Some thoughts on the Comitatus as an Educational Model

     Based on my understanding of the comitatus through Germanic literature, it is my opinion that the comitatus relationship of the early medieval Germanic war-band can serve as an ideal model for an educational setting. The comitatus consists of a lord and his thanes, and in its original form already included an element of teaching when it came to pertinent skills. The lord was usually the most experienced among the band and doubtless passed his experiences and learning to his men. In the comitatus, the lord is obliged to generously compensate the thanes, to provide not only their means but also the leadership that could ideally drive them on to wealth, fame, and glory. This position, executed properly also commanded much respect and dedication. A thane in this system is obliged to serve his lord dutifully. He must provide for the lord in situations martial and non-martial, pledging his skills and strengths to the service of the lord. This position, executed correctly, also commands a great deal of respect; a lord that is pleased with a thane praises him and increases his generosity accordingly. This system creates a close-knit band that is beneficial to both lord and thane. In its simplest form it can be applied to the educational system rather easily. A professor or teacher plays the part of the lord in the relationship, leading the students toward their educational goals as the lord would lead his thanes to glory. The professor/teacher has wisdom, experience, attention, and praise to deal out, much like the original lords, but needs not provide monetarily for the students. The generosity of the professor/teacher is a matter of attention, effort, and information. The professor/teacher pledges to provide the students both with raw information, and explanation, experience, personal time, and leadership to aid the student in reaching his/her educational goals. One may misconstrue the system, and think it one-sided, but the student has reciprocal responsibilities to the professor/teacher. The student first pledges their time and effort to the professor/teacher toward the execution of their educational duties, i.e. reading, homework, research, attendance, etc. Furthermore, the student pledges to maintain proper respect for the professor/teacher and their wishes in the course. When the students uphold these pledges, they learn more and become more proficient, and gain a respect for their professor/teacher, not only gaining recognition for themselves, but also for the professor/teacher and his/her program(s). This can lead to increased enrollment in the professor/teacher's classes, further to increased funding, and, at its most effective, perhaps to elevated social status for the professor/teacher. In this way the students' pledge and learning not only appeals to the teacher's sensibilities, but also truly compensates them for their effort on a large scale. This may be over-extending the logical effect, but one can see how the educational comitatus system can ideally create the same mutually beneficial relationship one finds in the Germanic martial comitatus of the early middle ages. I worry, however, that it may be not be possible to engender the great respect and sense of duty from all parties that this system requires.

Erich Campbell

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