marriages between castes was generally forbidden. The Brahmins were the only teachers as it was embarrassing to allow one’s children to be taught by another class. They received no salary but rather received gifts from their students

What Did they Teach

The Brahmins served as the teachers and made it their life work to reinforce the caste system through education. It was taught to all children to understand the importance of this system as well as the role of the  Brahmin at the top of it.

Other subjects taught at the elementary level include the 3 r’s. At the university level, the subjects included grammar, math, history, poetry, philosophy, law, medicine, and astronomy. Only the Brahmins completed formal universities studies so that they could become teachers. Other classes may receive practical technical training to work in the government, serve in the military, or manage a business.

Something that was missing from education in ancient India was physical education. For whatever reason, this was not normally considered important and was rarely emphasized.

How Did they Teach

The teaching style was almost exclusively rote memorization. Students would daily recite mathematical tables and the alphabet. It would take a great deal of time to learn to read and write through this system.

There was also the assistance of an older student to help the younger ones to learn. In a way, this could be considered as a form of tutoring.

How was Learning Organized

School began at 6-7. The next stage of learning was university 12 years later. Women did not go to school beyond the cultural training everyone received in early childhood.

Evidence of Learning

Learning mastery was demonstrated through the ability to memorize. Other forms of thought and effort were not the main criteria for demonstrating mastery.


Education in India serves a purpose that is familiar to many parts of the world. That purpose was social stability. With the focus on the caste system before other forms of education, India was seeking stability before knowledge expansion and personal development. This can be seen in many ways but can be agreed upon is that the country is still mostly intact after several thousand years and few can make such a claim even if their style of education is superior to India’s.

William Kilpatrick: The Project Method

William Kilpatrick (1871-1965) was a prominent educator of the early to mid 20th century. He was a colleague of John Dewey and a proponent of Dewey’  educational model. Kilpatrick’s contribution to education was not only as a supporter of Dewey’s work but also in his expansion of the work of Dewey.

Views on Education

Kilpatrick supported Dewey’s view of getting away from rote memorization and a rigid curriculum and replacing it with a child-centered approach. He was a major critic of the Committee of Ten with their emphasis on acquiring knowledge through traditional means. Kilpatrick saw school not only fulfilling an intellectual purpose but also a social one.

For Kilpatrick, education was about the social development of the child rather than their cognitive development through the mastery of content. This is not saying that the mind did not matter. The emphasis was on learning to think and not focusing on what to think.

The curriculum should come from real-life and not compartmentalized subject matter.  This idea calls for a need for an integrated curriculum that stressed maximum student participation. These beliefs led Kilpatrick to create a unique form of teaching.

The Project Method

Kilpatrick’s Project Method is a blend of behavioral psychology and progressivism. It was behavioral in that student behavior was observed but it was also progressive in the focus on child-centered learning. The four steps of the Project Method are as follows.

  1. Purpose
  2. Plan
  3. Execute
  4. Judge

Teachers first need to decide what are they trying to do. Next, the need to develop a plan for achieving these objectives. The development of observable goals is clearly the behavioral aspect of this method. Execution involves the implementation of the the plan. Last is judge, the teacher assess the success of the plan. Again, assessing the students and curriculum is a behavioral aspect of the Project Method.

The progressivist aspect of this method was the constant revision of the curriculum based on student need and interest. The curriculum was developed jointly with the students. This was a core belief of Kilpatrick that students should be leaders in the development of their learning as nothing would motivate them more. This also led to the development of decision-making skills.

It is important to remember that the Project Method was not a rigid method but actually a philosophy. The steps in the method were really just an idea of approaching a child-centered learning experiencing.


Few have heard of Kilpatrick today. He was a major supporter of the work of Dewey and lived in the shadow of Dewey throughout his career. Despite living behind a legend, Kilpatrick was an innovator in his own right and developed a distinct strain of progressivism that had an impact within many classrooms. His influence may not have been as strong but nevertheless, he played a role in how teaching is approach in America.

Bobbitt and Charters: Pioneers in Curriculum

Franklin Bobbitt (1876-1956) and W.W. Charters (1875-1952) were colleagues at the University of Chicago and work together as trailblazers in the development of curriculum. Both of these men were a product of their time. in the early 20th century, there was an emphasis on efficiency and science. Bobbitt and Charters brought the concepts of the early 20th century with them as they developed their ideas about curriculum.


Franklin Bobbitt

Franklin Bobbitt

Bobbitt believed that curriculum should start with outlining what the student needs to know in what he called objectives. Next it was necessary to develop activities that the students do to achieve the objective. Bobbitt emphasized having students complete activities in order to learning.

The use of objectives was somewhat revolutionary. Bobbitt was heavily influenced by science and behaviorism with their focus on observable change. Bobbitt brought this idea of observable change into education in his development of objectives.

Bobbitt also developed several guidelines for developing objective. Some of the more prominent ones are in the list below.

  • Objectives should be practical
  • Objectives should prepare students for adulthood
  • Involve the community in developing objectives
  • Sequence objectives by grade level

These concepts were completely groundbreaking in providing a framework for curriculum development. Now educators had an approach, even if it was not perfect, for developing curriculum for students.

W.W. Charters

W.W. Charters

W.W. Charters

Charters was also a behaviorist like Bobbitt. He developed a method for selecting objectives based on social needs. After developing or selecting objectives, Charters encouraged analysis to see how objectives are applied in the classroom. This idea of assessing the implementation of objectives providing the groundwork for curriculum evaluation.

Charters viewed the curriculum as scientific. In his view, curriculum was a collection of goals that the students needed to achieve in order to have competency. This idea has always been a part of education but Charters stated it specifically and made it clear .

