Thursday, April 21, 2011

Education and Its Roots in Antiquity V – The Athenian Legacy

Here is the short version of what I’m about to discuss:

Alexander conquers the world.
That world becomes Greek.
The Greek educational model spreads to the conquered lands.

Now let’s look at the details.

The Greek educational model achieved its final form in the generation following Aristotle and Alexander, spreading through the entire Hellenistic world as part of the inherited Greek culture. That model was so influential the Romans chose to adapt it to Latin rather than creating a system of their own.

So what happened to the old political infrastructure that Alexander conquered? The traditional model of the ancient kingdom was broken up and the city became the center of civilization. Everywhere except Egypt the number of urban centers increased – and the administrative apparatus of the old kingdoms was transferred to them. But the cities had changed too. They were no longer independent political kingdoms from the people’s standpoint, but merely places were the people happened to be living. The new Hellenistic man was psychologically a “citizen of the world” in outlook and did not derive his sense of well being from his Polis.

And this Hellenistic man was not the physical man, but the human person who was now free of the totalitarian pressure of the past, and can embrace his own capacities and freedom. In other words, it was the rise of the ego. If he Sophists stated that “man is the measure of all things” then the Hellenistic man saw himself as “the personality which is the measure of all things”.  Here, as Marrou points out, education is pushed to its limit and made absolute.

Paideia,  the technique of teaching in the Greek system turns into anxesis, which is the same word in Hellenistic Greek with a new meaning. No longer an educational method, the word now meant attainment of a cultural ideal through education.

Wherever the Greeks went – Babylon, Egypt, or Susiana – they brought their own institutions with them, including the schools. An education was essential in a foreign land because the Greeks had to train their sons to be successful adults. This “classical education” was nothing more than preparation for a Greek way of life.

This concept of education had now advanced from the subsidiary role in Plato’s world to an equal player in the development of the rational Hellenistic adult. Hellenists saw their education as the most valuable asset his life, as evidenced by those who were buried with their grave markers highlighting their educational accomplishments. Stilpo, when asked if he needed to be compensated for losses incurred during the pillage of Megara said, “I have lost nothing that belongs to me, I still have my culture, my logos”.

Hellenistic education consisted of a comprehensive program of study that ran from age seven to age twenty. The initial period, that of primary school lasted until the child was fourteen. Higher education was next, which included a parallel program called the Ephebia. This was a one to two year course in civic and military training. Certain specialized centers of learning, like Alexandria, offered advanced education beyond secondary school. These programs included research mimicking what would later become the primary function of universities.

Education was now under the control of the state and no longer a private concern. By state we refer to the municipality and not the kingdom. The latter was still in existence but it only provided the services not available in the city. When the Hellenistic monarch got involved in education he was typically only taking the role of benefactor.

No comments: