Mod. European History

Lit for Books : Renaissance : Only the rich can attain enlightenment

                                                  Renaissance : Only the rich can attain enlightenment

The renaissance gave way to a breakthrough in education , and transformed the norms of behavior and thinking when it came to what was proper and important for man to study , a major shift  in thought occurred between the mid fifteenth century up until the mid seventeenth century In which attendance in university and  an emphasis on  study hit an all time high  . However, even with an emphasis on the importance of study  to the society, school and education was also limited to the upper class citizens of the time.

     In year  1562 less has 10% of all justices of the peace had attended any type of formal university ; however by year 1636 , seventy-four years later , we see that number grow rapidly In Kent county sixty -eight percent of justice of peace had formal education in Northamptonshire and Somerset seventy-two and fifty-five percent , respectively . ( document 12 )

        However even with such rapid growth and educational development there was heavy debate regarding the topic of its usefulness in society in the mid-seventeenth century in a letter to parliament it stated that ” schools are useful in a civilized society  but having too many of them is always a bad thing .” . The letter went on to say ” such study  weakens the body and inspires contempt for all other occupations .More farmers are needed than magistrates , more soldiers than priests , more merchants than philosophers , more hardworking bodies than dreamy and contemplative spirits .”  (Document 11) . From this document it is clear that the feeling of the wealthy is against educating the poor, the fear of upward mobility paralyzed morality and out of self perseverance they hoped that by denying  education they could preserve a population where the majority served rather than led.

In further support of this theory is the support of school systems for the wealthy , Aeneas Sylvius argued that philosophy and letters ” most surely distinguish the true and the just from the base and degrading … a Prince who cannot read the lessons of history is a helpless prey to flattery and intrigue”.(document 1) . So if it is good for the king then why not his subjects? there is an obvious and intentional rift between that of the lower class and the elite , especially in the area of education.

      The few schools that were available to commoners were unfit for any learning with the intended purpose of enlightenment, and only taught people obedience, as evidenced in an excerpt from the School Of Ordinances of Wurttemberg where it was exclaimed that ” at least twice a year , each pastor should admonish his parishioners so that they be diligent in sending their children to school “but this idea was not for the purpose of equalizing the people and providing adequate education , but so that the subjects of the land may learn ” the fear of God , virtue , and discipline otherwise permanent harm must result .” (document 7) . John Amos Comenius , a educational reformer in Bohemia , also spoke against the ” disease of schools ” Comenius stated that ” these things which are real and fit to enlighten men’s minds”  were not readily available to that of commoners and was ” being reserved for the universities ” John Brinsley also condemned the inferiority of education being provided in the lower class school systems , he argued that ” in most of our common schools the scholars at fifteen or sixteen years of age have little sense of the meaning and true use of learning… ” he argued that it fails to prepare the for university

and that  ” they return home again as crude as when they went.”

         Here is the shift and change , though the educational system has obviously improved, unfortunately classism prevailed and the elite could not imagine a world in which the opportunity of becoming equals  was even a possibility . the bourgeois took great leaps to protect their current social structure , providing that the use of a lower economic class could always be of great use  and service to them.


Brianca Jay is a writer, tutor and literary analyst. She has upwards of 100 literary videos on youtube and has presented at several national conferences, with a host of publications across various literary journals. Feel free to connect with Brianca

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