Charles Harrison

AP European History


"Learning and training in Virtue…are peculiar to man, for they are the pursuits and the activities proper to mankind." (Battista Guarino, On the Method of Teaching and Learning, 1459). Guarino implies that the pursuit of education sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Many people throughout the Renaissance had different opinions about the actual purpose of education, but the general idea was that it was necessary for success in some way or another. These values and purposes also changed throughout the Renaissance. Education in general gained more respect at the same time as the common citizen was getting in on it. This was a time when women also got more respect through education.

A common theme from Renaissance writers was that students were taught what to think rather than how to think. In 1450 Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, by writing in On the Education of Free Men, contened that basic education was acceptable, but philosophy and history must be taught in order for a person to be able to think on their own. Erasmus believed that basic education is necessary, but once you have learned to read you must learn to understand what you have read. He also believed that most attainable knowledge lies in the Greek and Roman classics. In 1511 he expressed these beliefs in On the Art of Learning. Michel de Montaigne also felt that the education system taught too much one sided information that was simply knowledge in Of Presumption 1578-1580.

Some thought that education was only good for social status. In a sort of handbook for court entertainers it was explained that they should be educated in basic studies as well as in the local language. It described the purpose of this education as only social status and the ability to impress the people present in the court. In 1528 Baldassare Castiglione expressed this in The Book of the Courtier. Francesco Gucciardini took a different approach and felt that the arts and social skills were more important in life than the educational system taught. He felt that those things could still be more overdone, but they are an important part of development.

At first women were completely overlooked in the educational system, but as time went on the need for their inclusion was recognized. Juan Luis Vives defended the education of women, but recognized that most would feel that they have no reason to be educated and might even plan to use their knowledge maliciously if they were. He felt that women who were educated should be taken seriously and learn to write serious things and read the classics instead of simply writing prose and other things of the sort. In 1523 he wrote in Instruction of a Christian Woman. Some seventy years later Anne Higginson wrote a letter to Lady Ferrers of Tamworth. This letter implies several things that are very different from Instruction of a Christian Woman. The first that is very obvious is that this is a letter from one woman to another showing that they are both reading and writing. The fact that the school that she is recommending also teaches these skills further proves the point that at this point in time women are now reading and writing. The point that still separates their education from a man's is that they are learning just reading and writing and the rest of their education is composed of vocational skills.

In the early Renaissance education was only for aristocratic men; this changed over time. "A Prince who cannot read the lessons of history is a helpless prey of flattery and intrigue," (Aenea Sylvius Piccolomini, On the Education of Free Men, 1450). This shows that in writings pertaining to general education, the only people included in its audience are nobility. Education of common people would be unheard of at this point in time. By the year 1559 public schools were starting to appear. This could be seen in ordinances such as the School Ordinances of Wurtternberg, Germany, 1559, which provided rules for public schools to obey. In 1622 John Brinsley wrote in A Consolation for our Schools "…in most of our common schools…" By the fact that he mentioned "common" schools shows that there is a public education system in place. Into the late 1600's there were still those who believed that education should be for a privileged few. "The study of literature is appropriate to only a small minority of men," was written in a letter to the Parliament of Dijon concerning the opening of a French Jesuit school.

Higher education was something that also changed throughout the Renaissance. In the early Renaissance education was done mostly at the basic level. Common reading, writing, and arithmetic were taught, but universities were not common. A chart showing percentages of justices of the peace who attended University show that in 1638 an average of 2,144% more justices of the peace had attended University than in 1562. This helps show the increase in education among European states during the Renaissance. Comenius felt that the important parts of education were now all being taught in the universities. This is a big step from the beginning of the Renaissance when very few people attended universities.

As a result of the Renaissance education was no longer reserved for the aristocracy or the domain of the church. The Renaissance also lead to more free thinking which in turn lead to the era of revolutions.