Bernard Cottret on Calvin and Education

I have been re-reading Cottret in preparation for teaching a course on the Reformation that will focus on Calvin. Indeed, Cottret’s volume was the July 2012 DET Book ‘O the Month. Anyway, it is high time that I shared some more of this excellent volume with you, gentle readers.

The subject for today is education, specifically, education associated with Calvin. So below are excerpts from Cottret on both the French system that Calvin went through, and the Genevan academy / college system that Calvin set up (in that order). In other words, this is another good, boring, educational post from your friends at DET.

(Ed. note: the internet tells me that this image is of the Genevan academy building, but I have no way of verifying that…)

Bernard Cottret, Calvin: A Biography (M. Wallace McDonald, trans.; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000).

Of the French system, specifically, the University of Paris:
The faculty of arts (or faculty of letters) granted only the degree of master of arts, a prerequisite to later obtaining the title of bachelor in one of the other three faculties (theology, law, medicine), followed by the licence and the thèse. . . . Instruction in arts comprised the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). Philosophy was added to this. . . . Young men ordinarily began their studies about the age of thirteen with grammar. About age fifteen they enrolled, in Paris, . . . to pursue courses in one of about forty existing colleges. The first examination, the determinatio, permitted them to obtain the title of bachelor, followed by three and a half years of study for the licence. It was generally necessary to complete five years of study, the quinquennium, to obtain the license, licentia docendi, and the title of master of arts about the age of twenty-one. This in turn permitted them to become “regents” and to teach, while following courses in the higher faculties of theology, law, and medicine. (349)

And now, some material on the Genevan academy and college:
The plan was in fact for a double institution, both a college and an academy. Three professors were to teach Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The college itself was divided into seven classes, “two for reading and writing, the third to begin declensions, the fourth where they will begin Latin syntax and the elements of the Greek language, the fifth where they will continue with Greek syntax and begin dialectic, the sixth and seventh always advancing further.” . . . [T]here chairs for lecturers (or professors) were established, along with seven regents (teachers). (257)

The principle, a man who must “fear God,” was elected by the ministers and professors and confirmed by the syndics and Council. The life of the students was highly regulated: a sermon on Wednesday morning, two sermons on Sunday morning, and another on Sunday afternoon – without forgetting, one supposes, the catechism. In church they were under the vigilant observation of at least four teachers to enforce their assiduity and attention. Life followed an immutable rhythm: rise at six o’clock in summer, seven in winter, then prayers and teaching. Finally breakfast. Dinner at ten o’clock. Then the good children exercised their lungs by singing psalms for an hour before returning to their work. Any corporal punishment needed was administered at four o’clock, followed by the Lord’s Prayer, the Confession of Faith, the Ten Commandments, and the principal’s blessing. The discipline was rigorous: spanking, birching, and being given bread and water were part of a repressive arsenal employed against games, insolence, and absence from catechism. Nevertheless, in 1563 the teacher Claude Bardet was suspended for mistreatment of the children. (258)

The idea of leveled “classes” through which one moves as one achieves competency appeals to me very strongly. It seems to me that one problem with our educational system is the way we force students of diverse preparation and quality into “batches” and push them through levels come hell or high water. The system seems oriented toward production rather than establishing competence. With leveled classes such as this, some folks would move through quickly and some would move through slowly, but they would all achieve competence. And, of course, if it becomes clear that this sort of education is not for you, there could always been alternative tracks, etc. Of course, at least at the collegiate level, this would require a reconfiguration of educational economics - one that is well overdue.

But enough random ruminations. Until next time…



Anonymous said…
Dorothy Sayers' essay 'The lost tools of learning' reflects some of this. source:
Anonymous said…

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