Education, as we know it today, did not exist in the Middle Ages. Illiteracy was dominant among the population. Scribes were the exception to the rule. Churches were the main source of knowledge and schooling. Real interest in learning grew along with the development of towns. The towns’ officials needed to be educated. At the same time a need for legal institutions was created and so started the university phenomenon. Modern education was on its way. There were few schools in the Middle ages, so everyone had limited education.
Even the Lord of the Manor was often unable to read or write. Some of the first schools were Cathedral schools. As well as Parish, Monastic, and Palace schools. Here people learned a particular role in society. Naturally the primary job was training the clergy in their professional duties as priests of the Christian people. The bishop was the head of the complex and he had a staff of priest to help him with the several of the diocese. These skills that were taught here were reading, singing of hymns, church law, writing of documents and the performing of Church duties and sacraments.
An example of educating for a specific role in life were the Knights who had learn how to fight with various weapons so that they could fight for their king. The common people, however, had no way of being educated other than going a monastic school. However, if they did this, they had to donate their property to the church. The people who went to this school later become monks or nuns. They had to follow three important laws: chastity, obedience, and the law or the lord if not followed they would be thrown out of the monastery.
Most monasteries had a rule of silence: monks could not talk which other except for a short period of time. During meals one monk might read passages from the bible while the others mediated. Even though monks’ lives seem to be so hard it was the best place to go for a good education for anybody from a king to a beggar (Monasteries 488-499). Women took part in monastic life by living in a convent under a direction of an abbess. Known as nuns, they wore simple clothes and wrapped a white cloth called a wimple around their face and neck.
They alternated prayer with spinning, weaving, and embroiling items such as tapestries and banners. They also taught needlework and the medicinal use of herbs to daughters of nobles (Couglin A6). Although monks and nuns lived apart from society, they were not completely isolated. Indeed, they played a crucial role in medieval intellectual and social life. Since few people could read or write, the regular clergy preserved ancient and the classical writings. Scribes copied all the books by hand working in a small drafty room with one candle or a small window for light.
Illuminated manuscripts decorated with rich colors and intricate pictures indicate that, although the task was done with hard work, it was also lovingly done (Monastaries 499-501). Monasteries and convents provided not only schools for young people, but hospitals for the sick, food for the needy, and a home for travelers who need a place to stay (Monasteries 499-501). Cathedral schools were there to train higher-member of the Church in their professional duties as ministers of the Christian people. The bishop in whose Cathedral complex the school was located needed a group of trained priests to administer the various needs dioceses.
The Cathedral school largely emphasized practical skills, effective reading, singing, and knowledge of Church Law, public speaking and the administration of the holy sacraments (Corbishely 28). At first the university was not so much a place as it was a group of scholars organized like a guild for the purpose of learning. Classes were held in rented rooms or churches even in the open air. Books were scarce. In most classes teacher read the text and discussed it, while students took notes on slates or memorized as much information as possible. Classes did, however meet regularly schedule.
University rules established the obligations of the students and the teachers toward each other. To qualify as a teacher students had to pass an exam leading to a degree, or a certificate of completion (Cantor 58). By the end of the 1200’s universities had spread throughout Europe. Most southern European universities were modeled after the law school at Bologna, Italy, and specialized in law and medicine. Universities in Northern Europe on the contrary, specialized in liberal arts in Theology. These were generally modeled after the University of Paris (Bailey 89).
At medieval universities, scholars studied Latin classics and Roman law in depth. They also acquired knowledge from the works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle and from the Islamic scholarship in the sciences. This interest in the physical world eventually led a rise of western science (Schools 291-292). Many church leaders opposed the study of Aristotle’s works, fearing that his ideas feared the Christian teachings. In contrast some scholars thought that new knowledge could be used ideas. The applied Aristotle philosophy to theological questions and developed a system of thought called scholasticism.
This new type of learning emphasized reason as well as the faith in the interpretations of Christian doctrine. Scholastic sought to bring back classical philosophy along side with the teachings of the Church. They believed that knowledge could be integrated into a coherent whole (Schools 295). One scholastic teacher, Peter Aberlard taught theology in Paris during the early 1100’s. In his book Sic et Non, he collected statements from the bible writings of early Christian leaders that showed both sides of controversial questions.
Abearld then had his students reconcile the difference though logic. In the 1200’s the most important scholastic thinker was Thomas Aquinas a brilliant theologian and philosopher who taught philosophy in Naples and France. In his work Summa Theolgica Aquinas claimed that reason was a gift from god that could provide answers to basic philosophical questions. The catholic later accepted and promoted Aquinas’s way of teaching and thinking (Schools 310). The education of a knight proceeded in a way similar to that of many medieval occupations.
At an early age the prospective knight was apprenticed to serve as a page, or attendant, in a knight’s household. In his teens the page graduated to the status of a squire and received more responsibilities. As a squire the boy tended his knight’s horses and armor, but he also gained his first battle experience. Several squires were usually apprenticed to a knight at the same time and on the battlefield they might fight as a small band of infantry around their master. Here they acquired the many skills in arms necessary for their profession.
To graduate to the status of a knight, a squire usually performed some heroic deed in battle. The squire was welcomed into the order of knights by being dubbed with a sword or slapped in the face by his lord. Afterwards the new knight would receive his fief, or gift of land. As the cult of chivalry developed in the 12th and 13th centuries, knighting ceremonies became more involved. Often they occurred at court, and a knight’s dubbing might be preceded by a religious vigil in which the knight vowed to uphold Christian and chivalric principles (Davies 12-13).
Finally the Renaissance, or rebirth of learning, began in Europe in the 14th century and reached its height in the 15th century. Scholars became more interested in the humanist features that is, the secular or worldly rather than the religious aspects of the Greek and Latin classics. Humanist educators found their models of literary style in the classics. The Renaissance was a particularly powerful force in Italy, most notably in art, literature, and architecture. In literature, the works of such Italian writers as Dante Aleghieri, Petrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio became especially important (Renaissance 228-229).
Humanist educators designed teaching methods to prepare well-rounded, liberally educated persons. Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus was particularly influential. Erasmus believed that understanding and conversing about the meaning of literature was more important than memorizing it, as had been required at many of the medieval religious schools. He advised teachers to study such fields as archeology, astronomy, mythology, history, and Scripture (Renaissance 220). The invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century made books more widely available and increased literacy rates.
But school attendance did not increase greatly during the Renaissance. Elementary schools educated middle-class children while lower-class children received little, if any, formal schooling. Children of the nobility and upper classes attended humanist secondary schools (Bailey 112). Educational opportunities for women improved slightly during the Renaissance, especially for the upper classes. Some girls from wealthy families attended schools of the royal court or received private lessons at home.
The curriculum studied by young women was still based on the belief that only certain subjects, such as art, music, needlework, dancing, and poetry, were suited for females. For working-class girls, especially rural peasants, education was still limited to training in household duties such as cooking and sewing (Couglin, A8). As it shows education the Middle Ages seems to be so diverse and a starting point for modern education. But the reader must always keep in mind only about five percent of the whole population did all of these educational activities.
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