The Scholastic snd Dynamic Role of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Higher Education

by Danielle Brandli

One individual who was involved in the development of education during the 19th century was Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), who founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in 1881 (Tuskegee University). Washington played a large role in the education of the recently liberated African American race after the cessation of the Civil War. The Tuskegee Institute became the medium for Washington’s philosophies of the education of African Americans. At Tuskegee, African Americans were provided with a practical and scholastic education that was much needed during the time period and was meant to lead to dynamic education in the future.

To understand the impact of the Tuskegee Institute on education, we must be familiar with the personal philosophies of the founder, Washington, which were the basis for the education system at Tuskegee, and the events that shaped the formation of his philosophies. To begin, we will investigate the life and education of Washington and highlight key experiences that would shape his educational ideology. The information on Washington’s childhood and education in this essay comes from his autobiography, Up From Slavery, which was published in 1901 (Washington). His autobiography is a first-hand account written by the individual shortly after the specified time period and thus, it can be classified as a primary source, the most credible type source. Up From Slavery also provides further information about the foundation of Tuskegee Institute, Washington’s accomplishments, and Washington’s personal philosophies regarding the education of African Americans.

Booker Taliaferro Washington was born into slavery on April 5th, 1856 in Franklin County, Virginia (Thornbrough 26, Washington 1). Washington’s original name, given to him by his mother, was “Booker Taliaferro” but Washington had only been called “Booker” during his life, thus he was unaware of his full name (Washington 35). When Washington first attended school he thought, “…I knew that the teacher would demand of me at least two names, and I had only one” (Washington 34). Hence, when asked by his teacher for his name, he fabricated a last name and responded that he was “Booker Washington” (Washington 35). This is how his name came to be Booker Taliaferro Washington (Washington 35).

Washington’s mother was a plantation cook named Jane and his father was an unknown white man (Thornbrough 26, Washington 4). Washington knew nothing of the history of his family beyond his mother and her two half-sisters (Washington 2). For the beginning part of his life, Washington lived and worked on a plantation in Virginia with his mother and his siblings (Washington 5). Washington received no education (Washington 6-8). During his time as a slave, Abraham Lincoln became president and the Civil War took place (Washington 8). Being enslaved for part of his life did not cause Washington to reject slavery; however seeing the contrast between whites and African American slaves drove Washington to seek an improved education for himself and later on, for other African Americans as well (Washington 12, 27).

In 1865, the Civil War ended with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Washington and his family were emancipated (Thornbrough 26). Once gaining their freedom, Washington’s family moved to Malden, West Virginia and Washington began working in salt-furnaces (Thornbrough 26). Washington viciously sought an education and unsuccessfully tried to teach himself to read (Washington 31). Eventually, he found a way to attend night-classes and then day-classes at the recently founded African American school in town (Washington 31). Washington was continually late for day-school because of the walk from work at the salt-furnace to the school house so he devised a plan to reach school on time (Washington 31-32). In small increments each day, he tediously moved the clock in the salt-furnace forward a half an hour so he could leave work earlier (Washington 32). Eventually the “furnace ‘boss’ discovered that something was wrong, and locked the clock in a case” (Washington 32). Washington made every effort he could to ensure that he received the best education he possibly could, which will also be seen when Washington applies to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute.

Washington began working in a coal mine after working at the salt-furnace. While working in the mine, Washington heard of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute from other African American workers and set his mind to attending (Washington 42). Washington did not like working in the mine due to being dirty, being in darkness, and getting lost (Washington 38). Washington switched occupations in 1871 and became a houseboy for the wife of General Lewis Ruffner, the owner of the salt-furnace Washington had previously worked in (Thornbrough 26, Washington 43). As a houseboy, Washington was taught the value of cleanliness which was “…as valuable to [him] as any education [he had] gotten since” (Washington 44). The lessons Washington learned from Mrs. Ruffner, as well as her encouragement of Washington’s efforts to receive an education, would help Washington become a student at the Hampton Institute (Washington 45).

In 1872 after working for Mrs. Ruffner, Washington made the five-hundred mile trip from Malden to Hampton in hopes to attend the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute founded by General Samuel C. Armstrong (1839-1893) in 1868 (Thornbrough 4, Washington 47). Washington was accepted into Hampton by the assistant principal after cleaning a room so thoroughly that the assistant principal could not find a single dust particle (Washington 52-53). Washington graduated from Hampton with honors in 1875 and returned to Malden (Thornbrough 26). Washington’s struggle for and attainment of a higher education was what enabled him to progress education for other African Americans.

Once graduated from Hampton, Washington returned to Malden to teach at a colored school until 1878 (Thornbrough 26). After teaching in Malden for two years, Washington moved to Washington D.C. to attend Wayland Seminary for eight months (Thornbrough 26, Washington 87). At Wayland, Washington deduced that the school’s teachings in Greek and Latin left students with less knowledge about living and functioning in society back at their homes (Washington 88). His time spent at Wayland caused Washington to believe that a practical education was more important than studying Greek philosophy or Latin writings.

In the summer of 1879, General Armstrong requested Washington to revisit the Hampton Institute to become a teacher (Washington 106). Washington returned to Hampton and oversaw the Indian boys and the night school (Thornbrough 26, Washington 106). While Washington was working at Hampton, Armstrong informed him of an opportunity to become the principal of a new school for African Americans in Alabama (Washington 107). Washington pursued the opening and moved to Tuskegee, Alabama to found the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute on July 4th, 1881 (Washington 119). Washington’s connection to General Armstrong during his attendance at Hampton was the basis for Washington’s occupation as an institutional teacher and for Washington becoming the founder and principal of the Tuskegee Institute. Once Washington was in his position as the head-master of Tuskegee, he began his mission to provide a higher education for African Americans.

Prior to the examination of the education system at the Tuskegee Institute, the reader must understand two terms used in this essay, regarding higher education, and their origination. Professor Jackson classifies education into two categories: scholastic and dynamic (Jackson). These terms are significant in the analysis of the role of Tuskegee Institute in higher education. Education can be classified as dynamic when a four step process occurs. This process is “the acquisition of new knowledge, the manipulation of that knowledge to discover new truths, the distribution of those new truths to others, and the archiving of those truths in a manner that future thinkers can easily access them” (Jackson). Dissimilar to the dynamic education systems basis on new truths, scholastic education is a system based on past truths with no recognition of the need to obtain new knowledge (Jackson). These definitions of scholasticism and dynamic education will be referred to throughout the remaining part of this essay.

When the Tuskegee Institute first opened, Washington observed that most educated African Americans during the time period had attained their education through reading books. These educated people “…could locate…the capital of China on an artificial globe…” but not find “…the proper place for the knives and forks on an actual dinner table…” (Washington 123). Washington saw the requirement for a more practical education so that African Americans could survive in society. This idea of applicable learning stemmed from Washington’s time spent at Wayland Seminary. Along with agricultural studies, Washington taught students proper hygiene and manners, which he learned from Mrs. Ruffner (Washington 126-127). Washington believed that cleanliness was an essential quality that would help the students of Tuskegee thrive in society because of his own successful admittance to the Hampton Institute based on his cleaning skills. On top of their other studies, students at Tuskegee were also trained to be teachers (Washington 126-127). After graduating from Tuskegee, students usually returned to their homes and taught the people of their hometown the agriculture and practical skills that they learned while attending Tuskegee. This spread of practical education allowed for African Americans who could not afford to pay for a college education or did not have the time to attend college to attain agricultural knowledge to sustain themselves.

The education of African American students at the Tuskegee Institute was based on a practical system that taught hygiene, agriculture, and teaching skills. These subjects were based on previous findings and no new knowledge was sought, thus the educational system at Tuskegee was very scholastic. Washington implemented this practical and scholastic education method at Tuskegee because newly emancipated African Americans did not encompass the essential skills needed to function in society. African Americans who were prior slaves needed to learn scholastically before they could attempt to learn dynamically.

Washington engaged in public speaking and voiced his views on the subject of education for African Americans. In 1895, Washington spoke at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta (Thornbrough 26). In his speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition, Washington verbalized his philosophy of gradualism: African Americans must learn industrial skills to support their families before gradually proceeding to political positions or other learning. Washington declared that “it is at the bottom of life we [the colored race] must begin, not at the top,” thus African Americans should “cast down your bucket where you are” and begin laboring (Washington 220). This mass labor force would additionally benefit whites by solving the issue of the abundance of “undeveloped material resources of the South…” (Thornbrough 42). Washington also stressed that equal societal and political status should not simply be handed to African Americans but rather obtained through hard-work and struggle (Washington 223). This speech won Washington support from both races and soon after, Washington became a national figure and the leader of the African American race (Thornbrough 7).

W. E. Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) was the first African American man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard and became the main critic of Washington (Thornbrough 9). In 1903, Du Bois published “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others” in Souls of Black Folks which publicly criticized Washington’s philosophy of gradualism (Thornbrough 26). Du Bois believed that gradualism was based on Washington’s personal thought that the African American race was inferior and must submit to the white race (Thornbrough 124). He judged Washington’s call for industrial education and labor as the cause of 3 things: “the disfranchisement of the Negro, the legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro, [and] the steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro” (Thornbrough 124-125). It seemed to Du Bois that Washington’s philosophies assisted in the creation of segregation laws, thus hindering the success of African Americans in society (Thornbrough 9). Du Bois’ ideology behind higher education was that a “Talented Tenth” would lead African Americans to a higher education and that white leadership would not allow the African American race to reach its full potential (Du Bois 236). While, Washington and Du Bois did not directly oppose each other, their philosophies conflicted with one another and the two men competed to gain followers. Washington had the support of powerful white men while Du Bois gained more support from African Americans (Thornbrough 9).

In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, was founded with Du Bois as the Director of Publications and Research (Thornbrough 9). The NAACP fought for African Americans “politically free from disfranchisement, legally free from caste and socially free from insult” (Du Bois 256). Du Bois and the NCAAP pushed for African Americans to be treated as an equal race by whites, which juxtaposed with Washington’s gradualism. Washington’s power and perception as the leader of the African American race began to wane as the NAACP gained power (Thornbrough 10).

Washington’s critics believed that Washington’s philosophy of gradualism and his teaching methods caused African Americans to be treated inferiorly. However, the scholastic learning and labor that Washington emphasized was not created to cause African Americans to be permanently inferior. The African American race required scholastic learning before moving to dynamic learning, learning that was equal to the white race. Once the educational gap was decreased and African Americans could sufficiently sustain themselves, Washington believed that education for African American could be modified to a more dynamic system. Unfortunately, this shift towards dynamic education did not occur during Washington’s life time. However, one student of Tuskegee, George Washington Carver, proved that Washington did not intend for African Americans to only receive a substandard education.

In 1896, during Tuskegee’s early years, an African American man named George Washington Carver (1860-1943) started teaching agricultural techniques at Tuskegee (Brodie 81). Carver worked to advance the agricultural system of the South and to teach African Americans top agricultural practices (Brodie 81). Carver introduced the peanut crop to the agricultural department of Tuskegee and made more than three-hundred products from peanuts through his study of the peanut (Woodroof 2). The peanut industry became massive during World War II and transformed into a two-hundred million dollar industry by 1938 (Brodie 82). Carver’s research at Tuskegee was not the usual scholastic education but his research still had a practical use. The dynamic process of higher education was prominent in Carver’s research; thus Tuskegee showed traces of dynamic learning throughout its years of strict practical education. This hint of dynamic research proves that Washington did not oppose dynamic learning as long as the research and new knowledge was practically applicable to society. Carver’s peanut crop became a large and successful agricultural industry that students could learn about and apply to their lives to support themselves in society. The education of the students of Tuskegee was very scholastic, yet dynamic learning was supported when it practically aided the closing of the educational gap between the white and African American races. Washington did not intend for African Americans to only receive a scholastic education, he simply believed that African Americans needed a practical and scholastic education before proceeding to dynamic learning.

During his life, Washington married Fannie N. Smith, another graduate of Hampton, in 1882 (Washington 146-147). Fannie birthed a daughter named Portia before dying in 1884 (Thornbrough 6). One year later Washington remarried to Olivia Davidson who was an assistant principal at Tuskegee at the time (Thornbrough 6). Olivia died four years later in 1889 after having two children, Booker Taliaferro and Ernest Davidson (Thornbrough 6). Washington remarried a third time to Margaret Murray while she was the principal of Tuskegee in 1893 (Thornbrough 6). Margaret was involved in multiple organizations related to the bettering of education for African Americans and African American women (Washington 268). All of his wives were devoted to Washington and his goal of developing Tuskegee into a distinguished school. Washington was so engaged in Tuskegee that he was attracted to women who were intertwined with the school as well. Washington continually worked towards improving education for the African American race and remained married to Tuskegee and his third wife Margaret until his death. On November 14, 1915, Washington died due to physical illness caused by the burden of his nonstop work (Mathews 300).

