EDUCATION DURING THE RENAISSANCE
Renaissance humanists studied the literature of ancient Greece and Rome, believing that these classical works represented the height of human knowledge and were important models for a new age. St. Jerome in His Study, by the Italian painter Antonello da Messina (1430-1479), depicts the 4th-century scholar Jerome. Jerome was known for his important literary accomplishments, including a translation of the Bible into Latin
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.
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 archaeology, astronomy, mythology, history, and Scripture.
New Educational Goals
Education during the Renaissance emphasized such humanistic disciplines as history, poetry, and ethics. This painting depicts Massimiliano Sforza, the son of a duke of Milan, attending to his lessons.
The invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century made books more widely available and increased literacy rates (see Printing). 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.
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.
EDUCATION DURING THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION
The religious Reformation of the 16th century marked a decline in the authority of the Catholic Church and contributed to the emergence of the middle classes in Europe. Protestant religious reformers, such as John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Huldreich Zwingli, rejected the authority of the Catholic pope and created reformed Christian, or Protestant, churches. In their ardent determination to instruct followers to read the Bible in their native language, reformers extended literacy to the masses. They established vernacular primary schools that offered a basic curriculum of reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion for children in their own language. Vernacular schools in England, for example, used English to teach their pupils. As they argued with each other and with the Roman Catholics on religious matters, Protestant educators wrote catechisms—primary books that summarized their religious doctrine—in a question and answer format.
While the vernacular schools educated both boys and girls at the primary level, upper-class boys attended preparatory and secondary schools that continued to emphasize Latin and Greek. The gymnasium in Germany, the Latin grammar school in England, and the lycee in France were preparatory schools that taught young men the classical languages of Latin and Greek required to enter universities.
Martin Luther believed the state, family, and school, along with the church, were leaders of the Reformation. Since the family shaped children’s character, Luther encouraged parents to teach their children reading and religion. Each family should pray together, read the Bible, study the catechism, and practice a useful trade. Luther believed that government should assist schools in educating literate, productive, and religious citizens. One of Luther’s colleagues, German religious reformer Melanchthon, wrote the school code for the German region of Württemberg, which became a model for other regions of Germany and influenced education throughout Europe. According to this code, the government was responsible for supervising schools and licensing teachers.
The Protestant reformers retained the dual-class school system that had developed in the Renaissance. Vernacular schools provided primary instruction for the lower classes, and the various classical humanist and Latin grammar schools prepared upper-class males for higher education.
EDUCATIONAL THEORY IN THE 17TH CENTURY
Educators of the 17th century developed new ways of thinking about education. Czech education reformer Jan Komensky, known as Comenius, was particularly influential. A bishop of the Moravian Church, Comenius escaped religious persecution by taking refuge in Poland, Hungary, Sweden, and The Netherlands. He created a new educational philosophy called Pansophism, or universal knowledge, designed to bring about worldwide understanding and peace. Comenius advised teachers to use children’s senses rather than memorization in instruction. To make learning interesting for children, he wrote The Gate of Tongues Unlocked (1631), a book for teaching Latin in the student’s own language. He also wrote Orbis Sensualium Pictus (1658; The Visible World in Pictures, 1659) consisting of illustrations that labeled objects in both their Latin and vernacular names. It was one of the first illustrated books written especially for children.
The work of English philosopher John Locke influenced education in Britain and North America. Locke examined how people acquire ideas in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). He asserted that at birth the human mind is a blank slate, or tabula rasa, and empty of ideas. We acquire knowledge, he argued, from the information about the objects in the world that our senses bring to us. We begin with simple ideas and then combine them into more complex ones.
Locke believed that individuals acquire knowledge most easily when they first consider simple ideas and then gradually combine them into more complex ones. In Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1697), Locke recommended practical learning to prepare people to manage their social, economic, and political affairs efficiently. He believed that a sound education began in early childhood and insisted that the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic be gradual and cumulative. Locke’s curriculum included conversational learning of foreign languages, especially French, mathematics, history, physical education, and games.