#WBW – Back to School (Building)!

Hey world-building frens!

Welcome back. Today’s post is a late one, mostly on account of being busy and some poor time management on my part, but better late than never. I guess?

We’re digging deep down in our exploration of institutions this fortnight with a post all about education. Whether you’re designing the next Star Fleet or the next Hogwarts, having a realistic education system will go a long way in helping you flesh out a relatable world for your audience.

I usually stick to referencing well-known and published fiction on this blog, but in a fit of what could either be self-indulgence or a rare burst of self-confidence, I’ve decided to break down today’s topic using some examples from the world I’ve been building in my fantasy novels. (Apologies in advance, because there are a lot less pretty pictures than usual as a result!)

I hadn’t read this awesome article by sociologist Hannah Emery when I created the various magical education systems in the setting for my novel, I found it later on when I started looking up cool world building resources and building this blog, but after I read it, I found the pointers in it really useful during my editing process, in guiding me to create the kind of magical academies and institutions I wanted.
One point from Emery really struck home with me, and I think it’s an important question when you’re building any institution in your world, but it’s definitely essential when it comes to education.

You need to figure out the function of your school within its society.

Once you understand the role your school is going to fulfill, a lot of the other elements fall into place.

Making it fit for my world

When I created my setting, I wanted each nation to have a different attitude towards magic. These diverging opinions on how magic should be used in society are an important facet of my plot. How each nation teaches and practices magic needed to be a reflection of their opinion of it to help me create the narrative I wanted to.
I’m going to try and break down how I showed these varying cultural opinions through education by talking about two of the school’s in my world.
The first is the Academy of the Arcane located in the Delfin region, and the second is the Temples of the Hours, in the city of Ry’Shar.

The Academy of the Arcane

The Delfin’s are part of the Eastern continent, and unlike the Ry’Shari who live across the sea, they hold a much more conservative view of magic.
While the Ry’Shari see magic as both a gift and a part of everyday living, the people of the Delfin’s believe magic can be a dangerous and corruptible force and it’s practice should be limited to a few highly trained and specialized individuals.
Delfin’s Arcane Academy is a private institution. It’s not affiliated with the crown of Delfilia or any of the principalities that fall under the Delfin banner. It was established independently centuries ago, after King Castellan the First issued a decree that magic should exist and be taught independent of the crown to prevent it ever being misused by a ruler against his subjects.
It’s focus is primarily on magic, although it also teaches all of its students basic mathematics, political history, foreign and ancient languages and some engineering and architecture. The first two years encompass this generalist program. After this, young wizards choose to specialize in a particular field of magical study and produce a thesis type document. This secondary period can last anywhere between 5 and 8 years, depending on how gifted the student.
Aside from being the only institution in the world to offer an in-depth specialist program in particular schools of magic, the Academy’s research is also renowned, and it’s graduates considered the cream of the magical crop, with many serving in sought after positions throughout the world in the courts of royalty and nobility.
This reputation has been cultivated thanks to a strict tradition of gatekeeping. While the school is open to students from all over the world, only the very best and most talented mages are accepted, and the application must be made on a student’s behalf by a member of Delfin’s nobility or it’s foreign equivalent.

The Temples of the Hours 

The western continent of Ry’Shar has a much more relaxed attitude towards magic, but their arcanists also tend not to perform the same kind of wild, magical miracles as their cousins in the East.
Ry’Shar’s magical system, much like it’s education system, is heavily tied up within the religious beliefs of their culture. To the Ry’Shari, the hours of the day represent a facet of the Gods, and each person is born with a sacred duty to listen to the spirits who serve the Gods and act out their will.
As a result, The Temples of the Hours were created. Unlike the Academy, they don’t have such a strict focus on magic, and instead all manner of skills are taught.
Each temple has a different focus, and teaches different skills.
The Temple of Dawn and Dusk focuses on teaching fundamental life skills; how to tell healing herbs from poisonous ones, orienteering, healing both with and without magic, cooking dinner without burning it, etiquette in public situations, entertaining, art and music. The Temple of First Light focuses more on combat, strategy and politics. The Temple of the High Sun focus on art and culture too, although more in a historical sense. They also focus on mathematics, architecture and public policy. The last temple, the Temple of the Long Night, teaches the secret arts of alchemy, and how to create potent potions and poisons, as well as focusing on more on stealth and surprise combat that the Temple of First Light’s training.
In Ry’Shar, children are enrolled in them at the tender age of 5. Most children rotate through the different branches of the hours, learning different general and specialist skills until they feel the call to a particular path. Then they enter into that branch as an acolyte, and receive further training in magic, healing, combat and other specialist fields.
As they are public institutions, everyone is equal within the temples, and even the rulers of Ry’Shar attend classes in their youth and fraternize freely with the other citizens, regardless of their birth rank. This helps to foster a great sense of camaraderie between the ruling royal family and the people who live in the city.

Some final words

When you’re creating the schools and education systems in your world, spend some time thinking about how the different schools you’ve attended influenced your life. What changed when you moved from elementary school to high school? What were your first impressions of your University if you attended one, and how did you feel about it when you left? Your own experiences of an institution can provide a really rich source of inspiration for creating places of education in your world.
Do a little bit of research into how education’s evolved in our world. There’s a nice abridged history of modern, Western education in Emery’s article, but look further afield and see how the systems we’ve created to learn have developed over time. Look at how education works under different systems of government, and use this knowledge to help work out the purpose your school has in both your world and your story!
I hope having a little look at my two schools can provide some help when it comes to building your own!
I don’t talk about my own writing a lot, but I’m also keen to connect with other writers and world-builders! If you want to talk shop, don’t be afraid to drop me a line!
Until next time, happy world building my dudes!