Washington taught the students of Tuskegee a practical education that allowed them to function appropriately in society, to improve agriculture, and to teach essential skills to the uneducated. Eventually, the Tuskegee Institute moved away from its original scholastic educational system that was based entirely on agriculture and Tuskegee grew to include a veterinary hospital and a flight training institute (Tuskegee University). In 1985, the Tuskegee Institute became defined as a university after the implication of dynamic research in biosciences and engineering (Tuskegee University). Today, Tuskegee University’s mission includes a research element that dynamically “furthers the bodies of knowledge already discovered…for the continued growth of individuals and society” and practically applies this knowledge “…to help resolve problems of modern society” (Tuskegee University).

The original purposes of Central Washington University and the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute are comparable to the principles that Washington based Tuskegee University on. Similarly to the establishment of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, Central Washington University was founded by Benjamin Franklin Barge in 1891 as the Washington State Normal School which taught students to be educators (Central Washington University). The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute was also established, in 1868, to teach African Americans trade and industrial skills (Hampton University). Tuskegee, Hampton, and the Washington State Normal School were created to teach students a specific vocation that they could use practically to function in and improve their communities, not to teach students how to acquire and expand new knowledge. The students of these three schools received their educations based on scholastic educational systems. However, this scholasticism was not permanently maintained and both Hampton and the Washington State Normal School eventually progressed to center student learning around a dynamic educational system. Hampton Institute became Hampton University in 1984 after approximately thirty years of constant dynamic growth (Hampton University). At Hampton University today, “Research and public service are integral parts of Hampton’s mission. In order to enhance scholarship and discovery, the faculty is engaged in writing, research, and grantsmanship” (Hampton University). In 1961, Central became Central Washington State College, a college for more than just a practical education in teaching (Central Washington University). Over time, Central transitioned into a dynamic place of learning and today Central has over 150 degrees (Central Washington University). Now, the mission of the Central Washington University is to “prepare students for responsible citizenship, responsible stewardship of the earth, and enlightened and productive lives” as well as “to encourage lifelong learning, and to enhance the opportunities of its students” (Central Washington University).

An example of a scholastic course at Central Washington University is The University. As previously stated, Central students in The University simply research factors in the formation of higher education and reiterate the information discovered. This research and repetition of old knowledge is this first step in learning and is comparable to the scholastic educational system implemented by Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute. However, The University is only a two-hundred level course designed for students with a sophomore credit standing who are transitioning from complete scholastic learning to more dynamic upper-level thinking. If there was an additional section following the same curriculum of The University, then that section would be a dynamically based course in which students would use the knowledge learned in the University and expand it to find new knowledge.

The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute was founded to educate the masses of African Americans who had received no prior education during their time spent in slavery. The educational method at Tuskegee corresponded with Booker T. Washington’s personal ideologies, which arose from Washington’s education and his first-hand experience with slavery. Washington recognized that there was a vast education gap between the white and African American races and that the African American race desperately needed a practical education in order to close this gap. Thus, Washington created an educational method for the students of Tuskegee Institute, which taught them the practical trade of agriculture that students would apply to their newly emancipated lives to be successful in American society. This system was created to teach the already known practices of agriculture and would not explore new knowledge; consequently the early students of Tuskegee were educated scholastically. Washington was not opposed to dynamic learning; he simply thought that a practical and scholastic education was more valuable for the African American race at the time. Washington believed that a practical education would lead to the significant shrinkage of the educational gap and once this occurred, African Americans could return to learning and developing new knowledge that did not necessarily have any specific purpose in society. In time, the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute shifted to a dynamic educational system and became Tuskegee University. Similarly, Hampton University and Central Washington University changed from their original scholastic foundation to universities of dynamic learning.


Brodie, James M. Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators. New York: W. Morrow, 1993. Print.

Du, Bois W. E. B. The Autobiography of W. E. B. Dubois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York: International Publishers, 1968. Print.

Jackson, S. (2012). Dynamic Educational Systems. Central Washington University. Lecture series.

Mathews, Basil. Booker T. Washington, Educator and Interracial Interpreter. Cambridge:Harvard Univ. Press, 1948. Print.

Thornbrough, Emma L. Booker T. Washington. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1969. Print.

Washington, Booker T. Up from Slavery: An Autobiography. Williamstown, Mass: CornerHouse Publishers, 1978. Print.

Woodroof, Jasper G. Peanuts: Production, Processing, Products. Westport, Conn: AviPub. Co, 1973. Print.

Newcomen and Watt Illustrate Learning Techniques

by Emily Peters

Thomas Newcomen and James Watt, craftsmen in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, revolutionized the industrial era. Newcomen was born in 1663 and died in 1729. Watt was born in 1736 and died in 1819. Feeding off of each other’s ideas, together they produced the steam engine. Thomas Newcomen engineered the idea of atmospheric pressure to create an engine using steam (Rolt). Later, when studying at Glasgow University, Watt came across the university’s model of Newcomen’s steam engine and further researched the idea of steam after Professor Robison suggested using steam for a wheel carriage. Watt, never having researched steam before, learned french and italian to read the books on steam (Carnegie). Both Newcomen and Watt came from a family with great history. Newcomen’s great grandfather, Thomas Newcomen, was known for his prize winning vessel. His father, Elias, also a merchant, was a trader (Rolt). Watt’s grandfather, Thomas Watt, founded a school of mathematics and was one of the first citizens of Greenock. His father, a craftsmen too, lost a ship and thus spent his life devoted to teaching James the trade of being a craftsmen. His father taught him to build different mathematical instruments. Agnes Muirhead, Watt’s mother, having lost most of her children previous to Watt, educated Watt at home as a precaution to keeping him safe. Because of Watt’s education being confined to his bedroom, he learned skills not learned in grammar school. He had an interest in learning all trades and sought out all knowledge unfamiliar to him(Carnegie). Lord Jeffrey describes Watt’s accumulation of knowledge by saying,

He never appeared, therefore, to be at all encumbered or perplexed with the verbiage of the dull books he perused or the idle talk he listened; but to have at once extracted, by a kind of intellectual alchemy, all that was worthy of attention, and to have reduced it, for his own use, to its true value and its simplest form. And thus it often happened that a great deal more was learned…than an ordinary student… (Carnegie 203)

This illustrates that Watt desired to continuously learn. Watt left home at the age of seventeen to study under Dr. Dick, professor of natural philosophy at Glasgow. To be an apprentice, Watt was supposed to study for seven years but refused as he could learn the same amount of material in one year. After taking a break due to sickness, Watt returned to Glasgow to be the first instrument maker. as he had the skills he learned from his father. Dr. Dick employed him for five pounds to repair mathematical instruments. Later after discovering Newcomen’s steam engine model, Watt began researching the steam engine. In 1761, Watt began developing his own steam engine model. This model was more steam efficient than Newcomen’s model. Aside from the steam engine, Watt developed several other inventions (Carnegie). Newcomen and Watt’s work can be seen in higher education today. People advance their education by attending college to do an in-depth study on a particular topic instead of a variety of topics as learned in primary and secondary education. Watt wanting to expand his knowledge on his craftsmen work, studied at a university. The concept of the university is to study closely under faculty to do extensive research. Instead of attending classes, Watt designed experiments under the direction of professors. This also is seen in universities. Watt exhibited a practical approach to his studies. He accumulated information and determined a practical use for the knowledge learned, similar to sociological determinism. Sociological determinism is creating the technology necessary to fulfill a desire (Jackson). Watt’s study of the science of harmonics in order to help him build an organ is an example. He sought to build an organ than found a method how.

The concept of having a practical purpose for all learned knowledge is seen in higher education because students are taught to apply the concepts they learn to situations outside of the classroom, demonstrating the reason students attend college which is to learn skills to apply to a career after school. In addition to independent study and applying concepts learned to practical situations, Watt developed the copying press (Carnegie). The copying press is important to the university and higher education. The copying press allowed for papers to not have to be hand-written multiple times. Without the copying press, Watt’s drawings for the steam engine models, nor could scholarly works have been published. In the university professors pass out papers, the professor would have to hand-write multiple copies if it were not for the copying press. The ideal higher education is to do independent study with a professor. Students should also be able to have a practical use for the knowledge they are learning. Meanwhile, being able to copy papers is useful to professors. Newcomen and Watt’s research to develop a steam engine that could move water by changing it’s state and converting energy, expanded into research and learning methods used today in universities and higher education.

The development of the steam engine came from Watt’s persistence in furthering his accumulation of knowledge in the university setting. Newcomen and Watt both were inspired by the steam from a tea kettle. The steam engine was an invention to convert energy and the state of water. The original purpose was to help move water out of mines which were flooding. Thomas Newcomen used the previous work by Thomas Savery and to create a steam engine where atmospheric pressure was applied. A vacuum worked with a cylinder by condensing the steam. This model was inefficient because it was open thus the steam was being released. Watt, after discovering Professor Black’s theory of latent heat, determined that water is a compound and not an element that existed in three states. He determined this by heating the water until it reached 212 degrees where steam will rise. He experimented by adding pressure to the steam before blowing it onto the water and discovered that no matter the weight, the temperature will still raise by the same amount. This led to his steam engine model, by increasing the pressure of steam by enclosing the cylinder, the pump will be more efficient in blowing off steam. Lauder describes Watt’s use of steam as a natural energy to create a pump. He says

Now to us who live on the earth there is only one source of power-the sun. Darken the sun and every engine on the earth’s surface would soon stop…Deducting the atmospheric absorption, it is still true that the sun delivers on each square yard of the earth’s surface, when he is shining, the equivalent of one horse-power working continuously. Enough mechanical power goes to waste on the college campus to warm and light and supply all the manufactories, street railroads and other consumers of mechanical power in the city. (Carnegie 49).

This demonstrates Watt’s conservation of using the sources available to him. He uses the heat of the sun to heat water until it turns into steam. The sun provides more energy than one horse-power will. If people relied on natural energy instead of energy produced by man, then more work can be done. Using available resources to complete a task is symbolic to higher education today. There are several resources at a university to help students with their studies. If students use the available resources, then they will be able to further their education. One available resource to the student is the professors. Professors have advanced degrees in their subject and can teach students about the topic as long as help the student research. The professors can also help the student connect with businesses to help them in the future. An education is worth what the student puts into it. Watt uses not only his natural resources but he also studies closely under professors to help guide him in his experiments. He learns different skills to be able to work as a optician or instrument maker while he waits for patents on his steam engine models. For example, when he first moved to Glasgow he became an optician until he was able to further his education. Watt also learned as much as possible in a short time. He did not want to take seven years learning material, he knew was possible to learn in one year. He wanted to save time so that he would have time to learn new knowledge. If Watt had not continuously sought new knowledge, he would not have learned enough to build the steam engine. He accomplished everything he desired. In higher education, students can accomplish any task as long as they take the time to study and do the work. Persistence in studying improves education and helps fulfill goals.

There is a use for all knowledge learned as Watt demonstrates in his studies. Watt patented six items. Four of these patents were for the steam engine. The first patent was for the efficiency of steam on January 5, 1769 in his partnership with Roebuck. Roebuck paid the Watt’s debts and helped provide money for Watt’s experiments. In 1770, Watt moved to partner with Boulton instead. He invented the screw propeller while working on the canals. The screw propeller was invented with the purpose of moving boats through the canal. In 1782, Watt added two new patents on the design of his steam engine. He designed steam for the use of locomotives. Using Stephenson’s railway model, he added steam. This allowed for a faster mode of transportation. When Watt first journeyed to Glasgow, the trip was twelve days on horseback. Now with the steam engine, the trip would only take eight hours (Carnegie). All these were invented because of the knowledge Watt had accumulated. Lord Jeffrey describes Watt’s sorting of knowledge that was of practical use by saying “…his power of digesting and arranging in its proper place all the information eh received, and of casting aside and rejecting, as it were instinctively, whatever was worthless or immaterial” (Carnegie 231). He learned about the compounds that make up water to help him to understand the three states being gas, liquid and solid. He used this knowledge and put it to use to improve the steam engine. After learning about how to create circular motion, he combined it with his knowledge of steam to produce a circular motion of wheels (Carnegie). This idea of learning material and putting it to use can be applied to higher education. When communication of knowledge first started, there were four steps. These four steps were acquisition of new knowledge, manipulation to discover new things, distribution, and archiving of truths (Jackson).

Students are able to understand and remember information when they make connections to the knowledge. If one hears information but has no use for it, they are less likely to remember it than if they have a purpose for it or tell others. The university is set up to allow students to perform the knowledge they have learned. Carnegie states universities are “where any man can study everything worth studying” (36). This illustrates that a student should be able to study any subject they choose at the university. Several majors in the university today have practicums where the students do research with the professor or go out and work in the field they have been studying to demonstrate what they learned. The students are able to see how they can apply the knowledge to their lives. Gustafson says, “Watt understood (if only implicitly) that principles are man’s means of organizing his experiences; and that a principle that is detached from its particulars is meaningless and useless (New England Objectivist Society).” This illustrates that not connecting information learned to an experience will not be remembered. In higher education, students study concepts that they want to apply to their careers. Watt’s practical approach to his learning is the precursor to the classes in the university.

