Monday, March 18, 2013

Tradtional classrooms in the 16th century

From James M. Kittleson's Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career, pp. 36-37:

[Martin Luther] looked back at his early education with little but disgust. Sixteenth-century schoolmasters by no means saw their task as drawing forth the best and most creative efforts from their charges. Luther was not quite five years old when he entered a school whose sole purpose was to force the students to learn to read and write Latin in preparation for their later studies. The methods used by his teachers were consistently condemned as “barbaric” by great educators such as Erasmus of Rotterdam. Coercion and ridicule were chief among their techniques. Any child caught speaking German was beaten with a rod. The one who had done least well in the morning was required to wear a dunce’s cap and was addressed as an ass all afternoon. Demerits were then added up for the week, and each student went home with one more caning to make the accounts balance.

Under these conditions, all that the children knew for certain was that they wanted to avoid the beatings and the dunce’s cap. But the curriculum was so dull that students found little incentive to meet even this modest objective. Music was the subject that Luther preferred, and in time he became a skilled performer and composer. But not even music was taught so that children might enjoy it, much less that they might express themselves. They were taught music because they had to sing in the church choirs.

Most of the time was spent on Latin, for which these poor beginners had only a primer and lists of words to memorize. To accomplish this task, they also learned by heart the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed. When they had learned enough Latin, they were allowed to proceed to the second class. There they were introduced to the joys of memorizing declensions and conjugations. And the teacher’s rod followed them. Luther was caned 15 times in only one morning for not having mastered the tables of Latin grammar.
The 20-21st century education Refomation repeatedly characterizes traditional 20th century classrooms as being like these. Minus the beatings and canings, perhaps, but just as stifling of creativity and demeaning of self-esteem, with a deathly dull curriculum consisting of meaningless memorization and drill.

Perhaps they are beating a 16th century straw man?

1 comment:

MagisterGreen said...

16th century? Please. St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430): "If I was lazy at learning, I was beaten. For this custom was approved by our ancestors, and many who lived before us had mapped out these sorrowful paths, over which we were compelled to pass, with additional pain and sorrow to the sons of Adam. But, Lord, we found men praying to you and we learned from them, perceiving (insofar as we were able) that you were someone great, and that even if you couldn't be detected by our senses you could still hear and help us. For as a child I began to pray to you, my help and my refuge, and in calling upon you I broke my tongue's bands, and although I was small I asked you, with emotion that wasn't small, that I not be beaten at school. And when you didn't grant my prayer, which wasn't to be attributed to my folly, my elders laughed at my bruises (a great and serious affliction to me then) and even my parents followed suit, although they wished no harm to befall me. "

Or Horace (65-8 B.C.): "I remember Orbilius, the beater, dictating these things to me as a young boy..."

The amount of chronological myopia suffered by those in education is staggering. I have to choke back laughter every time I hear someone talk about what happened 50(!) or even 100(!!!) years ago as if it is the Paleolithic.