Tag Archives: history

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.

Curriculum

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.

Conclusion

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.

Conclusion

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.

Conclusion

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.