Newcomen and Watt contributed to higher education today. Watt complained that there was a lack of skilled workmen to build his engine. Carnegie claimed that the difference between Watt’s steam engine and excellence was the skills of the workmen. While partnered with Boulton, they created the first Benefit Society of Workmen. The workers did the work according to the wages they earned. They were also honored with a dinner from Boulton and Watt. This lead to engineers being trained in the university because Watt discovered that people lacked the skills to work on steam engines. In 1780, Watt created the copying press. The copying press was designed to copy writing that had been written in the past twenty-four hours. This allowed Watt to not have to redraw his designs to send out to be built. It saved him time by only having to draw his designs once (Carnegie). This invention led to more advanced models of the copying machine. Prior to the copying press was the the printing press. The printing press, designed by Gutenberg in the 15th century, connected with Watt’s steam engine was able to mass produce textbooks which allowed knowledge to spread past the university (The Printing Press). More people learned to read and became literate which allowed them to learn other skills. The copying machine is used today in education. Students are able to print off papers and copy sources needed to study. Without copy machines, professors would not be able to give hand outs to the class. Newcomen and Watt also have influenced educational societies. The International Society for the History of Engineering and Technology is named after Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine contribution (Newcomen Society). When Watt and Boulton did not renew their partnership, they passed it to their sons. Their sons formed the scientific library in Greenock in 1816 which contains more than 15,000 volumes of books. The Watt Prize was founded by Watt in 1809 in Glasgow University to support future students studying natural philosophy and chemistry. These contributions have ensured that future generations can continue to learn.

James Watt perfected the steam engine that Thomas Newcomen invented. This advanced science as Watt learned how steam can be used to provide energy. His studies furthered as he searched for new knowledge on steam but learned other concepts in the process of doing so. Watt continuously sought to learn more and that progressed into the ideal students in the universities today. Students attend universities to learn more about a particular subject. Not only did Watt learn new knowledge, he applied the concepts to daily life. By applying knowledge to daily routines, people remember the information as it is a way of communication. Not only are they applying the knowledge to their life, but they are showing others what they learned too. By demonstrating their knowledge, others are learning the knowledge and will be able to tell more people. Sharing the information helps keep the knowledge from being lost. If Watt had not applied the principles of water as a compound to the steam engine, then future generations would not know until someone else discovered it. Watt provided a way to communicate newly learned information in mass by creating the copying press. Information could be shared by duplicating handwritten work so more people could see. These concepts shape the basis for studying at a university. Newcomen and Watt forged how students obtain knowledge in higher education.



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Scholasticism and Humanism During the Italian Renaissance

By Danielle Brandli

The term humanism is a broad philosophy that is defined a little differently for each kind of humanism. A broad, modern-day definition of humanism is: “a philosophy of joyous service for the greater good of all humanity in this natural world and advocating the methods of reason, science, and democracy” (Lamont 12). Catholic humanism stems from the philosophies of Thomas Aquinas during medieval times (Lamont 21-22). Naturalistic humanism or religious humanism was derived in the twentieth century by clergymen (Lamont 23-24). The broad time span between Catholic humanism and naturalistic humanism shows the growth of humanism and the creation of new sects of humanism over time. This essay will focus specifically on Renaissance humanism which can be deemed as the origin of the philosophy of humanism. Renaissance humanism received its name from its formation during the Renaissance period of Europe and more specifically the Italian Renaissance during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Before discussing the studies of humanists during the Italian Renaissance, it is important to be knowledgeable of the classical authors that were studied. The three most prominent classical authors studied were Cicero, Plato, and Aristotle. These classical authors were unknown to Europeans during the Middle Ages and medieval times (Praag 18). The Latin philosopher Cicero first introduced Greek thought to Western Europe (Praag 18). The Italian philosopher who initially began the humanistic movement was Francesco Petrarch, whose main source of information on classical Greeks was through the classical Latin writings of Cicero (Kristeller 8). The theories of the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle both stemmed from Socrates who was considered the father of philosophy. Plato was a pupil of Socrates and Aristotle was a pupil of Plato yet, Plato and Aristotle’s theories often contradict one another. The theories and classical teachings of Plato and Aristotle were translated and extensively reformed during the Italian Renaissance.

Before 1400 BCE, poet and philosopher Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) and his student Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) dominated the world of Italian prose (Kohl 125). Petrarca, also called Petrarch, and Boccaccio acted as the initial developers of Renaissance humanism and started the transition to a more classical study of Latin works (Kohl 125). Boccaccio is credited with leading the expedition for the attainment of classical works (Dresden 19). Petrarch created his own legend that was mostly based on his personality instead of his actual accomplishments (Kelley 7). Petrarch spoke of himself as a being whose live purpose was to study the classics of Cicero and others as well as write works that continued Cicero’s classics (Davies 73). Petrarch was devoted to Christianity along with his dedication to classical antiquity (Kelley 8). These two devotions often clashed and caused Petrarch to question whether virtue was based on reason or faith (Kelley 10). Petrarch’s movement towards the study of ancient writings and away from the scholastic learning of the medieval period was the foundation of humanism during the Renaissance period.

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Renaissance Italy created an ideal environment for the commencement and growth of a humanistic attitude that was already established by Petrarch (Goodman 118). A student of Petrarch, Coluccio Salutati (1331-1406), along with Niccolo Niccoli (1364-1437) and Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444) carried Petrarch’s humanistic study into the fifteenth century (Goodman 120). Salutati introduced the study of Classical Greece while Niccoli directed his studies on ancient Latin (Goodman 120). Bruni focused on both Latin and Greek classics including, Cicero, Aristotle, and Plato (Goodman 121).

Italian scholasticism and Italian humanism both prospered before, throughout, and after the Renaissance (Kristeller and Mooney 100). Italian humanists were greatly opposed to the scholastic learning of medieval times and focused on the study and continuation of Greek works. This return to and revival of the learning and ideas of classical Greece can be defined as Renaissance humanism (Kelley 74). Through the revival of classical ideas, humanists discovered a distance between the past and present learning and noticed the need to define the present as differentiated from the past (Rabil 143). The basis of this return to “studia humanitatis,” or the study of humanities, included grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry, and moral philosophy (Kelley 74). The Trivium, formed by grammar and rhetoric, along with the Quadrivium, formed by arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, were used as the main learning methods of the Renaissance (Kelley 74, Kristeller and Mooney 101). The teaching of the Trivium and Quadrivium were an attempt to move away from medieval scholasticism; however, the Trivium and Quadrivium taught using old knowledge and did not develop new knowledge, thus making both scholastic (Kelley 3).

The humanistic teaching methods of the Renaissance may have been scholastic, yet dynamic learning was still occurring among the humanist philosophers of the time period. While humanists scholastically translated and copied texts of ancient Greek and Latin philosophers, humanists also expanded on those texts and texts of other humanists in their own essays and dialogues. These new texts extended classical ideology and incorporated humanistic views inspired by the artist, literary, and intellectual environment known as the Italian Renaissance. Humanism and scholasticism grew side-by-side throughout the Renaissance.

Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457) was born in Rome and taught at the University of Pavia (Kristeller 24). Valla studied Greek historians and his contribution to the philosophy of humanism is provided by three of his works (Kristeller 25). In the dialogue On Free Will, Valla shows that divine power and human free will are both compatible. For this dialogue Valla is credited as a philosopher, not just a humanist (Kristeller 26-27). Valla’s second dialogue On Pleasure discusses what true good, or virtue, for human beings is; Valla claims that virtue has but one oppose vice, instead of two which was originally philosophized by Aristotle (Kristeller 27-33). The third dialogue of Valla, titled Dialectical Disputations, is seen as Valla’s attempt to reform and simplify the idea of logic from that of Aristotle and other scholars (Kristeller 33-35). Valla ties logic to rhetoric and classical Latin usage in an effort to replace medieval scholastic learning and bind logic to the new humanistic learning of the Trivium (Kristeller 35). Valla’s work was influential in much of Europe and helped to form a bridge between Renaissance humanism in Italy and humanism throughout Western Europe (Kristeller 35).

Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) was well-known for reviving and developing Platonism and leading the Florentine Academy (Dresden 21-24). Ficino translated and continued works of Plato, Plotinus, and other Greek philosophers (Kristeller 37). The Florentine Academy acted as a medium for Ficino’s revival of Platonism and his investigation of the different aspects of Platonism (Kristeller 37). In his most prominent work Platonic Theory, Ficino interprets Classical Greek thoughts on immortality and expands on them to provide his own philosophies of human existence and the goals of life (Kristeller 46). Ficino also explored the concept of Platonic love which became a key influence of Italian, as well as European, literature in the sixteenth century (Kristeller 48). Platonic love, as dynamically expanded by Ficino, became the humanistic concept that “true love and friendship between several persons is derived from the love of the individual for God…” (Kristeller 48). Ficino’s teachings in Platonism spread from Italy, through his personal connections and dispersal of his writings, to other European countries.

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) attended the Florentine Academy and was closely linked with Ficino (Kristeller 54-57). The works of Pico integrated and defended both Platonic and Aristotelian theories (Kristeller 59). Dissimilar to the medieval belief of God being the center of the universe, Pico theorized that man was the focal point (Dresden 12). Pico emphasized the humanistic principle of freedom of action and thought of mankind and believed that man should use that freedom to aspire after God (Dresden 14). Pico’s principles stemmed from Platonism and would continue to be taught throughout the Renaissance.

Pietro Pomponazzi (1462-1525) turned away from the common humanistic focus on Plato and concentrated his work on the classical teachings of Aristotle (Kristeller 76). Pomponazzi’s views on the role of humans within the universe come from his study of the humanists Pico and Ficino while Pomponazzi’s notion of “…virtuous action without expectation of a reward is superior to one that aims at reward…” is a dynamic humanistic extension of Aristotelian ideals (Kristeller 75, 83). Aristotle may have been attacked by Petrarch and other humanists during the Renaissance period, yet Pomponazzi dynamically accepted and expanded Aristote’s teaching and thus Pomponazzi became known as an Italian Aristotelian (Kristeller 74, 77). Italian Aristotelianism was also studied and spread through the University of Padua, which Pomponazzi was a pupil of (Kristeller 74). The free and off-the-beaten-path thought of Italian Aristotelians is credited as the model for the free thinkers of the French Enlightenment (Kristeller 89). The importance of free thought to dynamic learning will be explained in the latter section about Giordano Bruno.

Bernardino Telesio (1509-1588) studied Aristotelianism at the University of Padua (Kristeller 96-97). Telesio’s works examined and refuted Aristotelian ideals while expanding on other classical teachings of natural philosophy (Kristeller 98-99). In his work De rerum natura, Telesio deems heat and cold as the active principles of all things and matter as the passive principle of all things (Kristeller 98). Telesio also attacks Aristotle’s idea of space and defines space as “…something that is capable of containing bodies and distinct from the bodies which it contains” (Kristeller 98). Telesio’s theories of space and time dynamically disproved Aristotle and started a movement towards absolute time, which would later be developed by Newton (Kristeller 103).

Francesco Patrizi (1529-1597), similar to Telesio and Pomponazzi, studied at the University of Padua (Kristeller 113). Patrizi wrote poems, translated classical Greek works, and published dynamic writings furthering or refuting Platonic or Aristotelian philosophies (Kristeller 117). Consistently, Patrizi’s humanistic ideas corresponded with or continued Platonic theories while contesting theories of Aristotle (Kristeller 123). Patrizi clearly represents a transitional humanist thinker who dynamically transitioned from the ideology of classical Greek teachings to creating his own original theories (Kristeller 125-126).

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) focused on the art of memory, Lullian art, and mathematics which led to his philosophical expansion of the Neo-Platonist and Aristotelian views of forms and matter (Kristeller 127-129). Bruno researched the art of memory and looked for ways to increase the memory capacity of humans (Kristeller 130). Bruno also studied Lullian art, invented by Ramon Lull, was art that would “…lead to the discovery and demonstration of all other knowledge…” through the use and combination of letter, figures, and other symbols (Kristeller 130). His philosophical writings, which were somewhat contradictory, were concerned with metaphysics that extended on the ideas of classical Greek authors (Kristeller 131). The most prominent philosophy of Bruno was his humanistic view of the infinite relationship between God and the infinite universe as a whole (Kristeller 135-136). Bruno’s contribution to Renaissance humanism was relatively non-influential due to the long outlawing of scholars to read or cite his work (Kristeller 138). This ban of Bruno’s works was due to his execution in 1600 for his philosophical opinions and this martyrdom caused other humanists to be concerned with philosophical liberty (Kristeller 129). The call for freedom of thought, inspired by Bruno, is a key component of dynamic learning; for true dynamic learning to occur, learners must be able to explore all aspects of their study no matter where that study takes them.

These Renaissance humanists started a transition away from the scholasticism of medieval times and focused on reviving ancient Greek theories and teachings. The preservation of Greek classics and the rise of classical education throughout time stem from the Italian humanists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The translation of ancient Greek texts created easier access to the theories of Plato and Aristotle. The movement away from scholasticism led to scholastic copying of classical texts and the dynamic extension of classical theories and creation of new theories. The teaching of the humanities through the Trivium and the Quadrivium during the Renaissance was very scholastic yet, humanists dynamically expanded on classical texts after learning the Trivium and Quadrivium. Dynamic learning during the Italian Renaissance led to the rise of the philosophy of humanism and led to the focus on humanity’s role in the universe.


