The child and childhoods.
This essay will discuss the differing historical and sociological views of childhood in the UK. It will identify and evaluate relevant theoretical perspectives and research. As this subject is very extensive, it will focus on the two key areas of education and child protection and how through the ages these areas have evolved. These key areas will be discussed and explored.
Historically, it is important to understand how children are perceived and how they live. Also, to gain an understanding of the social constraints, which children have had, over the centuries. Opinions of children and how they are perceived may differ from person to person and has changed over time.
“Today, children have few responsibilities, their lives are characterised by play not work, School, not paid labour, family rather than public life and consumption instead of production”. http://www.open2.net/theinventionofchildhood/culturalchildhoods.html (2/12/09).
Historians are divided in their ideas of what constitutes ‘childhood’. Aries, De Mause and Stone believe there have been changes throughout time, whereas, Pollock, O Day and Abbott state that there is a ‘continuity’ of childhood. Pollock (1983) argues “even if children were regarded differently in the past, this does not mean they were not regarded as children”. (Morss, J. The several social constructions of James, Jenks and Prout. A contribution to the sociological theorization of childhood. International journal of children’s rights.2002-01. Vol. 10. No. 1, pp 39-54). In the past it was thought children were all the same, a ‘universal’ or ‘normal’ child. Later research, into child health and welfare has identified these misconceptions of childhood.
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These changes in the opinions of what childhood is, has been researched by social scientists and termed ‘social construction’, which regards how- children, in different societies are not all the same. The expectations put on them are also different. A pre conceived idea is that children in the UK may be seen to be dependent and incompetent, whereas in other parts of the world children have many responsibilities and are expected to cope with on a daily basis. However, just because children can, does not mean they should.
Sociology is the study of human societies, providing an understanding of the society in which we live. The sociology of childhood is affected by outside influences such as family, health, income, education, political issues and the environment. Through studying the sociology of childhood, the essay will give an understanding of how, through interaction, children may be influenced and how society as a whole portrays and puts constraints on children. Sociological research methods include observations, interviews and statistics.
According to Article 1 of the UN Convention, on the Rights of the child, (Adopted by the UN in 1989 and ratified by the UK in 1991).
“A child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.”
Childhood is defined as “The state of being a child; the time in which persons are children; the condition or time from infancy to puberty”.
In the period prior to medieval times, there was considered to be no childhood, research has found little importance was given to children in this Era. Children were exploited and maltreated. In the middle ages, the Christian church portrayed children to be innocent and pure. They were pictured wearing white and seen as having the potential to be corrupted by the adult world. Other views of children regarded them to be evil, and wicked. Children were seen as adults and needing to work during the middle ages because of poverty. However, the middle classes were better off and less children needed to work. (Maynard, T. And Thomas, N. Early Childhood Studies: 2nd Ed. Sage (2009))
During the 12th Century moralists claim that children should be nurtured, whereas social reformers considered children should be segregated from adults. According to Aries, childhood did not exist in the 15th Century. (Jenks, C. Childhood. 2nd Ed. Routledge. (2005)). Aries states later children were used as a source of entertainment for adults, and were a form of relaxation. The 16th Century was seen as a time for ‘coddling’ children.
Between the 16th and 18th Centuries, in the enlightenment period, children were seen to require discipline, care and protection. This was the age of growth in world trade. Bigger houses were built with more room. Children began to have privacy and were therefore beginning to be treated differently. In the 1870’s institutions such as Barnardos were created, children who were sleeping on roofs or in gutters were able to gain a basic education. In wartime, parents were encouraged to condition their children through regimented patterns of sleep and feeding to help with rationing and indulgence. (Brooks, L. Story of Childhood. ). Children were sent to work in textile mills, where conditions were dangerous and unhealthy. (Maynard). The Victorian view of children, according to Dickens, was that society ‘brutalised’ children through child labour and neglect and boys and girls were treated differently.
20th Century views focus on emotional relationships children have with adults. Parents were told to trust their own instincts and have fun with their children. ‘Child- Centric Care’ as defined by Spock and Leach (Brooks: 9). However, with more freedom for children came with it the parental concerns surrounding their fears and anxieties for their offspring. “Childhood today in Britain is recognisable as the childhood established for working class children at the turn of the 20th Century”. (Brooks: 11). With advances in technology and the increased knowledge of tragic events that are happening to children seen on the news, parents are becoming more protective of their children.
Postman (Disappearance of Childhood 1994) states “childhood is disappearing at a dazzling speed”. He argues that with children able to watch the same television programmes as adults and use of internet sites not solely for children, childhood is merging with adulthood. He states that children can dress in the same clothes and have been given the same rights as adults. Children are seen to be committing the same crimes such as rape and murder. In research from the BBC ‘Child of our time’, children are seen to access information but use it differently to adults.
Therefore the new sociology of childhood sees the child as “active agents, who construct their own cultures and contribute to the production of the adult world” (Sociology of Childhood. Corsaro, W. 2nd Ed. London. (2005)).
