Are children raised by nations?

My task for class tomorrow is to lead a discussion on the relationship between the “nation” and the child, and so I will begin that discussion in this post. After reading Stearns book “Childhood in World History” I walked away with two major conclusions, and many minor ones.

Although I already suspected this, I concluded that the nation (meaning, for the most part, the government) has an incredible influence on the concept of childhood within its borders. Stearns outlines several shifts in global history that heavily impacted childhood across the globe, and I think that governments were responsible for many of these shifts. Industrialization, for instance, was the reason that in the 19th Century  children began working jobs just like adults, and industrialization was strongly supported by governments.  So too were further technological advancements in mechanization, which resulted in machines displacing children from the work place. And so childhood shifted yet again to emphasize school rather than labor. Governments had a huge role ushering in this new age of childhood that focused on schooling. Japan created a mandatory education system by the turn of the 20th Century. The Japanese government believed that their population would be of no value if it was illiterate, therefore the future wealth of the country depended on the education of children. Governments also sought to control how adults conducted “parenting,” especially because these cultures believe in the innocence of children at birth. The corruption of a child comes from ill-treatment at the hands of adult and bad societal influences.

My second conclusion is this: because of the influence a government has on childhood within a nation, it is only logical that the concept of childhood differs from country to country. In some cases, like amongst Western countries, these differences may be slight, however I am certain they exist. This ties back to readings from last week that highlighted geography as a key determinant of childhood. Each government, backed by cultural traditions, has tried to maintain some aspects of their traditional way of life or their ideological thinking that they believe is important for society to keep, and these cultural nuances are different everywhere. For the Soviet Union, they wanted to stress Marxism in the classrooms and instill a sense of duty towards the collective good, meaning the state. China, Japan and the Soviet Union all, to a certain degree, stressed a sense of loyalty or duty to the state, however in Japan it was more in line with nationalism than with Communist ideology.

The role of the state with regards to the development of childhood should not be overlooked; in fact, I think the answers to many “whys?” and “hows?” can be found by looking towards the nation.

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.


Stearns on Education

Education is a major theme dispersed throughout Stearns full length book, Childhood in World History. Though mentioned sporadically through different sections of his book, I think what Stearns is trying to get at with education boils down to three main chronological themes. Firstly, how religion sparked the rise of importance of education. Secondly, the idea that children are the future led to the shift of children moving from the workplace into the classroom. Thirdly, stemming from the previous two revelations, a newfound obligation was born for parents to promote academic achievement and thus provide a solid, well-rounded education for their children.

Religion and Education

In Stearns chapter regarding childhood in the classical civilizations, he brings up how religion, Confucianism in specific, began to place an emphasis on education. At the time education was accessible largely by the upper class rather than the lower class, though in some special cases certain talented boys or girls may have received training from “an upper-class sponsor.” Regardless of class, Confucianism made it “clear that moral as well as academic instruction was essential.”

World religions began to push for a more formal religious education. This religious “surge,” as Stearns calls it, was unprecedented. The result was “a redefinition of what education was about” and “an impulse to spread elements of education more widely that had been the case in the classical centuries.” World religions attempted to bridge the gap between children and their spirituality while simultaneously promoting literacy and the importance of education.

From the Workplace to the Classroom

Stearns identifies three fundamental changes that have contributed to what we now know as modern childhood. His first and most essential change “involves the conversion of childhood from work to schooling.” In earlier western societies that were more agriculturally centered, the child was looked at to work and help provide for his or her family. Children receiving an education began to gain increasing value. A proper and well-rounded education was deemed necessary in order to be a positive contributor to society. Children were no longer children; they were future adults. They were viewed as the future. “The child is the object of state upbringing.” The amount of children attending school all across the globe skyrocketed. Not only were children going to school, but they were going to school longer, through high school and even college. “This was a real conversion: childhood now meant schooling, above all.”

A Parent’s Obligation

As the role of education changed and gained increasing prominence, the natural responsibilities of being a parent changed as well. Education evolved from being a luxury enjoyed by the upper-class to a universally acknowledged necessity. Slowly but surely, “growing numbers of middle- and even lower-middle-class parents began to send children to at least a year or two of secondary school.” In the West, the education of females became more common due to the notion that, “in a modern society, mothers must be educated in order to raise their children properly.” As children began to be looked at as the keys to the future rather than simple emotionless objects, education became a fundamental and essential part of life.



