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Medieval English Apprenticeship as Business Education

Medieval English Apprenticeship as Business Education

By Leverett S. Lyon

The School Review, Vol. 28, No. 8 (1920)

Introduction: If the vital relations of any business were charted, its internal and external activities might be represented as two circles impinging upon one another, with the management on the alert at the point of contact. The internal problems would arise out of the interrelations of the activities of production and distribution and of what we have been calling administration, for lack of a better name. The external problems would have to do, first, with the special public the business is concerned with, its customers, its direct and potential competitors, and the general body of labor from which it draws its workers, executives, salesmen, clerks, and factory operatives. And outside this circle, another, much larger, might be traced to indicate the relations of the business with the individuals making up the special public of the business and the members of its organization. For the attitude even of employees is affected by their social judgment of the business, its methods, and its aims.

The point of view expressed in this quotation, when applied to an ancient business curriculum, that of medieval apprenticeship, throws an interesting light on that system of business education. We have done medieval apprenticeship an injustice in conceiving it to be primarily a training in technical skill. Medieval apprenticeship attempted technical training in craft skill, but it also attempted much more. It was the institution relied upon to give candidates for membership in the guilds the ability to conduct a business in a difficult economic and social environment. It was even more. It was the institution relied upon to effect a complete social adjustment for the youths who were to become influential in town life. The support for so sweeping a statement lies largely in observing evidence upon three matters: (1) the relation of an apprentice to the craft guilds, (2) the nature of the master-craftsman’s business and social problems, and (3) the direct evidence of apprenticeship as managerial, moral, and social education.

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