RE: [xmca] Sumerian school pic

From: Peter Smagorinsky <smago who-is-at>
Date: Thu Dec 11 2008 - 03:13:25 PST

I first saw Mike use the Sumerian classroom slide a few years ago at a
conference in Miami, and he has been kind enough to share it. I've used it
several times to make the point that Mike originally made: that the
traditions of schooling run very deep. I used it at ISCAR, and the text for
the talk included the observation that while desks are no longer made of
stone and rarely are bolted to the floor anymore, they still tend to sit in
the same formation as they did 6,000 years ago. The irony: In the USCD
classroom in which I gave the talk, the seats were indeed bolted to the

To give a sense of just how old the Sumerian classroom is, I put together
the following. It still boggles my mind:

In his consideration of the developmental consequences of education, Cole
(2005) takes a cross-cultural and historical perspective that leads him back
to the earliest classrooms of Indo-European civilization. Based on the
arrangement of a Sumerian classroom from roughly 4,000 BCE, he surmises that
the last 6,000 years have seen great continuity in educational practice in a
number of regards (see Figure 1.1; reprinted from Cole, 2005, p. 200). As
the photograph reveals, students sat in rows-here, fixed in stone-possibly
chiseling notes in a proto-cuneiform script and undoubtedly facing the
teacher. This template, in spite of other developments in teaching practice,
has served to guide instruction in most Western educational settings from
(at least) the Uruk period of Sumerian civilization through the present.
Place Figure 1.1 about here
This classroom was built toward the end of the Stone Age, as the Neolithic
Period was about to give way to the Bronze Age. Students occupied its seats
1,400 years before the legendary King Gilgamesh is believed to have ruled
the land; 2,300 years before Hammurabi founded the city of Babylon and wrote
the first code of law; and 3,400 years before Nebuchadnezzar II is believed
to have built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It is as old as the idea of
formal teaching and learning in the history of human social life.

(this is from the first draft of a book chapter I'm developing, so please
reference to this message if you borrow the phrasing)

Sorry I forgot to attach this to message in response to Paul.
The earliest known classroom in the "western" world.

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Received on Thu Dec 11 03:14:54 2008

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