The blessings of Medieval education? Are you crazy??? In the medieval world all people studied was how to turn iron into gold, discussed how many angels danced on the head of a pin, and believed that the world was flat, right?

Wrong. Those are contemporary myths; fables and stereotypes conjured up by “chronological snobs” in modern education who think it is a sport to denigrate the education of people who lived hundreds (or thousands) of years ago. The university students who lived in Europe in the late 12th through the 15th century (a time in the “High Middle Ages” when universities were popping up all over Europe) knew full well that the earth was a sphere and not flat, left alchemy to the quacks, and logically debated intense philosophical, political, scientific, and theological issues that would tie up in knots many of today’s college kids.

(By the way, a university education in the Medieval World was not just for the rich; there were scholarships available for the poor even then, so there was a mix of rich, some middle class, and some poor students!)

What was a university education like at the University of Paris or Bologna or Cologne?

I will quote from Thomas Cahill’s “Mysteries of the Middle Ages” (Anchor Books, 2006, pp 193-194):

“Students generally entered the university at age fourteen and stayed for a minimum of eight years. Their basic study was of the seven liberal arts, divided in the Roman manner into the trivium (grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric), and the quadrivium (the mathematical sciences of arithmetic, Euclidean geometry, astronomy, and musical theory). In grammar, one mastered Latin, the continent-wide language of the educated classes; in dialectic, one learned to fashion a logical argument, partly by imitation of philosophers, ancient and contemporary; and in rhetoric, one was taught the refinements of constructing prose, whether oral or written, in such a way as to seize the attention of listeners or readers and to hold their attention through the course of one’s exposition. That so much time was devoted to what would be compressed into a single course with a title such as “Freshman Comp” meant that, unlike contemporary graduates, all the graduates of medieval universities were truly literate and markedly skilled in an impressive repertoire of communication techniques.”

So, before anyone sneers with contempt at the education of the Middle Ages, ask your college students today if:

– they are fluent in another language or two (or three or four as most Medieval students were)

– they can follow a logical argument (for an hour without a break)

– they can speak a logical argument (for an hour without a break) instead of spew out preprogrammed indoctrinated talking points

– know with ease the factual history of their nation and contemporary geography

– speak with knowledge and clarity about philosophers, theologians, and scientists of the past

– communicate easily in their own handwriting a logical argument

– be able to discuss with knowledge and proficiency the mathematical, artistic, architectural issues of the day

– know the stars (their names, places in the sky, and how to navigate by them)

– play several musical instruments

Can college students do these things today? I am sure that some can. Others today can do some of these things. The graduates of the Medieval World….could do all of these.