The Concept of Child/Childhood
Aries’s argument “In medieval society the idea of childhood did not exist” provoked scholars to question what had previously been considered as child/childhood. In fact what Aries criticizes is that the past lacked the specific features of the modern concept of child/childhood. At most, Aries intends to “contrast a distinctively modern awareness of childhood with a pre-modern neglect.” (20) As in 17th century child/ childhood apparently considered by society as a time of independence and innocence, has been a time of oppression for children. Aries uses the representation of child/children in the visual arts in the middle Ages and the Renaissance as evidence of the fact that, before the 16th century, there was no interest in child/childhood as a specific category. Children were seen too fragile as yet to take part in the life of adults simply “did not count”. Lawrence Stone, the author of The Past & The Present, considers the conditions of pre-modern childhood:
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“as a pessimistic one of degeneration from an era of freedom and sociability to an era of oppression and isolation, a period of happy social polymorphism, in which there were no divisions of ranks or ages, no separation of the child from the adult, no privacy, no external pressures from the state or the needs of an no privacy, no external pressures from the state or the needs of an industrial economy, no internalized work ethic. Children and adults mixed together easily and naturally, wearing the same clothes, playing the same games, and working together on the same jobs. They also shared from the beginning a common knowledge of both sex and death. This easy egalitarian familiarity was one in which child abuse could not occur”(316).
Many issues points out by Stone to convey that the concept of childhood coined by modern society and it has seen the turning point in the eighteenth century rather than the seventeenth. Similarly, Richard Farson concurs that childhood is exclusively a modern concept. He claims that concept of childhood is enforced and unnatural exclusion. However, in his belief “Children did not always exist; they were invented. The idea of childhood is a European invention of the sixteenth century. Before the latter part of the middle Ages there simply was no the concept of childhood. Most of languages had no words means childhood “(17), while, for Eva M. Simms, “by the seventeenth century the division between adulthood and childhood had become a wide gulf that separated the mature from the immature”(199).
However, childhood is not regression, but it is presumably a progression toward a meaningful, not an irresponsible freedom. Concept of childhood has varied across the centuries. In spite of the fact, children are eternally seen as social agents; the dominant view is that children are unable to make persuasive contributions and effort to society on account of their immaturity, minority status and incompetent individuals who are disconnected from the social world. But, it has usually got tangled in the haul-up ropes of viewing childhood as a period of deficiency. Aries clarifies that the child as we seen, was not missing from the Middle Ages, at least from the thirteenth century on (38). He goes further and explains “nobody thought, as we ordinary think today, that every child already contained a man’s personalit”(39). He insists in his arguments in a few next lines as the child that had died to soon in life was buried almost everywhere, much as we today bury a domestic pet, a cat or dog. He was such as an important little thing. Aries, however, argues in the renaissance “There are more children, but they are miniature adults.” Children are viewed essentially passive and childhood is considered as the most critical and crucial stage in life and by its social status as a subordinate group in need of protection in order to be prepared for adulthood. (39) Although, childhood theorists have opposed this by emphasizing the significance of exploring children’s views, an approach which underpins and makes possible this study. In fact, child/childhood is considered as a crucial stage in the development of an individual due to what society considered as good or evil and the way to relate to and care for the environment. But some theorists believe that children have not been the victims of ill-treated society and they have not been oppressed. To elaborate this, Margaret Wise Brown the American author of Goodnight Noises argues that:
“In this modern world where activity is stressed almost to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked. Yet a child’s need for quietness is the same today as it has always been it may even be greater or quietness is an essential part of all awareness. In quiet times and sleepy times a child can dwell in thoughts of his own, and in songs and stories of his own.”
These tensions are due to the writing about child/childhood from various perspectives. In this respect, John Locke who popularizes the idea that children’s begin as a blank slate and their personalities and moral compasses are not inborn but formed through their experiences. He argues that “children as the recipients of an ideal upbringing, citizens in the making, fledgling but imperfect reasoners and blank sheets filled by experience “, then , he believes in the priori knowledge and has faith in acquiring knowledge gradually through experiences. In spite of fact, he proposes that “childhood being a stage in the development process whose end is adulthood.” Therefore, he sees children as imperfect, not yet rational, and incomplete version of adult. That’s why adult should have power over their children. Furthermore, he insists that “children are only white paper or wax and they have to be moulded and fashioned as one pleases”. He continues the acquisition of reason is gradual process and may human vary from animals in being rational, but this doesn’t distinguish children from adults. Though, it’s part of natural and normal process of psychological development and maturation that a child should become a fully rational control. Therefore, adulthood is a state of mind rather than a question of age. Similarly, children have seen as weak, vulnerable and incapable of providing for their own maintenance. Locke concedes that “a lack of reason is not exclusive to children; they are adults _innocents and madmen_ who remain in the state naturally defines childhood”(7) However, his definition of childhood strengthens the irrationality of childhood within the framework of psychology. Nevertheless, he never denies children rights.