Violence in the History of Childhood

When considering the “modern model” of childhood according to Peter N. Stearns, there are many different images that come to mind. However, violence is typically not one of them. Nevertheless, exposure to violence has been a major part of the history of childhood, especially recently. Since the 1970’s, over 150 million children have been killed in various types of war. With these types of numbers, it is clear that violence has played a major part in defining the modern model, and vice versa.

With so much focus on the Western progress and evolution of childhood, many people seem to ignore the lives of African children sold into slavery. Having been separated from their families and exposed to brutal treatment and racism, there is no doubt that slave children suffered both physically and psychologically. It appears though, that much research remains to be done in this area. While Stearns mentions childhood slaves and the new forms of child labor that developed from it, he does not go into any detail regarding the effects it had on slaves in the future. In what ways did slavery effect the minds of children? Did slaves have different standards of childhood for themselves? Another interesting aspect would be how whites viewed slave children. How did their view of childhood differ in regards to slaves? It is clear that Europeans had believed violent punishment of children to be wrong, as seen in their opposition to the Aztecs. However, did this same reasoning apply to African American slaves in the U.S. colonies?

Later in the book, Stearns goes into great detail describing the types of violence and discipline that children have recently experienced. As mentioned earlier, surprisingly high numbers of children have been negatively effected by wars and displacements. What is interesting though, is how the modern model of childhood is used within this realm. The belief that children are innocent and should not be exposed to this type of violence, has been the rhetoric used for new global standards and justifying international interference. However, it has also been the rhetoric used by those under attack, such as Japan in WWII. As Stearns notes, the natural impulse of those under attack is to “highlight pictures of dead or injured children.” Therefore, it is fair to conclude that the topic of children is almost unavoidable in discussions about violence. As Stearns admits, this exposure to violence has divided childhoods into two very different kinds of experiences with “intermediate conditions between the two extremes.” If this is indeed true, then can a true global history of childhood really exist? And if so, what more can be done to focus on this important yet wide spectrum without making sweeping generalizations?

Foggy History

As a historian in a relatively new field, Mary Jo Maynes’ work reiterates the notions discussed in Stearn and Mintz although with a feminist angle. Maynes narrows her focus down to the history of females, but again (and more importantly), discreetly points to the lack of direct (children’s) historical evidence in this newly developing history. Maynes directly notes this when she writes, “life stories provide a unique perspective on the intersection of individual, collective, institutional, and societal evolution as captured in narratives” (119). This points to the haze surrounding the history of childhood because children aren’t generally known to write narratives about their early lives. Maynes’ piece as a whole compliments Mintz’s work because both works shed light on the marginalized position of the discipline that is the history of childhood.

Pascoe’s and Wilson’s works focus on impacts on children are in severely impact their respective histories, and thus the historiography of the history of children. Generally speaking, both works focus on interactions with children versus first-person documentation. For example, Pascoe delves into the history of children in relation to welfare institutions. Her delving contributes to the notion that it is incredibly difficult to find a base for teaching children’s history because most histories are written from experiences or from viewing documents that are either written or drawn. In Wilson’s work, examining Aries, this same notion of lack of sources (on children’s history) is present. In his evaluation, Wilson preaches the same idea (through Aries) – the only real children’s historical evidence we have is from the top down. Aries implied that ‘apprenticeship was universal’ in his work, and this is pertinent to children’s history because since an apprenticeship involves the interaction between adults and children.

Similar to Maynes, Davin also focuses on the history of female children in her work. Davin also alludes to the lack of sources present to study the history of childhood, delving into how poverty affects the history of childhood. Rhodes’ work was very compelling to read as she focuses her work on the period of time that is childhood rather than the historical process of documenting the history of childhood. Rhodes makes the point that, for the most part, people have a general idea of what ‘childhood’ is supposed to be. Rhodes writes, “As a society then, we tend to both idealize and mythologize children and childhood” (Rhodes 121). Everybody’s life is different, and thus, everybody’s childhoods are different, despite a common perception of childhood. Because the ‘relics’ and ‘artifacts’ would be objects that were given to children, and even if these objects were made by children – there is only so much the said child-worker would be able to divulge about the artifact that supposedly possesses information about the said child’s childhood. It’s confusing. The biggest question I have honestly is why are people putting so much time into forming a history of childhood? Is it the challenge of the history and historiography of childhood that is appealing to the historian? How much do children reflect adults?