Davies, Tony. Humanism. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.
Dresden, S. Humanism in the Renaissance. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967. Print.
Kelley, Donald R. Renaissance Humanism. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991. Print.
Goodman, Anthony, and Angus MacKay. The Impact of Humanism on Western Europe.
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Kohl, Benjamin G. Renaissance Humanism, 1300-1550: A Bibliography of Materials inEnglish. New York: Garland Pub. Inc, 1985. Print.
Kristeller, Paul O. Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1966. Print.
Kristeller, Paul O, and Michael Mooney. Renaissance Thought and Its Sources. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979. Print.
Lamont, Corliss. The Philosophy of Humanism. New York: Continuum, 1990. Print.
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Rabil, Albert. Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms, and Legacy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988. Print.

The Relationship between Christianity and Scholasticism During the Middle Ages

Elizabeth Anne Rathburn

The era of Scholasticism was not merely the narrow-minded and constricting form of education many modern scholars had deemed rank with intellectual stagnation. The overall concept of Scholasticism cannot be understood outside of its historical context. The Scholastic movement began as a response to the bitter turmoil of the Dark Ages, and at its peak in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries culminated into a well-refined method of critical thought. Scholasticism can be thought of as the intellectual refinement of the knowledge available to scholars of the Middle Ages. While the Middle Ages were not a time of great intellectual growth, it ensured that Europe would never again see a time of complete intellectual stand still. In relation to scholasticism’s historical context, the Middle Ages cannot be understood without the recognition of the dominating force of Christianity through out all of European society. The scholastic movement was seeded within, and grew with the progression of the Roman Catholic Church: its primary cultivators. The Fathers of the Roman Catholic Church became the initial authors of scholastic thought by creating harmony between the contrasting viewpoints of philosophy and theology. The works of saints became the texts, which the schoolmen of the monastic and cathedral schools committed to memory. As a result, the growth of Christianity and Education coincided with one another through out the span of Medieval Europe. The intellectual thought of the Middle Ages was highlighted by the symbiotic relationship formed between Scholasticism and Christianity, resulting in a fixed and formal system of education, and the preservation of religious, classical and antiquity works, which together, carved the intellectual path into the European Renaissance. 

While the scholastic movement did not consist of new intellectual developments, it did serve the purpose of an intellectual awakening. This period of education and intellectual thought would serve as the foreground for the development of higher education. Scholasticism began in the Christian monasteries with the accumulation of knowledge, these monasteries would later transform into universities. The rise of universities however, began towards the end of scholasticism’s reign; as so, this discussion will stay within the confines of the development of the monastic and cathedral schools. In its broadest framework, scholasticism developed within the Church. Due to the meager intellectual material available, “the limited learning of the times arranged into a systemized form largely on the deductive basis of the Aristotelian logic” (Graves 51). Because of the power wielded by the Church, all subject matter, whether religious or secular, was approached through a highly theological perspective. Medieval thought from the ninth to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was dominated by this ideal, and thus was taught within the schools of the Church, thereby solidifying the methods of scholasticism. Scholasticism was indeed, “the peculiar methods and tendencies of philosophic speculation that arose within the Church”. The term scholasticism was derived from ‘doctor scholasticus’, the term used for the authorized teachers in the monastic schools (Graves 50). From the very beginning of monastic education in the Middle Ages, scholasticism and Christianity were intertwined, influencing those who sought higher intellect within its schools. Both the Christian religion and scholastic method were the basis of a schoolman’s learning. It became a young scholar’s goal through scholastic deduction and argumentation, to show how doctrines, “were consistent with each other and in accordance with reason” (Graves 51). Even with its apparent flaws, such as its characteristic narrowed scope, the greatest aim of scholasticism was to equip a student with the dialectic and intellectual discipline that enabled an individual to be keen and well versed in knowledge of the time.

Medieval education in Europe began with the development of the monastic and episcopal schools, and thus is where the origin of scholasticism is found. The establishment of monasteries, “rose from a protest against vice and corruption, and pointed the way to a deeper religion and nobler life” (Graves 21). Based upon the Benedictine code, the primary purpose of monastic education was the discipline and repression of the body, and gave great prominence to doctrines of labor and systematic reading. It was through the daily devotion of reading that literacy began its revival in Europe (Graves 10). Small isolated communities formed around monasteries, creating a reserved educated culture, whose knowledge would soon spread with the growing influence and strength of the Church. Monks within these communities created the demand for manuscripts and the reproductions of the text. As a result monasteries became precious depositories, providing the preservation of ancient literature and learning. As monastic life grew, so did the interest and care of ancient manuscripts increase, and the demand for duplicates of the sacred writings resulted in the addition of the scriptorium, a room reserved for the copying of texts. Thus the preservation of texts became the primary source of labor in monastic life. 

While the copying of sacred texts were in primary regard to the neatness of lines and careful ornamentation, monks gained both intellectual and moral influences from the content of their work. Not only did the text strengthen an understanding of language, reading, and writing, but also monks began to make their own personal connections to the religious topics. As a result monks became authors concerning mainly religious topics such as, “commentaries upon the Scriptures or the Christian Fathers, The Lives of Saints, and the sermons or moral tales” (Graves 12). These writings indicated the first instances of the rudimentary characteristics of scholastic thought/education. The monks and schoolmen of the monasteries began what would be a strong emphasis on the extension of knowledge through dialectical reasoning. What began in the writings of monks was the method of critical thought that would dominate the teachings of Medieval Europe. 

A greater understanding of the relations between the Christian faith and the scholastic method can be seen within the influential writings of medieval monks. Their works solidified both the understanding of the doctrines of Christianity and the growth of the critical intellectual thinking characteristic of scholasticism. One such Benedictine monk was St. Anselm of Bec (1033-1109), whose writings, consistent with the methods of scholasticism, contributed greatly to the understanding of the intricacies of the Christian faith. Remember that scholasticism combined, “philosophy, seen as the autonomous operation of reason, and theology, where certitude of the conclusions is based on the principles of faith” (Vignaux 35). This concept was considered an idea under the generalized term of philosophical theology. With the growing influence of secular works through out the middle ages, monks such as Anselm supported the Christian dogma through the elimination of contradictions by intense dialectical analysis. Anselm believed in the accord of reason with dogma, but held that faith must precede knowledge as he once said, “The Christian ought to advance to knowledge through faith, not come to faith through knowledge” (Graves 51). Anselm spent much time in making clear various Christian dogmas such as the Trinity, becoming the most influential/famous to future scholars in his ‘ontological’ argument for the existence of God (Graves 51-52). Adhering to scholasticism, Anselm didn’t seek to discover new truth, but sought to define a clearer concept of his existing beliefs through reason. Reason came through the comparison of works such as his De veritate, what would be considered philosophical, to the Holy Scripture (Vignaux 35). Luscombe supports this idea, for in his perspective Anselm, “sought to explore his existing beliefs with the instrument of reason – and not with this alone for prayer was used as well – and with the aim of bringing out and elucidating the meaning, the implications, and also the truth and the plausibility of Scripture and of revealed truth” (44). Anselm’s work, like many other scholastics, furthered the complex understanding of traditional doctrines. The most significant characteristics of Anselm’s arguments were that while they were purely arguments of Christian faith, they also proceeded as arguments of logic and reason.

While the monastic schools established small communities of education, it was not until the establishment of Abbey and Cathedral schools that learning became widespread. It was through the relationship between education and the Roman Catholic Church that scholasticism became well established during the Middle Ages. This progression took form during a short period within the Middle Ages called the Carolingian Renaissance. The Carolingian dynasty arose out of a period of time reflecting political disintegration. One of the more prominent figures of this era known as Charles the Great, or Charlemagne (742-814), who utilized his power given to him by the Pope over the united Frankish state to ensure a genuine unity of his people (Pedersen 72). Charlemagne, having been taught by monks and thus receiving some formal education recognized that the unity of his people, “could be brought about only through the inner life by means of a common language, culture, and ideas”, and so a revival of learning was deemed necessary (Graves 27). Historically during the end of the eighth century, there existed a lack in education found within not only the officials of the Church, but also the ‘secular’ clergy and nobility. The monastic and cathedral schools had become sadly stagnant in manuscript and intellect production. This case was proven through Charlemagne’s letter to the Abbot of Fulda, in which he states,

We have frequently received letters from monks and in them have recognized correct sentiments, but an uncouth style and language. The sentiments inspired in them by their devotion to us they could not express correctly, because they had neglected the study of language. Therefore, we have begun to fear lest, just as the monks appear to have lost the art of writing, so also they may have lost the ability to understand the Holy Scriptures; and we all know that, though mistakes in words are dangerous, mistakes in understanding are still more so (Graves 27). 

Because of this lack of sustained knowledge, Charlemagne utilized his power over the monasteries and bishoprics as the foundation of a revised organized system of education. It was Charlemagne who wished to therefore link public education with the already established education of monks (Pedersen 74, 78). In 787 an educational capitulary was issued to the abbots of all the monasteries, to reprove the clerics of their literacy, and for the schools to offer at least a complete elementary course of education. By using the Church as a vessel of learning, the floodgates of knowledge began to open enabling the scholastic movement to reach a wider pool of intellects. Teachings that were once reserved for the ‘regular’ clergy of the monastic community were brought forth to the general European society. 

The schools established within the churches served significant roles to the growth of intellectual awakening during the Middle Ages. Granted, these schools began as institutions of fundamental knowledge in which, “the word school almost invariably mean a grammar school: its chief function was to supply the Church with clergy” (Lawson 8). The schools initially began teaching reading, writing, computation, singing, and Scriptures, which would later lead to the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) (Graves 34). Eventually, through the work of Alciun of York, the educational advisor of Charlemagne, was encouraged the adoption by the Carolingian Franks a program of education in the liberal arts (Luscombe 29), a conjunction of both the trivium and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music). As the Middle Ages progressed, scholasticism began to involve more areas of study as opposed purely to the realm of theology. However, throughout all education, the Church held great influence and control over knowledge, and schoolmen were affected through the direct association with their teachers. The Fathers were the first interpreters of the sacred texts; “it was they who gave inspiration and direction to the achievements of the Schoolmen with the importance of philosophy and theology so that the science of God became the monument of medieval learning” (Cassidy iii). It was not until the decline of scholasticism that the Church began to lose power over the intellectual knowledge of European schools, thus proving the close relationship between scholasticism and Christianity. 

In regards to the scholastic movement, it cannot be judged fairly apart from the historical context in which it took place. Scholasticism developed within confines of the Roman Catholic Church, and thus like all aspects of European society of the time, submitted to its power of Divine revelation. The range of knowledge the scholastics of the time were able to investigate, served as both an advantage and disadvantage. Unfortunately, only the subjects deemed orthodox by the Church could be defended, lest the men wished to endure persecution. The Middle Ages presented the great thinkers with a fine line between secular knowledge deemed useful and acceptable, and that which threatened the foundation and power of the Church. Counter to this regard, the limited knowledge forced the schoolmen to reduced knowledge into an extreme and logical system, and therefore, “obliged to exercise their keen analytic minds most intensively, and so divided, subdivided, and systemized their material beyond all measure” (Graves 59). Scholasticism allowed these schoolmen to sift through centuries of traditional and rather irrational doctrines, and culminate their findings into a rational system of intellect. Not only did scholasticism equip its subjects with the skills necessary to be keen in what was considered ‘modern’ knowledge, but also it forced the highest accuracy in thinking, refined by careful analytical argumentation. Scholasticism therefore fostered the intellectual development necessary for the beginning of the Renaissance. As Cassidy stated, “whatever is learned that is new must be learned in terms of what is already known (27). Scholasticism, through the preservation of knowledge, as well as the refinement of intellectual thought, became the foundation for new thought to occur.


Angeles, Moses Aaron T. “St. Anselm on the Being of God.” Philippiniana Sacra. 64.130 (2009): 5-20. Print.

Cassidy Ph.D, Rev. Frank P. Molders of the Medieval Mind. Binghamton: B. Herder Book Co. , 1944. Print.

Graves, Frank Pierrepont. A History of Education During the Middle Ages and the Transition to Modern times. Norwood: The Macmillan Company, 1910. Print.

Pedersen, Olaf. The First Universities studium Generale and the Origins of University Education in Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.

Vignaux, Paul. Philosophy In The Middle Ages. London: Burns & Oates, 1959. Print.

The Venerable Bede

Bu Erica Dines

The Venerable Bede, a monk and scholar of Northumbria, was and still is considered the greatest scholar of his time – thus earning his “Venerable” title (which means worthy of respect, or revered) (Pedersen, 1997). He was very devout in his faith and religious duties and passionate in advancing his knowledge and preserving that knowledge for future generations. He was also an exceptional teacher. The Venerable Bede was an extremely influential individual who significantly impacted the education system in many ways, among which include his development of textbooks, his establishment of a standard system of dating, and his revival of education as a whole.

