Ancient Egyptian Scribe Schools
A new school year can be exciting, confusing, and a little depressing all at the same time. There are unfamiliar schedules, new classes and teachers who are yet untried and unknown. The free days of summers are over, and months of school work lay ahead. Many students might wonder, "Why am I here anyway?" And, for the most part, teachers won't have an original answer to this question. So, instead of using the traditional standby responses, have your students discover some for themselves by learning what school was like for Ancient Egyptians. Well, the lucky few who were able to attend school at all.
Lessons in the beginning of the term usually involve introductions, listing expectations and explaining classroom procedures. An interesting twist on these familiar themes could be to address the idea of school itself. A comparison to school systems of another time and culture get students to think about why they are forced into this drudgery and what the school system hopes they will gain from it.
Ancient Egypt is most often addressed in the middle school social studies curriculum early in the school year. For this reason, I chose the scribe school system available in ancient Egypt as the one to compare to our own. This lesson is intended for seventh or eighth graders and hopes to achieve the following: a familiarity with the structure of the school system of today, and its disciplinary practices, purpose, and curriculum. It is written for a public school setting but can easily be changed for any type of school, public or private. I recommend changing the Public School heading in the Power Point presentation to your school’s name.
Lesson Plan: Shunat the Scribe
Students will learn the significance of hieroglyphics in Ancient Egypt.
They will examine the growth of schools in this ancient society and their purpose, which was to instruct a select group of privileged boys in the writing of hieroglyphics.
Students will also examine the modern American school system relative to the scribe schools and consider the purpose of schools today as compared to those of Ancient Egypt.
Introduce the play Shunat the Scribe Student and assign roles to students. Have students read the play aloud. You can find a copy of this story, along with others describing life in Ancient Egypt, in the book Ancient Egypt by Michele Breyer. .
After the play has been acted out, use the following discussion questions and downloadable slideshow to get students thinking about the purpose of educaion. Handout copies of blank slides to assist students in note taking.
1. How many years did a scribe student attend school?
2. How many years do you have to attend school?
Answer: (Legally, until age 16 but most kids will answer twelve years.)
3. Were the scribe schools connected to religion in Ancient Egypt?
4. Is your school connected to religion? Consider your answer; is this true of all schools in the United States?
5. Who attended scribe schools? Who couldn’t attend? Who can attend modern day schools?
6. How long was the school day for Shunat? How long is your school day?
7. How many subjects did scribe school students study?
8. How many subjects do you study? What are they?
9. Do you learn various skills? Did Shunat?
10. Was scribe school expensive? Is it expensive to go to your school? Which schools are free?
11. What methods were used to teach scribe students? What teaching methods are used in your school?
12. How were scribe students disciplined? Can you be disciplined in school in the same manner?
13. Did scribe students have desks? What do you think their classroom looked like?
14. How is your classroom different? What does it look like?
15. What did the scribe schools hope for their students to achieve?
16. How does the answer to number 15 differ from the hopes your school system has for you?
Have students exchange notes to make sure they each have the important information. As homework, assign the students to write a two or three paragraph answer to the following questions.
- Why are children required to attend some type of school until they are 16 years old?
- Which school system would you rather attend? The type Shunat attended or your school? Explain your answer.
Use this slideshow as a reference for answers to discussion questions, and as a template to make blank slides for note-taking.
Breyer, Michele. Ancient Egypt. Teacher Created Resources (2004)