Renaissance Education

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After Middle Ages, Europe went through a period known as Renaissance meaning "rebirth" as a French word, Renaissance was not only the revival of culture of the Greco-Roman times, it surpassed the Greeks and Romans under the influences of their classical models, turning away from the medieval educational tradition with intensified scholarship. After Europe underwent a long interruption which lasted for 1000 years, there appeared to be a quantum leap in literature, art and science. It is the beginning of modern history (in Europe). One significance it carries is the revolution in education. The purposes and values of the Renaissance education were the first to convey modern aspect of teaching and learning, some of which were transformed over time in the sense toward universality, and secularism.

Universities and scholasticism had been existing at the High Middle Ages, but at that time education was a different concept. Although those first-born academic institutions in medieval time share some similarities with modern ones, such as division of faculties and exercise of examinations and awards, the fundamental purposes of two educational systems at different times differ. In Renaissance, theology, still being a major part of study, was no longer dominant. (Document 7, at least twice a year, each pastor should admonish his parishioners that they be diligent in sending their children to school, not only for learning the liberal arts, but also the fear of God, and discipline. Otherwise, permanent harm must result, as children grow up without fear and knowledge of God, without discipline, learning nothing about what is needed for their salvation, nor what is useful to them in worldly life -- From the school Ordinances of Wurttemberg, Germany, 1559) This school ordinances demanded that pastor promote education not only for secular learning, which is liberal arts, but also for religious matter, which is the awe for God; Religion and spiritual need, while still existed as part of purpose for going to school, was superceded by secular objectives as the main motives for education.

People's quest for knowledge paved way for educational needs, especially in terms of the retrieval of the ancient Greco-Roman civilization (Document 4, the student devotes his attention to the content of the literature of ancient Greece and Rome because with slight qualification the whole attainable knowledge lies therein -- Desiderius Erasmus, northern humanist and theologian, On the Art of Learning, 1511) Over time, however, this pursuit for knowledge was questioned, because knowledge, at that time, was elitist and not necessarily practical in use in everyday life. (Document 8, the aim of our absurd educational system has been to make us, not good and wise, but learned; and it has succeeded. It has selected, for our instruction, not those books which contain the soundest and truest opinions, but those which speak the best Greek and Latin -- Michel de Montaigne, French essayist and politician, "Of Presumption," 1578-1580) Because of the great extent to which ancient Greek and Roman culture and civilization were pursued, as politicians were usually captious, the author of this excerpt found it hard to accept the abrupt change in the literal trend, thus what he said. In Renaissance people looked to emphasize common human needs, seeking rational ways of solving human problems, thus were concerned with humanity as responsible and progressive intellectual beings; humanism, to some extent, was replacing spirituality. (Document 2, learning and training in Virtue, which the ancients called the "Humanities." are peculiar to man, for they are the pursuits and the activities proper to mankind. -- Battista Guarino, Italian human educator, On the Method of Teaching and Learning, 1459)

With literature that was born because of the rising interest in letters, came the education that puts secular learning as one priority (Document 1, need I then impress upon you the importance of the study of Philosophy and of Letters ... our guide to the true meaning of the past, to a right estimate of the present, to a sound forecast of the future. Where Letters cease, darkness covers the land; and a Prince who cannot read the lessons of history is a helpless prey of flattery and intrigue -- Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, Italian humanist who later became pope, On the Education of Free Man, 1450)

While humanism contributed much to literature and scholarship, to classical learning, it also had tangible and lasting effects in education. The Renaissance launched the idea of putting different age groups or levels of accomplishments into separate classes, in separate rooms, each with its own teacher, with periodic promotion of the pupil from one level to the next. Latin remained the principal subject, with Greek now added. But many new purposes were seen in the study of Latin. It was intended to give skill in the use of language to influence others. It heightened communication. The students learned Latin and Greek in order to read the ancient writings -- epics, lyrics, orations, letters, histories, dialogues, and philosophical treatises -- and these writings, especially at a time when the modern literatures were undeveloped, opened students' horizons in all directions. The classics were meant also to have a moral impact, to produce a balanced personality, and to form character. Not everyone could be important or gifted, said the humanist Vittorino, but we all face a life of "social duty", and "all are responsible for the personal influence which goes forth from us." These aims built themselves permanently into the educational system of modern Europe.

