Passing skills on from generation to generation is vital to our survival as a species. Humans have always passed their knowledge onto younger generations. Even among our closest relatives, the great apes, the young will observe their elders’ actions. Through this, they learn how to craft tools to catch prey like insects and even small animals. The first humans likely learned similarly, observing their elders and copying their techniques. Archaeologists are not entirely sure this was the case. Some have argued that our tool-making abilities may have been due to instinct. Learning through teaching and observation would go onto become vital to the success of our species, however.

In later centuries religious institutions like monasteries and nunneries educated a small section of the population. As child labor became less prominent, the idea that children should spend a period in education before entering the working world gained popularity in Europe between the 15th and 19th centuries. The Protestant Reformation was a significant driver in this change. Martin Luther, the German monk who began the movement, believed that everyone had a duty to form their relationship with God and the scriptures. To accomplish this, they needed to attain some level of literacy. By the end of the 17th century, most German states had laws compelling children to attend schools. In the 19th and 20th centuries, schooling would evolve into a form we can recognize today. The curriculum expanded to include more subjects, and the school has now replaced labor as the primary occupation of children.

Artist: Ettore Mazza

A mohter teaching her child

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Credit: Ettore Mazza and Open Past

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