Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Early Childhood Education

H.I. Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity, tr. George Lamb (1956; rpt. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), p. 143 (footnotes omitted):
The Ancients would have laughed their heads off if they could have seen our infant-school and kindergarten specialists, Froebel or Signora Montessori, gravely studying the educational value of the most elementary games. In Greece, of course, there were no infant-schools. These did not appear until quite recently—out of the barbarous womb of the Industrial Revolution, when the employment of women in factories meant establishing day-nurseries, so that mothers could be "free" to respond to the sound of the factory whistle. In antiquity the family was the centre of the child's early education.

I know that the Greeks had a few serious people among them too. Their philosophers worried about time lost in these early years. Plato wanted to make children's games an introduction to the professions, and even to science. He wanted children to go to school earlier—at the age of six instead of seven. Aristotle went one better and said five. Chrysippus went two better and said three. There was no time like the present, apparently, for these theorists! Fortunately these were advanced opinions which the average family recognized as such, and went on its own sweet way.

The old way of life went on unmoved, and throughout antiquity children were left to develop in the most delightfully spontaneous manner; their instincts were given free range; they grew up in an atmosphere of freedom. The general attitude towards them was one of amused indulgence—it was all so unimportant! To educate children for themselves alone, for the sake of their childishness, as our modern educators are determined to do, would have seemed to the Ancients absolutely pointless.

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