Clash of Cultures—School Systems at (the) Stake Part 1


Wisdom is power.

—Francis Bacon (15611626)


When American parents think about a good—or better, the best possible—schooling for their children, they invariably think about private preschools, private schools, and expensive universities.

When German parents in the seventeenth century did the same, they either hired famous scholars to teach their children—if they were very rich—or sent them to famous public schools. There were no “good private schools” in the time of the Ring of Fire.

And this will certainly be a source of misunderstanding and different opinions when it comes to discuss funding of schools in the new governments where Americans and Germans sit together.

Some of the differences in school systems are so deeply ingrained that both parties won’t even remotely think about the possibility that the other one sees that completely different.

So how will schools develop in the new timeline? How deeply will the American school system influence the German one? And vice versa?

There are many questions that cannot be answered about the American school system in place in Grantville and how it will develop, or whether it will develop into a continental model. The development of a specific school system is very much based on the environment, especially the political environment, because one of the most important tasks for any type of government is to lay the foundations for an educated society.

If a child was born in 1629 or 1998, then attends the first grade of Blackshire Elementary in 1635, in Grantville, it will be different from a child attending a school outside of Grantville. Once a child has passed through the system and emerged as an educated person, what will the educational environment be once they graduate from a university or college in the late 1640s?



Disclaimer: I have no first-hand experience with the American school system, but I’m always open to profound corrections.

On the other hand, all you American students and teachers can learn what signals of American schools manage to cross the big lake.

So, in other words, this is a collection of all the prejudices popular TV-shows and movies seen in Germany by Rainer, with factual information delivered by Edith.

Many of the stereotypes are very much influenced by the “Hollywood” mentality of “exaggeration for entertainment” and are widely recognized in America as just that and not taken seriously “across the pond.”

It is factual today that the central hub of American schools is the high school. Starting in the 9th or 10th grade (depending on whether there is a middle school system—grades 6–8, or junior high school system—grades 7–9), both ending with the 12th grade, we see young adults struggling to find their places in the societal hierarchy of both school and the greater culture. It is important to point out that although there is an American Presidential Cabinet level “Secretary of Education” and a “Department of Education” at the national level, its task is not to run the nation’s myriad of school systems: public, private, charter or religious. The Department of Education’s mission is (from the website:  “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”  There is also a “virtual school” concept—being entirely online for education. Additionally, there is of course, home-school. It is also important to point out that each individual state has its own “Department of Education” and “Secretary of Education.” This being said, most of the schools in the United States are under local control, by county, by school boards and community stakeholders (a stake holder has a vested interest, social or economic in a school). There are also various “accreditation” providers who examine a school to determine its worth. Two of the most widely known are SACS (the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) and NIPSA (the National Independent Private Schools Association). Their job is entirely standard-based and they do not accredit every school that asks for it. There is an academic Common Core Standard ( being adopted by most of the states currently. Its purpose is to make certain that education has a common standard, although there is controversy about it.

The more college- or university-centered a community is, the more academic competition there is. In the academically oriented communities, ostensibly, each student competes with the others for a high academic position. The higher the ranking academically, the more academic opportunities arise for the student. This is often crowned with high scores on the college board tests such as the SAT or the ACT and almost always capped by the Advanced Placement exams—which earn college credit in high school. There is also the IB (International Baccalaureate) option in some school systems, which has become an alternative for AP class work in some locations. Eventually, all this hard academic work should qualify the student for attending a good (= expensive private) college, optimally to gain a full scholarship for one of the elite universities. Competition for spots in Harvard or Yale or other “Ivy League” schools is often very fierce. Pressure from the family, especially when parents are already alumni of one of these universities, plays a big role.