To understand the influence of this man, it is first necessary to examine his character, life, and work. The Venerable Bede was born in Northumbria in 673 AD. Little is known about his family or life before the age of seven, but at this age (680 AD) he was placed in the care of Abbot Benedict Biscop – at which time he was dedicated to the monastic life to serve God the rest of his days. Although placing a child in the care of a monastery was fairly common at this time, six or seven years old was the earliest age possible to do so; one can only imagine how strange and frightening this must have been for the young Bede. Not only was he taken away from his family at a very young and vulnerable age to live in a strange place, but it was an extremely demanding new lifestyle he was being committed into. This can be understood in essence by the offering ceremony of the child (now called an oblate); during this ceremony, three promises were made for him: “that he would not wander from the monastery, that he would give himself wholly to the life of a monk, and that he would obey the rules of his order…his kinsmen swore never to make him any gifts of any kind. He was cut off from this family roots and from all idea of personal ownership. He was entirely dependent on the monastery” (Price, 1968, p. 11). In addition to this serious commitment, the lifestyle was extremely demanding and strict – especially for a young boy. All members of the monastery awakened to start the day at 2 a.m. and proceeded to the first service. The rest of the day followed in strict structural order, consisting of incessant prayer, praise, and work. Here Bede learned to read and write, speak Latin, fulfill the life and responsibilities of a monk, and become naturally accustomed to the daily schedule of services (of which there were seven) and study; first and foremost of course, he was instructed in the word of God – Scripture. The boys were disciplined strictly among these practices, receiving a beating for faltering in the services, for speaking or laughing during a designated time of silence, or for failing to promptly rise in the morning. Only once a day were the young boys set free for a short period to play and move about. However tough and demanding the circumstances though, Bede seemed to enjoy his work and proved to be very bright (Price, 1968).

Bede began his study at the monastery, Wearmouth. This monastery and its accompanying church were founded by Benedict Biscop on a land grant from King Egfrith. After traveling to Gaul, Italy and Rome, Biscop was inspired to build a church like those he saw in Gaul and Italy – in the “Roman manner” – and an extensive amount of supplies, specialized workers, and craftsmen were brought in from such places to construct them. This was an incredible monastery that influenced much of Britain and advanced Ecclesiastical art – and gave Bede his start (Brown, 1987). Later, the king was so impressed with Wearmouth that he granted Biscop another piece of land on which the twin monastery – Jarrow (Gyruum) – was built. At around age twelve, Bede moved to this place where he spent the rest of his life (Price, 1968).

At age nineteen, Bede was ordained as a deacon. This was a miraculous accomplishment because the earliest age one could become part of the holy order – by law of the church – was at 25 years old; exceptions were made only in rare circumstances. This act exemplifies Bede’s advanced intelligence, devotion and outstanding character. By age 30, he was ordained priest (Price, 1968).

An extremely intelligent man with a passion for knowledge, Bede said that he “delighted always to learn, to teach, and to write” (Thompson, 1969). It is assumed that shortly after becoming a deacon he was given the task of teaching the oblate boys. This task brought about his first significant writings – textbooks for the use of students to enhance teachings. Bede was an excellent textbook writer and would create a compilation of the best works and findings by the most famous and influential scholars, including his own material as well (Price, 1968). The relevance and importance of textbooks in today’s society is obvious. Almost without exception, textbooks are used in every class, on every subject, and in nearly every level of the education system. They are especially utilized in establishments of higher education. These sources allow for reference and reiteration, clarification of that which is taught and research outside of it, and for additional studying and emersion in the topic. Without textbooks, the learning process would be much less effective and a greater expanse of time would be necessary for the material to be efficiently understood. Though Bede did not invent the textbook, he developed and used them in a way that spread the idea for the standard use in the future of education, and set precedent for how they were to be compiled and written. Bede’s textbooks were exceptionally useful and impressive due to “his order of selection, his omission of nonessential material and editing of the rest, the accuracy, simplicity, and precision of his definitions, and the formation of a new synthesis that respected the authority of his sources” (Palmer, 1959, p. 32). Bede was well interested in a very wide range of subjects and he skillfully and artfully wrote on many of them.

The extent to which the knowledge and works of the Venerable Bede excelled – other than simply by his natural intelligence and endless desire to learn – was fostered by the resources available to him. Benedict Biscop, wealthy founder of the monasteries, ensured that they were provided with grand libraries; each time he travelled – especially to Rome – he would return with a great number of books and manuscripts as well as relics and sacred paintings. These materials were then added to the monastery libraries and were therefore at the disposal of the inquisitive Bede (Brown, 1987). The libraries held an impressive collection of books that were of the best scholastic quality at the time. Not only did this provide a vast amount of reading material for Bede to learn from, but it also drew many scholars to this place which provided very beneficial and stimulating collaboration, discussion, and teaching (Price, 1968).

Among other subjects, Bede was especially interested in time; because of this, his influence is lasting and evident at Easter. In Bede’s time, the Roman church and the Celtic church – though parallel in almost every aspect and practice – differed in the way they calculated the date of Easter. Bede recognized that something as fundamental as celebrating the day of Christ’s resurrection needed to be unified for all the Christian faith, and took to the task of doing so. He wrote two books on the subject of time for this purpose – De Temporibus and De Temporum Ratione – and developed the standard method for calculating the church calendar (from the year of Christ’s birth) that is still used today. This made a clear model for such a calculation, but also was important because it settled a dispute between different church branches (Price, 1968). It was significant for more reasons than establishing the universal calculation of an important holiday though. By confidently determining Christ’s birth, thus standardizing a “year zero”, Bede was responsible for how history was understood and taught thereafter in terms of relational time in history. Today, when a year is followed by the acronym B.C. (before Christ) or A.D. (anno Domini), it is describing a year in relation to Bede’s “year zero” by years either before or after Christ’s birth. Time has forged a greater gap between Christianity and common culture – in contrast to Bede’s time – and the acronyms B.C.E (before common era) and C.E. (common era) now replace the words with Christian reference to be more politically correct; however, it is still Bede’s system being used (simply with different acronyms). Bede’s “year zero” unified the world of education forever afterward in terms of how history is taught. Without a universally accepted reference point – a year zero – the chronological aspect of the world’s history would not be the coherent system it is today.

Another way that Bede’s work was of great influence during the time was through his spiritual/scriptural writings. His extensive compilation of commentary on the Bible brought together work from the great religious authors – Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose and Gregory the Great – in addition to much of his own respected insight. This exceptional work occupied the majority of his “free” time and was almost assuredly the work he considered most important and worthwhile – as his main focus in life was always to serve God. These commentaries were famous during Bede’s time and even for many centuries after were used as standard works of reference. During his committed 25 years of writing Bede produced 40 titles on a very wide range of subjects. Though these books were in high demand and could be found in nearly every important library of the time, their popularity has not lasted and they are rarely used today; that is, however, with the exception of one work – the reason for his lasting fame – The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Price, 1968).

“The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written by the Venerable Bede and finished in the year 731, is probably one of the most popular history books in any language and has certainly retained its popularity longer than any rival. The enthusiasm shown for his writings in the eighth century by English missionaries on the continent such as Boniface, Lul, and others, led to the spread of the knowledge of his works not only in England but also in western Europe… as the spread of his manuscripts shows, the History became popular all over western Europe and 160 of them survive to this day in spite of all the wars and other dangers to which manuscripts are always subject, as for instance when after the dissolution of the monasteries or during the eighteenth century when vandalism and ignorance played havoc with our ancient libraries” (Colgrave, 1969, pg. 1). Bede’s History was widely used, and influential members of society who owned and read it spread the popularity and teachings of this fantastic work. Almost without exception, anyone who studied or wrote on the history of the English people borrowed from this source throughout the Middle Ages, and it has certainly stood the test of time as it is still used frequently today. It is so influential, in fact, that if Bede had not written this book very little knowledge would exist today on the history of England and the saints before the eight century. Important information and individuals of the time would likely not even be known or recognized, and the sources that would exist would be very sparse; they would possess much less credibility in comparison to Bede also, as he went to great lengths to validate his sources and exerted much effort to verify the veracity of the information he was to publish. If not for this exceptional scholar and his research and discipline in creating The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the history of England that is known and taught today would be a mystery (Colgrave, 1969).

It was in Bede’s History that his influential chronological method first emerged. When he began writing, three alternative options that dealt with dating were at his disposal – the Greek, Caesarean or Roman method. All of these began on different dates. He was faced with a complication and eventually came to the conclusion that the best way was to use a dating system from the Incarnation year or year of grace (birth of Christ) – a system first proposed by Dionysius Exiguus. This choice of chronological system not only made his historical compilation more coherent, but was hereafter adopted by historians as the standard. “It is his system of dating by the year of grace which is his main contribution to historical writing; indeed it is not too much to say that it was to this History more than to any other source that Christendom and most of the world owes its present system of chronology. But it is not merely that Bede’s work provided future historians with a method of dating; the book itself became a pattern that gave a new conception of history to Western Europe” (Colgrave, 1969). Bede’s impact can also be seen in the later years of Europe’s history through the individuals influenced directly and indirectly by his teachings.

The period of Europe known as the Dark Ages is so named because so little is known about it and there seemed to be a regression of scholarship, sustained by the fact that much less intellectual advancement took place than in the times preceding and following this period. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, most higher education either came to a halt, or was severely hindered. The scholars and teachers who could understand and interpret the language and teachings of the very dynamic education system of the earlier Greek society died out, so only a shadow remained of the educational merit and progress of older times. In addition, the Romans did not feel the need to translate most of the Greek works into their language, so resources were very limited. The resources that still existed, existed in a time when raids and battles were frequent; this created a precarious situation for keeping old scrolls, manuscripts and books in tact through the ages. The empire seemed to be a shell of its former educational splendor. In addition to the lacking educational picture, there was also a lacking of political and religious unity which created an environment of confusion and even hostility outside the modest walls of the monasteries (Pedersen, 1997). It was this milieu in which Bede was brought up. Because of this, Bede’s passion for learning and important writings and teaching were a breath of fresh air in the grim setting. This early scholar brought back a focus to education as well as new methods and influence.

The teaching methods of the Venerable Bede were very influential as were, subsequently, the pupils he taught. For example, “among Bede’s pupils was the later archbishop of York, Egbert and Egbert’s colleague and successor Aelbert, among whose pupils in the York cathedral school was Alcuin, later to become the chief proponent of the reform of education in Europe” (Pedersen, 1997, pg. 48). In 766 Alcuin became master of the school at which he had studied, St Peter’s in York. In 781 on a trip back from Rome, he met Charlemagne (King of Franks) and thereafter worked at his court school; then from 781-790 Alcuin was the minister of education for King Charles. Therefore, Alcuin was the main proponent of Charles’ vision for general education (similar to that which is seen in earlier Greek society). Later, in France, as abbot of St Martin’s in Tours, Alcuin set up a library and scriptorium that in addition to the grand monastery there became the most significant center of learning of the age. In addition, Alcuin was influential in his efforts to normalize the liturgy in his revision of the Latin Bible and with the significant writings he left behind (Pedersen, 1997). Without the educational background and respect for the advancement of knowledge instilled in Alcuin through Bede and the monastic learning he spread, this individual might never have made the important progress he did for the realm of education.

Bede’s teachings took root in a widespread area through his education and those fortunate enough to receive it. Through his fascination with and study of time, he unified a system of chronology that remains the standard and changed forever the way history is written and taught. Through his extensive research and examination of sources he compiled The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which has stood the test of time and is still widely used today; a source which has been vital in the understanding of an early English culture, otherwise lost. Not even this listing does justice in addressing the entirety of Bede’s accomplishments and influence – a man who shone the light of scholarship and the importance of knowledge through the Dark Ages. The Venerable Bede was a brilliant and devoted man who had a lasting impact on education as it is known today.


Brown, George Hardin. Bede, the Venerable. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Print

Colgrave, Bertram, and R. A. B. Mynors. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People;. Oxford: Clarendon P., 1969. Print

Palmer, Robert B. “Bede as a textbook writer: A Study of His De Arte Metrica,” Speculum 34 (1959): 573-84

Pedersen, Olaf. The First Universities: Studium Generale and the Origins of University Education in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.

Price, Mary Roper. “Bede.” Bede and Dunstan,. London: Oxford U.P., 1968. 7-32. Print

Thompson, A. Hamilton. Bede; His Life, Times, and Writings; Essays in Commemoration of the Twelfth Centenary of His Death,. New York: Russell & Russell, 1966. Print

Alcuin’s Educational Reform In 8th Century Europe

by Alexander Rumann

As a result of barbarian attacks on the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Europe was in chaos and confusion. This led to the creation of the Holy Roman Empire, controlled by the Catholic Christian church. Education at this time was nearly nonexistent and was only in the scholastic form in monasteries with monks copying texts. Most of the learning toward the 8th century was focused on Biblical texts or written works of the members of the church that were related to the Bible. The monasteries copied texts from early Greek and Roman literature but only those which they found interesting and most important, so limited topics were kept. Education overall at this time was in a sorry state, as most did not obtain any at all and what they did receive was very constricted to focus on the Bible. Literature that had been easily accessible in the early Roman Empire had been isolated to libraries in cathedrals and monasteries. Due to the lack of access to literature and education most of Europe’s population was illiterate. The church at this time believed that most of the teachings on secular subjects were a sin against God and was therefore not taught. Those that received an education were those who were wealthy and being groomed for a career in the church. There were those that came along who wished to change education and made huge contributions not only to the church but to society as a whole, one of these people is Alcuin of York. Alcuin of York built the foundation of which the revival and reform of education in Europe was built upon in the centuries to come. This education reform was backed by Charlemagne who was successfully keeping the barbarians of Europe at bay in his military campaigns, which allowed Alcuin to carry out his efforts to change education of the known kingdom.

