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 History of Teaching




Teaching is the systematic presentation of facts, ideas, skills, and techniques to students. Although human beings have survived and evolved as a species partly because of a capacity to share knowledge, teaching as a profession did not emerge until relatively recently. The societies of the ancient world that made substantial advances in knowledge and government, however, were those in which specially designated people assumed responsibility for educating the young.



In ancient India, China, Egypt, and Judea, teaching was often performed by a priest or prophet, and the teacher enjoyed prestige and privilege. Among the Jews, many adults considered teachers the guides to salvation and urged children to honor their teachers even more than their parents.

The ancient Greeks, whose respect for learning is evident in their art, politics, and philosophy, saw the value in educating children (see Ancient Greece). Wealthy Greeks added teachers to their households, often slaves from conquered states. At the height of the Roman Empire, during the first five centuries ad, Roman citizens also followed the practice of having teacher-slaves, usually Greeks. The English word pedagogue, a synonym for teacher, comes directly from the Greek word for slave.


By the Middle Ages in Europe (5th century to 15th century), the Roman Catholic Church had taken over the responsibility for teaching, which was conducted in monasteries and specially designated learning centers. Many of these learning centers evolved gradually into major universities, such as the Universities of Paris in France, and the University of Bologna, in Italy. In the 17th and 18th centuries, interest in the education of children intensified among Europeans, and knowledge about teaching methods increased. French cleric and educator Saint John Baptist de la Salle, and later Swiss education reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, founded model schools for young people. They also made significant advances in education by training other teachers in their educational theories and methods (see Teacher Training).

In North America a commitment to education played an important part in colonial development of the continent. The colony of Massachusetts passed a law in 1647 requiring towns with 50 or more families to establish an elementary school and those with 100 or more families to establish Latin grammar schools for secondary-level education (see Grammar School: Latin Grammar School). Colonists in North America also valued the role of higher education. Harvard College (later renamed Harvard University) was founded in Massachusetts in 1636, and the College of William and Mary was established in Virginia in 1693. Some of the most prominent early Americans, particularly Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin, argued strongly for a national education system. They considered education not only a means of harnessing talent in the nation, but also a means of teaching people the demands of democratic citizenship. Not until the 20th century, however, did teachers in the United States begin to enjoy professional status.


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