PRESENTING: TOM TEHAN
I am a doctoral student in the Foundations of Education. Foundations includes such fields as history of education, philosophy of education, history of childhood, anthropological studies of education, and religious studies of education. Foundations is a synthetic discipline that assumes education is a life-long process and takes place in the whole realm of human experience. Schooling forms a subset of our education.
Ten years ago I had never heard of Foundations. I received a Masters in linguistics and was almost ready for my doctoral exams in it. However, I found linguistic research (as I then conceived of it) too narrow and specialized for me to write a dissertation in. So I took various courses at the University of Kansas while I continued teaching English as a second language. When I took a course on the History of Childhood and Youth in the USA, my interest was ignited. I eventually decided to enter the Ph.D. program because so many of the courses allowed me to examine my assumptions about childhood and education. I would often come home from a lecture, take out my notes, and discuss them with my wife.
I have always been a person who wanted not to specialize in one discipline but to integrate several disciplines so as to avoid “knowing more about less and less.” (I realize now I could have approached this position from anthropological linguistics.) I have had to take the traditional education courses in curriculum, psychology, and statistics. However, most of my courses have been in history and philosophy. My research has regularly employed historical, linguistic, and anthropological methods.
My dissertation is titled, Children as Depicted in the New Testament. My question is, “How did the adults who wrote the New Testament conceive of children?” I have scanned historical surveys for clues of how Roman, Greek, and Jewish children were raised and what conditions shaped their experiences. I have also studied over 100 Greek words that were used in the New Testament to refer to children and attitudes toward them. At the moment, I am employing these findings to examine the thirty or forty most important passages that relate to children in the New Testament. The conclusion of the dissertation will discuss the implications of my findings for parents, schools, and society.
I see this study as foundational for education according to biblical standards — whether that education includes home, private, or public schooling. I would like to go on and do similar studies employing the Old Testament or other religious writings. I would also like to explore not only the context of childhood but direct statements about education as well. I hope to finish and defend my dissertation around Christmas time, 1985.
Some interesting findings so far: (1) The Old Testament gives all responsibility for education to the parent. However, by the time of the New Testament, the Hebrews had found it necessary to institute a form of compulsory elementary through “college” schooling for all believers because of the failure of parents to educate children. From about seven years of age, all boys spent a couple of hours a day during certain times of the year learning reading and the scriptures. It was assumed that this would complement parental instruction. (2) All children were required to learn a trade as an insurance against poverty, but this training did not take place at school. (3) Roman boys were usually trained by accompanying their fathers everywhere after they had learned the basics of reading and polite behavior.
Some of my suggestions for future research: (1) Many times in history home schooling has been necessary. However, regularly societies have gone through a pattern of establishing colleges, then secondary schools, and then elementary. Often the schools were then legislated to be compulsory. I would like to see studies examining many societies and why home schooling was abandoned in them. What kinds of problems necessitated it? I suspect that it often involved more sociological problems than schooling ones. For instance, our American school system is largely a result of the ruling class wanting to assimilate the “non-American” immigrant and lower classes to the “proper” way of life. At the time of the New Testament the concern was that children were being assimilated into pagan culture, so the solution was uniform instruction in the Hebrew scriptures. In the first several centuries of the earlier church, Christians saw no need to develop a school system; why?
(2) I would also like to see home schooling research focus on a total veiw of education and investigate total socialization and identity acquisition for children. I feel confident that research would vindicate homes as the better place to develop not only scholarly skills but also such important qualities as personality, maturity, values, and initiative.
– Tom Tehan
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