Education in the arts and philosophy were studied to help further understanding of the Bible but for only that purpose. Liberal arts that were studied for the sake of interest alone and apart from biblical understanding were considered heresy and people were put to the death or banished for such actions. The arts of Greek and earlier Roman culture were considered to be pagan learning and seen by the church as ineffectual and immoral. In the 5th Century liberal arts were viewed as suitable studies for Christians due to the necessity of understanding scriptures in a clearer way. Augustine considered the liberal arts to be grammar, music, dialectics, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, and philosophy (West, pg. 10, 12, 14, 15). The culture of this time revolves around God and learning about God in a scholastic setting. Learning was limited to only that which would further ones knowledge of biblical scriptures and understanding of those scriptures.

Alcuin was born sometime between the years of 730 and 740 CE in Northumbria, England which is close to York (Plater). He came from a modest family of nobility from York and went to the cathedral school there. While at school he was taught by Egbert who was a student of the Venerable Bede. He remained at the cathedral school in York where he became the master at the death of Egbert in 766. Alcuin became a deacon of the church and officially held the office of scholasticus teaching young boys to be leaders of the church. Through his works as an educator he became the most well known master in Britain (West 31, 34, and 38). Alcuin quickly became a reputable teacher of adolescents in Britain despite that in the late 760’s the area was violent and unstable due to the attacks of the barbarian tribes of the Anglo-Saxons (Bullough 137). In the year 780 Alcuin was given charge of the most famous cathedral library in Britain. Despite his duties he took many trips to Rome, either for personal reasons or he was sent there to retrieve documents from the Pope, where he met influential people such as Charles the Great in 781. He was called by Charles the Great to go to Frankland to head the teaching at the chapel in the palace (West 34). Aside from the vast amounts of educational reforms that Alcuin made he also made a very large contribution in literature. He wrote numerous letters back and forth to very well known people of the Empire such as the Pope and Charles the Great, also known as Charlemagne and various priests and bishops throughout the kingdom. He also wrote many theological treatises and Biblical commentaries which were very common for scholars of that time. In addition he wrote books on dialectic and rhetoric works that he shared in his lessons with Charlemagne. He also produced textbooks that could be used by schools around Europe for their curriculum. Although it is less noted, and it was considered unimportant to any except traders who needed basic accounting skills, Alcuin also wrote a text book on arithmetic that was comprised of fifty three word problems (Sunshine). He left immense amounts of comprehensive works of books on liberal arts from the earlier Roman Empire that were mostly lost, dialectics, rhetoric and dialogues that he stored in the library at Saint Martin’s that were used for teaching in his school (Pedersen 75).

Around the year 782 Alcuin left England to start educating at the palace of Charles the Great, also known as Charlemagne, at Aachen (West 39). He was given charge of educating the administrators of the kingdom but he was most famous for teaching Charlemagne himself. He also taught Charlemagne’s children and the clergy of the chapel at the palace in France (Sunshine). Alcuin was given a difficult task of tutoring not only the young royalty in the palace but also the elders there as well. He had to find a way to interest a broad range of ages to keep order in his classes. He covered what was considered the liberal arts starting with the basics of grammar and moving to arithmetic and then dialectic and rhetoric. The palace soon became the only centre for higher studies in the kingdom (West 45). Alcuin became the trusted advisor to Charlemagne and together they would set up schools all around the Frank kingdom in the cathedrals and monasteries. The palace schools that Alcuin started would only last a few generations however the schools he set up in monasteries and cathedrals would later be the main front for educational revival in Europe. As Charlemagne’s advisor, Alcuin convinced Charlemagne to stop the forced baptism of the barbarians and made a convincing point to the king that Christianity can only be chosen not forced upon the people of his kingdom, faith is not something that can be coerced (Sunshine). Charles did not want to be the king of a barbarian and illiterate kingdom so he sought to educate his kingdom and install Christian ideals in his people with the help of Alcuin. Alcuin was an indispensible asset and advisor to the king during this time. Alcuin and Charlemagne together set up schools around the kingdom to advance the church. Schools were set in cathedrals, monastic settings and eventually in villages. The cathedral and monastic schools were to educate at an elementary level and in some case there was superior learning. In local villages education was at the elementary level and didn’t advance past that (West 48, 56). This was by far better than what education was in up to the early 9th century when there were a very few that were educated and even those that were educated were only educated enough so they could read and write adequately to copy old books or scrolls. Alcuin had taken the palace school and built it up into the finest institution in the kingdom which was the center for culture and an undeveloped academy. In the short amount of time that Alcuin spent at the palace school he made a huge impact on academics with the works that he did and the ideals that he instilled there. Alcuin strove to encourage learning to be more tolerant of the liberally scholastic tradition of earlier Rome and Greece (Pederen 75). Alcuin believed in a standardization of the curriculum used in schools and he strove to provide those standard versions by studying the available copies and he would select the best document or documents that he found for the master copy. Then all copies were made from the master copies of these texts he found and these became in a sense textbooks for use in schools. These textbooks that Alcuin had created were then in a standard version of the texts that were easily copied, before that was a lot of variation in copied texts but Alcuin eliminated a large portion of this error (Sunshine). Along with creating these textbooks Alcuin would go through the libraries and collect large amounts of books and other works of literature and he would collect excerpts from the texts that he would spend a great amount of time reading and sometimes complete works as well. These works that he found had been neglected for centuries would then become extremely useful as textbooks (Bullough 138). Among many other things Alcuin had a doctrine of separating liberal literature and Christian morals. He believed that learning should not be limited to the sole purpose of advancing ones knowledge of biblical text. Previously the church had frowned upon knowledge for the only purpose of educating one’s self and Alcuin strove to present this as an acceptable thing to do (Bolton 17). The idea that education and the church should be apart was an idea that he founded his teachings on and applied them wherever he went. In gaining knowledge through the process of education he found he saw that virtue, truth and learning had an independent value that the church and Christianity must come to respect if the kingdom was to survive (Pedersen 76). Alcuin and Charlemagne organized three levels of education in the empire: the “university” which was the palace school and stood at the top of the hierarchy of schools, secondary schools found in a select few monasteries and cathedral schools, and then the primary schools which were at every level at the cathedrals, monasteries and also the village schools throughout Europe. Primary education was the only material covered in the village schools (West 58). This hierarchy of schooling is the progression of education that is found in the modern era. Even though the teachings at different levels education varies, the progression through primary, secondary, then the university is still how things are today. This is the system that was set in place by Alcuin and his followers with the help of Charlemagne.

After eight arduous years at the palace Alcuin reluctantly took up the position in Tours, France as an abbot at the abbey of Saint Martin’s. Even though Alcuin was reluctant to take the post as abbot he did some of his greatest work at St. Martin’s. He set up a large library with the textbooks he had put together along with other literature from centuries before. Along with the library Alcuin set up a scriptorium where he trained scribes to accurately copy texts that were used in schools throughout the kingdom. Through these courses that Alcuin was setting up the monastery of St. Martins became tremendously prosperous and eventually turned into the most noteworthy centre of learning of the age (Pedersen 75). Alcuin had reached his 60th year of life in 792 and wished to retire to a quiet monastery in Fulda but Charles ignored his request and made him Abbot of the abbey, St. Martin in Tours. Alcuin wished to return to his home town of York but when he returned on a short vacation found it in a sad state and the ruler was very cruel and unjust. He returned to the palace for a short while where he came up with several treatises before becoming the abbot. Apart from the learning in Alcuin’s monastery, there was a monastic revival that had to take place because of the loose morals of the monks and the lack of discipline they showed to their vows. Alcuin brought in monks from other parts of the kingdom to help with this revival of Benedictine order. Alcuin saw that the educational system he set up in Northumbria was falling apart and that the system in Frankland would not always be protected by a powerful ruler like Charles and he feared that his teachings would disappear. He devoted the last years of his life in an effort to train his pupils to carry on his teachings and instill in them the dedication to learning and education that he himself had. Alcuin set up the same educational structure that he did at York and the palace. He teaches the younger boy’s grammar and the older students he teaches scriptures and ancient disciplines, liberal arts, and astronomy. He had now planted the same three schools at York, the palace and now Tours. Although Alcuin was continuing to educate at Tours he felt that he was inadequately supplied with books and sent a request to the king to have monks sent to York to retrieve his library. Alcuin writes “I, your servant, lack the rarer books of scholastic erudition which I had in my own country through the devoted
industry of my master, Egbert, and by my own labors” (West 63-67).

The monastic schools alienated themselves from the cathedral schools, even with the bishops having jurisdiction over the monks. Along with the constant conflicts that were going on between the bishops and monks there was a split in the monastic schools. There were the interior schools and exterior schools. Interior schools focused on only training boys who were given to the monasteries for a life as a monk. The exterior schools were to train boys to become priests of the church and also for those who were intended for secular professions. Both of the interior and exterior schools gave a gratuitous instruction. The monastic schools were extremely strict and flourished more than the cathedral schools even though the education received was not that much different between cathedral and monastic schools. Whether in the monastic or cathedral schools education started with the basics of reading and writing which were the most essential and rudimentary skills. Students would then proceed to grammar, which was crucial in understanding the scriptures and therefore the most time was devoted to grammar. Along with grammar, reading and writing there was also sometimes dialectic and rhetoric, past this there was nothing further in education except in a few monasteries. In all the schools the study of the Holy Scriptures was of the upmost important and was studied in great detail at the cathedral and monastery schools and was only viewed at the most basic level in the village schools. In the village schools the only important aspects of the bible they were expected to learn was the creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and a few of the psalms (West 58).

While in Tours, Alcuin spent most of the last 8 years of his life corresponding with kings and leaders of the kingdom, over 300 letters about education. Alcuin’s main concern with not only educating the youth that were in attendance at his school at the time but also for future generations after he was gone. He strove to not only educate men that were to be priests and monks but also those that were to someday become teachers that would rise up and take his place one day. Alcuin found out in the year 796 that one of his former pupils had been elevated to archbishop of York. He rejoiced that he was privileged to have taught someone that has reached such a high honor. He then proceeded to help the archbishop by giving him advice on how to run the schools of York, telling him to separate students into classes of those who study books, those who practice music and those who transcribe. Alcuin also writes to his old pupil about assigning a master to each subject in order to keep the boys from getting unruly (West 76).

Alcuin’s life was spent making dramatic changes to academics. He dedicated his life to educating an illiterate country that desperately needed instruction. With the help of King Charles the Great they revolutionized education. Alcuin set up three institutions that all instilled the same ideals of education. The school in York is what put Alcuin on the map and got him recognized as an extraordinary teacher and sought after by Charles the Great. The two other institutions at the palace and later in Tours were just as great as the school in York and paved the way for education in the centuries to come in Europe. Alcuin’s school at the palace of Charles was considered a university at the time; although it is not what we would consider a university today. The revolution that Alcuin started with his educational reforms in the late 8th century would be a small stepping-stone to what would later become the first recognizable universities. The simple changes that Alcuin made and the fact that he reintroduced the liberal arts from the earlier Roman Empire caused a huge change in the literacy of Europe. After the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Holy Roman Empire, Europe was in a state of barbarianism that was spiraling down. The leaders of the time were only focused on scholastic learning of biblical texts and only certain people were allowed to go through extensive learning. The empire hung by a thread and if not for the changes that Alcuin made and the works he contributed the empire might have fallen due to its illiteracy. Alcuin laid the foundation for what would later become the university through his works in education.



Bolton, W. F. Alcuin and Beowulf. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1978. Print.

Bullough, Donald. Charlemagne: Empire and Society. New York: Manchester University Press, 2005. 137-138. Print.

Pedersen, Olaf. The First Universities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.

Plater, Ormonde. “Alcuin of York.” Through the Dust. N.p., 19 May 2008. Web. 22 Jan 2012..

Sunshine, Glenn. “Alcuin of York.” Christians Who Changed Their World. (2011): n. page. Web. 21 Jan. 2012.

Jabir Ibn Hayyan: Alchemist

by Jazmyne M. Sturgeon

Atoms. Electrons. H20. The Periodic Table. All of these are familiar terms people remember from their 10th grade chemistry classes and have all grown accustomed to. While this may be the case, it is important to keep in mind that these are relatively modern concepts. A thousand years ago, pre-teens had a much smaller Table with only four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. The idea of these four elements is a very Greek concept, but one alchemist continued Aristotle’s work: Arabic alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan. Jabir ibn Hayyan influenced education by deepening the understanding of alchemy and encouraging a dynamic learning system over a scholastic system.

