Tag Archives: history

Individualism & Early Christian Education

A common conflict in the world today is the role of the state in people’s lives. Many people want the government to have more authority over what people can and can’t do. If there is a doubt to this just look at the battle over freedoms during a health crisis. People have been found to be fighting the government for the right to congregate for worship. With the rise of early Christianity, there was a view among Christians that was shared in their schools that the individual was above the state. Submission to secular government was permissible only when there was no contradiction to religious teachings.

Christianity and the Individual

Early Christian education placed an emphasis on the worth of the individual in a way that was foreign to many other worldviews at that time. Persian, Spartan, Chinese, and other cultures always placed the state above the individual and the reason to educate an individual was to benefit the state. Christian education spun this on its head and made clear that the individual was educated for their won benefit and that allegiance belongs to a higher power first rather than to a secular state.

517sGg2OyIL._SL250_This does not imply that Christianity was against the state. Instead, Christian education saw the state as something that belongs to man rather than man belonging to the state. The state should be obeyed and respected unless there is a conflict in obedience to the state and God.

Many governments throughout human history have been suspicious of Christians placing allegiance to God above secular authorities and this has led to persecution in many situations. The Romans were originally strong persecutors of Christians and this also happened in other parts of the world during the 1st and 2nd centuries. Many secular governments do not feel secure when they have people under their authority who do not put loyalty to them first.

Early Christian education also was universal. Men and women were educated. Many scholars have mentioned that Jewish and Christian women had some of the highest places in society in comparison to other societies. Also, the views on children were different. Within many pagan cultures, the wife’s and children belonged to the husband and were viewed as his property. A Roman father could sell his children into slavery or even have them killed if he so decided.

However, in Christianity, the wife and children were viewed as gifts from God. Since they did not belong to the husband he did not have the authority to do whatever he wanted to them. Also, the wife and children could disobey the husband if the husband wanted them to do something that was wrong before God. Again, the ultimate loyalty was always to God above the state and above the father.

During the early days of Christianity,  there were always a handful of highly educated and talented Christians, however, the majority were poor and ignorant. This was due in part to the fact that the leaders were often killed and that there was so much persecution happening that there was no time or a safe place to be in which schools could be built. Families were often on the move and only training to teach basic doctrines to their children.


The deemphasis on the state and the emphasis on the individual was perhaps one of the more shocking worldview shifts found in early Christian education. Strong states want submissive loyal subjects who will do what they are told and when. This is one reason for the elaborate ritualism and patriotism of countries, it serves as a way to bring people together. Christians did not need these ceremonies and rituals to demonstrate loyalty to the state. The caveat was that the Christian had the religious liberty to serve their God as they saw fit.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.