Childhood education in ancient Greece was highly dependent on one’s gender. Preparing for life in the public sphere, wealthy boys during the classical period went to schools where they faced both physical and mental challenges. Relegated to the private sphere, girls’ educations were typically haphazard, often occurring at home, if they occurred at all.
In the fifth century B.C., Greece’s greatest minds were preoccupied with the most effective ways to raise children. Isocrates, a Greek rhetorician and contemporary of Plato, boldly proclaimed what he saw as Greece’s leadership in education: “So far has Athens left the rest of mankind behind in thought and expression that her pupils have become the teachers of the world.” (See also: Wine, women, and wisdom: The symposia of ancient Greece.)
The teaching that Isocrates praised was known by Greeks as paideia, a term derived from pais, the Greek word for child. In ideal terms, paideia was intended to allow male children to purge the baser parts of human nature so they could achieve the highest moral state. On a pragmatic level, it also provided society with well-prepared men to take on the political and military burdens of citizenship as adults.