It is important to discuss the pioneers of childhood education and sociology.
John Locke, a behaviourist (1632-1704) believed the child to be an ’empty vessel’. (Empiricism) His views on education linked with human understanding. He believed through experiences children were able to reason and learn. He argues the curriculum should meet the child’s level of understanding through play and learning skills.
John Locke (1632-1704) http://social.jrank.org/pages/375/Locke-John-1632-1704.html#ixzz0YhMGlTbT(4/12/09)
Rousseau, a maturationist (1712-1778) in his novel Emile (1762) states that children should be given the freedom to express themselves and teachers should nurture children. He believed children to be ‘pre programmed’. (Nativism) The child should lead and the adult should observe. (Bruce 2005).
“Everything is good in leaving the hands of the Creator of Things; everything degenerates at the hands of man”. (Rousseau, 1762)
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) believed children were born with knowledge to interpret information from the world. He states children are active learners.
Pestalozzi (1746-1827) believed that education should be child centred.
Piaget, a cognitive theorist (1886-1980) describes the social construction of a child as using experiences to build on their knowledge. Children he believed have to work through stages to develop their cognitive skills.
Vygotsky, a constructivist (1896-1934) believed children learnt by watching others and social interactions. His ‘zone of proximal development’ describes the importance of recognising what the child knows and their capacity to extend their knowledge.
Froebel (1782-1852) believed in the mothers role in nurturing her children was of utmost importance, arguing that if mothers had to work it would affect the child’s development. He described the need for a planned curriculum which was taught by trained teachers.
Montessori (1870-1952) believed children should be guided in their development and education. She states children should be subjected to real life experiences and not play and given a clear formal structured curriculum.
Steiner (1861-1925) believed children developed through spiritual stages, concentrating on mind, body and spirit. Schools were linked with factories, much like today’s workplace nurseries. He states children should have a child focused curriculum, which highlights today’s unique child approach to planning.
Susan Isaacs () believed in observing children and allowing them to problem solve and think for themselves, opposing Piagets theory that children were unable to reason up to a certain age. In her school ‘Malting House’ she encouraged independence and self assertiveness. She believed that children could learn about real life experiences through role play. She regarded play as a tool for exploration.
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Robert Owen established the first school for infants in 1816, in New Lanark, Scotland. Children between the ages of 1-10 years attended and were seen as contented and happy. They were nurtured by good role models of equal numbers of male and female teachers. Owen did not believe in physical punishment. An importance was put on music singing and dance. Children were given ‘free flow’ education. It was a time of Industrial development. The areas of learning consisted of outdoor, social skills and industrial needs. (McLeod, I. Early Years Care and Education ). The Foundation Stage as we know it today could be seen as a tribute to Owen’s work.
Margaret McMillan (1860-1931), who was influenced by Froebel, created open air nurseries, which concentrated on the importance of the health and well being of children. Her schools were large and there was free flow access to garden areas. Children were given health checks and received free school meals. She believed in the community and actively involved parents, who were encouraged to be a part of the schools, much like the ‘wrap around care’ available today. She believed the natural end of childhood was at age 7. This corresponds with the end of infant education in England and Scotland today.
Little emphasis was given to children’s education from the ages of 3-5 years.
Froebel, Montessori and Steiner all agree that childhood is a ‘phase of life’ and the child’s strengths should be built upon. They argue that self esteem and emotional well being leads to success. (Bruce, T. Early Childhood Education, 3rd Ed. Hodder Education. (2005)).
Education has evolved from 6th Century teaching by monks and priests, to the extensive curriculum that is available today. Charity schools taught the three ‘R’s. Acts of Parliament have had effects on education throughout the centuries. As the country grew in the Industrial Revolution new ideas developed with regard to educating children, and childhood itself. The 19th Century saw the introduction of Elementary schools, class sizes were large and made education available for 5-10 year olds. In 1900 50% of 3 and 4 year olds attended nursery. (Anning, A. Cullen, J. And Fleer, M. Early Childhood Education: Society and culture. Sage: (2004)). Whereas the main source of education for the working classes was through Sunday schools. Children were seen to develop through the stages of nursery, infant, junior and secondary. Boys and girls were separated and taught different subjects. Girls learnt how to become ‘domestic’ and be ‘feminine’ and boys learnt woodworking.
