Rose Hill's Writing Grove

A Fantasy author in the Twin Cities

Month: June, 2016

Education Systems – Children

Now we have finally reached the topic that most people think about when they think education–how are the children taught?  This can take as many different forms as there are culture, so make sure what you develop for your world fits the culture you’ve created.


Keep in mind that children learn things naturally.  Spoken language comes automatically to humans until roughly puberty age, unless hearing problems or a complete and utter lack of being spoken to interfere.  Children watch the people around them, both adults and peers, to learn how to behave.  Children also try to accomplish things they want to do, and learn from their mistakes.  Not all education is explicitly taught by others.  This essay will focus primarily on explicit teaching, though consider what children pick up by example as well.


Who teaches children?


At the earliest ages, children learn from whoever is taking care of them.  This could be parents, nurses, governesses, siblings, relatives, or AIs programmed to tend children.


If your species has a life cycle that doesn’t follow the typical human path, consider how those differences might influence education as well.  If your frog people are all amphibious, who teaches the tadpoles in the water?  If your tree-people start out as seeds, how does the mother tree teach them?


At what age does the primary teacher of children change?  Depending on your society, there might not be a point when the primary caretaker stops being the primary teacher.  However, that would mean that the child in question is pretty much limited to the caretaker’s profession.  Is this something the child wants?  If yes, probably not a problem then.  Is this something the caretaker wants?  If yes, the child will likely learn their trade whether they want to or not.  If not, what does the caretaker want for the child, and how are they going to make sure the child gets it?


If not the primary caretaker, who does the child learn from?  Are they apprenticed to a particular person who will educate them for years at a time?  Do they go to general classes with a bard or priest?


If the teachers change, when do they change?  Each year?  Each semester/quarter/trimester?  Each subject?


Does your race and/or have any idiosyncrasies when it comes to teaching children?  Are only people in certain relation to the children or certain social status allowed to teach?  Are certain categories of people not allowed access to children (for reasons not related to child abuse)?


What discipline methods are allowed? 

Children get unruly sometimes.  That’s just the way it is.  How do their teachers keep them in line?  What punishments are normal?  What are the teachers allowed to do to keep order in the classroom?


If teachers go beyond what is normally prescribed for punishment, can they be punished by a higher authority?  What recourse do parents have if they disagree with how the teachers are punishing their children?  What recourse do orphans have who don’t have parents to speak up on their behalf?  What recourse do children have if their parents are simply unsupportive?


Keep in mind that disciplining children is a hot-button issue that people feel strongly about.  If this is something you’re going to touch on, you might want to make very clear where the lines of abuse are in your story’s culture.  There is a big difference between what is acceptable behavior in your story and what you might find personally acceptable.  Don’t get those two confused.


What do children learn? 


What subjects are considered necessary?  Math is pretty standard, whether your culture is oral or not.  Basic counting and arithmetic have been useful since time immemorial.  In a literate culture, reading and writing to be taught as children too.


Other skills taught will be highly dependent on culture.  Cooking?  Hunting?  Cleaning?  Basic science?  Fishing? Consider what skills are necessary for your culture to survive, for people to survive in that climate, and what is valued by the culture.  That will tell you what else children are taught.


If you need ideas, try looking up elementary school curriculums.  In the US, many states have standards of education that each grade has to meet.  This will give you a rough idea of where children are expected to be at a particular age.


What are considered too adult for children to learn?  Is anything?  How sheltered are children in general?  Is there a difference between how much parents shelter their children and how much teachers shelter their students?  How are those conflicts resolved?


Publishing Updates

Hello all!

We are taking a break from our Education In Fantasy series to bring you an update about publishing.  (I will try to make sure this break is not as long as the last one.)

Keep an eye out for “Shiny in the Shallows,” one of my short stories that will be published in the upcoming Sword & Sorceress 31.  I’ll let you know here when it comes out.

