Monday, January 11, 2016

World Blip – Education

What sort of education do you have?
If you’re still in school, what sort of education do you plan to have?

Because we live in an era where education is valued above most everything else, yet made accessible, most everyone has a good education.
The literacy rate of the world is massive, compared to, say, three hundred years ago.

What about your story’s world?

Some stories are set in medieval fantasy settings, others in futuristic planets. How does education affect those stories, how should it affect those stories?

How often do you read a medieval fantasy where the main character is poor? I’m not talking destitute and enslaved, necessarily (although those characters do count), but more toward the children of farmers or carpenters or blacksmiths. These are the kinds of people that, in medieval-period times, would have no education beyond the trade they’re going to learn. They may know their basic numbers (thanks to moms everywhere) and potentially a few letters or words, but nothing else.

Now consider that story again. Does that same main character who is supposed to have maybe a second-grade education read books or signs or do complicated things with numbers at any time during the book?

I see.

Here’s the deal: we often forget how illiterate people can be when they aren’t educated. Character who shouldn’t be able to read end up reading the names of inns or the name of a town on a road sign.
Not good.

Education can create – or destroy – an aura around your story. Well-educated characters will act like it; refined and more sophisticated than the character who dropped out of fourth grade to help out on the family farm.

Now. How does education come into play when you create your world?
This is one of those subjects in worldbuilding that can and should only take a few minutes. You sit down, examine what you know about your world, and decide:

-Who gets educated?
-What level of education is there? (i.e. are there universities?)
-Are there social barriers to education? (i.e. boys are favored for university over girls or vise versa)

And that’s it.
Three simple questions (that will vary from culture to culture and nation to nation) that can determine what your characters can and cannot know.

A few observations I’ve made as I’ve looked at past times to see what education would look like in a fantasy setting:

If your main character is a slave, they probably shouldn’t be able to read or count higher than X-digits (this can vary from 4-20, really). Some exceptions will include more important slaves who take more the role of a servant (like scribes, obviously, or bodyguards, or heralds).

If your main character is a lower class citizen (farmer, carpenter, blacksmith, other craftsman), then they won’t have an education higher than what we might consider a modern-day fifth grade education. Even then, few will know more math than basic sums and even fewer will know how to read. Also, I’d like to note that moms who somehow know how to read are a lame excuse for your character’s literacy. Where did the MOM learn how to read, anyway?

Futuristic settings can be a bit more diverse to the point where whole subjects may be made up completely or so divulged from what we’d expect (such as the training of Jedi in Star Wars) that what is and what is not a good education can vary far from the normal.

In sum:
-Ask yourself what sort of education your characters could possibly have.
-Stick to it. Characters that can’t read shouldn’t read. This can actually create a lot of strong emotion and conflict in your story.

What about you? Does your world have institutions for higher learning, or is everyone illiterate? Leave a comment and share!

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1 comment:

  1. This is a very good point. My current novel is probably my only fantasy (aside from my urban one) that actually has a good reason for all of the characters to be literate. I need to think about this more in the other ones.