Through direct, informal education, parents, elders, and priests taught children the skills and roles they would need as adults. These lessons eventually formed the moral codes that governed behavior. Since they lived before the invention of writing, preliterate people used an oral tradition, or story telling, to pass on their culture and history from one generation to the next. By using language, people learned to create and use symbols, words, or signs to express their ideas. When these symbols grew into pictographs and letters, human beings created a written language and made the great cultural leap to literacy.
Education In Ancient Africa And Asia †
In ancient Egypt, which flourished from about 3000 BC to about 500 BC, priests in temple schools taught not only religion but also the principles of writing, the sciences, mathematics, and architecture. Similarly in India, priests conducted most of the formal education. Beginning in about 1200 BC Indian priests taught the principles of the Veda, the sacred texts of Hinduism, as well as science, grammar, and philosophy. Formal education in China dates to about 2000 BC, though it thrived particularly during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, from 770to 256 BC. The curriculum stressed philosophy, poetry, and religion, in accord with the teachings of Confucius, Laozi (Lao-tzu), and other philosophers.
Education In Ancient Greece †
Historians have looked to ancient Greece as one of the origins of Western formal education. The Iliad and the Odyssey, epic poems attributed to Homer and written sometime in the 8th century BC, created a cultural tradition that gave the Greeks a sense of group identity. In their dramatic account of Greek struggles, Homerís epics served important educational purposes. The legendary Greek warriors depicted in Homerís work, such as Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Achilles, were heroes who served as models for the young Greeks.
Ancient Greece was divided into small and often competing city-states, or poleis, such as Athens, Sparta, and Thebes. Athens emphasized a humane and democratic society and education, but only about one-third of the people in Athens were free citizens. Slaves and residents from other countries or city-states made up the rest of the population. Only the sons of free citizens attended school. The Athenians believed a free man should have a liberal education in order to perform his civic duties and for his own personal development. The education of women depended upon the customs of the particular Greek city-state. In Athens, where women had no legal or economic rights, most women did not attend school. Some girls, however, were educated at home by tutors. Slaves and other noncitizens had either no formal education or very little. Sparta, the chief political enemy of Athens, was a dictatorship that used education for military training and drill. In contrast to Athens, Spartan girls received more schooling but it was almost exclusively athletic training to prepare them to be healthy mothers of future Spartan soldiers.
In the 400s BC, the Sophists, a group of wandering teachers, began to teach in Athens. The Sophists claimed that they could teach any subject or skill to anyone who wished to learn it. They specialized in teaching grammar, logic, and rhetoric, subjects that eventually formed the core of the liberal arts. The Sophists were more interested in preparing their students to argue persuasively and win arguments than in teaching principles of truth and morality.
Unlike the Sophists, the Greek philosopher Socrates sought to discover and teach universal principles of truth, beauty, and goodness. Socrates, who died in 399 BC, claimed that true knowledge existed within everyone and needed to be brought to consciousness. His educational method, called the Socratic method, consisted of asking probing questions that forced his students to think deeply about the meaning of life, truth, and justice.
In 387 BC Plato, who had studied under Socrates, established a school in Athens called the Academy. Plato believed in an unchanging world of perfect ideas or universal concepts.