Of Schools and Universities

By John Knox

Seeing that the office and duty of the godly magistrate is not only to purge the church of God from all superstition, and to set it at liberty from tyranny and bondage, but also to provide at the utmost of his power how it may abide in some purity in the posterity following; we can (not) but freely communicate our judgments with your honours in this behalf.

I. The Necessity of Schools

1. Seeing that God hath determined that his kirk (church) here on earth, shall be taught not by angels but by men, and seeing that men are born ignorant of God and of all godliness, and seeing also He ceases to illuminate men miraculously, suddenly changing them as He did the apostles and others in the primitive kirk: of necessity it is that your honors be most careful for the virtuous education, and godly upbringing of the youths of this realm, if either ye now thirst unfeignedly for the advancement of Christ’s glory, or yet desire the continuance of his benefits to the generation following; for as the youth must succeed to us, so we ought to be careful that they have knowledge and erudition, to profit and comfort that which ought to be most dear to us, to wit, the kirk and spouse of our Lord Jesus.

2. Of necessity therefore we judge it, that every several kirk must have one schoolmaster appointed, such a one at least as is able to teach grammar and the Latin tongue, if the town be of any reputation: if it be upland (that is, in the country,) where the people convene to the doctrine but once in the week, then must either the reader or the minister there appointed, take care of the children and youth of the parish, to instruct them in the first rudiments, especially in the Catechism (that is Calvin’s Catechism), as we have it now translated in the Book of Common Order, called the Order of Geneva. And further, we think it expedient, that in every notable town, and specially in the town of the superintendent, there be erected a college, in which the arts, at least logic and rhetoric, together with the tongues, be read by sufficient masters, for whom honest stipends must be appointed: as also (that) provision (be made) for those that are poor and not able by themselves or by their friends to be sustained at letters, and in special those that come from landward.

3. The fruit and commodity hereof shall suddenly appear. For, first, the youthhead and tender children shall be nourished and brought up in virtue, in presence of their friends, by whose good attendance many inconveniences may be avoided in which the youth commonly fall, either by overmuch liberty which they have in strange and unknown places, while they cannot rule themselves; or else for lack of good attendance, and (of) such necessaries as their tender age requires. Secondly, the exercise of children in every kirk, shall be great instruction to the aged (and unlearned). Last, the great schools called the universities, shall be replenished with those that shall be apt to learning; for this must be carefully provided, that no father, of what estate or condition that ever he be, use his children at his own fantasy, especially in their youth-head; but all must be compelled to bringing up their children in learning and virtue.

4. The rich and potent may not be permitted to suffer their children to spend their youth in vain idleness, as heretofore they have done. But they must be exhorted, and by the censure of the kirk compelled to dedicate their sons, by (training them up in) good exercises, to the profit of the kirk and commonwealth, and that they must do of their own expenses, because they are able. The children of the poor must be supported and sustained on the charge of the kirk, trial being taken whether the spirit of docility be in them found or not. If they be found apt to learning and letters, then may they not, - we mean, neither the sons of the rich, nor yet of the poor, - be permitted to reject learning, but must be charged to continue their study, so that the commonwealth may have some comfort by them and for this purpose must discreet, grave, and learned men be appointed to visit schools for the trial of their exercise, profit, and continuance; to wit, the minister and elders with the best learned men in every town shall in every quarter make examination how the youth have profited.

5. A certain time must be appointed to reading and learning of the Catechism, and (a) certain (time) to the grammar and to the Latin tongue, and a certain (time) to that study in the which they intend chiefly to travail for the profit of the commonwealth; which time being expired, - we mean in every course, - the children should either proceed to farther knowledge, or else they must be set to some handicraft, or to some other profitable exercise, providing always, that first they have further knowledge of Christian religion, to wit, the knowledge of God’s law and commandments, the use and office of the same, the chief articles of the belief, the right form to pray unto God, the number, use, and effect of the sacraments, the true knowledge of Christ Jesus, of his offices and natures, and such other (points), without the knowledge whereof neither any man deserves to be called a Christian, neither ought any to be admitted to the participation of the Lord’s table; and therefore these principles ought and must be learned in the youthhead.

II. The Time Appointed to Every Course

6. Two years we think more than sufficient to learn to read perfectly, to answer to the Catechism, and to have some entries in the first rudiments of grammar; to the full accomplishment whereof, - we mean of the grammar, - we think other three years, or four at most, sufficient to the arts, to wit, logic, to rhetoric, and to the Greek tongue, (we allow other) four years; and the rest till the age of 24 years to be spent in the study wherein the learner would profit the church or commonwealth, be it in the laws, physic, or divinity, which time of 24 years being spent in the schools, the learner must be removed to serve the church or commonwealth, unless he be found a necessary reader in this same college or university. If God shall move your hearts to establish and execute this order, and put these things in practice, your whole realm, we doubt not, within few years, will serve itself of true preachers, and of other officers necessary for the commonwealth.

III. Of the Erection of Universities

7. The grammar school being erected, and of the tongues as we have said; next we think it necessary there be three universities in this whole realm, established in the three towns accustomed.* The first in St. Andrews, the second in Glasgow, and the third in Aberdeen. *The university of Edinburgh was not founded till the year 1582, and that in the town of Aberdeen not till sometime later.

Taken from the First Book of Discipline Chapter 7