Issue 97 / January - February 2014
Childhood Education in the Anatolian Heritage
Ali Fethi Toprak
In a globalized world, some regions - like Anatolia, which could be considered a bridge from east-to-west, past-to-future, and a melting pot for different cultures and religions - could pull from their centuries-long experience in child education to help others.
Ali Fethi Toprak
Child education or training is one of the biggest challenges parents face. During the child-raising process, every parent experiences some difficulties and needs help and guidance. Therefore, many parents naturally look for resources to educate themselves on how to better raise their children.
Pedagogy, defined as the art or science of teaching, offers different educational methods and models for children's education. Some methods are so common that they are institutionalized. For example, there are about 4,000 certified Montessori schools in the United States, and about 7,000 worldwide. However, the necessity of a prepared environment and special Montessori teachers make this method available only to those who can afford it.
In addition to economic considerations, many pedagogical approaches in different countries have to balance cultural, religious, and regional considerations, so to better educate children. In a globalized world, some regions - like Anatolia, which could be considered a bridge from east-to-west, past-to-future, and a melting pot for different cultures and religions - could pull from their centuries-long experience in child education to help others.
Although most of the world only became interested in child education after the dawn of the twentieth century, there has been a long standing tradition of child education and training in Anatolia. Just as people specializing in child education today are called pedagogues, Anatolian professionals were called "m├╝rebb├«" and "murebbiye" during the Ottoman period. A m├╝rebb├«, or governess, provided great support in child training to parents, and when parents fell short or needed guidance in any respect, m├╝rebb├«s were in the immediate vicinity, available to help.
Fathers were also important figures in childhood education, and the Anatolian children were living as honorable members of society. Besides, Anatolia was an admired center for peace during this period. A Western observer, A. Ubicini (1818-1884, Lettres sur la Turquie - Letters on Turkey), made the following note in his diary on the role of the father; it is a great example of the father-model which today's pedagogy is seeking:
"I don't know of any other country where children live with so much love, care and compassion. Oddly enough, all this compassion and care is deepened in the fathers rather than mothers. It is really something to see that an Ottoman Turk holds his kid's hand and walks with him on the road on Fridays (holiday in Ottoman times) or on another holiday. He keeps his steps as small as his child's. When realizing that the child is tired, he puts him on his shoulders or let's him sit by him while he rests in a coffee house, and he speaks to him with a great compassion and care."
Understanding the roots of Anatolian pedagogy
There are studies to understand the basis of childhood education in the Anatolian model. Pedagogue Adem G├╝ne┼č provides a systematic approach called "Anatolian Pedagogy." According to his model, Anatolian Pedagogy aims to educate children in a way that is more compatible with the true human nature. It abstains from any behavior or stress that will disturb the nature of children. The nature of children is like that of plain paper. Since whatever is initially imprinted on it will remain for rest of its life, parents should aim to leave good images on this clean page.
In addition, according to Anatolian Pedagogy, a child should not be afraid to make mistakes, and parents, as much as possible, should not interfere with issues arising from childhood. Instead, mistakes should be accepted as strong and easily remembered lessons that provide a path for kids to correct themselves. Furthermore, Anatolian Pedagogy states that every child should be treated differently. Because Anatolian Pedagogy puts an emphasis on the differences of children, kids are not treated equal, but treated justly. For example, if one child is emotional while another is more social, the way parents show their love, mercy, and care should not be the same for both. Anatolian Pedagogy also implies that parents should not buy their children the same type of clothes. In addition, parents should not have the same expectations for the future education of different children.
Anatolian approach to reward and punishment
The approach of Anatolian Pedagogy to punishment is mainly shaped by the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. He educated kids not with punishment, but through mercy and compassion. Anatolian Pedagogy, thus, affirms that punishment will cause kids to lose self-esteem and will make them embarrassed. Moreover, Anatolian Pedagogy does not confirm giving rewards in order to change the unwanted behavior of kids. Thus, it aims to avoid the development of any artificial behaviors or false personalities in children.
The importance of living a child-centric life
Anatolian Pedagogy recommends that parents be tightly connected with their children. Interestingly, Anatolian Pedagogy advises parents to earn the love of their kids to avoid the common misconception that "your kids love you only because you are their parents." From this perspective, mercy and love toward children should be unconditional. Kids must become aware of this, so that they do not fall into indebtedness.
Another aspect of Anatolian Pedagogy deals with the understanding of children's emotions. Parenthood is not possible without this consideration. Parents in the Anatolian model were expected to adjust their lives according to their kid's world - to live a kid-centered lifestyle. This also includes not disturbing the biological rhythm of children. A common problem of modern times is to live fast, and this may end up meaning "living without feeling." Anatolian Pedagogy aims to prevent such carelessness.
Effect of culture on childhood education
Pedagogical advice cannot be independent from the traditions that compose a community. If cultural differences are not taken into consideration, the advice given for childhood education will be a new source of problems. The suggestions to solve similar problems in child training may even be different for families who live in the same region, but in different cities.
For instance, some habits considered as usual in a family from a metropolitan city can be unusual in a family from a rural city. If it is so different in the same country, imagine how pedagogical methods can differ from country to country? Would a German family and a British family have the same pedagogical perspectives? Could you compare the family structure and child training techniques in a French or Turkish family? In some cultures, it is essential that the child leaves his parents when he is 18, and he should be able to earn his own living, thus becoming an independent thinker who contributes to the social, economic, and intellectual welfare of the community. Under such conditions, the goal is to ensure that a child doesn't have any emotional weaknesses. From this perspective, keeping a child's emotions controlled is a positive. As a result, there are differences between this perspective and the Anatolian model.
These differences between Europe and Anatolia do not mean, "European pedagogy is bad," and, "Anatolian Pedagogy is the best." On the contrary, Europe defines its pedagogic standards by its own cultural values. European pedagogical approaches could be acceptable and valid for Europe. But if you try to apply them in Anatolia, or vice versa, they will likely be incompatible.
Each society should establish its own science of pedagogy from its own values. For this reason, pedagogical experts who understand their own cultural values should establish scientific theories for their own country and land. In the West, Piaget, Van der Horst, John Bowby, Alice Miller, and Maria Montessori have been influential; Sufi masters Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi and Yunus Emre, who are marvels of love, compassion, and peace, offer great examples of Anatolian pedagogy that could inspire the world.
Hatice Kocabas is a Psychology Student at FernUniversit├Ąt in Hagen, Germany.
Adem Gunes is the Chair of Child Education Department, Fatih University, Istanbul.
Ali Fethi Toprak is a Senior Researcher, Texas Institute of Biotechnology at North American College, Houston, TX, USA
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