• Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
You are here:
B. The political history of education - Basic historical points Print E-mail

2.da_VinciIn the history of ancient Egypt, the great authority of the Pharaohs and the priesthood predominated, and shaped two levels of education:

1. The level of education of the privileged for the perpetuation of their class. This was not entirely a matter of ritual; it involved a direct flow of information without ritual, such as, for example, the training of Egypt's scribes. At this level those who presided over the rites, the organisers and masters of ceremonies, such as the Pharaohs, were educated.


2. The level of education of the people, who took part in the rites in a relationship in which the Pharaohs had power over them.

From time to time in antiquity figures such as Lao Tse made their appearance and called for a rebellion against "bad rulers who leave the heart and spirit of man empty and try to keep the people in a state of ignorance, because in that state they do not ask for much, or on the pretext that it is difficult for them to rule a people which knows a great deal. These theories of pretence are diametrically opposed to what is owed to mankind."

The standpoint of Confucius followed approximately the same lines, but was on a considerably milder basis. In India, the castes were the reef on which the best efforts for the self-education of man foundered; nevertheless, things did not have the harshness which they had in Egypt.

Down to the present, education has been controlled, to all intents and purposes, by religion and national power.

In the case of Jewish education, because there was no permanent national territory, the original national ruling power was incorporated into religious power, and religious power, without any direct political expression - since the Jews were in foreign territories - shaped its political expression and its aims from the viewpoint of the economic community and vested interests, and, at the same time, with the doctrine of separatist superiority, while it linked God to the land which, often, lacked a hypostasis. It was along these lines that the education of the Jews operated, thus fortifying the most subtle separatism.

Thus, here, the foundations were laid for compulsory religious education, on strict terms of discipline, dogmatic both in thought and in practice. The model on which Israel and Zionism were based is one of the many ancient forms which represent the more general divisiveness which today structures mankind and human beings.

Today's aims of educational totalitarianism now in all states, religions, and cultural traditions have been coloured, generation by generation, by a separatist education of such a kind.

Education in ancient Greece took on many shades of a spectrum between the Athenian and the Spartan.

In Sparta, education was totally devoted to power and its system, which was by definition militaristic, against the background of the dawn of feudalism. It is from Sparta that the regrettable heritage of militaristic education has remained.

In Athens, the first great experiment took place, though on a limited scale. Here education was seen as a functional end in itself and not as a means of exercising power. In spite of this, the economic system and the level of technology of that period did not give to education the potentialities for liberation from labour for all, while, at the same time, those who were not free of the compulsion of labour rarely received an education. The detachment of education from labour had both positive and negative impacts. Its consequence was positive from the point of view that education and knowledge did not become goods for commercialisation directly as a necessary means for economic recognition and inclusion in the system (though there were cases of political use and commercialisation of knowledge with the schools of the sophists). The negative side was the fact that knowledge was not claimed by workers, slaves, or women - except in a very few cases.

Women, throughout the range of history, have been in a disadvantaged position, and their rights to education were not generally recognised, as was also the case with every weaker class.

A right was what was demanded by strength. But knowledge and information were needed for the formation of the inner mechanism of strength which would have awarded the halo to authority.

It was only with this side that education entered into the Roman barbarism. There the degeneration of the masses appeared on a broad scale in the mercenary Pax Romana - which was not peace but the shadow of violence over the peoples - and the people's depoliticisation, as they were brought, by the tactic of 'divide and rule', to lose their rights. This degeneration, however, was first introduced by the hellenising Tarquin, and then, above all, by the Seleucid Basil. In parallel, then, with this degeneration, ever subtler forms of power began to take shape.

As the masses were incorporated into the feudal system, any dimension of collectivity in education disappeared, and knowledge, in the fiefs, as an object on its own, took on its vocational aspect. Thus, education became, definitively now, an instrument of the economic system, as it has continued to remain up to the present, whether this system is capitalist or was Soviet - as long as it is a power system to the detriment of human freedom.

The weak masses of the people and women became puppets of power without any say in the matter, and, until a few decades ago, remained outside the process of being informed and outside education. Their responsibility lies in the fact that they did not obstinately resist becoming objects of this sadistic hedonism of the privileged.

Christianity was incorporated into the Roman barbarism and superstition, and was ossified as an instrument of power after the era of Constantine and the enlightened Fathers of the Church. The perceptiveness of Constantine as to the best possible integration of Christianity into the imperial system of power can also be seen in the subtle form of intervention in the conflicts between Christians.

From that time, the hard-core dogmatisation of the human noosphere began, and education no is no more than the teaching of dogmas. This polarisation of human thought and its delicate dogmatic ossification was finalised by Theodosius and authenticated by Justinian, who himself stifled in blood, on the altar of his own hegemony, the liberal expression of the people of Constantinople.

Some light began to dawn before the Macedonian dynasty, but this was easily lost in the indifference of the masses - the dark cloud of the past blocked the horizon. Three spheres of culture can be distinguished at that period: (a) Byzantium; (b) the Arabs; (c) the West, and this is because in Western civilisation the picture of the great Asia region, where, in all probability, there were important developments, was still incomplete.

Byzantine was to pay the price, a little later, for its barbarisation and corruption. It was the Arabs who provided the first hopes in all fields, but these were stifled not only in the initial Mongol barbarism - later, there were many enlightened Mongol leaders - but also by the fundamentalist disputes which, down to our own times, have smothered their cultural liberation. The situation in many countries today is typical of this asphyxia of the Arabs, and more generally of Islam.

In the West, finally, there was plenty of time for everything to be subjugated to papal authority.

As we have said, even before the end of the Roman Empire, education was incorporated into the power system, with the result that people did not learn to think but rather what to think, until they were submerged in the abyss of dogmatism, which reached gigantic proportions in the twentieth century with mass obsession, as has been the case in totalitarian, political, and religious movements which have established states in the name of God.

In this way, man, and especially human thought, produces a 'surplus value' which he constantly sacrifices to the system and to totalitarianism, as he is able to think, solely, what power wants him to think for its own good.

Ioannis Zisis, Writer

Photo from wikipedia

You may also read:



Creative Commons License
You are free: to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work.  
Under the following conditions: