More than any other post upon technology, I feel a duty to this. That is because I believe there are two kinds of education, a very old one and a comparatively more recent one, and the second is in a death struggle with the first.
When an individual takes it upon his or her self to teach something to another individual, there is a decision to be made. The teacher is in a position of power; the student, in a position of vulnerability. If the teacher is the only source for that student's knowledge, the teacher's power increases considerably. The greater the number of sources for knowledge the student has, the less vulnerable the student is.
I have pedantically explained this relationship because of the manner in which education has been carried forth through the course of human events. We tend to see education as a force increasing our knowledge, and therefore the success we expect to have once we are old enough to take on the world. But we also know very well that 'education' is a methodology designed to enslave a population through the instigation of a belief system that is to be accepted unquestionably by the student throughout that student's life. To emphasize the difference between these two purposes, where I shall talk about increasing the general knowledge of the population, I shall simply write education; and where I shall talk about controlling the thoughts of the population, I shall write 'education' (with quotes) ... and in that way I hope to make things clear.
From the beginning, 'education' was initiated by the priest-kings of the ancient world. The principle issue of the day was to cement together the social levels of society in order to withstand both invading forces and natural forces. An unregimented free-thinking society is weak where it comes to defending a city or tolerating a season of famine. In-fighting results. Early cities were, by their nature, placed into a siege-mindset, and their ultimate survival was largely determined by the success of that mindset. A series of other technologies were applied through the millennia to strengthen that mindset, those that I've already spoken about: religion, literature, philosophy, music and so on. As the technological development towards mastering the thinking processes of a people were improved, it was not only a city which was directed in its thought patterns, but whole nations and ultimately empires.
The structure of 'education' is quite clear. Individuals must be taught from an early age to accept as truth those things upon which a society agrees ... or at least what a society is understood to have agreed upon. Those things are always traditional expectations for behavior; duty towards the state; duty towards the family; the expectation of sacrifice for the greater whole; the acknowledgement that there can be no other acceptable practice and - finally - the willingness to root out those persons in the society who do not play according to the 'rules': criminals, non-conformists and traitors. The last may be better defined as persons who uphold the traditions and standards of some other culture than their own.
Nothing has changed about this in 10,000 years. When Pink Floyd sings "We don't need no education," it isn't in reference to not wanting to learn how to play musical instruments or not wishing to know what's the best way to get from Fleet Street to Harrow. It is in reference to the sort of 'education' that tells me what to think and when to think it. Social constructs continue to require blind allegiance from their citizens and they always will ... for the social construct which is most viewed as infallible will most likely be the construct that outlasts its competitors who are decaying and collapsing from within. All decay and collapse must be shored up, and the shoring up is done with 'education' in the form of state religious demonstrations, the mass production of the written word, the rigidity of approved philosophy and the drum drum drum of music.
As an adult male in my late 40s, I tend to be under the delusion that I am in control of what I think, in that I believe I am free to think what I like. In reality, however, I have, since birth, been at the mercy of an emotional methodology which has had as its goal the sole purpose of guiding me towards behavior causing me to serve my role in that society. The complexity of the methodology has been, particularly in these last two centuries, brought to a level of considerable mastery. I find that I am forced to consider everyday, in an effort to wrestle with truth, whether I love my country because I have good reason, or if I love my country because it has always been presumed that I would, having been born here and raised by others who in their turn were driven to love their country. Am I a Canadian because I belong here, or am I a Canadian because I was 'educated' here? The reality that I will never be able to answer this question to my satisfaction humbles me. And of course I remember that most Canadians never feel any need whatsoever to answer this question at all. It has been answered for them, long ago, to their satisfaction. They are Canadians because they are. That is enough for them.
It is not enough for me because of the other education.
There is a tiny percentage of individuals whose presence within the system we can trace back to the increased urbanization of civilization. This urbanization created something called 'leisure' - which is not a technology, though it has had the influence of a technological revolution upon the general development. With leisure came the presence of mind to question the principles upon which the social system was founded ... and to posit other possible meanings or reasons for the existence of those social systems. In other words, to recognize that my considering myself a Canadian is more important than simply identifying with a general conceptual condition, but rather a motivating factor that coerces my behavior and acceptance of conditions in the construct of Canada. It is not intended that I question this motivation. It is intended that I act correctly. And such is the force aligned against me that if I do not act correctly, it is not only the generalized state which will oppose my behavior, but all the individuals within that generalized state. In fact, it is the other individuals themselves, who are in turn motivated correctly to behave according to the program of coercion, who will do the great work of policing that must exist in order to keep the construct coherent. The construct cannot hope to hire all the policemen needed; but the peer pressure that exists in every corner of every part of the land of my birth will most likely be sufficient to bring me back into line ... since I am also trained to fear ostracization.
