It is difficult to accommodate various cultures to the standard educational system because it requires previous research and data collection. Though, the interactive approach to learning, a foreign language by studying cultural context might be effective. In the current essay, the main information about the educational system of Aztecs and the examples of classroom activities are described.
Aztecs belong to urban Mesoamerican civilizations like Toetihuacan and Maya. The rise of Aztec culture refers to the 12th – 16th century AD. The civilization was almost absolutely destroyed by Spanish conquerors. Though, some of the written evidences about the Aztec culture remained.
Aztecs had a specific social organization. People were divided into two classes – the commoners and the nobility. Approximately 90 percent of population in the country was commoners. Though, that did not mean that they were poor. People differed by prosperity greatly, which influenced the degree of control over their lives and the possibilities for growths and self-expression the commoners had. The Aztec nobility was hereditary and they occupied influential political positions in the government. They also were the military elite and controlled the economical resources of the country. Even though it was impossible to become a noble person for a commoner and break the hereditary tradition, the society was not very rigid. The commoners could raise their social status and get privileges by excelling on the battlefield. In addition, the priests and the merchants could reach the highest levels of status and wealth in the Aztec society for their work (Smith, 2006).
As it was mentioned, the society of Aztecs was heterogenious and it was impossible to cross the heredity line. The education was also different for children from common families and from noble ones. It might be difficult to accommodate such culture into the contemporary educational system, because there is no such evident distinction between the so-called elite and the commoners nowadays. In the modern democratic society, it is possible to get the education the person wants if he/ she has enough skills or money.
Aguilar-Moreno (2007) writes that the schools for the Aztec nobility that refer to the Late Postclassic period of the history of Mesiamerica were called the calmecas. It was problematic for a commoner to enter this institution and they could only become priests after graduation. The elite was training to be military officers and received strict religious education. All children were living in the calmecac during the years of studying, so it can be called a modern boarding school. It is necessary to note that only boys were allowed to get formal education in the country of Aztecs, the girls were taught at home by their mothers. In addition, the girls were not taught to write and to read, because it was unnecessary for future mothers and wives. The exception was the religious education of the girls who would become priestesses. Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine such gender discrimination, but at that time it was normal.
The kids entered the calmecac at the age of 5 – 7 years, just like modern children. From psychological point of view, it is the optimal age to start the formal training. The students were taught to read and to write, they were instructed in the calendar, rituals and songs. Formal military training commenced from 15 years. Those boys from the Aztec nobility who were talanted in the military sphere received individual training to become the Eagle or the Jaguar warriors, forming the war elite of the country (Leon-Portilla, 1980). This issue can also be compared to the contemporary educational system. Nowadays, those students who excel their classmates in studies, are educated according to individual plans.
Boys from the families of commoners studied in the telpochcalli, or “the house of youth” in translation. They received military training in such institutions and the knowledge they needed. A special place was given to the military training of those boys, because the commoners were recruited in case of war. Their teachers were the retired soldiers who instructed them on the main war disciplines like military tactics, maneuver, hand-to-hand combat, fight with the bow and arrow. The boys were also taught to cope with the spear-thrower (atlatl).
The information about the Aztec educational system and social division might be an interesting issue to discuss in the classroom. It might be useful for the students who study English as the second language to participate in the interactive lesson that will feature the previously discussed information (Welsman & Hansen, 2007). It might be effective to divide the students of the class into the four categories that refer to four different social classes in the Aztec society. The first group of boys will be the children from noble families, the second group will be the boys from the common families, the third one will be the girls who are trained to be priestesses and the last group will be common girls who are taught to be mothers and wives. Each group will have to make a story about their school life, using the given information and new words. Then each group will present their stories. The material presented by each group will be discussed and evaluated by the class. The teacher might ask the students to discuss questions on the subject. These activities aim at better understanding of the given information about the culture of Aztecs and better language acquisition. They also promote active participation in the lesson.
Aguilar-Moreno, M. (2007). Handbook to Life in the Aztec World. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Leon-Portilla, M. (1980). Native Mesoamerican Spirituality: Ancient myths, discourses, stories, doctrines, hymns, poems from the Aztec, Yucatec, Quiché-Maya and other sacred traditions. New York: Paulist Press.
Smith, M. E. (2006). Aztec culture: an overview. Arizona State University.
Weisman, M. and Hansen, L. E. (2007). Strategies for Teaching Social Studies to English-Language Learners at the Elementary Level. The Social Studies.