The public school system is the most common school experience in the United States. “Public” means tax-funded.  There is a wide disparity between public systems as to which has the greater quality and which does not.  Sometimes, as in the “inner city” urban schools, there is a socio-economic disaster lurking in the greater society outside that makes school past the age of sixteen irrelevant unless the youth is planning on a military career, as that is seen as a way out from a crime-ridden economic disaster area. Often times, any sort of literacy becomes almost irrelevant in those inner-city areas, as the value of education can be in such low esteem as to be regarded as a free baby-sitting experience. Otherwise, a student may simply drop-out of school and get a minimum wage job, if they are lucky.  There is also the GED (Grade Equivalent Exam) option, which is not a high school diploma and does not allow, generally, entrance into the military.  A student may attend vocational or trade school or even a community college with a GED, but may or may not go further.  In the same city, the suburbs will hold the key to success, but not every student will take advantage of the academic opportunities presented. Competition to get into public-run vocational schools is generally very high. Some students really do not want to go on to university or college. They would be happiest in trade or vocational schools—if there was a choice for them, or straight to work as soon as possible, or even into the military.

If parents doubt the efficacy of the public system and can afford it, they will often put their children in private or religious schools.  Not every private or religious school is accredited.  If parents cannot afford a private or religious school, even with scholarship money, there is the charter school system, which rivals the public schools and competes for the same federal or state or county money.  Charters can be wonderful or terrible academically, and must take students from all over the county.

It is known (although we have Title IX) that male student athletes are more common than female athletes, but they all view athletic scholarships with similar fervor to those students looking for academic scholarships. With higher interest in athletic competition and even family pressure, many male and female athletes interest themselves in athletics over academics, so as to get into college and have opportunities to stand out in sport activities. Sometimes the idea of an athletic scholarship is the only tangible activity keeping a student in school, especially in the inner city. Some colleges and universities in America are known for massive competition in sports more than for their academics, but the degrees are good. Young athletes receive scholarships for athletics, in disciplines like American football, soccer, baseball, basketball, track and field and thus prepare the young men and, sometimes, young women for a career in the professional leagues.   This preparation does not mean that the student-athlete will achieve a professional ranking; it just means that it becomes possible.  Even so, most athletes do finish up their college degrees and move on, sometimes into business, sometimes into military and sometimes into graduate school.

It is prejudicial to only consider the “Hollywood” or stereotypical view as seen in films or television. Most high schools offer a wide variety of after-school clubs and activities, even ways to obtain community service hours, which is a positive activity. As examples: only the “weaklings” (also sometimes referred to as “nerds” or “geeks”) attend the chess club, math club, robotics club, business club or chemistry club. You are more likely to find an academically oriented individual in clubs that are academic.  You are less likely to find a football star in the chess club, but just being an athlete does not preclude the possibility if the athlete (sometimes called a “jock”) has time to do anything off the practice or game field. You are also not likely to find a student with a “gangsta” reputation in the chess club, or any other club, either.  Students actually tend to separate out into “groups” based on personal interests or what their parents expect them to do.  Another example of the stereotypical high school experience is the way films and television often show high school aged girls or young women. They are often shown using high school to compete in fashion, make-up and sexual activities. The athletic ones become members of the school’s cheerleader team, work on their movements and appearance, and try to lose their virginity soon after the sixteenth birthday, preferably to the quarterback of the football team.

Then, there is the senior prom night or the senior dance. Stereotypically, it is debauched, where the naughty guys try to spike the punch with liquor or drugs and get the girls so intoxicated so as to have easy access between their legs.

In truth, the prom has chaperones, generally 1 adult to each 10–15 students. Sometimes the chaperones are parents but generally, mostly, the chaperones are teachers. These days there often is a security check-point as well. The prom is generally held on either a Friday or Saturday night. The prom is also very expensive to attend. At some schools the ticket for prom can exceed $100.00 each. The ticket covers food (usually a salad, some kind of non-alcoholic drinks, a chicken or pasta dinner, a dessert), music (usually a DJ but sometimes a live band as well) rental of the hall. Often the hall is in a fancy hotel, usually not the PE gym at the school as the indoor basketball court floor is very expensive to maintain. The girls wear expensive dresses, sometimes costing several hundred dollars. The girls sometimes have their hair and make-up done professionally. The boys rent or borrow tuxedos. The boys will present their date with a corsage–the flowers colors based on what the young man was told would be the color of the dress. Then, they pose for their parents to take photos, and then the students go to the prom in a rented limo. Many times the limo is shared between several couples. Alternatively, sometimes the young man will drive or the young lady’s father will drive them and then the young man’s father will pick them up. Once at prom, there is food, drinks (not alcoholic—in the States, the legal drinking age is 21 for anything alcoholic).