Education Systems – Access to Information

Last week we discussed access to education.  On a similar but slightly different note is the average access to information.  People might be trained to their job, but how much are they told outside of that?  How does the information get passed?  There are many possibilities:

  • Internet
    • Blogs
    • Vlogs
    • News articles
    • Social media
  • Books
  • Newspapers
  • Scientific Journals
  • Magazines
  • Libraries
  • Town criers
  • Bards
  • Travelling merchants
  • Gossip


How much access does the average person have to information?


Does the average person have access to a search engine, that can look up anything?  Are they like a modern or future person with a smartphone in their pocket?  Just because someone lives in the future doesn’t mean they have such access.  Think of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.  It is very clear from the questions he asks that he does not have access to Google or Urban Dictionary.


People in pre-modern fantasy might have other access to information.  Are there public libraries?  Are there private libraries?  Who, exactly, are the private libraries restricted to?  Are there books?  Are the books printed or handwritten?  Before the invention of the printing press, books were a long, painstaking, and expensive process.  They were not the sort of thing your average person would have access to.  After the invention of the printing press, literacy increased because books were cheaper and more accessible.


In places without books, there could still be other options, such as scrolls and tablets.  Information could be painted or carved on walls and other stone objects.


In a non-literate culture, looking up information pretty much becomes impossible, but sharing information becomes a social activity.  The problem arises when the person seeking knowledge doesn’t know who to go to in order to ask the question.  If you need obscure information, there’s no real way to look it up if you don’t know who to go to.


Is information limited by any other factors?  The larger a government is, the more control they can have over the amount of information available.


What, if any, information is restricted? 


Information about the royal family?  Sacred Mysteries of a religious cult?  Prior heresies?  Prior revolutions?


Generally, information is restricted if it is considered dangerous.  Why might the restricted information be dangerous?  How might the information be used that people would consider it dangerous?


Battle plans are often kept secret so the enemy cannot effectively plan a counterattack, or even launch a pre-emptive strike.  Similarly, the location of important individuals might be kept secret for similar reasons.  Matters of national importance are often restricted, but try to think of minor things too.  What do people want to keep secret?  What lengths will they go to in order to keep that information secret?


And just as importantly–who is doing the restricting?  Is it government officials?  Does the restriction have government sanction or not?  Is it a religious organization?  Are there competing religious (or other) organizations that want to keep the information available?  If so, which organization has more power socially and politically?  Is it one lone person systematically going through and destroying and/or hiding information?  Do they have any special powers or technology that helps them accomplish their task?  (Mind-wiping powers, time travel, locator powers, etc..)


Is anyone countering the restricted information?  How sanctioned are these groups?  What sort of punishment exists for those who spread restricted information?  How is that information spread?

  • Code?
  • Deep web?
  • Subversive art?
  • Telepathic link?
  • Bound familiar servants?
  • Dream messages?


What, if any, information are people allowed to keep private?


This ties in directly to the question above.  If information is kept private it is, pretty much by definition, restricted from general access.  But levels of restriction could still vary depending on one’s need to know.  Criminal information is usually kept private, but jobs still request it to see if the applicant will be a risk to the company.  Medical information is generally private, but is still sent to doctors, pharmacies, and insurance companies.
In places where information is not recorded and tracked as much as it is in the modern era, more information can be kept private.  In more futuristic times, it might be harder to keep information private if people are tapped into the Internet at all times.  Similarly, there might be little privacy available in a telepathic culture.

Education Systems – Access to Education

Unless you have some sort of hivemind or telepathically dropped link (and sometimes even then), you will have variations in the ability of people in your culture to access education.  People might theoretically have equal access to all information, but someone with a drive to learn is going to access a whole lot more simply by their choice alone.  When thinking about access to education in fantasy worlds, consider not just what is societally available, but also the motivation of the characters in question.  How much education do they want to access?

Who can access education?

Are all people allowed to access education?  Typically, all people will have access to some level of education, even if it is no more than what is needed to follow orders and recognize their superiors.  But you may have classes of people who are viewed as sub-human or animal in nature, and are barred from the education given to your average member of society.  In such cases, what education are they openly given, and what do they trade within themselves?

