Similarly, modern law reflects adult authority consistently dictating the reality of childhood, as when the Supreme Court upheld in a 1976 ruling a minor’s right to an abortion. The Court asserted here that constitutional rights are by no means denied minors (Fass, Grossberg, 2012, p. 26). This of itself, however, reflects a kind of disregard for the state of childhood because it sets aside the critical element of extreme youth as requiring guidance. It prematurely establishes adult parameters on youth, a social tendency long in place, as witnessed by the vast rise in employment of school-age children during the Civil War (Lassonde, 1996, p. 844). Plainly, childhood has historically never been the province of children.
My thinking here has been further enhanced by recent readings and experiences, all of which go to reinforcing what I perceive as an historical emphasis on using childhood to mold desirable adult conduct and contributions. On one level, becoming acquainted with children’s museums and the increasing global emphasis on education sways me to noting a shift from traditional efforts to shape children. The museums seek to engage the child on their own terms, just as nations ranging from Cambodia to Mexico are today rigorously focusing on providing education for their children and improving opportunities for the poor (EAMR, 2008, p. 28). Nonetheless, these efforts inevitably translate the childhood experience into adult terms, or adult potentials. The future welfare of the child is inextricably linked to the maturing of the child, which further reflects societal agendas to develop only that which is of value to the societies.
As we read the accounts of historians, anthropologists, philosophers, and sociologists, this note of an ultimate utility is continually sounded. For example, Early American Puritanism appears to reflect English attitudes toward children dating to the 15th century, in that the child was perceived to be, and treated as, a “scaled-down adult” (Beales, 1975, p. 380). The sooner the child may take on adult behaviors and thinking, in plain terms, the better. There have been eras, certainly in Western cultures, in which a kind of awe has been held regarding the state of childhood as innocent and consequently good, as the later decades of the 20th century in the United States reflect such an exaltation of the child. Even here, however, it may be seen that the motive is more to revere a state inherently fleeting, than to actually esteem childhood as a valid phase of existence unto itself. In all the readings, then, do I feel myself supported in holding that, all things considered, childhood is not for children chiefly because adults dictate how the period of life is to be lived.
Beales, R. W. (1975). “In search of the historical child: Miniature adulthood and youth in colonial New England.” American Quarterly, 27 (4), 379-398.
Education for All Monitoring Report (EAMR). (2008). Selections; Mason, 2005; Maurás, 2011.
Fass, P. S., & Grossberg, M. (2012). Reinventing Childhood: After World War II. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Kett, J. F. (2003). “Reflections on the History of Adolescence in America. The History of the Family, 8(3), 355-373.
Lassonde, S. (1996). “Learning and earning: schooling, juvenile employment, and the early life course in late nineteenth-century New Haven.” Journal of Social History 29 (4), 839-870