CCSS-prmqnStereotypically, there is an “election” of Prom King and Queen. At the election, there are always those who afterwards suffer from an enormous jealousy, because every other girl obviously is better fitted to fulfill the role of the queen. After this meeting, the different cliques meet in hotels or clubhouses to celebrate a night of extensive drinking and/or sexual encounters.

Truthfully, there is an election of Prom King and Queen and a “court” (generally, the court consists of the runners-up). Different schools have different rules of who should be considered; generally it is academics in good order, several recommendations from various teachers, and a student election of those nominated. If there is jealousy, generally, not a whole lot is ever made of it, as that is in “bad taste.” Often the Prom Queen and her court will have a theme for their prom dresses and the Prom King and his court will all wear similar tuxedos. Also, not everyone bothers with prom.

The typical high school education experience ends with the graduation. The students wear academic gowns—usually in school colors. Sometimes it is “open air,” sometimes it is in a hall or in the case of a really large graduating class, an ice hockey arena. The students march up to the stage to the music “Pomp and Circumstance” in academics honors order (the valedictorian first). They receive the diploma, and return to their seat. Then, when everyone has done the same thing, they generally throw their square hats (tasseled mortar boards) into the air, and their parents take photos.

I only want to emphasize specific features of the American school system, which might be so essential to all Americans that no one even thinks about questioning them.

Schools are divided horizontally into elementary, middle and high school. Schools are not divided vertically in different types. But there are a lot of private schools at each level with high reputation and even higher tuitions giving specific training. There are also “magnet” schools with specific programs—such as science or theater designed with the notion that students might actually do more with those.

Advancing into the next level at the end of the grading period in high school is generally rather automatic, so long as the grades are “passing.” Students who consistently earn poor (D or F on a scale of A to F) grades at the end of term, will get support to improve or be given the option to repeat the class to make their ½ credit or full credit. Or, those students might be encouraged to get a GED. (Unlike high school, the equivalency to a diploma is not acceptable to the military but fine for vocational schools and some community colleges. In the States, a community college is a cheap way of getting your first 2 years of university out of the way, or acquiring an Associates Degree in something useful for a job.) Some school districts have no concept of repeating years but, generally, a student must have a cumulative 2.0 grade point average with a specific number of credit hours earned (that varies by state) in order to graduate.


Today’s German school system derives directly from the schools already founded in the Early Modern era. It was in its current form mainly shaped by the Prussian reforms in the nineteenth century. It’s not as simple as the American one, so a (very simplified) picture paints a thousand words:






























(Elementary School)








Kindergarten (optional)




After a “Grundschule” (basic school) of four years, the students or their parents have to decide between one of three school types, which eventually seals their fate.

SSAS-1-grmnyThe “Hauptschule” (main school) runs from the fifth up to the tenth grade. Its graduation originally provided the young adult with enough technical knowledge to start an apprenticeship in a craft.

During the three years of apprenticeship, apprentices are required to attend a craft-specific “Berufsschule” (job school) once a week to learn about necessary subjects.

The “Realschule” (real school), originally “Realienschule” (school of the realities), also ends with the tenth grade. It provides the knowledge to attend a “Fachoberschule” (technical secondary school) afterwards, which is called “Mittlere Reife” (middle maturity). The “Fachoberschule” has two years and allows its graduates to attend a “Fachhochschule” (technical college).

The “Gymnasium,” also called “Oberschule” (upper school), has nine grades. It’s divided into the three parts “Unterstufe,” “Mittelstufe,” and “Oberstufe” (lower, middle and upper level) of three years each. The last year contains extensive exams called the “Abitur” (Latin abiturium, “will be going away”), which gives the students passing them the right to attend a university afterwards.