That said, even for an average member of society, there may be barriers to accessing any more than the very minimum level of education.  If everything above the basics is taught in distant schools, then people without the means to travel there won’t have access to it.  If the student must pay for education, then poor students won’t have access to it.

Education might be intentionally restricted by guilds or other such societies.  Traditionally, guilds kept the knowledge of their professional skills secret to prevent competition.  Or, you might have religious secrets that are only accessible to those who move up the ranks of the priesthood.  Education could be intentionally limited by things like gender, sex, age, intelligence, genetic makeup, etc…

If magic is believed to be something innate (whether it is or not), magical education might be restricted to those who show the appropriate aptitude.  Conversely, a society might make a show of magical education being “available for everyone,” while in actuality it’s only available for an elite few, or those who do have an innate talent.

When considering access to higher levels or specialties in education, consider prerequisites.  If someone wants to study to be a teacher/priest/mage/bard/hunter/etc, what skills/knowledge do they need to have ahead of time?  How does one obtain those prerequisites?  Can they be waived for certain people?  (Think of the privileges “Chosen Ones” and people with family connections tend to get.)  Are extra requirements added for certain people?  (Consider the extra requirements added for Kel in the Protector of the Small quartet.)  Extra requirements are ways of weeding out people who are technically acceptable but socially unwelcome.

Are there literal barriers that appear when one tries to access education?  Think of a school that is hidden in a labyrinth, underwater, behind a magic veil, or up a mountain.  Think of the mundane accessibility problems from those who have to use crutches or wheelchairs to get around.  Could you imagine trying to use a wheelchair on the moving staircases at Hogwarts?  Do the managers of such school try to help those with limited mobility to access to the education they offer, or are the restrictions intentional?

Do different levels of education correspond to different social classes?

The answer to this question is dependent on how the social classes are divided in your world.  Money is the most basic division and will affect just about every culture that has a moneyed economy.  But people could also be divided based on citizenship, gender, magical ability, species, ethnic group, religion, etc…  People who conform to what the society-at-large values (the correct religion/appearance/gender expression/etc) are more likely to have more access to education (and other forms of power) than those who miss the mark in some way.

Education that has to be paid for will vary greatly depending on wealth.  The wealthy will have far more access to education than the poor.

To take a look at something most people tend to gloss over–how are the outcasts of society educated?  Outcast is a broad term that can cover anything from the untouchables to the homeless to social pariahs, depending on how your society is structured.  If a child is born among the outcasts, what sort of education do they have access to?  If someone becomes an outcast later, are they allowed to continue their education?  Is it even safe for them to do so?  Depending on the complications that made them an outcast, is it even possible?

What education do the outcasts share amongst themselves?  Do they teach each other to read, to do math, do practice magic?  Do they tell the new outcasts the best place to find a free meal, or an overhang to shelter from the rain?

Is there any knowledge that is zealously guarded within any particular social class?

How is access to education related to gender norms and family responsibility?

Who is expected to go to school to get a better job?  Who is expected to stay home and take care of the family members who need it?

Are children expected to get a good education so they can get a good profession and take care of their parents?  Is the oldest child expected to get a job immediately after basic education so that the younger ones can continue on?  How do responsibilities in families shift between the size of family, the profession(s) of the family, and the health of the family members?

One of my close friends was expected to (and did) get a job immediately after graduation and start working to help put her siblings through school.  I knew many women in both high school and college who dropped out of school upon getting married.

If food/meals are something that takes many hours to prepare, who is taking the time to prepare the food instead of being educated or otherwise working to support the family financially?  How many people are needed to support a family financially?  Does that number change depending on how educated the individual workers are?

Are the genders divided in their lessons?  How does this affect those who don’t fall neatly into the gender binary?  Are particular genders expected to be better at a certain subject?  What happens when someone from gender A is good at the subject expected out of gender B?  How do the expected subjects of excellence relate to later professions and gender expectations/roles?