The Changing Meaning of School

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Since Shakespeare’s time at least, children have been portrayed as being reluctant to go to school:

…the whining school-boy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. —As You Like It, II:vii,148-150.

That’s a sad fate for school, a word that originated in the context of enjoyable leisure time.

Our word school comes from Latin schola, “learned leisure.” Schola was free time during which educated men could sit around and talk about ideas. The talk might lead to lecturing and arguing, so from meaning “free time for talking about ideas,” schola came to mean debate, dispute, lecture, dissertation.

More and more definitions were added. A schola could be “a place where learned disputations are carried on.” Then, the followers of a favorite lecturer or philosopher were called “a schola.”

Note: School in the expression “a school of fish” derives from Middle Dutch schole, “flock of animals.”

In modern English, school has numerous meanings and occurs in several idioms.

School can mean any of the following:

An establishment or institution for the formal education of children or young people.

The building or set of buildings used by a school.

A place, environment, experience, etc., which forms or develops a person’s character or behavior.

A group of people who follow or are influenced by the teaching of a particular person, or who share similar principles, ideas, or methods.
A group of people who share a particular opinion, practice, or custom.

A particular type of doctrine or practice as followed by a group of people.

An institution in which instruction of a particular kind is given.

A department in a college or university.

Here are a few examples of these different uses:

A painting of Mary Stuart by an unknown artist of the School of Clouet hangs at the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

Spenser earned his degree in the school of hard knocks, so he is ready when a Boston university hires him to recover a rare, stolen manuscript.

You have to understand, he’s definitely old school when it comes to understanding different cultures.

This is a discussion of Marxism-Leninism as a school of thought as opposed to a political practice.

The Colorado School of Mines Board of Trustees announced that Paul C. Johnson is the finalist for president of Colorado School of Mines.

The Missouri School of Journalism at University of Missouri in Columbia is a journalism school which may be the oldest formal journalism school in the world.

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