What is an educated man?
This a dear reader wrote in to ask us, and I feel it is an excellent question. One, I’d like to present to you, and to the wider Classics community.
Of course the ancient Greeks and Romans had strong feelings on the subject. Many of the most famous schools in history were formed in ancient Athens, presided over by famous philosophers.
Plato’s Academy is often considered the first institution of higher learning in Europe, and there, students would have studied philosophy, mathematics and scientific endeavors. Aristotle’s Lyceum likewise holds a honorable ‘educated’ position in history. A more structured set up, the Lyceum consisted of lessons, lectures and cooperative research. Students were assigned historical or scientific research projects as part of their studies, the results of which contributed to Aristotle’s library.
The Spartans famously had a strict education, focused more on strength, endurance and discipline. The Romans, meanwhile, were more concerned with socialization and rudimentary education. Starting from the 4th century BC, by the height of the Roman Empire, their schools looked much like ours today. The system was arranged by tiers and students would progress through the steps – though advancement would occur from ability, rather than age.
The educator Quintilian recognized the importance of starting education as early as possible, noting that “memory … not only exists even in small children, but is specially retentive at that age”.
The process of instruction, of course, was not found in Greece or Rome alone.
The Aztecs, for instance, had mandatory schooling for all children at the age of 15, irregardless of gender, station or rank. Moreover, there were two types of schools: the telpochcalli, for practical and military studies, and the calmecac, for advanced learning in writing, astronomy, statesmanship, theology, and other areas.
The University of al-Qarawiyyin located in Fes, Morocco is the oldest existing, continually operating institution and is sometimes referred to as the oldest university. The House of Wisdom in Baghdad was a library, translation and educational centre from the 9th to 13th centuries.
India and China, likewise, had their own elaborate and historied systems, to which full volumes should be dedicated in order to appreciate…but that is not our task at hand.
The question today is: What is an educated man or woman? And, perhaps of equal importance, do these schools, or indeed any school, create an educated person?