It is known that c. A.D. 1030 the Grand Duke founded an academy in Novgorod for three hundred children to be instructed in "book-learning"; that he bade the parish priests "teach the people"; and that he established a library in connection with the cathedral in Kiev and gathered there scribes and scholars to translate books from Greek into Slavonic. Other dukes founded schools in two other cities.
Little or nothing is known of the curriculum in elementary and higher schools in Kievan Russia although it is known that both existed. A prayer book called the Book of the Hours was used as the first reader and was followed by the Psalter. It seems certain that some of the children of noble families were sent to Constantinople for their education. Vernadsky believes that during this period, there were a fair number of schools and that the percentage of literacy, "at least in the upper classes, was high"; he believes also that a few of the more highly educated were perhaps as well trained as their Byzantine contemporaries.
Among these more highly educated were, for example, Hilarion of Kiev (c. A.D. 1050), who wrote discourses on the Scriptures and on the saints, and who shows in his writings how thoroughly and quickly some Russians had assimilated the Greek culture and, at the same time, had modified it in an original way; the author of the twelfth-century Chronicle of Kiev shows an enormous erudition as well as a consciousness of the unity of the Slavic peoples and their common origins; the monk Daniel of the same time wrote an account of his travels to the Holy Land; the letters of the contemporary Metropolitan Clement give references to Homer, Aristotle, and Plato and show other indications of a knowledge of the Greek classical writings, while the Bishop Cyril evidences a familiarity with the works of the Greek Fathers and imitates them intelligently. In addition to these writers and their works there appeared in the latter part of the eleventh century a juridical treatise, Greek and Russian Ecclesiastical Rule, and the original form of the Russkaya Pravda, the first codification of Russian customary law. Vernadsky concludes that the "intellectual level" of the Russian educated elite was as high as that in contemporary Byzantium and the West, while Dvornik holds that Kiev in the tenth to twelfth centuries was, as a centre of culture, "far ahead" of anything in the contemporary West.
These scraps of information are all that is known of education in Russia during the period of growth, and this early bloom of culture wilted with the beginning of the time of troubles. If we date the beginnings of the society at the last quarter of the tenth century, then its growth period lasted only a little more than a century and a half. By the last quarter of the eleventh century the "centre of gravity" had shifted north to the town of Vladimir; by the beginning of the twelfth century internecine warfare among the contending principalities had begun, and by the latter half of the century Kiev and the other towns of the Dnepr Basin had fallen into decadence. The internal troubles of the society were aggravated and other troubles were added by struggles with the Lithuanians and, beginning about the fourth decade of the thirteenth century, by the invasions of the Mongols.
During the four-centuries-long struggles among the multiplicity of contending principalities and the more than two-centuries-long struggle of all the principalities against the Mongols, education in Russia sank to abysmally low ebb. During the same period one of the states, Muscovy, gradually rose to a position of importance, later took the lead in the struggle against the Mongol domination, and finally, at its union with the state of Novgorod, A.D. 1478, established itself as the universal state of the Russian Civilization.
It must be assumed that during this time, some priests taught some children and that there was some higher education for the few, since the continuity of education was not wholly broken and there were some scholars at the end of the period; but there is no evidence for the existence of any widespread education among the people nor even of systematic or higher education of the clergy.
The first great victory of the Russians over the Mongols took place A.D. 1380. Nearly a century later, A.D. 1472, Ivan III, Prince of Moscow, married the niece of the last East Roman emperor; A.D. 1489 he rejected all claims of the Mongols and assumed the title of tsar or autocrat: he was now no longer subject to any foreign power; Russia was an independent and sovereign state. And the Russian Church now became independent and sovereign — indeed, universal. Moscow was the successor of Constantinople, which, in Eastern theory, had been the successor of Rome. Russia was now "Holy Russia." This assumption of imperial and ecclesiastical mantles was accompanied by changes in the manner of life of the tsars and in the organization of the palace: new imperial insignia were adopted, pomp and circumstance added into the life at the palace. But little was done for education.
Boris Godunov in A.D. 1598 tried the experiment of sending young Russians to Western Europe for study. This was a break with tradition, for Muscovites previously had been allowed abroad only to Eastern Orthodox Christian countries and only on embassies or pilgrimages or for theological studies. The experiment was a failure: of the fifteen students sent abroad, only one returned. Boris also proposed the establishment of a university, but this was opposed by the church on the ground that "it was not wise to entrust the teaching of youth to Catholics and Lutherans."
It appears that until the second half of the seventeenth century what little elementary education there was given by the priests. A sombre but apparently accurate statement is given by Milioukov: "The ignorance of the Russian people is the source of its devotion. It knows neither schools nor universities. Only the priests teach the youth reading and writing; however, few bother with it."
The few elementary schools that existed in Muscovy from the beginning of the universal state until the late seventeenth century were chiefly for the purpose of training the clergy and a few government clerks. The teachers were local clergy, and the number of children taught very few. The subjects taught were reading, writing, and a little arithmetic.
In Ukraine a quite different situation obtained. There the Russian Orthodox Church was confronted with Roman Catholicism and consequently found itself compelled to organize its education so as to be able to compete on intellectually equal terms for the allegiance of the people. There appears to have been a kind of organization of the elementary schools, and A.D. 1631, a higher school of theology was established at Kiev. This academy became the centre of learning in Ukraine. Within a generation of its founding, a number of its scholars were called to Moscow and so Kievan learning became an important factor in advancing the intellectual life of late seventeenth-century Muscovy. In A.D. 1687 a Moscow academy, modeled on the one at Kiev but with more emphasis on Greek, was founded. Vernadsky sums up the seventeenth-century development by saying that by the end of the century, "a thin layer of Westernized cultural elite had formed" and that this elite could serve as a "connecting link between Russia and the West" and also as "a centre for the spread of new ideas" within Russia.
Education in the Western Civilization
From the last quarter of the seventh century may be dated the appearance of the Western as a civilization independent of its sister society, the Orthodox Christian, and of its parent, the Hellenic. During the first century of its growth the only education, other than that ubiquitous and omnipresent apprenticeship education, was given in the monastic and parish and episcopal schools and thus was established the intimate connection between the church and the school.
In Western monasticism from the beginning, the importance of a knowledge of reading and writing for all monks and nuns had been emphasized because the reading of the Scriptures and of the daily Office was deemed indispensable to the devout life, and because it was considered a part of the duty of monks to make copies of the manuscripts of the divine word and of other Christian writings. Thus, in an early (A.D. 534) rule for nuns it was laid down that they were all to learn to read, were to spend two hours each day in reading, and were to copy manuscripts. Similar prescriptions appear in other sixth- and seventh-century rules for nuns. The several sixth-century rules for monks made similar prescriptions, but more emphatically; and the Benedictine Rule, which came to dominate monasticism in the West, set out in detail the requirements for the education of children and for the means and tools of writing and reading. Latin — Church Latin — was of course the language, but the texts that were read included none of the Latin classics — only Christian writings.
The second type of school was the episcopal school. The bishops always had around them a group of young men and boys as assistants, the children acting as lectors. Through the attendance on and association with the bishops these youths learned, more or less by the apprenticeship method, what they came to know of Canon Law and dogma and liturgy. After the collapse of the Roman social and political system and of the classical schools, these attendants no longer had grounding in elementary education or in secular culture, and it therefore became necessary for bishops sometimes to give elementary education as it was generally necessary for them to give the specialized theological and dogmatic training. This was the beginning, in the sixth and seventh centuries, of the episcopal school, which later, in some instances, developed into a university.