27.Montaigne's Curriculum: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org
Between the fall of Rome in the late fifth century and the decline of monarchy in the eighteenth, secular schooling in any form was hardly a ripple on the societies of Europe. There was talk of it at certain times and places, but itwas courtly talk, never very serious. What simple schooling we find was modestly undertaken by religious orders which
usually had no greater ambition than providing a stream of assistants to the ecclesiastical bureaucracy, and perhaps molding the values of whatever future leaders proved susceptible; the few exceptions shouldn't be looked upon as the spark for our own schools. School was only a tiny blip on the radar until the last half of the eighteenth century.
If you and I are to have a productive partnership in this book you need to clear your mind of false history, the type that clogs the typical school chronicle written for teacher training institutes where each fact may be verifiable but the conclusions drawn from them are not. Turn to typical school history and you will learn about the alleged anticipation of our own schools by Comenius, of the reformed Latin Grammar School founded by Dean Colet at St. Paul's in London in 1510, of the "solitaries of Port Royal," whoever those lonely men may have been; each instance is real, the direction they lead in is false. What formal school experimentation the West provided touched only a tiny fraction of the population, and rarely those who became social leaders, let alone pioneers of the future.
You can disinter proclamations about schooling from Alfred's kingdom or Charlemagne's, but you can't find a scrap of hard evidence that the thing was ever seriously essayed. What talk of schooling occurs is the exclusive property of philosophers, secret societies, and a host of cranks, quacks, and schemers. What you never find anywhere is any popular clamor for a place to dump children called School. Yet while schooling is conspicuous by its absence, there's no shortage of intelligent commentary about education — a commodity not to be conflated with the lesser term until late in history.
Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, Pope Pius II, in his tract The Education of Children (1451), prescribes the reading and study of classical authors, geometry, and arithmetic "for training the mind and assuring rapidity of conceptions." He included history and geographyin his recommended curriculum, adding that "there is nothing in the world more beautiful than enlightened intelligence." The sixteenth century is filled with theories of education from men like Erasmus, Rabelais, and Montaigne. French schoolman Gabriel Compayre, in his History of Pedagogy (1885), holds all three in the highest regard:
Erasmus, Rabelais, and Montaigne. ..before pretending to surpass them, even at this day, we should rather attempt to overtake them, and to equal them in their pedagogical precepts.
Like most educated men and women, Erasmus was his own teacher. He assigned politeness an important place in education:
The tender mind of the child should. ..love and learn the liberal arts. ..be taught tact in the conduct of the social life. ..from the earliest be accustomed to good behavior based on moral principles.
Montaigne, who actually attended school at Guienne from the age of six until he was thirteen, bequeathed an image of late sixteenth-century schooling amazingly modern in its particulars:
Tis the true house of correction of imprisoned youth. ..do but come when they are about their lesson and you shall hear nothing but the outcries of boys under execution, with the thundering noise of their Pedagogues, drunk with fury, to make up the consort. A pretty way this to tempt these tender and timorous souls to love their book, with a furious countenance and a rod in hand.
What Montaigne requires of a student seeking education is the development of sound judgment: "If the judgment be not better settled, I would rather have him spend his time at tennis."
Montaigne was preoccupied with the training of judgment. He would have history learned so that facts have contexts and historical judgment a bearing on contemporary affairs; he was intrigued by the possibilities of emulation 1 , as were all the classical masters, and so informs us. He said we need to see the difference between teaching, "where Marcellus died," which is unimportant and teaching "why it was unworthy of his duty that he died there," which has great significance. For Montaigne, learning to judge well and speak well is where education resides:
Whatever presents itself to our eyes serves as a sufficient book. The knavery of a page, the blunder of a servant, a table witticism. ..conversation with men is wonderfully helpful, so is a visit to foreign lands.. .to whet and sharpen our wits by rubbing them upon those of others.
And in Gargantua the physician Rabelais set out a pedagogy quite in harmony with the experience-based curriculum of John Locke.
When I started teaching, I was able to transfer principles of Montaigne to my classroom without any difficulty. They proved as useful to me in 1962 as they must have been to Montaigne in 1562, wisdom eternally sane, always cost-free. In contrast, the bloated lists of "aims," "motivations," and "methods" the New York City Board of Education supplied me with were worse than useless; many were dead wrong
One important bit of evidence that the informal attitude toward schooling was beginning to break up in seventeenth-century New England is found in the Massachusetts School Law of 1647, legislation attempting to establish a system of schools by government order and providing means to enforce that order. Talk like this had been around for centuries, but this was a significant enactment, coming from a theocratic Utopia on the frontier of the known universe.
Yet for all the effort of New England Puritan leadership to make its citizenry uniform through schooling and pulpit, one of history's grand ironies is that orderly Anglican Virginia and the heirs of Puritan Massachusetts were the prime makers of a revolution which successfully overthrew the regulated uniformity of Britain. And in neither the startling Declaration of Independence, which set out the motives for this revolution, nor in the even more startling Bill of Rights in which ordinary people claimed their reward for courageous service, is either the word School or the word Education even mentioned. At the nation's founding, nobody thought School a cause worth going to war for, nobody thought it a right worth claiming.
7. Emulation or the imitation of notable models as an effective spring of learning; thus was the most ancient and effec- tive motivation to learn- to become like someone admirable — put to death deliberately by institutional pedagogy.