The History of Childhood: An Overview

Maynes, Mintz and Stearns give overviews of the study of children as historical “agents” throughout the modern practice of “doing” history. Maynes and Mintz both draw parallels to the beginnings of studying gender in history, particularly the “agency” of women. Both authors note that the introduction of both age and gender into the process of history reveals problem areas in the traditional historical process. Maynes emphasizes the need to look at personal stories to “rethink” the agency of children in history, with which I fully agree, but will personal stories be enough evidence to support future claims? Mintz claims that age is a more fluid category than gender, and this is evidenced in Stearns piece on the evolution of childhood. Would Mintz argue that this makes age more difficult to study than gender? Or does its fluidity provide more material to study? I was fascinated by the passage in Stearns article when he outlines areas that have been impacted by the notion of “happiness” in childhood, particularly how childhood depression is a result of high expectations on the part of both children and adults.

The highlights of the disagreement and errors riddling the historiography of childhood most obviously link the pieces of Wilson and Pascoe. Pascoe covers a much larger chunk of historiography, only briefly glazing over the work of Aries, whereas Wilson spends the entire article poking holes in Aries seminary work. Pascoe points out that not only will the oral re-telling of a childhood be romanticized by adults, but the material goods that historians could use as evidence are also heavily influenced by the adults in a child’s life—to me, this underscores just how tricky this area of history is. It makes me wonder: should more effort be put into studying the history of childhood, or of children? Which will yield more results? Wilson uses the phrase “content of sources” vs. “attitude of time” to sum up his argument against Aries piece, asserting that any Aries uses his sources incorrectly and therefore his argument is unsound. As a new historian, this really hit home for me because I am always hyper-aware of bias and the need to analyze a source in the context of that time period. By the end of Wilsons piece I was questioning what, exactly, did Aries do to contribute to this field?

Davin laments the fact that sources in late 19th C early 20th C London tend to come from the “ruling” class, and therefore is riddled with the bias of such privileged citizens. This echoes so many of the authors we have read on the frustration that comes from lack of veritable, infallible sources. It makes me want to ask the question: will there ever be enough evidence to cause a breakthrough in this field? The “jigsaw” approach seems like a creative short-term solution to a problem that may never go away. I’m also very curious about the implications of the transition between child worker and child scholar. Rhodes draws parallels between that transition and a new emphasis on discipline, but the evidence supporting that seemed shaky to me. These authors pose a lot of questions, such as how the definitions of love, nurturing and protection have evolved over time, but offer little insight into the answers.

Escaping the “Adult Gaze”

Maynes, Mintz, and Stearns

The first three readings seem to collectively address how contemporary society has been able to shape how childhood and its’ history is looked at. Maynes begins emphasizing the importance of first-hand life stories and accounts in the history of childhood (and in her case women, too). So few sources actually come from children that it leaves their stories up to be subjectively told. Maynes then leads nicely into the Mintz reading by describing how the forming of one’s identity is “rooted” in childhood. In one of the most eye-opening passages of the three articles, Maynes quotes Kath Weston in regards to gender on page 21:”Talk to someone in the United States about gender for more than twenty minutes and you’re likely to walk away with a childhood story.” This quote complements the Mintz reading nicely because Mintz essentially compares and contrasts age and gender as categories of history. What is masculine or feminine? What should a child’s responsibilities entail at a certain age? The answers to these questions are culturally and socially constructed and defined–simply unnatural as Mintz argues. Stearns finally delves into one of these norms that have been built up by society over the years–“the innocent child” and the idea that all children should be happy. Is this notion of happiness the lone and most construed aspect of childhood? No; Stearns concludes that parents being morally obligated to make their child’s childhood one of happiness is “only one among many factors shaping childhood in recent decades, and a challenge for further analysis is to figure out how it interacts with other influences.” Most of said influences being formed not by the children of the time period, but by the culture engulfing them.

