The Quintivium

Before there was a philosophy of education – which started in the nineteenth century – there was just education. It was the medium in which one generation transferred its knowledge to the next. Post-Renaissance education, Middle-Ages education, Greek education, Babylonian and Egyptian education were all of this kind. In fact, we can trace this all the way back to our tool-making ancestors. As soon as the first homo erectus bashed two stones together, they knew instinctively that they had to pass on this newly acquired skill to the next generation.

And from then on, the forces of evolution were directed solely at the brain, whose development was driven by the newer and newer skills taught by the current generation to its offspring. The evolution of the rest of the body became subordinate to the function of the brain.

When our ancestors discovered how to start a fire, by sheer instinct, they educated their next generation on how the new discovery worked. When the first words were uttered, our ancestors made a point of passing on this abstract skill to their offspring. As the abstractness of the skill increased, so did its perceived necessity and importance. And the transfer of the abstract knowledge required the participation of more and more members of the social network (teachers). Egyptians made sure that the next generation acquired the newly discovered abstract skill of writing and built institutions in which this took place. A tablet, probably used in the first madrasahs to teach Babylonian children the abstract skill of the latest technique of multiplication, still exists. Plato insisted on teaching the Greek children the abstract skills of reading, writing, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music in elementary schools. Considering the fact that the first book on geometry – Euclid’s Elements – was not written until almost a century after Plato, and therefore, that geometry was at the forefront of research during Plato’s lifetime, you can imagine how rigorous – and measured by today’s American standards, insane – his curriculum was. Nevertheless, Plato’s educational ideology was arguably the most important factor in the development of the Greek genius.

2 thoughts on “The Quintivium”

  1. I always tell my first year chemistry students that the way to get good at doing chemistry problems is to do chemistry problems until they are bleeding from their eyes. Or that if they are having dreams from waking up from a dream that they are doing chemistry problems then they have ALMOST done enough problems.

    However, none of them want to believe me about this and think that it’s going to be just like high school where if they show up they pass the class. None of them seem to realize that there is no requirement that anyone pass the class. I just finished grading finals and have students emailing me about how they should have a higher grade because they tried just as hard as everyone else or that if they don’t get a higher grade then they will be set back a year in their progress. Neither of them apparently thought about any of this from the beginning of the semester. It sometimes makes me wonder if I’ll make it to retirement age in about 15 years. 🙁

    1. To me, any science is a skill, the derogatory word that “educators” use to discourage true learning. And as you correctly observed, to learn a skill, you have to repeat it over and over again. “Educators” look at science and math learning as a “process,” which eliminates the end result and emphasizes attempt: as long as students “try,” they are in the “process” of learning and should be given credit!

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Education drives the evolution of our species.