The Noble Tradition of Tutoring

Many times when homeschoolers reach high school age, their parents often have second thoughts about teaching the more advanced subjects. This is especially true when college admissions and potential scholarships are at stake. If it’s just one or two subjects the parents are unsure about, they may want to consider hiring a private tutor. Tutors have a well-respected history dating back to ancient times. In fact, tutoring as a method of personally assisting someone with his or her studies is probably the oldest form of education.

According to early Roman civil law, a tutor was a guardian in charge of a child or pupil. At the time of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates, children from wealthy families were taught individually or in small groups by masters or tutors. The Socratic Method, a way of questioning a student to help him arrive at the correct answer, is still often used in modern tutoring sessions.

Through the Middle Ages, children from wealthy families continued to receive their education from tutors. Those from less wealthy families often became apprentices to learn a trade or skill from a master craftsman. This was another one-to-one type of teaching. Even a young nobleman who wanted to become a knight had to first serve as a knight’s attendant in order to learn from the gentleman soldier whom he served.

During the Renaissance, a rebirth of learning brought about the introduction of grammar schools and boarding schools. However, royalty and noblemen still maintained their own private tutors. The idea of a grand tour to finish off a young gentleman’s education originated around this time. A tutor and several footmen would accompany the young man on his travels abroad, which might last for one or two years.

Tutors have always played an important role in universities as well. At Oxford and Cambridge, tutors lived alongside students in residence halls. This tradition continued when colleges were established in the United States. In early American colleges, tutors were graduates selected for the instruction of undergraduates in the sciences and other branches of learning during their first three years.

In Regency and Victorian England, upper-class families had live-in governesses to train and teach their children privately at home. A governess taught the children all the basics of a good British education (including reading, writing, mathematics, history, geography, natural sciences, music, art, English and other languages) until they were old enough to go away to school, college, or to a private tutor.

Wealthy Colonial American families and Southern plantation owners often employed a tutor to teach their young children in the home. Older children might be sent to study under the care of a well-educated family friend or clergyman. Most college textbooks at that time were still written in Latin. Thus, any students wishing to attend Harvard required tutoring in Latin prior to enrollment. A tutor might also be hired to attend a son on his travels. Such tutors served not only as teachers, but also as wise mentors and trusted advisors.

As the United States developed, the advent of land grant colleges and the adoption of open door policies at post-secondary institutions made higher education available to many more students. Some of the newer students were not quite academically ready for rigorous college study. After being admitted, these students often relied on tutors to help them succeed.

Soon, every state in the nation had adopted compulsory education laws. Between 1870 and 1915, publicly funded elementary schools and high schools became widespread. By the mid-20th century, the public education system had become a powerfully entrenched political machine with a strong union of teachers and administrators. As a result, tutors were mainly reserved for colleges and universities.

However, with the increasing inability of the modern school system to satisfactorily educate large numbers of children, individual tutoring has once again become an effective option. Tutoring programs are available to students of all ages through schools, churches, and community agencies as well as from independent tutoring services.

Today’s students receive tutoring to assist them in learning basic skills such as reading and math, as well as to help them master advanced content such as chemistry and physics. A tutor can also be useful when preparing for AP exams and SAT tests, or even for personal enrichment in specialized subjects. Tutors teach young actors and actresses on television and movie sets, as well as athletes in training and others who are unable to attend a regular school.

In addition to professional tutors for hire, private tutoring may be offered by college students, retired teachers, and specialists in certain fields. Homeschool graduates who are passionate about a particular subject they have mastered may even want to consider volunteering at a local school or starting their own tutoring business.

Famous Tutors & Their Pupils:
Plato tutored Aristotle
Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great
Seneca tutored Nero
John Skelton tutored Henry VIII
Roger Ascham tutored Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth I)
Reverend James Maury tutored Thomas Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau tutored Louisa May Alcott
W.T. Kirkpatrick tutored C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis tutored John Lawlor, author of C.S. Lewis: Memories and Reflections

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