Is the Athenian paidagogos getting a new life?

Polly Toynbee writes about government plans for child care in today's Guardian – complete article here – and claims that 'a whole new profession is born – the pedagogue, combining nurturing and teaching.' Here's the relevant paragraph:


In the beginning Labour women only persuaded Gordon Brown to invest in childcare as a welfare-to-work way to get single mothers into jobs, which helped the children indirectly by lifting their households out of poverty. Now the success of Sure Start has shifted the emphasis. It is child development that matters above all. So a whole new profession is born – the pedagogue, combining nurturing and teaching; all childcare, state or private, must be led by someone with a relevant degree, moving away from low-paid, untrained 16- and 17-year-old childcare assistants who themselves failed at school. Giving every child the same jump start in life is the prime goal and the research is absolutely conclusive.

This makes me wonder how much is known about the Athenian paidagogus.
(By the way, there's a web site called Paidagogos, to teach the basics of New Testament Greek, here.)

The Oxford Classical Dictionary gives them one line, in the article on Education. I can find no mention in Lempriere. Here's William Smith's Dictionary (1869):

PAEDAGOGUS. A tutor. The office of tutor in a Grecian family of rank and opulence (Plato, de Repub. i. p. 87, ed. Bekker, de Leg. vii. pp. 41,42) was assigned to one of the most trustworthy of the slaves.

The sons of his master were committed to his care on attaining their sixth or seventh year, their previous education having been conducted by females. They remained with the tutor (magister) until they attained the age of puberty. (Ter. Andr. i. 1. 24.)

His duty was rather to guard them from evil, both physical and moral, than to communicate instruction, to cultivate their minds, or to impart accomplishments. He went with them to and from the school or the GYMNASIUM (Plato, Lysias p. 118); he accompanied them out of doors on all occasions ; he was responsible for their personal safety, and for their avoidance of bad company, (Bato. ap. Athen. vii. p. 279.) The formation of their morals by direct superintendence belonged to the paidonomoi as public officers, and their instruction in the various branches of learning, i. e. in grammar, music, and gymnastics, to the didaskaloi or praeceptores, whom Plato (ll.. cc.), Xenophon (de Lac. Rep. ii. 1, iii. 2), Plutarch (de Lib. Ed. 7), and Quintilian (Inst. Or. 1. 8,9) expressly distinguish from the paedagogi. These latter even carried the books and instruments which were requisite for their young masters in studying under the sophists and professors.

This account of the office is sufficient to explain why the paidagogos so often appears on the Greek stage, both in tragedy, as in the Medea, Phoenissae, and Ion of Euripides, and in comedy, as in the Bacchides of Plautus. The condition of slavery accounts for the circumstance, that the tutor was often a Thracian (Plato, Alcib. i p. 341, d. Bekker), an Asiatic, as is indicated by such names as Lydus (Plaut I. c.), and sometimes an eunuch. (Herod, viii. 75 ; Corn. Nep. Themist. iv. Polyaen. i. 30. § 2.) Hence also we see why these persons spoke Greek with a foreign accent (hupobarbarizontes, Plato,Lysis, p. 145,ed. Bekker). On rare occasions, the tutor was admitted to the presence of the daughters, as when the slave, sustaining this office in the royal palace at Thebes, accompanies Antigone while she surveys the besieging army from the tower. (Eurip. Phoen. 87— 210.)

Among the Romans the attendance of the tutor on girls as well as boys was much more frequent, as they were not confined at home according to the Grecian custom. (Val. Max. vi. 1. § 3.) As luxury advanced under the emperors, it was strikingly manifested in the dress and training of the beautiful young slaves who were destined to become paedagogi, or, as they were also termed, paedagogia and pueri paedagogiani. (Plin. H. X. xxxiii. 12. s. 54; Sen. Epist. 124, De Vita beata, 17 ; Tertull. Apol. 13.) Augustus assigned to them a separate place, near his own, at the public spectacles. (Sueton. Aug. 44.) Nero gave offence by causing free boys to be brought up in the delicate habits of paedagogi. (Sueton. Ner. 28). After this period numbers of them were attached to the imperial family for the sake of state and ornament, and not only is the modern word page a corruption of the ancient appellation, but it aptly expresses the nature of the service which the paedagogia at this later era afforded.

