Education is an old activity, but teaching is a new profession. Since human beings have been on earth--between two and four million years, some biologists estimate--people have been learning from each other and their environments. On the other hand, schooling, a Greek term implying leisured study by elite groups, is a recent phenomenon.
No one knows when the first school came into being. Perhaps it was in one of the ancient cities of Africa, South America, Mexico, India, or China. Western educational historians generally cite the "tablet houses" of Sumeria (now Iraq) as early centers of organized instruction. From about 3,000 B.C., scribes there kept agricultural records on clay tablets and taught apprentices their art of cuneiform writing. 1 At about the same time, people in Egypt refined the pictographic writing of the Sumerians into a more symbolic form. Later, perhaps around 800 to 700 B.C., people in the Greek islands developed a fully phonetic alphabet--that is, a combination of consonants and vowels totaling twenty-four characters. This development expanded literacy beyond a few specialists because students no longer required many years to memorize thousands of special symbols. It also permitted a written rather than strictly oral transmission of knowledge.
Formal schooling began in the Greek area around the time of Homer ( 1,000-800 B.C.) as chivalric training for warriors. It gradually became more oriented to written information. Some people specialized in sport and the use of military arms, while others concentrated on "bookish" endeavors, but the two kinds of activities were not mutually exclusive. All citizens in a city-state had access to some of both. Slaves, usually a majority of the city-state's population, got appropriate vocational training.
Formal schooling began at age six and lasted to around puberty. At that