Grendler, Paul F. Schooling in Renaissance Italy: Literacy and Learning 1300-1600. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
Let those men teach boys who can do nothing greater." The first quotation from the Italian author Petrarch in Paul F. Grendler's Schooling in Renaissance Italy: Literacy and Learning 1300-1600, is perhaps most humorous to a modern reader's eyes and ears, because it sounds dangerously like the phrase 'those who can't do, teach,' a very common and often repeated cliche today. However, this quotation also highlights the profound shift in the way that education was viewed, and would be viewed, over the course of the next three hundred years of Italian history. Increasingly, education became valued by members of the Italian elite and by Italian society as a whole. Education came to be prized as a commodity and an example of refinement and taste, when exhibited by one's self and one's children by the wealthier elements of society. (3) Education also became more valued in a practical fashion, as by the end of the era vernacular schools were set up to educate students, not in Latin, rhetoric, or theology, but in the language of the people and instruments of trade.
With this shift in attitude towards education came a corresponding shift in the way that teachers were viewed. No longer a despised profession for those of a "plodding" mentality, eventually educators would become esteemed and noteworthy as historical 'celebrities,' as chronicled by Grendler later in his text. (125) For example, the educators Guarino and Vittorino introduced the phenomenon of the "boarding school," modeled upon the Latin and Greek systems of education, an institution that still has popular currency amongst members of the British and American 'ruling class' today.
Despite its numerical subtitle, Schooling in Renaissance Italy: Literacy and Learning 1300-1600 chronicles the shift in educational philosophy that characterized the Renaissance, not in a purely chronological fashion, but by sectioning the text along the lines of several broad, historical overviews. Grendler first begins with an ideological contrast between medieval forms of education and Renaissance educational methodology. He shifts to a more geographical perspective, dividing his work between two major city-states of Italy. This reflects the divided, sectional nature of Italy at the time, where each city-state had its own unique character. For instance, the Venetian schools of the high Renaissance, of the 1500s, were quite different than the Florentine Schools of he Early Renaissance and the later Roman vernacular schools. (42)
One of the most unique facets of the Venetian view of education was the introduction of communal schools, founded by governments and parents whom believed education benefited the community. This was a shift from the idea that education should remain in the hands of a few, or that only priests needed to be educated. As early as 1551, sestiere schools were created in the city. These institutions, for a time, offered a free education, usually to aristocratic girls, whose parents could not afford to educate them independently with tutors as they did the sons of the family, and working class boys whose parents could not afford to educate any of the children, at all.
Grendler backs up his overviews of education in the different city states with specific biographical examples, such as the aforementioned biographies of famous teachers, Gasparino Barzizza, Guarino, and Vittorino, and the way individual classical historical figures such as Cicero were taught differently, depending on the way that Italy's republican past was viewed by the elite. Lastly, Grendler concludes his work with an overview of the Reformation and how that affected education. This structure enables Grendler to touch upon the organization of schooling, the changed view of the Latin curriculum in the Renaissance vs. The Middle Ages, the introduction of a vernacular curriculum into schooling, and then to conclude with an overview of the schools of the Catholic Reformation and the beginning of the Jesuit order. By beginning with the Middle Ages and ending with the Reformation, a coherent chronological structure is established by the author, that locates the period in history yet allows him to deviate from a strict 'by the dates' style so he can make his overall points about the period.
Grendler stresses that the reason education and educators became more valued in society was the combination of the growth of the Italian aristocracy, the fall of the church schools, and the revived interest in the classical, humanistic past of Greece and Rome. Before, education was viewed as a method of preparing individuals for clerical life. Now, education was not something that was 'kept' or preserved within the walls of monasteries or the minds of priests. Rather, education was seen as an asset to a human being's development. The sestiere schools were evidence that education was not viewed as something that was 'good' if only a few priests and monks tended to learned texts. Rather education was a cultural and social wealth to be spread out to numerous members of society, even to women.
This changed view of education reflective of the Renaissance philosophy that earth was a place where human beings should strive to perfect and refine their natural faculties, rather than simply attempt to prepare humans for heaven. Rather than submitting their moral qualities to a prescribed doctrine, education offered an alternative method of secular perfection, of attaining a level of personal, humanistic excellence in a variety of spheres, whether it be the trades of the vernacular schools, or the refined pursuits of the independent educations conveyed by tutors to sons of aristocrats. This humanistic ideal meant that education could be more secular in nature, and also more 'questioning' in nature, encouraging the popular growth of science education in schooling, where answers were not always determinate. Confidence in humanity's exploration of the world broadened the scope of education beyond the scriptures, as well as encouraged further delving into Greek and Roman sources of scientific study.
As it grew more widespread, education also became more standardized in its nature and yet also more diversified. Ways of educating different students in different subjects, such as the specifics of educating girls became debated. Different set curriculums were established, yet it was also acknowledged that different types of people, from different segments of society, might desire different things from their educations. Thus, a nascent sense of 'differing intelligences' or 'different ways of learning' can be traced back to this period.
Grendler's text is interesting in that it takes one specific historical phenomenon and uses it to show larger intellectual shifts in the way that the nature of humanity was viewed during the time. As society grew more familial and clannish, and less communal and education became more personalized and more experimental in its nature. (6) Socially, Renaissance Italy was defined by the growth of the aristocracy, and it was the aristocracy that desired to educate its children en masse, for the purposes of entertainment and refinement as well as for practical reasons, as had been common during the vocationally oriented Middle Ages. The decline of church schools created a demand for tutors, and individual tutors were less beholden to the church for guidance. Also, as society grew more secular, education in the classical era and the classical use of Latin (as opposed to the theological use of the language) exploded and grew more acceptable, and gave birth to a revivification and curiosity about the scientific world. Educational philosophy thus becomes a mirror for larger societal shifts, and yet also affects the shifts and changes of the greater world. By reading this text, even with the intense specificity of its focus, a reader may become better aware and educated in the nature of Renaissance society as a whole.
The book also explodes some of the most common stereotypes a reader might hold about the nature of…