While, Archard argues Aries may be wrong to think that it is only modern society which has a concept of childhood; while he concurs there is distinctively modern conception of the particular nature of childhood but there are different views of childhood. Thus, the concept of childhood is infused with myth, mixture of cultural and ideological sources. For him “The concept of childhood requires that children be distinguishable from adults in respect of some unspecified set of attributes”(21). He proposes that “societies at all times have had the concept of childhood. But there have been different conceptions of childhood”(23).Indeed, it may differ in term of “its boundaries, its dimensions and its divisions”(23). Rousseau defends the value of having concept of childhood and stresses the recognition of child as a child. He argues that ” childhood has its in the order of human life. The man must be considered in the man and the child in the child”(80), whilst Aries implies childhood as a particular of nature. In other words, childhood is to recognize that children differ interestingly from adults, while Rousseau argues that “we know nothing of childhood” as such we “are always looking for the man in the child, without considering what he is before he becomes a man”(3). As a matter of fact, concept of childhood is strictly associated with the adulthood. Being child is the opposite of being an adult, and vice versa (Achard, 23). Of course, it simply implies that childhood means absence of adulthood, but it doesn’t represent childhood against adulthood. However, childhood has thus been verified as a stage of life and also the word child has been recognized in many societies to clarify a kinship but also to indicate as an age of servitude. Variously, it has been observed the beginning of childhood to occur at birth or has even been extended at the end of breastfeeding, which lasted sometimes at around seven years. Regarding constructing an ideal concept of childhood, Jean-Jacques Rousseau as an eighteenth-century philosopher who began modern educational theory, defines childhood as the “nature age” at which there is no space for reason and knowledge as such adults have been tried to denature it. Accordingly, he argues that:
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The second stage, or the age of nature, is from around two to twelve years old. During this time the child should develop physical qualities and the senses, but not the mind. As a result of this negative education which includes no verbal learning, nor moral instruction, the child will display the necessary qualities of being both eager and pleasant. (Emil, 93)
Yet, biological features haven’t always been prominent in signifying childhood. According to Kehily, Henry Mayhew an English social researcher views childhood as “a period of life where play and carefree pleasure should be indulged, where the child is protected from the adult world of work and is cared for, kept warm and well fed” (3) Similarly, Thomas John Barnardo argues that “Children have only one chance of a childhood. They deserve to be protected from harm, to enjoy good emotional, mental and physical health, and to feel that they belong in their home, at school and in their local community.” Rousseau concurs that “Nature wants children to be children before they are men…Childhood has its ways of seeing, thinking, and feeling that are proper to it. Nothing is less sensible than to try and substitute our ways… It is the curb of strength, and the child does not need this curb” (258).
The romantic view of childhood imputes children as spirituality close to God. This idea is taken up in England by William Wordsworth who claimed that “The child is father of the man.” Thereby, Diana Gittins in her book The Child in Question encounters with childhood “an adult construction that changes over time and place.” Then, she continues the concept of childhood varies between children in relation to social categories such as gender, ethnicity and social class. However, Gittins draws attention to the development of childhood as a concept that increasingly differentiated adults and children, girls and boys. Similarly, Mary Jane Kehily explores childhood in relation to issues of sexuality. But, Stevie Jackson in his book Childhood and Sexuality 1982 explains children and sex should be kept apart.
Regarding negative aspect of child/childhood, children are defined as a one is becoming other rather than being. For Rousseau “We know nothing of childhood”, as such adults are always looking for the man in the child without considering what he is before always looking for the man in the child without considering what he is before he becomes a man. (3)Adults “destroys and defaces all things; he loves all that is deformed and monstrous; he will have nothing as nature made it, not even man himself, who must learn his paces like a saddle-horse, and be shaped to his master’s taste like the trees in his garden” (Rousseau 4).
To sum up, as Nodelman articulates that “Adults offer children images of childhood that they expect children to mimic in order to be the right kind of children. The necessity of this process itself inscribes its inevitable failure: children are not yet and not actually what adults wish them to pretend to be, which is exactly why adults wish them to pretend to be it, for their own good” (187).