My stern opinion

While reading Stearns’ full work, I couldn’t help but feel the same lack of faith towards delving into ‘history-ing’ children as a discipline, because I again found Stearns’ focus to be more about the impacts adults and society had on children during their respective eras rather than of the childhoods themselves. For example, Stearns spends a good deal of time examining various punishments enacted on children for misbehaving acts. Similar to our discussion last week, studying punishments (frankly) is convenient! They’re convenient because they have been acts enacted by older generations who can easily recall how they punished youngsters.

Stearns also spends a lot of time discussing issues of inheritance, which I understood but also didn’t understand. I felt like (again), delving into issues like inheritance is a fairly ‘convenient’ way to explore the history of childhood, because again, children aren’t known to be responsible for the handing down of inheritance – they simply are on the receiving end – and usually these children make decisions about their respective inheritances when they are significantly older (no longer children). This, again, to me at least is confusing because is Stearns really getting at a history of childhood by examining aspects of childhood that are essentially placed ‘on’ children by adults – which adults then use to examine the histories of childhood that they create. Stearns also focuses on when children, across a plethora of cultures, begin attending educational institutions. Maybe I’m getting carried away here by labeling these sources as ‘convenient’ and accusing these historians on founding their histories on a seemingly pseudo-basis, but employing enrollment statistics to help delve into the history of childhood is yet again using a source formed by adults to serve their adult needs; but isn’t that what part of the goal of examining the history of childhood is? To essentially examine the roots of adults’ own mannerisms and desires.

Despite the difficulty I have wrapping my head around the foundations of the history of childhood and the history of children, I found an interest in the importance of children’s happiness. Part of this interest stems from a point I made in class last week that apparently made its way into Stearns’ pages. My point in class last week was that because historians have acknowledged the difficulty in processing the history of childhood, some may have delved into it during the 16th-18th centuries but gave up. Stearns acknowledges this when he mentions discussions of children’s happiness occurring during the early 1800s. Stearns writes, “…actual discussions of children in terms of happiness surfaced surprisingly slowly. There were some references in England, around 1800, but nothing very systematic” (157)… in my eyes, this means that the historians at the time gave up because the task seemed too challenging, which leaves our class with a lot of work to do.

 

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