Jabir ibn Hayyan is considered the earliest great name in Moslem alchemy. He was born circa 720 (C.E) and died in about 815 (C.E) at the astonishing age of 95 (Stalzberg 1991). It is widely believed that he lived as a physician in Baghdad under the protection of the Court of Harun-al-Raschid (Hopkins 1967). Jabir’s passion was alchemy, which, one must note, differs from modern day chemistry in the fact that ‘magic’ was used to supplement studies. Jabir could not avoid the magical influences of his day and is therefore considered an alchemist, not a chemist (Cobb 1995). Arthur John Hopkins supplements this in his book Alchemy: Child of Greek Philosophy, when he states, “Believing that alchemy was real, [Jabir] undertook the almost superhuman task of bringing this discredited subject up to the same honorable plane as philosophy, medicine or mathematics.” Hopkins later notes that Jabir’s literary output included at least five hundred works on alchemy alone. Others agree that this number is alarmingly high:

“The complete body of works attributed to Jabir includes more than two thousand books, and of course no one man could have written that number, even if he did live to be ninety five. Obviously, most of these books were written over a period of many years by different authors who attributed their writings to Jabir, either out of respect or as a method of remaining safely anonymous” (Stalzberg 1991).

It is not unreasonable to agree that Jabir did not write many of the works attributed to him, but that he did inspire and have influence over their content, no matter how indirectly.

His name has been linked and interchanged with the Latin name ‘Geber’ throughout history, even though Jabir ibn Hayyan is Arabic.

The name ‘Geber’ was to enjoy among the Latins a celebrity similar to that of ‘Democritus’ among the Greek alchemists and ‘Balinus’ among the Arabs, and like these worthies Geber’s real identity retains a considerable element of mystery. The works of Geber have not been found in Arabic, and he remains, despite persistent attempts to equate him to Jabir ibn Haiyan, an anonymous Latin alchemist. (Multhauf 1996).

It remains to speculation who exactly Geber was and how he became associated with Jabir. “…Popular belief [is] that the Geber works of the thirteenth century were actually translations into Latin of the Arabic of Jabir of the eight century;” although recently, that assumption has been challenged to question the true identity of Geber (Hopkins 1967). However, in order to analyze Jabir ibn Hayyan’s impact on the chemical world, the assumption must be made that ‘Geber’ was merely a pseudonym future writers used to show respect to their inspiration, Jabir, as well as having the intent to remain anonymous, as Hugh Stalzberg suggested earlier. Author Hopkins believes that “if all that has been deduced from the writings of Geber is true, he was one of the greatest single constructive influences in science, particularly in the science of the metals, that the world has ever known.” The fact that Jabir may not have written the works credited to him under the name Geber does not, however, make him any less influential. In fact, it makes him more so. It displays how many chemists were inspired and influenced by him and how they respected him enough to attribute their works to his name. As flattering as this tribute may be, Robert P. Multhauf puts it best when describing the difficulties it has caused:

Modern scholarship has laboured mightily to reconstruct Jabir’s biography with the following result: (1) the Latin writings attributed to Geber have not been found in an Arabic version, and probably originated in south Italy in the thirteenth century; (2) there is in Arabic a large body of alchemical writing attributed to Jabir, but little is known to the Latins of the Middle Ages; and (3) Jabir, who also enjoyed a great reputation among the Arabs, was not the author of all these works… (Multauf 1966)

These three statements support the assumption that ‘Geber’ was used by future alchemists to show respect towards Jabir. Although this theory is not flawless, it is among the most likely, and it is important to understand who Jabir ibn Hayyan is and who he is not before discussing his impact on society and education.

The most important collection of texts supposedly written by Jabir is known as the Jabirian Corpus. The corpus was completed by 987, but was most likely compiled over many years. Jabir ibn Hayyan died in 813 and it is unknown how much Jabir personally contributed (Hudson 1992). However, it is not unreasonable to believe that Jabir inspired the contributors, as they clearly credited their work to his name. Another source tells us that, “by the second half of the tenth century the entire Jabirian Corpus had been constituted, and was generally, if not unanimously, admitted as the authentic work of Jabir” (Multhauf 1966). Either way, Jabir’s influence on the world of alchemy (and therefore chemistry) is clearly displayed, whether the work was done by his hands or simply by inspiring others. Jabirian texts had a strong correlation with Aristotle’s theories, concepts, and discoveries. In many cases, Jabir simply took Aristotle’s existing work and expanded, added, or took away from it depending on what had been discovered. Jabir especially focused on metals and their properties which were:

“clearly based on the views of Aristotle but included a significant new idea. Aristotle had considered metals to be formed by the combination of moist and dry exhalations, and in the Jabirian works these exhalations are identified with the vapours of mercury and sulfur. The cause of the different metals was the different quality of the sulphur from which they were formed.” (Hudson1992)

In this example, Jabir takes Aristotle’s existing ideas and expands on them, deepening the general understanding of alchemy during this time. Aristotle had already established that metals were formed from combinations of moist and dry, yet Jabir took it a step further to explain what exactly those wet and dry exhalations were. “The Jabirian alchemists also believed that metals were ultimately composed of the four Aristotelian elements earth, water, air, and fire, and in consequence possessed the qualities of coldness, hotness, dryness and moisture in varying proportions” (Hudson 1992) (See Fig. 1). Another important distinction between Jabir’s work and that of Aristotle, is that Jabirian texts considered each substance to contain all four elements instead of just two (Salzberg 1991). According to Richard Morris, author of The Last Sorcerers, this theory strongly influenced much of later alchemy. Jabir’s work, and the work he inspired others to undertake, clearly had a lasting impact on the way alchemy was studied.

Jabir ibn Hayyan also was a strong advocate for a dynamic learning system over a scholastic one. A scholastic learning system is stagnant, and basically taught straight out of the book, much like a high school. On the other hand, a dynamic system involves research and learning new things, instead of accepting what one is told without question, more like a university (Jackson 2012).

The first duty of an alchemist, [Jabir] said, is to carry out experiments in order that he may acquire knowledge. He accepted the doctrine of transmutation, but did not baldy inform his contemporaries that transmutation had been accomplished. Instead he gave specific directions for experiments in transmutation, such as ‘project some of this substance upon so much copper and you will get silver,’ thus allowing them to draw their own conclusions and inducing his friends to try experiments. (Hopkins 1967)

This is the same sort of teaching that a college professor would set up for his students today. Design an experiment, give the steps of the procedure, but allow the students to actually do the experiment and discover the results for themselves. This is dynamic learning.

One example of dynamic learning is demonstrated in a distinct difference between Aristotle and Jabir ibn Hayyan. Aristotle believed that the elements (air, fire, water, and earth) were only abstract and philosophical; more hypothetical than fact. Jabirian texts, on the other hand, suggested that the quantities and elements were real and could be isolated (Salzberg 1991). With this theory, the only logical step was to prove it by setting up an experiment:

The Jabirians attempted to do this in two stages. First they subjected various organic materials to dry distillation, which often resulted in the formation of a volatile combustible substance (air), a liquid (water), and combustible tarry material (fire) and a dry residue (ash). These elements were supposed to be composed of two different qualities, and the Jabirians assumed that the predominant quality could be isolated by extended purification…Once he had obtained his pure elements, consisting of only one quality, the alchemist was supposed to mix them in the correct proportions to obtain an elixir that he could use to treat a base metal. (Hudson 1992)

Here we have a clear example of a hypothesis, procedure, and conclusion set in motion by Jabir ibn Hayyan’s theories. He was a clear initiator of experiments and therefore dynamic learning, setting in motion a chain reaction of his academic decedents to follow suit.

Whether or not Jabir ibn Hayyan actually wrote what was attributed to him means little. It is clear that his work (or the work that he influenced) had a lasting effect on alchemy, and therefore chemistry in later years. His ‘tweeks’ to Aristotle’s existing theories were widely accepted, and later generations would go on to improve and further develop Jabir’s theories. However, instead of simply allowing future alchemists to blindly accept his ideas, he encouraged the use of experiments and designed his work so that learners would have to understand procedures, set up experiments, and discover results on their own; therefore, becoming a revolutionary teacher by pressing a dynamic system upon his field of study. Jabir ibn Hayyan influenced learning, thinking, and education by expanding general knowledge of alchemy through his own experiments and by leaving experiments for future alchemists, a radical idea in the world of science.

Cobb, Cathy, and Harold Goldwhite. Creations of Fire: Chemistry’s Lively History from Alchemy to the Atomic Age. New York: Plenum, 1995. Print.

Hellenistic Physics. Digital image. Wikipedia. Public Domain. Web. 22 Jan. 2012.

Hopkins, Arthur John. Alchemy, Child of Greek Philosophy. New York: AMS, 1967. Print.

Hudson, John. The History of Chemistry. New York: Chapman & Hall, 1992. Print.

Jackson, Steve N. “The Thin Tweed Line: The Rise of Literacy.” DHC 261: The University. Black Hall 151, Ellensburg, WA. Jan. 2012. Lecture.

Multhauf, Robert P. The Origins of Chemistry. London: Oldbourne, 1966. Print.

Salzberg, Hugh W. From Caveman to Chemist: Circumstances and Achievements. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society, 1991. Print.

Teaching Digital Creative Artists (or what to do when your department chair channels Ned Ludd)

by Steve Jackson

The Post Modern Era

As we move into a recognizably post modern era of university education I have noticed when consulting on digital media development that the main failure in properly educating students is not the liberal arts model we have inherited, but the use of the model as a means of giving second class status to technologists and artists on campus.  Rather than embracing the difference between the three arms of human liberal expression, the people who study and perfect a grammar approach, the people who study and perfect a logics approach, and the people who study and perfect a rhetorical approach, the current era is seeing a paradoxical movement against technology on the college campus.  It became clear to me that this was happening when an administrator said in an open meeting that the university was not going to lower itself to teaching technology.  This comment was directed at a shocked video production professor who had no idea until that minute that her boss considered her a second class citizen and was busily preparing her a seat at the back of the academic bus.

Fear of technology is nothing new in academic.  Writing in ink was a new experience for the people of the court of Charlemagne when he brought the education Alcuin of York out of his cloisters and into court life.  The era before Charlemagne is rightfully known as the Dark Ages because so little writing was done in the former reaches of the Roman Empire.  Alciun, in establishing an educational system for the Frankish kingdom apparently started first by introducing the soft technology of the written grammatical word along with the hard technology that allowed individuals to use ink affixed to vellum or parchment and bound into larger volumes.  After Alciun the world of Carolingian Europe would open up to later scholars expressly because the technology of writing was taught, but this does not mean everyone of the era approved of this technology.

The motif of advancing technology and the learning of that technology clashing with educational purists continues through out educations.  Gerbert, who would later be a pope, was demonized for introducing tools for rational thought and devices to measure the heavens from the Muslim Caliphate.  Vernacular study translations of the Christian bible just two hundred years later were burned and their authors bones dug up from the ground and destroyed because access to religious information through hand written documents was seen as dangerous to the world order. At the same time European education was being rocked by the fight against scholasticism in studies such as health, science, and astronomy, with new tools being introduced and denigrated for hundreds of years.

The problem with teaching any creative art is that mostly, they involve the use and mastery of technology.

There are a number of clash points that seem to come up.  The first is that while it is possible for a practitioner to learn theory sufficiently to handle even advanced academic classes, mastery of technology is often arrived at from long practice.  The mistake that the video production professor was making with her dean was that she regularly taught theory and studies courses, while very few theory professors had the credentials or skills to teach technology.  Instead of accepting this as a quirk of the liberal arts (where grammar can be a much harder set of skills and values to develop to a professional level of understanding than undergraduate level studies and theory courses (because an understanding of theory sufficient to teach an undergraduate course does not imply the ability to publish or research in that area) it is used as a cudgel to beat down the development of high quality art programs in technology such as video production.

At the same time, more is being demanded of curriculum because the industry is loosing it normal mooring points (such as news casts in local television stations that pay their producers a living wage).  Automation, computer assisted production, and the collapsing of lower skilled jobs into the realm of minimum wage, part-time contracts has demanded more from curriculum that cannot be given to the students over the objections of anti-technology leadership.  The current complexity of the industry has forced the video production student to A) become more skilled, B) become more broadly skilled, C) look away from the traditional media for employment, and D) develop an entrepreneurial edge to their work that makes them always looking for business opportunities. To supply this our curriculum has to use each contact hours for the maximum benefit of the student.  Instead, production majors are being diluted to avoid teaching students needed skills.  A look at a college such as Heidelberg University shows that its Integrated Media major provides three courses for learning the skills of communicating with technology, but each of the courses are vague catch-alls, a series of introductions to the idea of media production rather than strong production courses designed to move a student to a mastery that will allow them to navigate through a complex industry and find work in a marketplace that may require the worker to make up their own jobs.  At the same time the student, who cannot be expected to tell that they are being sold an inferior program, and left to figure their way through no less than five speech courses.  This is egregious considering the fact that the student who will have to be a master of the grammar side of the liberal arts while have far more rhetoric than the skills and ideas they need to understand their own field.

