Education and the Teacher's Function

In the Life of Ancient Egypt

Section targeting

The priests imparted rudimentary instruction to the children of the well-to-do in schools attached to the temples, as in the Roman Catholic parishes of our age.

Ancient Egypt Education

Ancient Egypt Education

One high-priest, who was what we should term Minister or Secretary of Education, calls himself "Chief of the Royal Stable of Instruction.

In the ruins of a school which was apparently part of the Ramesseum a large number of shells has been found, still bearing the lessons of the ancient pedagogue.

The teacher's function in ancient Egypt education was to produce scribes for the clerical work of the state.

To stimulate his pupils he wrote eloquent essays on the advantages of education;

    "Give thy heart to learning, and love her like a mother, for there is nothing so precious as learning." says one edifying papyrus

    "Behold," says another, "there is no profession that is not governed; it is only the learned man who rules himself."

It is a misfortune to be a soldier, writes an early bookworm; it is a weariness to till the earth; the only happiness is "to turn the heart to books during the daytime and to read during the night.

Copy-books survive from the days of the Empire with the corrections of the masters still adorning the margins; the abundance of errors would console the modern schoolboy.

The chief method of instruction was the dictation or copying of texts, which were written upon potsherds or limestone flakes.

The subjects were largely commercial, for the Egyptians were the first and greatest utilitarians; but the chief topic of pedagogic discourse was virtue, and the chief problem, as ever, was discipline.

    "Do not spend thy time in wishing, or thou wilt come to a bad end," we read in one of the copy-books.

    "Let thy mouth read the book in thy hand; take advice from those who know more than thou dost" this last is probably one of the oldest phrases in any language.

Discipline was vigorous, and based upon the simplest principles.

    "The youth has a back," says a euphemistic manuscript, "and attends when he is beaten, . . . for the ears of the young are placed on the back."

A pupil writes to his former teacher:

    "Thou didst beat my back, and thy instructions went into my ear."

That this animal-training did not always succeed appears from a papyrus in which a teacher laments that his former pupils love books much less than beer.

Nevertheless, a large number of the temple students were graduated from the hands of the priest to high schools attached to the offices of the state treasury.

There, in the first known School of Government, the young scribes were instructed in public administration.

On graduating they were apprenticed to officials, who taught them through plenty of work.

Perhaps it was a better way of securing and training public servants than our modern selection of them by popularity and subserviency, and the noise of the hustings.

In this manner Egypt and Babylonia developed, more or less simultaneously, the earliest school-systems in history; not till the nineteenth century of our era was the public instruction of the young to be so well organized again.

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