Bobbitt and Charters Legacy

Educators are indebted to the work of Bobbitt and Charters. These men laid down the idea of objectives. The concept of objectives would blossom into goals, aims, standards, learning outcomes, indicators, and benchmarks. Though all these terms are confusing the really are at heart just different forms of objectives depending on the level of specificity.

Bobbitt and Charter also introduced the idea of learning experiences. These are the things the students do to learn. Again this led to such concepts as experiential learning, hands-on activities, authentic assessment, and more. Action-based learning is the norm today.

Lastly, Bobbitt and Charters were some of the first proponents of consulting the community in developing curriculum. In other words, a needs assessment was necessary before determining what to teach. Consulting stakeholders is now considered best practice in education.

Bobbitt and Charters influenced in education continues to this day. They provided the foundational concepts of many standard operation procedures in education. The world of education would be different today if not for the work of these two men.

Early 20th Century Educators: Flexner & Judd

Perspectives on education began to shift in the early 20th century. With the move towards education for the masses came a need to make education about more than preparation for college. Many began to push for a move from only a classical education to a practical one. Two reformers who pushed for this transition are Abraham Flexner and Charles Judd.

Abraham Flexner


Abraham Flexner

Abraham Flexner (1866-1959)  was actually a former teacher of Latin. With time, he began to think that teaching a subject like Latin was not beneficial for the students. For Flexner, Latin did not serve any useful purpose for the students and was out of step with education in the 20th century.

In Flexner’s opinion, tradition was not a strong enough reason for justifying the content of a subject. The world was experiencing rapid change at the turn of the 20th century. As such, education needed to find ways to keep up with the changes of time.

Flexner proposed four basic subjects for secondary education.

  1. Science
  2. Vocational skills
  3. Civics (history, government, etc.)
  4. Humanities (art, music, literature, etc.)

Even with his changes, Flexner was still heavily classical in his approach. The major difference for him was that all subjects must have a utilitarian nature in order to be a part of the curriculum.

Flexner’s contribution cannot be underestimated as his curriculum was adopted by Columbia University and heavily influenced a young John Dewey.

Charles Judd


Charles Judd

Charles Judd (1873-1946) was a colleague of John Dewey. He extended Flexner’s utilitarian view into a scientific approach. Judd was one of the first to use statistics in order to determine the worth of a curriculum based on student performance.

Judd focused on teaching kids how to think rather than on memorizing. He did this because he believed that students needed to be able to solve problems in a changing world rather than recall facts from the past. For Judd, education should be practical and not classical.

Judd influence was strong on the next generation of educators. His scientific viewpoint was extended by the likes of Franklin Bobbit, Werrett Charters, and Ralph Tyler.


Flexner and Judd were important transitional figures in American education.Their contributions are significant in their own right. However, Flexner and Judd biggest contribution was the influence the provided for the next generation of educators who extended the ideas of these men into something much larger.

If there had been no Flexner there may have been no Dewey. Furthermore, if there had been no Judd there may have been no Charters, Bobbit, or Tyler. As such, names that are considered much more influential in education are standing on the work and dedication of transitional figures such as Flexner and Judd.

Bringing Organization to US Education: Late 19th to Early 20th Century

By the dawn of the 20th century, education, particularly completing primary education, was a norm. Due to the growth in education, there was a corresponding expansion in the courses taught. However, there was no unifying hand over schools or curriculum.

The lack of coordination over education led to problems. The amount of time needed for a class was different from place to place. A student would be placed in different grades depending on where they enrolled. Lastly, the courses offered were focused on a classical tradition even though few went on to college (this last problem was exacerbated not solved).

With the confusion came a push for reform. In order to bring change, several influential committees were formed in the early 20th to bring order to the chaos of education. The major committees include

  1. The Committee of Fifteen
  2. The Committee of Ten
  3. The Committee on College Entrance Requirements

The Committee of Fifteen

The Committee of Fifteen was not so much a committee om reformation as it was a counter-reformation committee. This committee rejected adding additional courses, focusing on children needs, and interdisciplinary approaches to teaching.

Instead, the Committee of Fifteen supported a support for the three R’s, and separate subjects. In terms of change they did support reducing elementary school from grade K-10 to K-8, and including manual training starting in grade 7.

The Committee of Fifteen put breaks on change but did not stop it. With other committees arose the push for more reform.

The Committee of Ten

The Committee of Ten brought strong, but conservative, change to education. They recommended nine academic subjects covering language, math, history, and science. They also recommended having several different tracks that students can study on depending on their goals.The tracks were classical, science and or language focused.

The Committee of Ten ignored the humanities (art, music, etc,), PE, and even vocational education believing that these subjects did not benefit the mind. The overall purpose of the curriculum was still college preparation. The impact of this committee can be seen in how secondary schools still focus on college preparation.

The Committee on College Entrance Requirements

The Committee on College Entrance Requirements simply reaffirmed what the Committee of Ten proposed. They also proposed the number of credits students should earn for particular subjects if they want to go to college.

The biggest contribution of this committee was the development of the “Carnegie Unit” which was in response to the credit hour proposal of the committee. Seat time in class was now a measure of knowledge of a subject. This idea has worked for over 90 years but is now being criticized as seat time does not lead necessarily to mastery.


Rapid growth led to a need for rapid organizations. The committees mentioned in this piece have had a tremendous impact on secondary education in the US. For most, going to high school is preparation for going to college. This mindset is due to these committees that met in the late 19th century.

The focus on college preparation may be due to the fact that these committees were lead by college-educated scholars whose passion was naturally the training of the mind. This singular focused has made education one-dimensional to this day. Whenever pushing for change in curriculum, the team needs to have a mixture of personalities and abilities to produce a balanced system. This was missing from these great committees. They had a great vision that applied strictly to a minority of the population.