Education has evolved over the last few Centuries. In the middle ages boys attended Grammar schools where punishment was severe. By the 15th Century, a third of the population could read and write. The 16th Century schools were called ‘petty schools’ where boys attended from 6 in the morning until 5 at night, for 6 days a week. The boys who were brighter went on to Oxford or Cambridge Universities. In the 17th and 18th Centuries the upper classes had private tutors. Boarding schools emerged for girls who learnt writing, music and needlework. The 19th Century saw the concepts of education through Froebel and Montessori. Upper class girls were taught by governesses, and boys attended Public schools. In 1880 education was compulsory, and 1891 saw the abolishment of fees. Children attended schools until the age of 12 in 1889. Schools were structured and included sport and games which were intended to provide competitiveness, negotiation and to enable children to mix with each other. (Brooks: 140). The 20th Century brought the minimum leaving age for compulsory schooling to 14. During the war years working class children attended elementary schools, middle classes attended Grammar schools and the upper classes attended public schools. The school leaving age was 15 in 1947 and this was again raised to 16 in 1972. The 1944 Education Act saw the introduction of the 11 plus, children went on to Grammar schools if they passed this exam and secondary modern schools if they were to fail. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s schools became Comprehensives.
During the conservatives reign in Government from 1979-1997, a childhood study in 1994 re emphasised the importance of family, as did the Labour Party in 1997. Parents now had a choice which schools they wanted their children to attend.
The Education Act of 1988, developed the National Curriculum, and its four key stages. It involves the key subjects of English, Maths and Science, along with nine other non core subjects. At this time there has been much political intervention with Education. The values of society including non discriminatory and equality are highlighted, with schools including citizenship within their curriculum.
Education has progressed greatly and Beacon schools have emerged which have been identified from their excellent teaching skills and used to help improve the performance of teaching in neighbouring schools.
Also Early Excellence Centres have been created.
“The early excellence centre (EEC) programme is part of the Government’s broader strategy for raising standards, increasing opportunity, supporting families, reducing social exclusion, improving the health of the nation and addressing child poverty.”
The Government has introduced Sure start Children’s centres, where children and families can access Early Years provision as well as services such as health and childcare support. By 2010 every community will be served by a children’s centre to ensure every child gets the best start in life. Incentives for reading have seen the introduction of ‘bookstart’, run by the national charity booktrust, which gives free packs of books to babies and young children through organisations such as pre schools and libraries. Since April 2006 children aged 3 and 4 have been given free entitlement of 12.5 hours for early years education, in accordance with the governments 10 year strategy. It offered greater choice for parents as well as emphasising the need to create high quality provision with a professional highly qualified workforce. The free entitlement has since been increased to 15 hours and has seen the introduction of funding for 2 year olds.
Al Aynsley Green England’s first Children’s commissioner 2005 who heads the governments 10 year strategy has been criticised for spending £93,000 to rebrand the name. The Daily Mail reported in May 2007 that the new name ’11 million’, (which was used to describe the 11 million under 18 year olds in England), was a waste of money which could have been spent looking after children. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-456358/The-childrens-champion-baffling-change-cost-93-000.html (8/12/09)
This essay has discussed the changes historically and sociologically with regard to childhood and education, another key issue to be discussed will be child protection.
Child abuse has only been recognised as something children should be protected from in the last century. Children were neglected, exploited and treated cruelly. Schools used corporal punishment and parents physical punishments because they thought they knew what was best for the child. Children were subject to harsh child labour in factories. In 1883 the Liverpool Prevention of cruelty to children society was formed and in 1894 London had formed a society too. The NSPCC formed in 1889, and the ‘Children’s Charter’ was produced which permitted the intervention of the law between parents and children. It also permitted the police to arrest anyone found ill treating a child.
De Mause in 1994 states:
“the further back in history one goes, the lower the level of childcare and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized and sexually abused”(Corsaro).
However, Pollock In her book Forgotten Children, is critical of theorists, stating they show a distorted view of child neglect. She uses diaries, newspapers and autobiographies in her research, which can however, be seen to be indicative of the upper classes lives and conditions only.
Deaths like Victoria Climbie, who tragically died through child abuse in 2000, have prompted the government to make changes to child protection procedures. Social workers, police and doctors had all been in contact whilst the abuse had been going on, however the child protection system had failed. The enquiry into her death was performed by Lord Lamming, Chief Inspector of social services.
Certainly there were changes. There was an increased importance placed on education; the increasing segregation of male and female spheres within education; children were maintained at school longer; apprenticeships were lasting longer; there was an increase in the importance of early religious instruction; child baptism lost its immediate-significance; swaddling becoming less widely used, and into the eighteenth century there was a decline in the practice of wet nursing. However, these changes are largely external changes. They tell us little about the way the “experience” of child rearing changed, if it did, during this period. Arguably, the more fundamental aspects of child-rearing, such as whether or not there was an emergence of a “concept of childhood” in this period, whether there was a growing intimacy between parents and children, and whether or not parental discipline became more severe, can only be speculated upon.
The United Nations announced the International Year of the Child in 1979, which highlighted problems children were subjected to including poverty and well being. The UNICEF report found the UK to be the bottom third in five of the six categories.
In sociology there are different levels macro, meso and micro. The individual level also represents one person. Micro level societies are families, schools and church groups. Within each of these societies are other smaller micro levels. It is the daily interactions of people. The meso level, (middle), are neighbourhoods and communities. The macro level is the largest level and includes the society and population as a whole. It includes economy, government and religion. At the basis of society is the individual.
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