2 minute read

Education in Europe

Medieval Education

The Roman educational system disintegrated as the empire declined in the fifth and sixth centuries. Church institutions of the early Middle Ages (c. 400–c. 1000) were forced to establish schools to train future churchmen. Bishops established schools attached to their cathedrals to train priests for their dioceses. Religious orders organized schools in their monasteries to educate young members of the order. An unknown number of parish priests taught boys from the parish or town. In each case the primary purpose was to train future clergymen, although church schools often enrolled boys who would not become clergymen. The curriculum was limited to learning medieval Latin, which differed from classical Latin, the Bible and other religious works, a little bit of arithmetic, and skills such as chanting needed to perform church rituals.

After 1100, many more Latin grammar schools appeared. Supported by towns as in Italy or endowments in England, they educated both future clergymen and lay boys. These schools developed a more sophisticated Latin curriculum that included reading manufactured verse texts of pious sentiments, grammar manuals and glossaries, and a little bit of ancient poetry, especially passages from Virgil's Aeneid. At the secondary level they taught ars dictaminis, the theory and practice of writing prose letters by following the principles found in medieval manuals. The latter offered rules for prose composition derived from Cicero's De inventione and the pseudo-Ciceronian Rhetorica ad Herennium, both written in the first century B.C.E. Upper-level students, especially those beginning university study, might also study introductory logic or dialectic, a key part of Scholastic method.

A new kind of school teaching vernacular literature and commercial mathematics and bookkeeping skills appeared in Italy in the second half of the thirteenth century. These schools taught little or no Latin, but did teach popular vernacular texts, often stories illustrating the benefits of Christian virtues and the terrible consequences of vices. The commercial mathematics (called abbaco) and bookkeeping skills were quite complex. The vernacular schools educated boys who would become merchants or otherwise enter the commercial world. Other parts of Europe, especially Germany, had vernacular schools in the sixteenth century, which probably means that they began in the Middle Ages, but little is known about them. Outside Italy vernacular schools did not teach the sophisticated commercial mathematics and bookkeeping skills of Italian vernacular schools until much later. These modest vernacular schools marked a new departure in European education because they educated boys for secular nonprofessional and nonuniversity careers. They marked the beginning of a separation between Latin humanistic education for the elite, university-bound student and a practically oriented education for the rest who would enter the world of work. This division lasted through World War II (1939–1945) and is still found in Europe in some measure.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Dysprosium to Electrophoresis - Electrophoretic TheoryEducation in Europe - Greek Education, Roman Education, Education Of Women In Greece And Rome, Medieval Education, From The Renaissance To The Enlightenment