The History of Education

educationFrom: International World History Project – Edited By: Robert Guisepi

International World History Project

World History From The Pre-Sumerian Period To The Present

A Collection Of World History Related Essays, Documents, Maps and Music

"Oh human race, born to fly upward."  "Wherefore at but a little wind does thou so easily fall?" – Dante

Early Civilizations

With the gradual rise of more complex civilizations in the river valleys of Egypt and Babylonia, knowledge became too complicated to transmit directly from person to person and from generation to generation. To be able to function in complex societies, man needed some way of accumulating, recording, and preserving his cultural heritage. So with the rise of trade, government, and formal religion came the invention of writing, by about 3100 BC.

Because firsthand experience in everyday living could not teach such skills as writing and reading, a place devoted exclusively to learning--the school--appeared. And with the school appeared a group of adults specially designated as teachers--the scribes of the court and the priests of the temple. The children were either in the vast majority who continued to learn exclusively by an informal apprenticeship or the tiny minority who received formal schooling.

The method of learning was memorization, and the motivation was the fear of harsh physical discipline. On an ancient Egyptian clay tablet discovered by archaeologists, a child had written: "Thou didst beat me and knowledge entered my head."

Of the ancient peoples of the Middle East, the Jews were the most insistent that all children--regardless of class--be educated. In the 1st century AD, the historian Flavius Josephus wrote: "We take most pains of all with the instruction of the children and esteem the observance of the laws and the piety corresponding with them the most important affair of our whole life." The Jews established elementary schools where boys from about 6 to 13 years of age probably learned rudimentary mathematics and certainly learned reading and writing. The main concern was the study of the first five books of the Old Testament--the Pentateuch--and the precepts of the oral tradition that had grown up around them. At age 13, brighter boys could continue their studies as disciples of a rabbi, the "master" or "teacher." So vital was the concept of instruction for the Jews that the synagogues existed at least as much for education as for worship.

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