The very act of questioning this arrangement, or defining it as I have tried to do so in the above paragraphs, has been given to me as an option by others who have found themselves in a similar position to myself, and who have taken the trouble to write it down. Isaac Newton said that "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." If I have a different perspective upon my role in the present social construct it is because I have had more teachers than those who were assigned to me by the state. It is a funny condition of our present social construct that the tools necessary to pull down the same construct are piled up in libraries where they can be read by most anyone. This would seem extremely foolish, except that it is well known - particularly to the sort of people who haunt libraries - that there simply aren't enough people who read books to overthrow the system. Moreover, the vast majority of people who peek behind the curtain, and meet the Powerful Oz, are more likely to ask Oz for a job turning the handles on the machine than to expose Oz to the scarecrow, the tin man and the cowardly lion ... who after all exist to be duped in every way possible.
I confess that I have seriously considered throwing in with Oz myself. It is merely a matter of perpetrating the system by telling them something I know not to be true in exchange for personal gain. It is a marvellous and reliable way to get rich.
This is not the post I had originally intended to write. Three days ago I meant to write about the rise of the university system and the circumstances of gaining knowledge through experience rather than through mentoring ... and at some point I might write that post. At any rate, this is the point that I usually step back from the description of the technology itself and discuss its influence upon D&D.
In effect, I've softened the crowd and now it's time for the dancing girls.
If you are running a medieval world, one that is pre-1000 A.D., it should be understood that the mindset of the people in that world is very, very different than your own. Even the most casual survivor of childhood in the modern Oriental or Occidental worlds has had the benefit of more than one teacher throughout their lives, and the benefit of contrary points of view. The vast proportion of inhabitants of the Medieval world HAS NOT. I cannot say that with greater emphasis. Even if an individual has been raised in an urban landscape, the understandings, beliefs and traditions of that landscape are inflexible in the extreme. If you are a dwarf in a land that does not like dwarves, you will not be liked, period. There will not be a moment when someone realizes that you're a nice person after all, there will not be a moment when they realize dwarves are people too, there will not be a moment when you are listened to or considered or treated with anything but disdain. There will be no Spielberg moments. You will be hated, from the moment you meet the first person until the moment you get the hell out of the country, or the moment when you are finally driven to slaughter every last woman and child with the aid of your dwarven buddies. And understand, when the last child spits in your eye, it will not be because you have killed its mummy and daddy, it will be because you are a dwarf.
The social construct of the medieval world was so harsh that even persons seeking education which supported the social construct were forced to seek safety and exclusion in high mountain fortresses built in such a manner that they could never be effectively sieged. The need for cohesion among every tribe, clan, band and population center was so powerfully strong that every stranger was viewed not merely as someone disliked and unwanted, but as someone that could only be a villain bent on eating the local children. If you can imagine the present social view upon child molesters, multiply it by about a hundred and then recognize that your wandering, travelling characters are seen in exactly that light.
Given this, it is a little ridiculous to assume that a member of a village would joyfully sign on with the party in order to get out of the crummy little town they live in. Having been told since birth by the only people they have ever met or heard from that the world is full of demons, giants and horrible creatures who would rather strip your flesh from your bones as soon as look at you, and then having been told that these same creatures pretend to be ordinary strangers just passing through small towns and inviting locals to come along with them for a bit o' fun, there is just no way in the world you are going to go. You're just not. You're going to run away from party characters so fast that the ground itself will brown from friction.
The Renaissance mitigates this a little ... but it is still the attitude that remote villages will have. The printing press begins to provide some alternate media view of the world beyond that given by the local clergy - but remember that it is not in the clergy's interest to let any individual from anywhere up and leave. The late Medieval age and into the Renaissance did experience a time of great difficulty for the local lords and masters due to the peasants flocking to the cities where life was potentially less work and more free thinking. But it was the second kind of education, the kind that proposed life was about things like drinking and frivolity rather than religion, that was winning out there. Hedonism has continued to be an enormous headache for the modern state ... most of the dangerous critical problems of modern life surround the state's inability to stop people from doing things they want to do: drugs, sexual promiscuity, refusal to serve in the military, the internet, etcetera. Religious 'education' did its job to keep people restrained for a long time - and it is religious education that dictates the actions and expectations of NPCs in your D&D world, not the player character's heroic visage.
