These notes were prepared for our Everything Unplugged meeting on Wednesday. Level 5 of Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 8XX, 10.30am-12.30pm — all welcome, free of charge.
In the course of our discussion about "natural learning" we asked, Do some people think classrooms are a natural way to organise learning? This led to some speculative theorising about the history of the classroom and how long its current form had prevailed. Here are some notes I made from an hour or so's rooting around on the web, as a backdrop to further discussion.
There's a book Silences & Images: The Social History of the Classroom (History of Schools and Schooling, Volume 7) by Ian Grosvenor, Martin Lawn, Kate Rousmaniere (editors), published in 1999 but it's not cheap to get hold of. Google Books entry
Potted (early) history of education
Cribbed from Wikipedia
- Prehistory: assumed to be oral tradition; stories, legends, folklore, rituals, and songs
- Advent of agriculture, leading to settlements, tools (including writing tools?), more specialisation of roles and division of labour. Starting in about 3500 BC, various writing systems were developed in ancient civilizations around the world.
- Middle East ancient civilisation "Only royal offspring and sons of the rich and professionals such as scribes, physicians, and temple administrators, went to school. Most boys were taught their father's trade or were apprenticed out to learn a trade. Girls had to stay home with their mothers to learn housekeeping and cooking, and to look after the younger children."
- India "Vedic education included: proper pronunciation and recitation of the Veda, the rules of sacrifice, grammar and derivation, composition, versification and meter, understanding lalala of secrets of nature, reasoning including logic, the sciences, and the skills necessary for an occupation. Some medical knowledge existed and was taught. There is mention in the Veda of herbal medicines for various conditions or diseases, including fever, cough, baldness, snake bite and others. Education, at first freely available in Vedic society, became over time more discriminatory as the caste system, originally based on occupation, evolved."
- China "During the Zhou Dynasty (1045 BC to 256 BC), there were five national schools in the capital city, Pi Yong (an imperial school, located in a central location) and four other schools for the aristocrats and nobility, including Shang Xiang. The schools mainly taught the Six Arts: rites, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and mathematics. According to the Book of Rituals, at age twelve, boys learned arts related to ritual (i.e. music and dance) and when older, archery and chariot driving. Girls learned ritual, correct deportment, silk production and weaving."
- Greece "In the city-states of ancient Greece, most education was private. In Athens, during the 5th and 4th century BC, aside from two years military training, the state played little part in schooling. Anyone could open a school and decide the curriculum. Parents could choose a school offering the subjects they wanted their children to learn, at a monthly fee they could afford. Most parents, even the poor, sent their sons to schools for at least a few years, and if they could afford it from around the age of seven until fourteen, learning gymnastics (including athletics, sport and wrestling), music (including poetry, drama and history) and literacy. Girls rarely received formal education."
- Rome "At the height of the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire, formal schools were established, which served paying students (very little in the way of free public education as we know it can be found). Normally, both boys and girls were educated, though not necessarily together.In a system much like the one that predominates in the modern world, the Roman education system that developed arranged schools in tiers... Only the Roman elite would expect a complete formal education. A tradesman or farmer would expect to pick up most of his vocational skills on the job. Higher education in Rome was more of a status symbol than a practical concern."
Typically students spend 15,000 hours in classrooms by the end of secondary education.
The interior of the Francis M. Drexel School in Philadelphia from The Public schools of Philadelphia: historical, biographical, statistical by John Trevor Custis, published in 1897, p. 435 (original numbering) - out of copyright. Available at Google Books. Notice the gaslights in the classrooms and the moveable classroom walls that have been folded up and stored. where I got this image
Teaching is the most natural thing in the world. It is something human beings do as part of being human. When done naturally it is simply a generous moment when experience is shared either verbally or through demonstration. Teaching only became ‘unnatural’ when it was institutionalised and consequently professionalised (see Miller 2006). With the invention of the classroom something fundamentally human was lost. Heidegger would say that we had imposed a technical rationality on a human process (Heidegger 1992). Foucault would have it that teachers became jailors of the mind (Foucault 1995) while Sarkar would claim that love was missing from the classroom (Sarkar 1998). Postman, on the other hand, would say teaching had lost its deeper meaning (Postman 1996) and O’Sullivan confirms this, pointing to the impoverished worldview that underpins materialist educational culture (O'Sullivan 1999). However we construct it, teaching has been diminished and its spontaneity, its creativity and its joy drained away.
Such a depiction of course, can be said to be romantic and ahistorical. Premodern teaching, as Ivana Milojević demonstrates, could often be violent and dehumanising — associated with the whip and authoritarianism (Milojević 2005). Similarly, the 'natural' tag can be challenged – after all what is natural?
If you look at Plato's original Academy, you can see he did not set up the same Academic model that we think of. The Academia was the building where, say, Socrates sat and debated subjects, a nearby Orchard (later cut down by the Romans for materials) allowed learner discussions and a Gymnasium provided physical exercise. Arguably learning was seen as instruction, conversation and activity in formal, informal and non-formal contexts, but we only retain the formal part, call it Academic and ascribe it to Plato to validate it. So even our notion of "Academic" is misunderstood and used spuriously to support a false position of power in formal education, whereas LGCs were designed as complementary processes into the original model. See this brief overview of how the Academia came into being.
Donald Clark on lecturing Lecturing in the 14th century just meant reading, in the C16th it took on a sense of instruction. In the C21st lecturing has a pejorative sense "don't lecture me!"
Claim (unreferenced) that lecture was invented in 4 AD or before