Perhaps the underlying characteristics of Renaissance education are its secular approaches and universality. Latin was not the necessary professional tool for the priest, the physician, the lawyer, or the government servant, but statistics suggest that more and more people from upper classes went to universities. Document 12 shows that the percentages of justices of the peacein Kent who attended university went up from 2% in 1562 to 68% in 1636. Young men were trained for a more civilized deportment in everyday social living. It was Italians of the Renaissance who first taught more polite habits. Books of etiquette began to appear. (Document 3, the courtier should be passably learned in the humanities, in the Latin poets, orators, and historians, and should also be practiced in writing verse and prose, especially in our own vernacular. In this way he will never want for pleasant entertainment with the ladies, who are usually fond of such things, and even if his writings should not merit great praise, at least he will be capable of judging the writings of others -- Baldassare Castiglione, Italian diplomat and author, The book of the Courtier, 1528) Europeans at that time acted like big children; To act like "gentlemen" would be an overvaluation. But Castiglione was an author, living in an era when things were rapidly changing, the creation and origin of civility came handy. What's more, for the first time in history, many women became educated. (Document 5, learned women may be suspected by many who say learning is a nourishment for the maliciousness of their nature. When a woman is taught to read the classics, let the books teach her good manners. And when she learns to write, let not her example be trifling songs but some sober sentences, prudent and chaste, taken out of holy scripture or the sayings of philosophers -- Juan Luis, Spanish humanist. The Instruction of a Christian Woman, 1523) Because the author of this excerpt is humanist who might be revolutionary to the old tradition, he suggested the advantages of an educated woman, despite many people might oppose that "learning is a nourishment for the maliciousness of their nature" and therefore women were not suitable to be taught. (Document 9, let me recommend the gentlewoman whose school we spoke of: she teaches girls embroidery, reading, writing, and dancing; for music you must pay extra. She has teachers for singing and playing instruments -- Anne Higginson. Letter to Lady Ferrers of Tamworth Castle, England, late sixteen century) This excerpt shows that by the end of Renaissance, there were already female teachers teaching and women, by receiving recommendation letters, were going to schools. One important aspect about this excerpt is that the particular curriculums offered were: embroidery, dancing, music, which were specifically intended for women's needs.

By 17th century, educational systems were so improved and schools so widespread that it was close to modern shape. (Document 10, it is notorious that, in most of our common schools, the scholars at fifteen or sixteen years of age have little sense of the meaning and true use of learning, but can only write Latin no one of judgment will want to read. When they go to the universities, they waste their friends' money and their own precious time. Afterwards, they return home again, almost as crude as when they went -- John Brinsley, English schoolmaster, A consolation for our Grammar Schools, 1662) As the schoolmaster, John's concern would be the students' grade, and he seemed unsatisfied, and this is understandable, since schoolmaster always wants the best that students could accomplish and thus extremely high expectations. By the mid-seventeenth century, schools were so popularized that there had been a concern about it. (Document 11, in general, it can be said that schools are useful in a civilized society, but having too many of them is always a bad thing. The study of literature is appropriate only to a small minority of men. Such study weakens the body and inspires contempt for all other occupations. More farmers are needed than magistrates, more soldiers than priests, more merchants than philosophers, more hard-working bodies than dreamy and contemplative spirits -- Letter to the Parlement of Dijon concerning the reopening of a French Jesuit School, mid-seventeenth century) The opinion of this letter had its standpoint, in the mid-seventeenth century, literacy was not the concept as it is now. People were not required to be literary to be qualified in their vocations. On the contrary, as it was mentioned in the excerpt, it might produce side effects.

Because Renaissance is an era in which huge social change took place, education was reformed in the sense of secularism. Because of educations, many renaissance men came forth as a mark for the beginning of modern history which paved way for flux of new knowledge and scientific breakthroughs.


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