To be elitist, or not to be elitist?

If you weren’t in a certain social class and you didn’t have a lot of money during the Renaissance in Italy, I doubt that you would have been attending one of those Humanist schools that our textbook A History of Western Society describes, which is written by McKay.

The painting on the right side is called The School of Athens, which is one of the famous paintings by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. From this painting, we can easily see two basic aspects of a Humanist school. Firstly, it shows an elitist idea since  the school itself is like a palace, and both the decorations and the sculptures are so extravagant and beautiful. Secondly, since there is not a woman in this painting, I think it shows the Humanist idea that it is not necessary for women to learn the classics at school in the Renaissance.

According to McKay, Humanist thinkers “studied the classics to understand human nature” and “Humanism emphasized human beings and their achievements, interests, and capabilities” (McKay 413). McKay also mentions that “one of the central preoccupations of the humanists was education…” (McKay 414). Although education was clearly very important in the Renaissance, you may be wondering, “Did every child have a chance to study the classics?” According to what I found in Women’s roles in the Renaissance, which is written by Meg Brown, there were big differences in educational opportunities between boys and girls, upper classes and lower classes. For upper class boys, they always went to an independent or private school operated by a single teacher and supported by the numerous fees paid by their parents. Those boys were taught to be future diplomats, lawyers and people of high social status by being trained to have analytical thinking skills. Lower class boys usually went to an endowed school where they did not benefit from humanist learning and education; instead, they were educated in the skills they would need as adults like boys “who were sent out in this manner to learn a trade were often formally apprenticed to a master” (Brown, 4)

Humanist education seems very elitist and sexist. I don’t think it is a good idea because gender equality is very important. In the book “Utopia”, which was written by Thomas More, I don’t see much about the education differences based on gender or money. But still, by looking at the literature on Google Books, I developed a strong opinion against the idea that only high social status people or rich people can get a chance to study the classics, because the training in Latin and Greeks is important for their preparation of the spiritual life, and also for how to write clearly, argue effectively in their daily lives. For girls, only those from a high social status or rich family received education from an individual tutor.

The study of the Humanities today is more gender-balanced, but maybe still too elitist. I probably can say our school OES is like an elitist school in American, since we are all required to learn Humanities when we are freshmen. However, I think studying the classics is very important to everybody. Julie Sikkink, as a Humanities course teacher at OES, has her special view of why this course is very important to young aged people. She states that since Humanities is a subject that studies history, literature, art history, religion, human culture, and some political aspects, it is a subject that helps students to figure out their identities: “who am I, and how am I going to be in the world” (Sikkink). Since many things are happening during this age, it is helpful for them to see how ancient people had answered these questions in the literature in terms of Humanism.

Works Cited

Brown, Meg. Women’s roles in the Renaissance. United States of America: Greenwood Press, 2005.

McKay, John P. A History of Western Society. ninth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008.

Sikkink, Julie. Personal Interview. 2/1/12.

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  1. kristin888

    Do you think that the study of Humanities will always remain on the elitist side, or that in the future, a solid Humanities education can be provided with equal opportunity for everyone?

    • davidz123

      Thanks for your comment! It’s a really good question. I think not everyone may have a chance to study the Humanities course, but I truly believe that there will be more and more opportunities provided to those who are not able to study the classics.

  2. matthewthemadscientist

    Define “elitist.”
    The word “elite” means the best of the best, and many accusations in modern day of someone having an “elitist” education is essentially people attempting to insult other people who are simply well educated.
    Quite frankly, the recent aversion to having people who have a clue about history, and how the world works is a bit scary.

  3. becca0906

    Hi David! I found your blog really interesting, especially when you talked about the different opportunities men/women and upper/lower class people had to get a humanist education. I think that giving everyone equal opportunities for education is important. How do you think the Renaissance impacted the lower classes (if it did at all)? Did reform or ideas spread throughout the classes, or was the Renaissance mainly contained within groups of rich, upper-class men?

  4. dan1418

    David, this is a really nice blog about education in Renaissance but do you actually have the record of the interview from Julie ? It would be nice.

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