The Abitur—also called “Matura” in Austria—was introduced by the Prussian government to replace entrance examinations of the universities. Each German Abiturient has the right to attend any university he wants.

A student who gets too many poor (5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 6) grades won’t move into the next grade and has to repeat one year. In “higher” schools, students are automatically expelled instead of allowing a third repetition.

Since the Gymnasium allows the students different options by

1)     graduating with an Abitur and proceed to a university,

2)     bailing out after a successful 12th grade to attend a technical college,

3)     bailing out after middle level which also gives a “Mittlere Reife” and go to a technical secondary school or even an apprenticeship,

it’s no wonder that more and more children in Germany decide (or their parents have decided for them) to attend the Gymnasium in fifth grade.

At the moment, the “Hauptschule” is dying from disregard, and the “Realschule” gets all the dropouts from the Gymnasium, who haven’t managed to keep pace. Therefore, the concept of an integrated school like in America (“Integrierte Gesamtschule”) gets more interest.

While Germany has a federal school system too, the above mentioned rules are installed by national laws. The differences between the fifteen Bundesländer are more gradual.

The different schools certainly have celebrations where the graduates get their certificates, but none I ever attended was a tenth as formal as their American counterparts were. No special costumes required.

The German “Abiturball” is not in the least comparable to a prom night. It’s not held at the school but in a neutral place. The parents and other family members attend together with the graduates, no borrowed tuxedos, no punch, no king and queen, and no regulations from the school.

In fact, I don’t think that many German “Abiturienten” try to leave the ball early, because for many of them it’s the first opportunity ever to celebrate officially until sunrise with parental consent.

By the way, apart from the specific “Sportgymnasium” (about twenty exist over Germany) “sports” in German schools are not targeted to any championship. I know of no normal German university that has a professional sports team. No scholarships are given for excellence in sports. And since even the most famous German schools and universities are publicly funded and don’t charge a fee (apart from “Studiengebühren” of up to €500 a year) scholarships are very rare.

Private schools and universities are rare, too. Only 9% percent of all general schools in Germany are private, with less than 8% of the total number of students. It’s more of a threat for a German student to be sent to one of them than an award.

Needy students can (theoretically) get enough money from the federal government according to the “Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz” (Federal Training Assistance Act), “BaFöG” for short, to cover their expenses. Half of the money is given as a loan, which can be paid back over time if the income allows it. Several rules deduct from the loan if the student finishes in advance or among the 30% best.

The History

Es sollen, so viel wie möglich, alle Kinder, Knaben und Mägdlein, mit allem Ernst und Fleiß zur Schulen gehalten werden, damit sie je zum wenigsten, neben dem heiligen Catechismo, Christlichen Gesängen und Gebeten, recht lernen lesen und etwas schreiben.Bericht vom neuen Methodo, gestellet durch M. Johannem Kromayer, Weymar 1619As far as possible, all children, boys and girls, should be urged to go to school, so that they at least—apart from the holy Catechism, Christian songs, and prayers—learn to read well and write a little.
Report of the New Method, prepared by Johann Kromayer, Weimar, 1619

Before I go into details, I want to mention some facts about schools in Lutheran principalities in the Early Modern age. One basic fact is that the written school rules, which existed differently in each principality, and even in many towns of the Germanies, very much differed from reality.

1)     Schools officially did not differentiate between boys and girls. In the villages, where only a single teacher was working, boys and girls were taught together in a single room. In the towns, separated schools existed for boys and girls, and the boys’ schools were massively preparing the students for universities. But even in the sixteenth century, girls’ schools existed.

Nevertheless while about 50% of the male population in villages could read sufficiently, only 25% of the female population could (according to the 1641 visitation in the duchy of Saxe-Gotha).

2)     In schools and universities, commoners and nobles were equally welcome. There were even scholarships and dormitories dedicated to poor students, and that also meant poor lower nobles.

3)     Neither schools nor universities charged fees. There was a kind of social pressure for rich families to support the schools their children attended.

4)     There wasn’t a fixed age before a boy could attend a university. Who could read, write and speak Latin, and either had enough money or could earn a scholarship, could attend the university. Examples of children at the age of eight exist. But there are also examples of mid-twenties.

