C.S. Boyack asked a question a while back about education in Windemere. Now that marketing for Crossing Bedlam is done and I haven’t gotten to the promoting for Tribe of the Snow Tiger, I can answer this. That and I needed time to think because most fantasy stories do one of two things:
- This is a medieval setting, so only the nobles are educated while the peasants are left to survive in ignorance. You learn your family trade, which is usually farming and pray you aren’t the generation that gets eaten by a dragon. Reading and writing is beyond you, which never explains how there are signs in town or how anyone can use them perfectly. Best not to think about it because this is how it was on Earth and it’s how it is here.
- We don’t talk about it. A character is only as educated as he or she or it needs to be. I will only use a school teacher for a love interest. Wait! Why is everyone leaving the room?
Seriously though, this is something that doesn’t come up a lot. By the time you meet a hero, they are either trained for what they are on the road or about to meet their mentor to be trained as either a warrior, priest, caster, thief, or bard. Some varieties appear, but you never really have a reason to go into the meat of a world’s education system. At most, you will put a school in the background along with a teacher and some kids. Yet, none of that answers the question and I’m beating around the bush.
Leaving out any cultural, racial, and regional differences, everyone is taught the basics needed to survive in society. This is reading, writing, counting, and simple math. It’s done at a local school that is tasked to see if you have any special skills to be moved into a warrior or caster school. Thieves tend to be more of a ‘upon request’ trade. Now history and geography are taught at home through stories. Some of the more general tales are used to teach reading in school such as the Great Cataclysm and the Crash of Mylrix. But for the most part, you learn about your people and history from grandparents and parents. If not at home then you can easily find a bard at a tavern who is willing to tell children about the world. Many times these places will hire kids to clean the table, so they can earn some money and hear stories.
All of this is basic education, so you’re probably wondering about when a child gets to be a teenager. Many do go into the family business, especially with small families or those that own large farms. Others seek out an apprenticeship if they want to work outside of their family’s influence. It isn’t surprising for teachers to set this up early if they see that a student has a specific interest. You learn on the job while getting paid and, if you’ve traveled far from home, a place to live. Many career paths have more knowledge than we realize. For example, an apprentice for an architect would learn how to draw and plan along with effects of weather, attributes of materials, vermin defense, bargaining for supplies, and running a business. You see, a good master looks at an apprentice as an investment and future partner. If not a partner then a symbol of how good they are at their job and with teaching.
This is the basic education system of Windemere, which does vary from place to place because of cultures. Elves would have a different way of teaching history than orcs because of their racial pasts. Not to mention orcs are very tribal and elves have no central government or cities of their own. Still, I do like to have a world that is more educated than ignorant, especially with your basic peasant. This way it doesn’t come off as a world where all nobles are selfish fops and everyone else is lucky enough to tie their shoes without injury. Those worlds are always strange because it makes the protagonists seem out of place if they’re educated like nobles, come from peasant backgrounds, and don’t fall into either mental category. They simply stand out like an elephant in an elevator.