Stoa Consortium

Stoa Consortium

1.4.1. Introduction to Monitoria paedagogica


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Stand up straight. Uncover your head if you pass an elderly person, magistrate, priest, doctor or any other man of dignity. When addressed, pay attention; don't let your mind wander but maintain a respectful gaze, always looking at the person you're talking to. Don't shift from one foot to the other. Don't scratch your head or dig out your ears. Don't talk too fast, mutter or stammer, but utter your words distinctly and articulately. Address people by their proper title. Always act in a manner appropriate to your age.37 These are among the lessons in manners imparted to a young boy by his paedagogus in this brief dialogue, one of the first colloquia to appear in the 1522 edition of the Colloquia familiaria.

Of particular note in this dialogue between a schoolmaster and his pupil is that almost the entire substance of the exchange is concerned with the boy's manners. A brief nod to schoolwork is made at the very end when the teacher commands Adito nunc libros tuos, after the boy has asked if there's anything else he should do, but other than that the paedagogus is chiefly concerned with improving his pupil's general comportment.

To the modern audience it may seem strange that a teacher would instruct a pupil as much in manners and proper etiquette as in academic subjects, for we tend to view the former as something we are taught at home. Erasmus, however, viewed training in manners as an inherent part of a person's overall education. In fact, in his introduction to Erasmus' treatises on education, J. K. Sowards describes Erasmus as a "thoroughgoing believer in good habits," who sees decent social and personal behavior as the very foundation upon which education itself rests.38

The present dialogue provides us only a sampling of Erasmus' views on education. Not only did he hold strong opinions about what constitutes correct behavior, and about the best ways to instill such behavior in children—ideas that he expanded on in his work De civilitate morum puerilium—he also devoted a great deal of time to developing his theories on the schooling of the young. The core of his educational works includes De pueris statim ac liberaliter instituendis, De recta latini graecique sermonis pronuntiatione dialogus, and De conscribendis epistolis.

We are not told exactly how old the boy is in this dialogue, but because he is referred to as a puer, he is likely no older than thirteen. This is consistent with Erasmus' general theory of education, as he believed strongly that it was important that children start their schooling at an early age when their minds still are uncorrupted and free from distractions, and before they learn "indolence, gluttony, and self-indulgence from the pampering of well-meaning mothers and nurses..." 39 His patent concern with providing children a solid moral foundation in order that they not fall prey in later life to laziness, greed and selfishness stems from his conviction that one of the chief purposes of education is to produce future philosophers and statesmen, which in turn will lead to the betterment of society as a whole.40

In this, Erasmus is typical of many other humanist educators. In his introduction to Humanist Educational Treatises, Craig Kallendorf explains that humanist theories on education developed as a reaction against the medieval scholastic approach to schooling that prepared men for specific careers, generally in medicine, law and theology, via a utilitarian, pre-professional curriculum. Renaissance humanists, by contrast, believed that the purpose of education was not to train youths for a specific profession, but to prepare them for their ultimate responsibilities to society. 41 To achieve this end, they advocated a curriculum based primarily on the canonical works of Classical literature, as "they were letters that made you morally better and more civilized."42

A true humanist, Erasmus also believed that children should be schooled primarily in Classical languages and literature, that they should learn how to speak, read and write both Latin and Greek proficiently while still young. Indeed, the importance Erasmus puts on good diction is evident in this dialogue when the teacher admonishes: Quum loqueris, cave ne praecipites sermonem, aut haesites lingua, aut palato immurmures, sed distincte, clare, articulate consuescito proferre verba tua. But what is also clear from this text is that, even before the child is schooled in books, he must first learn how to act appropriately and behave in a manner befitting a respectful, upright member of society.

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Date: last revised 2003-12-18 Author: Jennifer K. Nelson.
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