Education in ancient Mexico began at home. There were ancestral traditions related to the upbringing of children because education was very important to our Old Grandparents. Among the many treasures of education, we find the one called Huehuetlahtolli – the old word – zealously transmitted from generation to generation that taught ancient wisdom and rituals. For instance, when a girl reached adolescence, the mother would instruct the following:
My daughter, precious bead of gold and fine feathers,conceived in womb. Blood of my blood made into myimage, pay attention to what I am going to tell you. Youhave reached the age of discernment and discretion: godthe creator has given you the use of reason, the abilityto understand the meaning of worldly matters. You knowthat in this world there is no true rest nor pleasure; there is,however, beside work and affliction, poverty.You are noble, generous and considerate. A maiden sculptedlike a precious stone, a sapphire, but of noble blood, descendantof a generous family. Take care you never be ashamed ofyourself. Never participate in vile and dishonorable acts that bring shame and effrontery to your family and to our ancestors.My daughter, what I have told you, let it be your doctrine. What Ihave just done in front of the gods, was my duty; to teach younever to forget your blood, who you are. You now take charge.Oh, my beloved daughter, my first born, my dove, may you beblessed with peace and fortunate to attain rest.In a similar manner, when a boy attain adolescence, his father took him aside and said to him during a feast prepared in his honor:My beloved son, please pay attention to my words and takethem into your heart because they were left to us by ourancestors: wise old men and women. They came into this worldto teach us and warn us to keep their teachings. Their teachingsare to be kept, like precious jewels and gold in coffers, because their words are like precious stones polished with advice and wisdom.Live your life well, without blemish of any kind. Be perfect like theprecious stones called chalchuites – sapphires – and like fine and
There were, in Ancient Mexico, three great institutions of education. The first one was called Telpochcalli – boarding house - where seven year old children were prepared
to enter, harmoniously, into society. There was a school for boys and another for girls where they were taught how to be citizens and learn the rules of their society. They also learned, history, religion, language and the secrets of astronomy. In this manner, their identity and wisdom of their culture became valuable tools to live with family and society. The old Grandparents considered community life more important than the life of an individual, therefore, the children were taught from an early age, the spirit of community and service to others. The Telpochcalli, like all education in ancient Mexico, was free and obligatory.
In the evening, boys and girls gathered at the Cuicallai – second learning institution. This was a cultural center that taught them all forms of art; like dancing, singing, how to play instruments, painting, poetry and oratory. These were taught with the aim to develop individual talent, polish and refine manners and be sensitive art appreciators.
The third educational institution was called Calmecac. This instruction was reserved for those leaving the Telpochcalli and wished to continue with their education. At this third level, they were trained as teachers, administrators, government officials and priests. It was here, that leaders were born to form groups to continue to preserve civil and cultural laws that lasted for more than 7,500 years.
In the XVI century, when the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, they were surprised to find that there were no children who could not attend school. The schools were self- sufficient. The Taltocan – supreme government council – provided great portions of arable land to all the schools. The teachers till the land, planted crops and harvested them for their own sustenance, at the same time, they taught the children the importance of agriculture. The schools counted with the support of committees called cuadrillas. These looked after the construction of public buildings and their upkeep. In an all girl school, the children were educated in millenary traditions in the art of cooking, embroidery, spin cotton, use the loom, raise children, look after domestic animals like the turkey, Xoloescuicle – a type of edible dog – cochineal insects- for dyeing cotton- use edible and medicinal plants, to sew garments, keep house and how to be a good wife.
The purpose of education in ancient Mexico was to "form our own faces and true hearts," because through education our Old Grandparents could transfer continuity in their society. A good example of this is the sacred place of Monte Alban, founded by the Zapotecs, 500 years before the Christian era. This city was not built by slaves forced to work under the rule of a tyrant lord; on the contrary, it represents the work of thirteen centuries of a community joined by enthusiasm and faith, as the result of an excellent system of education. It was abandoned in the IX century after the birth of Christ. This era embraces more than 1,300 years of cultural and spiritual knowledge of the people. It is a rich heritage that continues to be alive today.