5)     First there were no exams during the time at a university. Exams for receivers of scholarships were introduced in the early-seventeenth century, common exams in the late-seventeenth.

Private Teachers

The rich could hire scholars to teach their children since the pharaohs’ reign in Egypt. Nothing has changed from this during the four millennia. It’s perhaps notable that in the courts of the Early Modern Age, the children of commoners often could enjoy the same quality of education as their noble contemporaries.

Many commoner children thus managed to get a scholarship for a university from “their prince” afterward.

Famous examples of “home teachers” from the early-seventeenth century include Johann Michael Moscherosch (starring in “Make Mine Macramé”) who taught the children of the counts of Leiningen, or Wolfgang Ratke, who will be discussed in detail later.


The illustration shows the timetable of the young dukes of Saxe-Gotha “Facta Januarii 1656.” You can see the ruler specific subjects of “Politica,” “Histor[ia] Univ[ersalis],” and “Tacitus,” the Roman politics theorist.

Development of public schools before and during the Reformation

Before the Reformation, there were basically two types of schools (plus the first universities) in Germany.

The first type includes “Klosterschulen” (Monastery schools) and “Domschulen” (Cathedral schools) founded by the Church during the Middle Ages all over Europe. The first on German ground was founded in Eichstätt, Bavaria, in the eighth century and existed until the sixteenth.

CCSS-schlIn the late Middle Ages, another type of school was developing, when rich merchants or craftsmen wanted their sons to be better educated for leading the family’s business. So they hired scholars to teach the children in private schools. They were called “Winkelschule” (literally angle school) from the nooks and crannies the rented classrooms often had. Nobody was able to decide about the qualification of these “scholars” in advance, so often these schools had bad quality and gained bad reputations over time.

At that time, the employees of a school were called “Schulmeister” (school master) or “Rector” (leader) and “Gesellen” (journeymen), because schools had been organized like craft shops in the Middle Ages.

Teachers were also called “praeceptor” (literally “regulator”).

During the Reformation especially, Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon (the latter was called “Praeceptor Germaniae”—teacher of Germany), worked to get more children educated, albeit with very different targets. While Melanchthon supported higher education, Luther had an eye on educating the poorer children, preferably all poorer children, boys and girls.

Luther wrote in his famous letter “to the Christian Aristocracy” (1520): “First and foremost, in all higher and lower schools, the most important subject should be the Holy Script, and the Gospel for the young boys. And each town should have a girls’ school for them to hear the Gospel for one hour [a day]. . . . But at the moment even the great and educated prelates and bishops don’t know the Gospel.”

The mention of “higher and lower schools” shows what exactly he was planning. Basically, the existing scholars’ schools preparing students for university and high level jobs were not touched very much, but a new type of school was founded to educate the children of peasants and craftsmen without preparing them for the university.

These two kinds of school were soon called “Latin school” and “German school” to differentiate them.

Latin Schools

The “Lateinschule” (Latin School) was exactly what its name suggests. Students—male students only—learned Latin. Period.

Oh, there were other subjects on the curriculum. Grammar, Dialectic or Logic and Rhetoric (the so-called trivium), so the students were not only able to read, write and speak in Latin, but also discuss opposing viewpoints. In Latin, of course.

Theater, where plays of Roman playwrights (especially Terentius) were enacted. In Latin, of course.

Music, religious music to be exact. In Protestant school they, of course, sang the hymns of Martin Luther. In Latin language, at least sometimes. A man named Wolfgang Ammonius translated many of these hymns into Latin on the grounds that foreigners could sing them, too.

The average Latin School didn’t even teach mathematics or geometry, no history apart from some Roman authors, but even Caesar was frowned upon.

Interestingly, religious education, a major part of later curriculums, did not happen. The children had to memorize Luther’s catechism. The younger ones in German, the older ones in Latin and Greek. They had to memorize a number of Psalms, attend services twice each Sunday, memorize the sermons, and so on.

