When writing fantasy, educational institutions in the fantasy realm (just like the real world) will reflect social structure and what is important within the culture. If the culture reveres females over males, it will show in the schools, academies, institutes, universities or whatever the fantasy writer label institutes of higher learning. In fantasy novels like my novel, Windwalker, female characters are not allowed to attend school and are not taught to read.
Establishing a school when writing fantasy takes consideration. It's part of world building. Along with other elements of society, the fantasy author will want to sketch how the school functions, what its purpose is, who can attend, what they learn, what it costs and even how the students get there.
Function Fantasy School
Different cultures promote different methods for learning. Here are a few ideas to get you started when developing a school system when writing fantasy:
· Does learning revolve around a competitive system of standardized tests and exams in a public institutional setting?
· Are both male and female students allowed?
· Does teaching challenge and foster ingenuity or are new ideas squelched?
· Do students learn by memorization based on a historical perspective like sayings of wisdom that are handed down orally from one generation to the next?
· Is the educational system tied to a belief system like religion or magic?
· Do sacred texts exist? For more ideas look to history: History of Education
Determine the Purpose
To help better develop a school system that works within the fantasy world, consider the purpose of the school. Why do your fantasy characters need to attend? Writing fantasy, like any genre, requires the author to consider the relevance of characters and places within the story. Is the school necessary? If not, delete it. If it is necessary to the plot what is the purpose? How does the school influence your characters? What does the interaction at the school reveal to the reader?
Learning from History
Long before the twelfth century, education was a privilege for wealthy young men. Other than that, parish priests organized classes for young men desiring to enter the priesthood. These young men, in turn, gave lessons to small neighborhood children eager for knowledge. That summed up the educational system at that time.
What was the priest's purpose for teaching? To keep the priesthood stocked with able young men. In turn, these men who understood the education need of the neighborhood. They passed on what they learned.
The priest had a purpose for teaching, and their students had a purpose for teaching. It wasn't so much a formal education, but still a form of tutoring. Consider such historical elements when designing an educational system to fit your fantasy world. Make sure your school system fits the world. A fantasy world designed from a medieval perspective will be different from a contemporary fantasy world, and a futuristic fantasy world may be a combination of past and future depending on the storyline.
Who Can Attend
Each fantasy world gives birth to a unique culture. Fantasy writers have the power to create worlds where characters mature and grow in an understanding of who they are meant to be. Limiting who can and cannot attend school presents opportunity to develop conflict and tension within the plot. For example, if a character does not know how to read it may require them to ask for help. Who do they ask? Asking makes them vulnerable, thus introducing tension and the opportunity for conflict.
More questions to consider:
· Is education public or private?
· Do fantasy characters have to pay to attend or are schools free?
· Creating free education for your fantasy characters may be a good thing, but is it something that would make every citizen happy?
· Is everyone allowed to practice religion or magic? Historically, Pope Eugenius II ordered all bishops to establish schools in A.D. 826. This attempt at public education was to be free for the children of poor families. By the end of twelfth century boys who did not desire to become monks or priests could also attend school. The school system grew from a strictly religious training for the priesthood to educating all children, although religion was still the foundation. Creating a free school system for all classes of people is another avenue for a plot thread to follow. Would such freedom cause conflict in your fantasy world? Social distinctions, government controls and other cultural specifics will reflect in the educational system.