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Thursday, May 4, 2017

16.The Seven Liberal Arts: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The Seven Liberal Arts 

When Rome dissolved in the sixth century, Roman genius emerged as the Universal 
Christian Church, an inspired religious sect grown spontaneously into a vehicle which 
invested ultimate responsibility for personal salvation in the sovereign individual. The 
Roman Church hit upon schooling as a useful adjunct, and so what few schools could be 
found after the fall of Rome were in ecclesiastical hands, remaining there for the next 
eleven or twelve centuries. Promotion inside the Church began to depend on having first 
received training of the Hellenic type. Thus a brotherhood of thoughtful men was created 
from the demise of the Empire and from the necessity of intellectually defining the new 

As the Church experimented with schooling, students met originally at the teacher's 
house, but gradually some church space was dedicated for the purpose. Thanks to 
competition among Church officials, each Bishop strove to offer a school and these, in 
time to be called Cathedral schools, attracted attention and some important sponsorship, 
each being a showcase of the Bishop's own educational taste. 

When the Germanic tribes evacuated northern Europe, overrunning the south, cathedral 
schools and monastic schools trained the invading leadership — a precedent of 
disregarding local interests which has continued ever after. Cathedral schools were the 
important educational institutions of the Middle Ages; from them derived all the schools 
of western Europe, at least in principle. 

In practice, however, few forms of later schooling would be the intense intellectual 
centers these were. The Seven Liberal Arts made up the main curriculum: lower studies 
were composed of grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic. Grammar was an introduction to 
literature, rhetoric an introduction to law and history, dialectic the path to philosophical 
and metaphysical disputation. Higher studies included arithmetic, geometry, music, and 
astronomy. Arithmetic was well beyond simple calculation, entering into descriptive and 
analytical capacities of numbers and their prophetic use (which became modern 
statistics); geometry embraced geography and surveying; music covered a broad course 
in theory; astronomy prepared entry into physics and advanced mathematics. 

Between the eleventh and the fourteenth centuries, an attempt to reduce the influence of 
emotionality in religion took command of church policy. Presenting the teachings of the 
Church in scientific form became the main ecclesiastical purpose of school, a tendency 
called scholasticism. This shift from emotion to intellect resulted in great skill in analysis, 
in comparison and contrasts, in classifications and abstraction, as well as famous verbal 
hairsplitting — like how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Scholasticism 
became the basis for future upper-class schooling. 

The Platonic Ideal 

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