Stearns on Education

Education is a major theme dispersed throughout Stearns full length book, Childhood in World History. Though mentioned sporadically through different sections of his book, I think what Stearns is trying to get at with education boils down to three main chronological themes. Firstly, how religion sparked the rise of importance of education. Secondly, the idea that children are the future led to the shift of children moving from the workplace into the classroom. Thirdly, stemming from the previous two revelations, a newfound obligation was born for parents to promote academic achievement and thus provide a solid, well-rounded education for their children.

Religion and Education

In Stearns chapter regarding childhood in the classical civilizations, he brings up how religion, Confucianism in specific, began to place an emphasis on education. At the time education was accessible largely by the upper class rather than the lower class, though in some special cases certain talented boys or girls may have received training from “an upper-class sponsor.” Regardless of class, Confucianism made it “clear that moral as well as academic instruction was essential.”

World religions began to push for a more formal religious education. This religious “surge,” as Stearns calls it, was unprecedented. The result was “a redefinition of what education was about” and “an impulse to spread elements of education more widely that had been the case in the classical centuries.” World religions attempted to bridge the gap between children and their spirituality while simultaneously promoting literacy and the importance of education.

From the Workplace to the Classroom

Stearns identifies three fundamental changes that have contributed to what we now know as modern childhood. His first and most essential change “involves the conversion of childhood from work to schooling.” In earlier western societies that were more agriculturally centered, the child was looked at to work and help provide for his or her family. Children receiving an education began to gain increasing value. A proper and well-rounded education was deemed necessary in order to be a positive contributor to society. Children were no longer children; they were future adults. They were viewed as the future. “The child is the object of state upbringing.” The amount of children attending school all across the globe skyrocketed. Not only were children going to school, but they were going to school longer, through high school and even college. “This was a real conversion: childhood now meant schooling, above all.”

A Parent’s Obligation

As the role of education changed and gained increasing prominence, the natural responsibilities of being a parent changed as well. Education evolved from being a luxury enjoyed by the upper-class to a universally acknowledged necessity. Slowly but surely, “growing numbers of middle- and even lower-middle-class parents began to send children to at least a year or two of secondary school.” In the West, the education of females became more common due to the notion that, “in a modern society, mothers must be educated in order to raise their children properly.” As children began to be looked at as the keys to the future rather than simple emotionless objects, education became a fundamental and essential part of life.

 

 

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