Greko-Roman Pedagogical Tradition



Astonishingly enough the Greco-Roman educational model had a static nature; for over 1000 years (from the 4th century BCE to about the 5th century CE) its pedagogy and system remained largely unaffected by societal changes and geography. What was the secret of Greco-Roman impact in the region?
 
What were the differences between the "classical education" of the Greco-Roman and that of the Orient?
The specious Sophists, the enlightened Academia-founder Pythagoras, the wise Socrates with his unique pedagogical approach, Plato as philosopher of education, the Spartan or Laconian ‘agoge, the practical Roman education...


Read on for a glimpse of what's in my upcoming book!


Ancient Greek pedagogy: Arete
Greek education is referred to in Western literature as a "classical" education and refers to the times around Hellenism (3-1 century BC).

In the ancient Greek culture, same as today in the Western culture, a teacher was not responsible for the character education of a student; the ethical-moral part of the education (outside the family) was usually taken over by a slave who was a servant of the teacher and the family: the "paidagogós". The pedagogue derives from this word, which literally means "child leader". He accompanied the child on the way to and from home school and carried his school supplies (or even the child himself if they were tired). His influence on the child increased over time. He told the child how to behave and how to act morally, in short, how to become a good person.

At the center of the classical education was an ideal, but a little different from the one in the East.

The ideal of a Homeric hero, for whom his code of honor was his life's goal, was called "areté" and summed up all the good qualities in man. Interestingly enough, the pursuit of fame and pride were the means of asserting one’s own greatness and accomplishment. Another characteristic of this ideal was self-love. Self-love did not manifest itself in the contempt of the other, but was identified as "self-motivation" and the victory in non-military competitions.

image: Homer Reciting his Verses to the Greeks, wikiart

In a conversation between Socrates and a young boy Lysis, Socrates asked: 
‘Someone controls you?’
Lysis replied, ‘Yes, he is my tutor [or pedagogue] here.’
‘Is he a slave?’ Socrates queried.
‘Why, certainly; he belongs to us,’ responded Lysis,
to which Socrates mused,
‘What a strange thing, I exclaimed; a free person controlled by a slave!’

(Plato 1925, quoted by Smith 2006).
​Pyphagoras (c.570 – c.495 BC)   a philosopher, mathematician, founder of the Pythagorean brotherhood school
The Pythagoras School/Brotherhood became a prototype for Plato's Academy and was both  a University and a religious Order.
The school has a very interesting pedagogical approach and in many ways was a revolutionary institution ahead of its time. The school also welcomed women, which was extremely unusual in ancient Greece. These "Pythagorean women" were considered to be the most highly educated women Greece produced in antiquity.

It is reported that his disciples began and ended the day with mystic songs and religious practices. They kept records of their daily activities and at the end of the day, everyone checked to see if they had fulfilled their purposes. Morning walks were taken by the Pythagoreans individually. They would walk to places where they could experience solitude and silence, such as sanctuaries and groves. This precious time was devoted to self-knowledge. 

Pythagoras’ approach to teaching may surprise you:
He believed, that the task of the teacher was to make the learning process as difficult as possible it was up to the students to overcome learning barriers on their own.​


In Raphael's fresco The School of Athens, Pythagoras is shown writing in a book, image: commons.wikimedia

Pythagoras believed, that the task of the teacher was to make the learning process as difficult as possible - the students should overcome the learning barriers on their own.​​

Socrates (470 BCE–c. 399)
 a philosopher and a great Mastermind of Pedagogy

Socrates believed that "the disciplined practice
of thoughtful questioning enables the scholar/student to examine ideas and be able to determine the validity of those ideas" (Plato)

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1st century), iamge: wikimedia



Socrates, a world famous philosopher from Athens was the son of a sculptor, and a midwife. He himself became a great sculptor of young minds.

Socrates was used to having conversation with those whose goal was to define inexact ideas such as virtue, beauty, justice, courage, and friendship, by discussing their ambiguities and complexities. His goal was to help each person to become a master of his own mind and being.

Socrates’ main method of leading the conversations and dialogues with ordinary people of Athens was, as he used to say, to act in a similar way to that of a midwife.
"Socrates claimed that just like his mother he was practicing midwifery. His mother helped pregnant women give birth to their babies, whereas he helped his followers deliver knowledge. He did so mostly by questioning, firstly driving his collocutors into self-contradiction and thus freeing them of their false preconceptions, and then finally helping them deliver the true knowledge”.


Today Socratic pedagogy is coming into fashion as an effective educational strategy for developing skills to be an active member of a democratic society.


Roman style pedagogy:
less philosphycal, more practical
Who were the "Romans"?
They were definitely not just one group of central Italian people with their own customs, but encompassed cultures, languages, and educational systems from the entire Roman Empire, which spread from modern Britain to the Egyptian desert and Mesopotamia.

The Romans saw education mainly as obtaining a set of skills and knowledge for the purpose of living and contributing to the empire/republic, not as a science of thinking, like the Greeks did.
As a result of such educational policy they prioritized math and sciences over music and arts.

Despite the emphasis on mathematics, no mathematical innovations occurred under the Roman Empire and Republic, and there were no notable mathematicians. Was it because they saw no use in pure mathematics and were only interested in its practical application?

Isn’t it an interesting insight for those advocating “practical” schooling today

​Roman portraiture fresco of a young man with a papyrus scroll, from Herculaneum, 1st century, image: wikimedia