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Teaching Through The Ages

The learned men of ancient times, by default became the teachers. Priests and prophets taught children of the wealthy and noble, the skills to take up their roles as leaders and businessmen. The priests’ position was elevated above many strata of society, and they were treated accordingly for their knowledge, and wisdom.

One of the most learned men of all time, Confucius (561B.C.-), became the first private teacher in history. Born of a once noble family fallen on hard times, he found himself as an adolescent with a thirst for knowledge and nowhere to drink, since only the royal or noble were allowed an education. Because all the teachers were government officials, there was no way around the State policy. He solved it by going to work for a nobleman, whom he could accompany on his extensive travels. Such was his reputation, people sought him out to teach their sons. Confucius took any student eager to learn, and with the regular subjects, imparted his personal wisdoms for developing responsibility and moral character through discipline.

In ancient Greece, long acknowledged as the seat of philosophy and wisdom, the value of educating their children was recognized very early on, with some households engaging their own teacher.

Learned men, continued to impart wisdom on into the first years of Christianity, including the scribes in the Bible, who were often men that taught law as well. Through the first centuries A.D. Roman families often had educated slaves to teach their children, some of which were captives from other countries.

Education in the modern world tended to be a “hit and miss” proposition until the Middle Ages, when the Roman Catholic Church took charge of teaching the sons of nobility, entrusting that charge to monasteries or specially designated learning “centres.” Many of these centres evolved into the distinguished learning institutions of today, including Cambridge University, whose first college was St. Peter’s, founded in 1284. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the greatest growth in education for more than the privileged, and also a dramatic rise in the training of teachers, and propounding of educational theories.

Education in America took root with the landing of the Pilgrims in the early 1600s. The first public school was established in 1635 in Boston, Mass. There followed the creation of “dame” schools and Latin Grammar schools for higher education. Massachusetts was in the forefront of educational “reform”, when they enacted a law in 1642, that any child not being properly educated, would have to be apprenticed to a trade. Virginia followed with a similar law in 1646.

The Massachusetts “Old Deluder Satan Act” of 1647, required towns of more than 50 families to hire a teacher for reading and writing, and for more than 100 families, they had to establish a “grammar” school, which served as a college preparation. Many of these were Latin grammar schools, focusing on Latin, Greek, memorization and discipline. They were often taught by ministers, or transient masters. Outside schools could be found whipping posts, were recalcitrant students were tied, and thrashed for misbehaviour. The “Dame” schools taught reading and writing, but primarily to females, as this was all they were expected to learn, not being of the same intellect as men. Their classes were held in the kitchens of the homemaker/teacher who continued her chores while they did their lessons.

With the establishment of higher learning in the early 1700s, the curriculum of college preparatory and university institutions broadened considerably. However not all things were equal inside the schoolroom. In 1749, Ben Franklin’s concept of an academy of learning consisted of an English school and a Classical school. The Latin master had a title, and the English master had none. The Latin master made twice the salary, and the English master had twice the students.

High school, originally known as “terminal” school, came into existence in 1821, in Boston, for boys 12 years and older. Once more, law entered the educational fray, dictating that towns of over 500 families must have a high school with the prescribed curriculum. Towns with over 4,000 inhabitants were required to teach Latin and Greek, as well as other extra subjects.

Agriculture boarding schools enjoyed a very brief existence in the 1820s and 30s, having been established in the country to fulfill the needs of “idle and morally exposed” children from the city.

At the beginning of the 20th century, parents and the general public would begin to demand more practical and useful curriculums, and in so doing, may have helped elevate teaching to a respectable profession.