Renaissance Education DBQ
The Transformation of Renaissance Education
The Renaissance is widely viewed to be an era of immense cultural change that brought about widespread educational reforms. For the first time in history, education was considered to be an essential part of a civilized society. According to popular thought of the early Renaissance, those who were educated in the Greek classics along with a standard knowledge of mathematics, philosophy and literature, would be those who would bring about the advancement of human civilization. However, as the Renaissance progressed, the popularity of education abruptly declined, and education once again became a luxury meant only for a chosen few. Renaissance education evolved from being a “guide to the true meaning of the past” and the key to a well-balanced gentleman, to a luxury “appropriate only to a small minority of men” (Document 1, Document 11).
At the start of the Renaissance, education was considered to be a necessity for all those who wished to attain some degree of status in society. Aeneas Pickling wrote in 1450 that education was the method through which to achieve the “enlightenment of the mind”. In addition to the studies of mathematics, philosophy and literature, the rise of humanism in the Renaissance contributed to an increased awareness of previous civilizations. The study of humanities was considered essential to instill the ideals and activities of a refined individual (Document 2). It was only through the keen observation and study of the past, it was held, that could prevent a recurrence into the Dark Ages. Baldassare Castiglione, an Italian diplomat, wrote that a noble must have both a keen understanding of the past, along with an ability to write proficiently. By studying the writings of ancient Greece and Rome, one could extract a great deal of knowledge, and as such, Renaissance education tended to focus on the dissection of such works (Document 4). It was through such study that one would establish “dignity and reputation” (Document 6). Thus, at the early onset of the Renaissance, education was considered an essential determinant of social stature, and the gateway to success.
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As the Renaissance progressed, the notion of education as previously defined in the period changed dramatically. Contrary to preceding thought, education should focus on that which is “useful in worldly life.” By focusing too much on the liberal arts, “permanent harm” could result to a student not trained with virtue and discipline (Document 7). Michel de Montaigne called the educational system “absurd” and that rather than focusing on works with “the soundest and truest opinions”, education had instead revolved around the works “which speak the best Greek and Latin” (Document 8). This is a clear change from the attitude of the early Renaissance, which hailed the study of the classics as the path to illumination. Midway through the Renaissance, the focus of education switched from the liberal arts to the study of contemporaneous values and disciplines.
In the later stages of the Renaissance, education through schools or universities came to be viewed as impractical and futile. In 1622, Iohn Brinsley called education at universities “a waste of money”, and stated that the attendance of such universities did little to change the proficiency of scholars, and that they “return home… as crude as when they went” (Document 10). Furthermore, it was viewed that schooling resulted in a decrease in physicality, and resulted in intolerance or belittling of other occupations. By the end of the Renaissance, it was determined that more workers were needed than scholars, and that reading and writing pertained only to a small constituency (Document 11). Educational reformers called for modifications that could accommodate the uses of practical life, calling schools “diseased”. They maintained that education should “prepare men for action”, or in other words, to prepare men to be workers and laborers (Document 12). Towards the end of the Renaissance, education came to be thought of as vain and ineffective.
Renaissance education transformed from being considered the way to attain success, to a futile and pointless venture meant only for a small alternative group of men. At its start, the rise in Humanism encouraged education to be focused around the study of Greek and Roman classics as the gateway to knowledge. As the Renaissance advanced, this was discarded and replaced by the study of religion and ethics. Towards its later stages, education was thought of as unnecessary for the majority of the population, and was considered applicable only a small group of scholars, priests and magistrates. Clearly, Renaissance education experienced drastic changes, paralleling the massive cultural changes that came about under the era.