Steinbach Mennonite Heritage Village Manitoba - Who Invented School?

Who invented School?

In France, we have a song about Charlemagne who invented school, but he didn’t. I don’t know what the lore is in other countries, so I started searching for the truth that is not taught in school:

Who created School?

The idea of people coming together to learn has always existed for all we know. In ancient Greece, they had an Academy—a word coming from the Athenian hero, Akademos—where Plato taught philosophy, for example.

In ancient Rome, a tuition-based system derived from the Greek system took form during the late Republic and the Empire. Formal schools were established, but only for students who could pay to attend—it was open for boys and girls. This was during that period that the idea to start education early developed. In China, the oldest mention of a school found was dated from the Shang dynasty (about 1800-1050 B.C.E.). The Byzantine Empire also had an educational system.

In Europe, during the early Middle Ages what was called Cathedral schools opened, schools associated with cathedrals to provide the church with an educated clergy. And that’s when Charlemagne, king of the Franks, played his part. In 789, he required that schools must be established in every monastery and bishopric. As a result, all the major cities in France and even Germany got their own Cathedral schools where future clergy and the nobility’s children were educated. The system was the same with mosques in regions where Islam was the dominant religion.

There were always schools.

Horace Mann. Courtesy of Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio

Horace Mann, the American Educator

In the United States of America, one man is usually credited for the invention of the modern school system, Horace Mann. For him, education had to be universal, non-sectarian, and free. He viewed school as a social equalizer. He developed an interest in education early in his political career, but it was after being appointed Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837 that his work really started, especially to legislate tax-supported elementary public education in their states and to feminize the teaching force (he believed that women were better suited to teach). He established the “normal schools” system to train professional teachers and was an advocate of the disuse of corporal punishment in school discipline.

Of course, Mann faced obstacles, like convincing parents to let teachers be in charge of the moral education of their children. His views and systems were nevertheless adopted well outside Massachusetts.

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