Of course, the concept of a player running a 'hero' presumes that the occupants of the medieval village will view that hero with the same awe and adoration that heros now expect to be given. The one goes hand in hand with the other. And DMs will continue to run persons in their worlds as though they live in the present century because the fantasies of DMs are fantasies any person living now would have. That heroes are loved, that the world is forgiving and and respectful of all persons, that Spielberg moments can happen at any time and to anybody. For some, the fantasy world is a world that is not dangerous, ignorant or unkind. It is a fantasy. That it should be fanciful is the point.
Of course, I would fail as a pundit if I did not make the recursive point that the fantasies we are intended to have in this construct are necessarily ones which are unachievable. Unachievable fantasies contribute to the certainty of the status quo. Even in the game we are subject to the moraes of the social construct.
I am getting off the point, and I realize I need to return to background. Returning to the dominance of the church within the framework of your world: the technology of Theology was to incorporate a fantasy (redemption in the eyes of god) in order to keep the average individual's shoulder to the grindstone here on Earth. Those cultures who did not possess the Theological technology crumbled in the face of societies who adopted it. Spain, France, England, Scandinavia, Russia, central Africa and Persia all succumbed to the theology of either Christianity or Islam, since societies who accepted the theology were better able to create cohesion within by instituting the theology/'education' into the minds of their children. Faced with a superior authoritative culture, the foreign states went down one by one, ultimately converting to the one-god religions in order to continue maintaining their authority at home, as opposed to foreigner religionists imposing their authority. If your NPCs in your campaign are not run by a church of some kind, what keeps other churches from other states from simply subverting the state's authority by offering a carrot (heaven) the state cannot offer?
The newer education undermined this in its turn by recognizing the utter stupidity of a promise that cannot be proven, turning the attention of the smarter classes towards problems that could be solved through proven methods. In other words, science. Thought processes being not dependent upon social convention but upon recognizable proof. And while this different philosophical approach to thought was in existence for many centuries, it was crystallized in the writings of William of Occam and Pierre Abelard. It has since been a philosophy based not on created a construct designed to assign persons their role in the world, but a construct designed to assign the world's role in the circumstances of people's lives - with the understanding that the knowledge, and therefore the teaching of that knowledge, is not born of the philosophy, but rather employs the philosophy in order to recognize the difference between what is knowledge and what is actually bullshit.
Theology and the social construct which 'educates' the population wants to have the debate between these two approaches to reality as a philosophical one ... since philosophy, with its overtures of guilt and expectation, are the construct's weapons of choice. Science, on the other hand, which does not seek to educate the individual in the difference between moral responsibility and irresponsibility, but rather in the difference between proof and lack thereof, makes an extremely difficult target for the religionist. The religionist is concerned with ensuring that I continue to use an object for the purpose to which it was made. The scientist, without concern for the object at all, as a happenstance will make the object obsolete.
In history, the late Medieval and Renaissance era was a locked battle between a small contingent of emotionally charged individuals who fervently sought out the previously unforseen 'truth' about the universe around them and the huge contingent of social authoritarians who recognized how dangerous this was. The small contingent, by relying upon their own experience and by educating others to rely upon theirs, very much won the day against the religionists. They have not won the day against the social construct ... but that is because 'education' has enabled the creation of new technological innovations which were never conceived of by the Medieval, or even the Renaissance mind: Nationalism, Democracy, Military Tradition and Communism, just to name a few.
This probably has nothing to do with your D&D world, correct? I suppose I am trying to force you, the reader, to think with a mind that is not your own, to get into the mind of a person born in another time, who in turn was never socially obligated to the degree that you are, who in fact could never understand the nature and circumstance of your social obligation, any more than you can understand their lack of it. In short, I am arguing an impossibility. You can never roleplay a D&D character. You can only conjecture what that might have been like.
But for me it is in that conjecture that the fantasy truly lies. It forces me to discard the social norms of my own culture in favor of another. Not because the other culture is wonderful.
Because it isn't mine.