Technology has provided the talented producer with a wide range of tools that they can use to create products that can pay a living wage through creative use of the Internet and new media. A new graduate can earn a living producing documentary videos for sale on iTunes, can produce small/intense audience web series whose funding is through Kickstarter, or can develop advertising revenue through commentary-based media in highly targeted audiences. Most media producers will maintain several revenue sources, moving into and out of the mainstream media as opportunities present themselves.    Making sure the student has five speech classes is not a frugal means to achieve the knowledge and understanding needed of the industry to prosper, and only the best students will turn that information into a career.

To aid a student in reaching this level of competence in their undergraduate career, the faculty member must be prepared to use intensive learning strategies in a linked series of classes. This means that each learning experience must use active learning to assure long-term retention of knowledge, the learning experiences must include intensive educations in the culture of the industry where each member is an active rather than passive participant in the process, and the students need strong review of their work to provide them the feedback needed to become a quality oriented communicator.

In general the public relations specialist or digital media producer needs no less than six experiences where they are actively involved working in their field before they graduate.  A PR specialist must not simply present a power point in a rhetoric class, but must be taught to use advanced data sets to arrive at objective conclusions on persuasion that can be communicated easily to a client.  A production student must be able to conceive of a product and follow the production of that product from idea to delivery of a finished work.  They need not be highly specialized, but they must have the basic traits that make a member of the industry successful, which are different traits that the PR specialist.

The Trivium as a Basic for Successful Curriculum Development

by Steve Jackson

In working with curriculum across more than thirty universities in a decade, I began to take note of both errors that faculty were constantly making when they created curriculum (and which would require extensive cleaning up at some point) and the models that succeeded even when the odds against success were significant.  I want to make it clear here that, except for connecting some of these concepts to older ideas in higher education, the basic “best practices” when making curriculum have all been things I have observed other faculty doing.

In most cases the faculty I watched create curriculum who were the best at it knew perfectly well what they were doing and why, so this is not a case of my observational brilliance teasing points of practice from the processes used by faculty who accidentally arrived at success.  In nearly every case the faculty knew why there were doing what they were doing, and were deliberate in their efforts to use their theory to drive the practice of their curriculum.  This is not to say faculty who performed poorly in this area were illogical in their choices.  Many in fact were logical, it is just that their logic tended to be directed to other ideas than developing a frugal, teachable, and hard hitting curriculum that would lead students to success in a particular field of endeavor.

One example of this is the “liberal arts cudgel.”  About half the curriculum discussions I have been involved in (thirty or more) my notes show an immense amount of time being wasted talking about the liberal arts and if the curriculum violates this principal.  In two noted examples, an art historian serving as a lone scholar in a department of physical artists brought up the problem that the art major included only one art history class with the option for a second, which he believed meant they would graduate without a foundation in the liberal arts.  The discussion then devolved into twenty-hours of discussion of what the liberal arts was.  This was one of the questions I was brought into answer for the department, so I gave them the answer that would best serve their purposes.  The liberal arts is a founding concept of liberal education which is commonly used to delay and stop curriculum innovation leading to thousands of hours of discussions.  I then pointed out the obvious, the college required all students to take 36 hours of core work that was called the “liberal arts core”.  This both defined what the liberal arts was, and solved the departments problem in one short reading.  The liberal arts is, at that college, whatever the liberal arts core claims to teach, and since the core was handling matters well, there was no need to waste time, energy, or money trying to duplicate in inside of an individual department. (see this article on the subject.)

In many cases though an understanding of the liberal arts is an important tool in curriculum creation.  The main reason is that the idea, in its original form, survived intact as a logical argument for more than a thousand years before taking a huge left turn in America during its first century of existence.

The basic understanding of the liberal arts is that it consists of three broad understandings of knowledge.  The first is grammar, or the use of tools to gather and modify information.  Grammar is in its widest understandings a study and mastery of technology.  The second understanding is that of logic, or the ability to obtain an objective answer when using the tools of grammar to collect and record information.  The third understanding is that of rhetoric, or the ability to communicate the objective answers found by logic to an audience using the tools of grammar.  The three liberal arts form an interlocking set of circles, representing that each area of understanding is connected to the other.  Despite this large parts of each understanding are their own areas of study.

The first observation I made of well designed curriculum was that it tended to be concentrated in one area of the trivium with occasional visits to the other.  The concentration made sense as I interviewed students.  Students tend to be most comfortable with one of the liberal arts.  They tend to be much weaker with the other two.  At the undergraduate level the successful major recognizes this, and tends to be significantly heavy in one area.  It also does not abandon the other two, but treats them as needed expansions of basic concepts taught early in the program to provide context.

Take film as a study in a college.  There are three basic ways it can be studied assuming that the curriculum writer intends the student to be proficient in the field and able to easily hold employment.  The three areas are:

  • Grammar: Filmmaking.  How to create films from design to release.
  • Logic: Film Studies.  The artistic, cultural and social understanding of film.
  • Rhetoric: Film Business.  The marketing of films or video.

A good major in each of the three cases looks very different.  Filmmaking is a complex craft learned by being present problems and solving them.  Film studies is the study of the meaning, content, effect, or arty of films.  Film business is the funding, selling, and development of major film projects.

A good filmmaking major has an introductory film history course (logic) and a film business course near its end, but concentrates on a series of efforts to learn writing, visual story telling, the art of motion photography, editing, and then capstone courses where the students actually produce movies.  The film studies major would have a film history course at the start and a business course at the end, but would have a single filmmaking experience that roughly tried to cover all of the basis of the courses listed above, and would instead spend much of its time in understanding the complex theory of how films and understood by audiences.

Each major attracts a very different student at the undergraduate level, and the students can become unnerved if they feel they are signing up for one course of study and instead get another.


The Bogus Discussion of Liberal Arts

by Steve Jackson

It was my second job as a consultant in curriculum when I faced down the specter that haunts nearly every discussion of college education in the United States today.

What is the liberal arts and how can we make sure our department’s curriculum is liberal enough?

This question was in a small packet I was handed when I was hired by Hudson University* to aid the department of Arts** in creating a new and innovative curriculum to turn around a steady decline in enrollment.  The faculty had bogged down on a few questions, but in terms of hours spent in discussion, the main problem was obviously this one question pressed forward by two faculty.

I started going through the curriculum and was impressed.  The committee chair and her three associates had rapidly identified the model for students they successfully retained, then used a combination of industry peer reviews, faculty visits from other colleges, and discussions with working artists, to create a wonderful concept of the entrepreneurial artist who could find self-employment through developing paid projects.  In terms of the basic liberal arts (which of course was part of their question), the program they taught was clearly grammatically based, as was their student body. This was successfully operationalized by having most courses being hands-on operational courses.  To the very strong and pointed core they had hung a small set of rhetorical and logical courses which would take the skilled artists and give them the idea they also needed to be a working artist, and what this meant.

The problem was that two of the four members of the committee had backed away from the final design and sent the discussion into a long existential discussion of the liberal arts.  This was not wrong for them to do.  More than once I have walked in on programs which make so many foundational mistakes that fixing it by minor tweaks is impossible, only throwing out the previous design and starting over will bring it forward.  To determine why the two faculty had backed out of the original plan, I read the minutes as closely as I could, looked at the old curriculum, and then talked with the dissenting faculty.

The old program had been a general arts degree with three concentrations based on the artistic background of the three of the five original faculty: graphic design, fiber arts, and sculpture.  One interesting feature of the older program was that the degree core consisted of six classes, four drawing courses and two art history courses followed by a single course in graphic design, fiber arts, and sculpture.  These nine classes then allowed four area specific courses.

This is like finding fired tile near a water source for an archeologist.  The curriculum reviewer can often suggest a theory of how this model came about.  In the original curriculum drawing was considered the core skill of art.  That was why it was at the middle of the program.  The art history courses is common in art colleges, and two are often required for a fine arts degree.  So to the original designers, this was the art degree, and the concentrations was an addition made to act like an elective.

The new curriculum was harder hitting.  Fiber arts, whose professor was no longer present, was dropped from the concentration.  The committee members then decided that a student could work in the digital realm or the physical realm.  The core was now a drawing class, a digital class, a physical arts class, a single art history course, and an arts business course.  Digital and physical arts now had six courses in a strong curriculum that centered on a new maker space.  A capstone then finished the student’s studies.

The two faculty who had backed out of the process and created the deadlock thought that the elimination of drawing and art history classes turned the major into a “practical” instead of a liberal arts major, and that the rush to make the art program popular by making students in the program able to find and retain work was missing the point of an art program.  The term starving artist existed for a reason, and a good liberal arts program did not promise the student would be able to work in the field of their art, only that they would be aware and able to appreciate art when they saw it.

In almost every consult you arrive knowing that there is only about fifty-percent chance you will be able to help.  Most faculty are not keen to listen to outsiders even in situations where listening could result in sustained employment, and there is often underlying issues that issues like “the liberal arts” hides.  In this case though the faculty were not all that biased.  They had real concerns and wanted answers themselves.

The answers were not hard to provide either.

The liberal arts has made shifts over the centuries in meaning.  The original Greek concept of the liberal arts was that in order to seek meaning in a complex universe one must know how to use technology to send, receive and record information (collectively grammar), to process the information seeking deeper meaning in its recorginaztion (logic), and to then clearly communicate to others your findings (rhetoric).  This carried through until after the European renaissance.

Many American scholars are unaware that their own understanding of the liberal arts is strained through the filter of slavery in the United States.  While European universities adopted a strict understanding of the liberal arts as a set of tools that equip the user to determine objective truth, American universities in the years, lacking huge endowments from the eras when faculty where priests who could pray for hire, were dependent on enrollment money in the form of tuition.  Before the Civil War the most reliable source of enrollment money was the extremely wealthy slave holding families of the south***.

Almost all college students in this era were wealthy unless they were being subsidized by a church with the intention of being a pastor.  In terms of individual wealth, southern plantation owners were the key to many college enrollments.  These students were often being sent to get an education since they were the second or third sons and could not expect to run the plantation.  Unless they sought out military service or entered church service, few could expect to be anything other than members of the slave owner society.  Slave owners saw themselves as aristocracy, and like to follow the fashions of European gentry.  One of those fashions was that a lack of education among the idle gentleman class was uncouth.

The expectation of these young gentleman was not that they were learn useful skills to sustain an income producing career, but that they would learn enough culture so as to not embarrass their families when they returned home.  Thus the liberal arts went from a set of tools that allowed an objective thinker to solve problems, to the idea that the student was being prepared for polite society.  Working skills such as engineering were the bane of slave culture in any case, so there was little call for the student to return home with them in his possession.

Thus the idea of the liberal arts being divorced from technology, or divorced from practicality, has more to do with the dead slave holding culture than modern society.  The main goal then is to explain this to faculty so that they understand that the tight shackles of the liberal arts are an illusion crafted by people long dead.

Cutting the shackles in this case was relatively easy.  Hudson University, like most universities, had a “liberal arts” core which is claimed in its catalog “aided a student to develop a liberal understanding of the world required to survive in modern society.  The logic here was obvious.  If a student spent a third of their credits to attain the liberal arts core, then why would a department have to duplicate this?  Either the university was failing to deliver a true liberal arts experience in that core, in which case the solution was not to create a mini-core in a major but to correct the main core. On the other hand, if the university core was being well done, then there was no need to worry anyway.

At this point the argument of liberal arts was a dead letter.  As often happens in these discussion, the liberal arts turned out to mean whatever each faculty member meant it to mean to support  their argument.  When the rhetorical tool was removed the conversation got more honest.  For example, the argument on drawing courses did not actually hinge on the liberal arts, but on the employment of three adjuncts.  Fewer courses meant that each adjunct would not likely get their desired number of classes.  And this crosses a basic idea of professional curriculum design – curriculum is created to teach students, not to employ faculty.

In the end it was the issues of what classes the faculty were willing to teach, and how many adjuncts would be needed to teach core classes, that defeated the curriculum change proposal.  The next year a new committee met and developed a new curriculum than changed class titles but remained otherwise the same.  The program ended up being closed two years later as its could no longer sustain the department size without new majors, but the work was not lost, one of the faculty members later created the same program at a new university proving the concept.

Just to close out this missive.  A friend of mine once defined liberal arts as, “anything which allows me to teach what I want, when I want, and to whom I want.”  While a bit bitter in tone, the curriculum designer should understand that the basic idea of liberal arts is sound, and that even the trivium is a powerful tool for designing hard hitting majors, but that the buzz word is hard to deal with when it is used to close down discussion.

*Hudson University is a tip of the hat to DC Comics and the television series Castle.

**It is my normal practice to use the Department of Critical Studies to identify the program I am hired to work with. In this case the arguments were discipline specific and there are art programs around the United States, there is no way the reader will be able to identify the particular program unless they happened to be present during my visit.  My apology to people who will write claiming to have been present and to want to discuss points of the visit.  To maintain my contractural obligations any discussion of this sort will be in the abstract and not about any specific event.  This is done with full knowledge that the reader may have been sitting around the table and been party to the discussion.

***European aristocracy were the old world equivalent.  Blessed with huge incomes and little real work, a scion of a great house was expected to do something useful.  A few years reading at a college was seen as a civilizing influence.