But learning facts by heart did not mean there was a need to understand. Most of the years at schools in the sixteenth and seventeenth century were filled with memorizing letters, syllables, words, sentences, and texts other scholars had written.

The Latin school, which was also called “Gelehrtenschule” (scholars’  school) or “Gymnasium,” was a direct development from the old schools; so it had three levels (not exactly grades). Only the children in the beginners’ level were allowed to speak their mother language in classes; afterward Latin was mandatory. Students of the higher levels were even punished for not speaking Latin, even at home. Even so, Greek and Hebrew were tolerated, but German was considered the language of the plebeians. It was not the language of the intellectuals the students strove to become.

A specialty of the school system in Early Modern times was the fact that there was no automatic sequence of classes. There were exams before the harvest holidays, deciding if a student was fit enough for the next level, or for leaving school and proceed to a university.

Thus, each level hosted children of very different ages. Children attended Latin Schools from the first year on at the age of five or six, but since they were not regularly moved up, most of them stayed until they were sixteen or older.

CCSS-mlnchnA counter-example is Philipp Schwartzerdt (“black soil”). He attended the Latin school in Pforzheim at the age of six, learned Greek voluntarily, and could attend the University of Heidelberg in 1509 at the age of twelve. Because of his excellent Greek knowledge, his mentor gave him the Greekicized name of Melanchthon.

Philipp became Baccalaureus Artium in 1511 and switched to the University of Tübingen. There, he became Magister of Philosophy in 1514 at the age of seventeen.

This mechanism did (OTL) not change until much later. Even today students in Germany have to prove each year that they are worthy for the next grade. But normally over 90% of the students move up, so the classes, for the most part, consist of children with a maximum difference of two years in age.

The dukes, Johann Ernst of Saxe-Eisenach and his brother Johann Casimir of Saxe-Coburg, attended the University of Leipzig when they were twelve and respectively, fourteen years old. An opposite example can be found in Andreas Reyher’s CV below.

With the Reformation and by direct intervention of Martin Luther, Melanchthon, and other reformers, many of the converted ex-monasteries became secular schools. And at once, there were several types of schools coming into existence.

In 1543, three schools in Saxony were founded and funded by Duke Moritz, called “Fürstenschule” (prince’s school). These were founded in Schulpforta (near Naumburg), Meißen, and Grimma. More of the prince’s school type appeared in all of Germany over the next decades. They copied the mode of operation from the Latin schools. A specialty of these (boys only) schools were the celibacy of the teachers to “don’t expose the boys to females.” But after it became clear that this caused a constant fluctuation in staff, the requirement was removed.

Latin Schools developed from three different grades to six during the sixteenth century. Finally they had a structure with a grade “countdown” that still exists in today’s German gymnasiums. The classes had the Latin ordinal numbers Sexta, Quinta, Quarta, Tertia, Secunda, and Prima. In the nine-class gymnasium today, the last three classes are split into “lower” and “upper” years.

In the seventeenth century, a new final class called “Selecta” was introduced for the direct university preparation.

Note: The English sources I encountered characterize Latin Schools as “secondary schools.” This is basically wrong. In more famous schools, the Sexta, which had the main goal to teach Latin vocabulary, was dropped, and only children accepted who already knew Latin.

But most of them enrolled children from the age of five or six into their Sexta (see Gotha below).

German schools

Martin Luther featured a completely new idea that peasants’ children should also be able to read, write, and do basic arithmetic. So the first “Elementarschulen” (elementary schools), later called “Volksschulen” (people’s schools) were founded, the first of them in 1533 in Gernrode/Harz. Here Pastor Stephan Molitor convinced the abbess Elisabeth von Weida, who had turned Lutheran in 1521, to support building the school.

Note: Even if Gernrode now is a part of Quedlinburg, the aforementioned abbey was not the abbey of Quedlinburg; in the latter, Elisabeth lived before becoming abbess of Gernrode and Frose.

In villages, these schools were in fact very “elementary.” The sextons of the Lutheran pastors served as teachers, if the village had one. If not, a man in the village who was able to read and write, but was physically disabled, was often the first choice. It often didn’t matter how well he could read and write or if he knew something about numbers.

