How were the youth of Athens educated?
Girls were educated in the home and the only “well-educated” women were trained as “hetarae” which were like Greek geishas.
Boys were much more educated than girls. They had physical education where they learned sports and gymnastics. They also learned basic math, how to play musical instruments, how to sing, and how to write well. They memorized the Odyssey and the Iliad by Homer because these were the most important works in their world.
There were only private schools, but most people could afford it. After this basic education, the more wealthy boys were taught by philosophers (like Socrates).
What were they educated for?
Children were educated in order to produce good citizens for Athens, though only men were considered citizens. The goal was that they would be educated enough to advance their society as they grew. They learned basic things like reading, writing and math. Then studied poetry and learned play instruments, before receiving athletic training, where they learned to play games and keep in shape. Unlike Sparta, the goal was not to produce soldiers, but to produce well-rounded young men who were smart, strong and attractive. They were taught habits that would serve them well throughout their lives. Girls were educated at home with the goal being they would become homemakers themselves, they were only taught to read and write if their mother, or private help would do so. However, they often participated in sports such as wrestling, in order to keep them strong and healthy.
How did this education system help a democratic society thrive or fail?
Because basic education was affordable many boys were educated and learned about politics at a young age. This allowed people within different classes of society to participate in the assembly which was open to all men older than 18. The upper class citizens had an advantage in both education and in the so called democracy. Further education was only reserved for the wealthy and the elite. Only the children whose parents were wealthy enough could afford to send them to philosophers such as Plato and Socrates. Those who were wealthier, better educated and more persuasive dominated the assembly. The elite often held secret meetings to discuss and make decisions on their own. In a sense, the widespread, affordable education helped the democracy thrive, because many people in different classes of society were able to participate with a basic understanding of politics. But wealthier citizens dominated the assembly because they could afford more education.
“Children in Ancient Athens.” Children in Ancient Athens. 2010. Accessed September 10, 2015. http://www.ancientathens.org/culture/children-ancient-athens.
Ostergard, Alison. “Education in Athens.” Education in Athens. 2007. Accessed September 07,
Mark Cartwright. “Athenian Democracy,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified October 13, 2014. http://www.ancient.eu /Athenian_Democracy/.