In palaces and other great houses the pages slept and lived in a separate apartment, which was also called paedagogium. (Plin. Epist. vii. 27.) [J. Y.]

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OCR wants A levels and GCSE to stay

Naturally OCR is an interested party in this matter, but its submission responding to the Tomlinson report is worth considering. We certainly need most of students' exam work to be externally assessed. Coursework, and the proposed extended assignment, are just too wide open to cheating – and the boundary between legitimate help from a teacher (let alone a parent) and plain cheating has always been a fuzzy one. Anyway, here's how the Guardian reports OCR's views today:


The government has promised to set out its formal response to the Tomlinson plans in a white paper early next year.

Today OCR released a document stating its views which it has sent to ministers for consideration when drawing up the white paper.

“We must preserve the identity of recognised qualifications,” the OCR submission said.

“It is our strongly held view… that existing brands such as A level and GCSE must be used to reflect continuity and convey value and meaning within a process of reform.

“Employers and parents must be able to readily understand the relationship between existing qualifications and the diploma.”

On the proposal to increase teacher-led assessment, the board said: “Formal, external assessment must continue to have a central role.”

The submission continued: “Local assessment, if it is to be reliable, requires standardisation and quality assurance mechanisms which require expertise and resources which are not currently in place.

“The cost and bureaucracy of devolved assessment can be considerable.”

Dumbing down – continued.

Just another example to add to my depression about 'real education'. It's from
today's Education Guardian. I have no other comment to add.

Newcastle drops physics degrees

Donald MacLeod
Friday December 3, 2004

While a national row has raged over Exeter University's decision to close its chemistry department, Newcastle has quietly axed its physics degrees.

The university, which expected to play a major part in Newcastle's role as a “city of science” announced yesterday by Gordon Brown, says it is reorganising its provision to concentrate on applied physics like nanotechnology and materials sciences which are more popular with students and have more potential to generate research income from industry.

The final cohort of 30 students was admitted to the BSc in physics and MPhys programmes this September although it had already been agreed in principle by the university senate in January that the degree courses would be discontinued.
http://education.guardian.co.uk/universitiesincrisis/story/0,12028,1365793,00.html

"We suffer from national Altzheimers"

David Starkey used the phrase 'national Altzheimers' in a Radio 5 discussion on our ignorance of history today. Apparently a survey has found that:


LONDON – Nearly half of Britons in a poll said they had never heard of Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in southern Poland that became a symbol of the Holocaust and the attempted genocide of the Jews.

The results of the survey conducted by the BBC were released yesterday, as Britain's public broadcaster announced it will show a new series next January to mark the 60th anniversary of the concentration camp's liberation. – By Reuters


David Starkey's theme was that we concentrate too much in schools on 'skills' and too little on learning facts. A history teacher stoutly defended the way history is taught, but my limited experience goes to support Starkey.

  • The son of a friend was extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about history until he began his GCSE course. It was largely about interpreting original documents, apparently, and it knocked all his keenness out of him.
  • One of my daughters, a highly able student, took History A level along with two modern languages, and commented after the exam that she was overjoyed that she would never have to write another history essay in her life
  • When I volunteered to cover the National Curriculum History section on the Romans with Year 6 ( was it?) , I found that the immediate reaction of the pupils when faced with any quotation from an ancient writer was to say: “He was biased.” I never quite established whether they understood the word, but that was what History meant to them, apparently.

For the past 40 years there has been a tendency for enthusiastic recent graduates to go into education management and try to incorporate those parts of their subject which excited them at university into the junior secondary curriculum. I think it began with Modern Maths (remember that?). I don't know whether Language Labs (remember them?) were another example of this trend. It certainly hit History, which changed into Historiography.

I'm not sure whether these musings have any important bearing on the teaching of Classical subjects. I wonder whether there's any parallel between historical facts and Latin grammar? I know that a student without a sound knowledge of grammar and syntax is handicapped when it comes to literary appreciation at A level. Keep teaching what really matters!

And that phrase about national Altzheimers might come in handy when pressing the case for the Classics.