Author Archives: Dr. Darrin

Issues of Early Christian Education

In this post, we will look at two issues that Christian education had to address during the period of AD 300-900. These two concerns are the debate between Christian learning and Greek thought and the teaching capacity of educational leaders.

Faith & Hellenism

With the growth of the Christian church within the Roman Empire was a corresponding tension between Christian thought and Greek philosophy. Church leaders were split over whether Christians should study Greek thought along with church teachings.

This debate continued and perhaps grew when the Christian church had firm control of education within the empire by the fourth century. In general, the divide over the inclusion of Greek thought in the education process was split between those who said avoid Greek thought and those who said embrace it.

For the anti-Greeks, they had a strong example of what happens when a Christian studies Greek teachings in the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate (331-363). Julian’s exposure to the classics of Greek thought (and Neo-Platonism) as a student, led him into outright involvement with mystery cults and magic. To further compound matters, Julian attempted to reestablish paganism as the religion of Rome before his untimely demise at the age of 32. Julian was the last emperor to openly oppose Christianity and his actions were all the evidence anti-Greek Christians had that the writings of Plato and Aristotle should be avoided.

For those who supported the study of ancient Greek writers, their argument rested in caution and temperance when reading the classics. One Christian educator warned against hating worldly sciences and that the ideas of these authors should be supplementary to scripture. Julian’s problem was an intemperate and uncritical study of Plato and his peers.

This debate over faith vs Hellenism has continued for the pass 800-900 years. However, there is not as much objection to studying secular thought as there used to be as Christian education has mostly accepted it with the strong exception of several highly controversial ideas (sexual orientation, creation, etc.).

Teaching

As time continued, monks and priests began to educate the young. Unfortunately,  the education that they provided was considered of low quality as they generally focused only on teaching the trivium (Grammar, logic, and rhetoric) in terms of knowledge. Quadrivium was rarely taught if at all.

In addition, the monks and the priest were in need of education themselves. It was common for these men of faith to a lack of a formal education in the position in which they served the church. As such, they were frequently not much ahead of the students in terms of their learning. This led to a push for formal training and education of priests and monks in the 7th and 8th centuries.

In terms of the teaching style, there was a move from the discussion-oriented style of the Greeks to a focus on memorization. This was not done simply to stifle the critical thinking of the students. Rather, the price of parchment rose drastically during this time period, which made it difficult to write things down. The only way to learn now was to memorize large amounts of material because there was no other cheap way to retain knowledge.

Conclusion

There will always be differences and issues that challenge education. The purpose is to examine how others have addressed problems in order to learn from their successes and failures. To this day, Christian leaders struggle with the role of secular thought tin the education of its members. In addition, there are still issues with the qualifications of teachers and the style of teaching tat is employed. As such, a look to the past will simply confirm that problems never change.

Moral Demands of Teaching

As with many jobs, teaching comes with a certain moral expectation. Due to their influence over children, teachers are expected to be a positive moral example for their students. Naturally, what is meant as positive has changed and morphed overtimes. This post will try to trace how the moral expectations of teaching have changed over time in the United States.

19th Century

Originally, teaching was considered temporary work for young men as they made plans to move on to better things. This led to a great deal of turnover. Horace Mann, a leading political figure of the United States at the time wanted to change this. He wanted to move away from the stern male teacher to the gentle female teacher. For the most part, Mann was successful as by the end of the 19th century about 70% of all K-12 teachers were women which is a number that is about the same today.

The switch to a primarily female teaching corp had its advantages and disadvantages. Traditionally, women were more nurturing than men were which may be a benefit for young children. Despite this, it may be possible that at least some children would benefit from the strong hand of male disciplined as portrayed stereotypically during this time period. However, women teachers could be just as itinerant as male teachers as we shall see.

Moral Demands Teaching 19th-Early 20th Century

There were many restrictions on a teacher’s behavior that people would find completely unacceptable today. For example, teachers were expected to go to church every Sunday. Not only is this a church-state violation but it is also compulsory worship in a Christian setting. This would exclude most other religions from teaching in US public schools at this time.

There were also rules against smoking, drinking, dancing, playing cards, and even loitering at ice cream parlors. Even today, few teachers would complain about restrictions for smoking and drinking on-campus but would chafe at such a restriction after hours on personal time. No dancing and play cards would be indefensible. However, during this time, dancing was associated with sexual licentiousness and playing cards was linked with gambling which were both unacceptable behaviors in Christian America. These taboos have been lost over time. Lastly, loitering at ice cream parlors is no longer a concern due to changing times but during the time of these restrictions hanging out anywhere was considered unproductive to society especially for a teacher.

There were also restrictions in terms of dating. Male teachers needed to be careful about how often they were courting women. This was probably meant to make sure that the male teacher was not a womanizer. He could court but not too often or too much. Of course, we are using the word court instead of date because technically there was no dating for teachers at least officially. The purpose of courting was for the consideration of marriage and not premarital sex.

For a female teacher, marriage meant being dismissed from her teaching job. At this time, it was not considered acceptable for a woman to work outside the home once married especially in the teaching. Whether this was fair or not is opened to debate. However, there were not all the amenities that we have today available such as childcare, washer machines, microwaves, etc. that allow a woman to have a career while supporting a home. If the wife did not stay home the home would literally have collapsed.

Changes

As values changed so did the standards for morality for teachers. Over time women were allowed to return to teaching after pregnancy with the caveat that their job was still available. Eventually, in the US, maternity leave was no longer mandatory by the 1970s. Pregnancy discrimination was also banned.

As mentioned previously, there is a stronger separation between how teachers act on an off-campus. Behaviors that used to be unacceptable such as smoking and drinking are only problems if they happen on campus during school hours. Teachers are not the only ones held to such a standard. Even police officers are expected to abstain from certain behaviors when on duty.

Conclusion

Teaching is a rewarding profession that at times can place higher standards in terms of moral behavior. Being around impressionable youth requires teachers to uphold strong moral values because of their influence. Over time, however, the behaviors that are considered moral and acceptable has changed along with the moral expectations of teachers.