All children were schooled in a single room (boys and girls alike, but separated). They also had three levels, and it was custom that children proving as able be recommended for the next town’s Latin school. The others stayed until they could read, write and compute, normally four years, but the stay of the simple-minded could be nearly indefinite during their youth.

“Bürgerschulen” (citizen schools) in the towns had the purpose to provide education to the children of the craftsmen and merchants without preparing them for a university. They concentrated on reading, writing in the mother language and much more arithmetic and geometry than the Latin schools did.

In towns with enough children to keep more teachers busy, there were separate schools for boys and girls with women serving as teachers in the girls’ schools.

The Late Sixteenth Century

One fact I want to emphasize: All the mentioned schools were free of charge. There was (also in the universities of that time) no tuition to be paid. The teachers’ and other employees’ salaries, and other necessary expenses were paid by “the government.” Technically, at least. Of course, the more money a prince needed for other projects, the more the schools’ budget had to be fought for by the principal.

And there soon were alumni who remembered their former alma mater in their will. The teachers also opened their houses for lodging of paying students from out of town. Professors at the universities also gave private lessons for paying students.

Poor children who were willing to study often could rely on scholarships funded by princes or rich commoners.

The first century after the Reformation then saw a lot of men—starting with Francis Bacon in England and Petrus Ramus in France—trying to grasp the concept of knowledge and education. While some highly esteemed scholars in the late Middle Ages were in all seriousness convinced that mankind had achieved all possible knowledge, the inventions and discoveries of especially the fifteenth century made it crystal clear that this was wrong.

So how could man become more knowledgeable in the understanding of God’s Creation? How could newly achieved knowledge be transferred to the next generation of prospective scholars?

Based on some examples, which are not by pure coincidence based in Thuringia, I want to show how schools developed between the Reformation and the Ring of Fire.

The Gymnasium Illustre in Gotha

SSAS-1-gymAfter the Reformation had been introduced in 1524 in Gotha, the city council, together with the parish, asked their Duke Johann for a new pastor. He sent Friedrich Mykonius (Mecum), former priest and now strong supporter of the Reformation, who became the first superintendent. In the same year, Mykonius founded a new school in the monastery of the Augustinians (, where the oldest of the monks continued to live for the next several years.

The monastery, with all buildings and property, was officially gifted to the city of Gotha in 1529. Three teachers were hired. In 1534, a decree ruled the salary with a quarterly amount of 70 fl. (florin) for the dean and 50 fl. for the two teachers, called Baccalaureus (Bachelor of Arts) and Cantor. While the school was free of charge for all students, needy students were subsidized with up to 20 fl.

In 1544, a fourth teacher was hired. The quarterly salaries rose to

a)     For the dean 80 fl. plus five “Erfurter Malter” of rye, two Malter of barley, one Malter of oat, fifteen “Schock” of wood

b)     For the Baccalaureus supremus (major) and the Cantor 50 fl. eight Schock of wood and one Malter of rye

c)      For the new Baccalaureus infimus (minor) 40 fl., eight Schock of wood and one Malter of rye.

Note: The exact amounts of these measures are not documented.

CCSS-schl2Twenty-four students were subsidized with grain for bread and beer and housed in the former monks’ cells. The school in the monastery had only male students, but there was a smaller “girls’ school” in a house in (not next to) the Margarethen cemetery. Here I found the only mention of a tuition, quarterly 2 Thaler, which was only expected by the richer families. The girls’ school was open to all girls.

At that time, the school already had a good reputation, and up to the end of the century, it became well known in the whole of the empire, although it had been completely closed during the siege on Gotha in 1567.

Afterward, new school rules were formulated, stating among others that of the twenty-four students living in the monastery, four or five had to be children of poor families, while “rich and noble children” should no longer be allowed to use this dormitory.

After a number of less successful deans, Andreas Wilcke (1562-1629) was appointed in 1592 and stayed until his death. At that time, Gotha belonged to the duchy of Saxe-Coburg, and Duke Johann Kasimir, who had been born in Gotha in 1564, was very interested in supporting better education in his principality.

