It is a pity that Greece is being demonised for spending too much in today’s political and economic uncertainty. For centuries the Hellenistic culture spread out towards what was then the civilised world – and schools in Athens enjoyed a unique pre-eminence. People came to Athens from all over the world to learn. Of course schools grew up in the towns around Athens – but the top academics wanted to be in Athens. An important feature of all this emphasis on learning was the relationship between the master and the pupil.
Of course over the sea in Egypt erudite scholars had been building libraries for many years before the Athenians came along. Ptolemy had a library of over 200 000 manuscripts – which grew to over 700 000 during the First Century.
There was, however, a vital difference between the education system of the Athenians and of those in Alexandria. The Athenians had a freshness and vitality which came from impassioned discussions and debates. Over in Alexandria the Alexandrians were involved with translations and commentaries which were very academic but were not designed to extend and develop the mind.
Our eleven plus system, at times, seems to inspire a system where children are encouraged to work through unending papers and exercises. A visit to a large bookshop in an eleven plus area will allow parents to choose from a glittering display of papers and books. The books and exercises, however, are all remarkably similar. Once the eleven plus child has grappled with understanding the reasoning behind one type of analogy, then all the rest are simply endless consolidation. Any good Athenian tutor would, more than likely, have abandoned analogies as a rich source of `education’ and sought to challenge the pupil though extensive discussion, debate and argument.
Would you prefer your child to be challenged by an eleven plus examination based on enrichment and stimulation or one based on past papers?