The Basics, Part VI – “Education”


Welcome back! This time, I’m going to pose some questions – and I’ll leave you, dear reader, to answer them. Today’s topic is on education.

Do girls get the same education as boys? Is there a standard education? Does it follow the three ‘R’s? (one of which is not an ‘r’ at all… – those being ‘reading, writing, arithmetic’?)

At what age does education begin? At what age does it end? Officially, unofficially? Is that ‘diploma’ absolutely necessary to land that job? Are diplomas handed out at all? Are there entrance exams (take Ancient China and its examinations for entering civil service).

What makes a ‘Renaissance man’?

Is what they’re being taught wrong? Is the world flat? Does the sun revolve around the earth? How about religion, heresies? What level of technology is available and how is it used to control education?

Who is educated? How? What style of learning is used? A standard curriculum, free-style exploratory (‘self-guided’)?

Are there cloistered houses of learning, isolated and their knowledge kept hidden? Is it for the privileged few? Perhaps everyone has the ‘chance’ of an education but only those with influence and coin can actually afford to prepare for the tests that lead to higher education and into positions of power?

Where does it take place? A school, military academy, a field, a workshop (as one of several or a singular apprentice)?

What about magic? How is that taught? ‘Burn all witches’ or educate people in the arcane arts?

“I’ve learnt apples are tasty.”

Who teaches? What is the relationship between student and teacher? Are they related? Is the teacher a household slave? Is the student a slave?

How is poetry regarded, literature? Does your character know algebra; does he/she despise it? What about geography? Sea charts – are these a closely-guarded secret of the navigators and the seafaring guild/national navy? Is it a requirement to know poetry – ‘the classics’ – and recite it in order to advance in society? How about art?
What about knowledge of flowers and the language of flowers? Herbology? What knowledge is dangerous and will brand the character as a criminal? Is the knowledge of law taught?

How long does it take to learn a skill/trade? What does it cost? Is it something your character is proud to be a part of?

Is what’s being taught relevant or useful (in the immediate or long term)? Take for example the history of one’s nation – if there is some myth and the key to defeating some ancient evil/foe that our young heir to the throne, or perhaps, the younger sibling and unlikely to ever obtain the throne, is required to know – and that evil does or doesn’t pop up…

Is etiquette taught? How about dance? What style of dance? Riding? Fencing? Hunting (what style of hunting?). The arts of war – strategy and tactics as well as hand-to-hand?

Maybe education isn’t in school at all, but learnt through experience, perhaps on the streets. Maybe it takes place on a ship, perhaps a character belongs to a guild of assassins (whether he or she is aware of that or not). Perhaps they are trained as deep cover agents in fake towns (Soviet Russia, anyone?)

So now the important question: how does your character’s education, or lack-therefore-of, advantage or disadvantage him or her? Is your protagonist smarter than the villain but lacks the book knowledge necessary? Perhaps he/she has that book knowledge and the villain does not, but the villain commands greater resources (a gang leader/lieutenant could have street smarts rather than book smarts, or perhaps he/she is highly literate).

Regardless of what you decide, education is one way of revealing worldbuilding but more importantly, it helps sculpt your characters.

Happy writing!

“I don’t want to go to school. Can’t we play outside instead?”

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