SSAS-1-gymlstrIn 1601, he personally founded the Gymnasium Academicum in Coburg, a combined school and academy, by laying down the first stone.

In Gotha, he funded the complete renovation of the old monastery buildings, which had threatened to collapse over the heads of the students. Afterward he gave the title “gymnasium illustre” (splendid) to the school.

He also provided the school with teachers for Hebrew and occasional history classes, which brought the number of teachers to seven (for at least three hundred students).

The number of classes was increased from four to six. Each of these classes had class time Monday to Saturday 7-10am and (except Wednesday and Saturday) 1-4 pm.

In 1606, the curriculum was defined as follows—with a much larger amount of German than before:

1)     Sexta (age 5 or 6): learning the catechism, reading and writing in Latin (and a little German).

2)     Quinta: reciting catechism, psalms and Proverbs; Latin grammar. The teachers were urged to concentrate on correctness, and to encourage good behavior inside and outside school.

3)     Quarta: catechism and Gospels; reading Aesop’s fables, and Cicero’s letters.

4)     Tertia: catechism and Gospels; Greek, writing essays and lecturing; Music.

5)     Secunda: repetitions; the classes were completely held in Latin, while the teachers could give German explanations in the lower classes; Music (theory) and theater plays (in Latin and Greek); Ovid, Plutarch; alternating Arithmetic and Geometry (Saturday afternoon, except when services were held).

6)     Prima: practice in Logic; Hebrew; Music and theater play; Virgil, Horace; writing essays in Latin and Greek; Rhetoric; bible reading in Latin with explanation of Hebrew names.

Sunday morning all students were led to the service. After lunch, the upper classes had to write essays about the sermon in Latin or Greek, the lower classes discussed the sermon. Then they had service again.

Summer (harvest) holidays were one month in August, but there was still two hours of classes each morning. Exams were twice a year after Easter and Michaelis (September 29).

During that time, the behavior of the students outside school seemed to be rather bad. The same rules from 1606 ordered the dean to try to keep their students from “excessive drinking in the nights, and swarming round on the streets.” Other sources speak about brawls in the night, excesses in fashion and insolences against the teachers. The same problems are documented from the gymnasium in Coburg.

In 1624, the gymnasium celebrated its first centennial, the introductory sermon was held by Superintendent Balthasar Walther (1586-1640) who was student at this school between 1603 and 1605 and later a strong supporter.

In 1629, with the Edict of Restitution, the monastery was reclaimed by the Catholic Church, but the claim was denied.

In 1631, Andreas Wilcke died from a stroke, and the former Konrektor (assistant principal) Johann Weitz (*1576) was appointed dean. He was a teacher at the gymnasium since 1600, but he was considered a very weak leader not able to curb the students.

OTL Weitz stayed principal until 1640, then Duke Ernst fired him based on a recommendation by Sigismund Evenius and appointed Andreas Reyher, former principal of the gymnasium in Schleusingen as the new principal.

Incidental remark: The Begining of the Seventeenth Century

Perhaps it hasn’t become clear from what I described until now: In the Germanies of the early-seventeenth century, the number of teachers in the modern meaning of the word was zero, naught, nil.

There was not a single course in any university to prepare students for the task of handling unwilling children and shove knowledge into them.

Every young man having reached the grade of a magister was allowed to teach, even at university level. There certainly were gifted men in the sixteenth century, who were able to educate children successfully. But these were naturals.

More often, the typical teacher was not able to explain any of his knowledge to children. How could he? He had two decades of memorizing without questioning in his mind. So the only thing he could do, if the children did not immediately understand what they should learn, was to use the “Rute” (birch, wicker, etc.).

The second specialty, which changed during the seventeenth century, was the lack of textbooks. The alphabet was taught by writing it at the blackboard, then the students copied the letters onto their slates. Syllables, words, sentences came basically from Luther’s catechism. The Latin Schools had bad copies of Roman texts, handed down over the centuries of hand copies until the invention of printing.


To be continued . . .


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