Wilson and Pascoe

Wilson and Pascoe set out to critique the past historiography on children and childhood. Wilson specifically dealing with Philippe Aries and Pascoe centering on the more recent work on the children of Australia. The biggest problem Wilson has with Aries is his “present centeredness” approach, “the condition of viewing the past exclusively from the point of view of the present.” Through all his scrutiny, Wilson does not condemn Aries, but simply states that his argument is not false, but falsely conceived. After all, Wilson and Pascoe seem to agree, Aries book was essentially the first stage in the study of a new field. Wilson’s views on Aries’ “present-centeredness” poses a question. Isn’t every single human being naturally present-centered in some capacity? I understand where Wilson is coming from, but no matter what he writes, he did in fact write in the present.

Pascoe has different causes for concern with the historiography of children. He mentions the lack of sources authored by children themselves; a theme eminent throughout our entire week’s readings. He also describes the tendency amongst adult authors to romanticize children, and even get sentimental in their writing. All adults, historians included, tend to look back on childhood happily, and it hinders their writing. What solution, if any, does Pascoe recommend? He proposes “that we can enrich our historical research by borrowing insights from other disciplines,” chiefly material culture, archaeology, folklore, geography, and oral history. Pascoe writes my favorite quote in the reading when stating the utilization of these outside, yet similar, disciplines will lead to “the recovery of children from the scrapheap of the past.”

Davin and Rhodes

Davin and Rhodes provide a nice conclusion for this week’s readings. They both discuss useful sources for the study of childhood, but each author emphasizes a different variety. Davin delves into concrete sources–four in specific. These sources are school records, voices of authority (the privileged), voices of the working class, and her “jigsaw strategy.” Her jigsaw strategy kind of ties in with the Pascoe reading in that the jigsaw strategy pieces together clues from different sources, casting “a wide net.” This allows for the “steady accumulation of snippets, anecdotes, references, and examples; the piling up of details, which allows closer understanding.”

Rhodes is similar in that she emphasizes the importance of examining all varieties of sources. The difference is that for Rhodes, the sources she is referring to are experiences. Like many of the authors we we have just read, Rhodes believes that the history of childhood and the role of children in society are “too often defined by perceptions of adults.” She proposes that we, as historians, “explore the range of experiences and environments in which the child operated and engaged with in the adult world.” What I found most interesting is Rhodes’ opinions on photographs as sources. Though she admits their importance, one cannot rely that heavily on them because they are often under “adult gaze.” Photos are rarely, if at all, taken by children themselves, which reinforces the fact that the history of childhood is too often seen through the eyes of adults. I do believe that Rhodes is on to something, but I also believe studying experiences has its’ limitations. I’m sure that one would be able to find some first hand accounts, but wouldn’t that pool of sources be fairly limited? Even when analyzing these first hand accounts, wouldn’t many of the risks associated with other more subjective sources still remain? A blend between the strategies presented by both Davin and Rhodes–and all of the seven authors for that matter–is what is necessary to have any shot at recovering the history of childhood.

Finding the History of Childhood

The history of childhood is both a fairly undiscovered and misunderstood topic among scholarly work today. Recent research has sought to place it in it’s proper context and develop new ideas in regards to the way society typically thinks about it.

Stearns, Maynes, Mintz, and the Labels of Society

Mary Jo Maynes, Peter N. Stearns, and Steven Mintz each have written articles that portray the history of childhood in a new and important light. Maynes highlights the issue of agency and the role of childhood narratives, Stearns focuses on the specific study and origin of childhood happiness, while Mintz shows the use of childhood as a category of historical analysis. However, all three of these authors, while different, seem to show the important role of adults when researching childhood. This begs the question: do these articles tell us more about childhood or adulthood? In addition, each of these articles seems to focus on the modern model of childhood based in the United States. If a wider lens were given to each of these essays, would their assertions remain true or would they be different? What do these articles emphasize as important values in American culture? Perhaps the most interesting passage comes from Mintz’s article in which he does tie childhood (and age) into the surrounding culture, saying, “Age functions in differing ways in distinct social and cultural contexts and inevitably intersects with other categories of social organization and social difference.” In this way, Mintz suggests that society helps to create age categories, but also that age categories help to create society.

Wilson, Pascoe, and the Approach to Childhood History

A second set of articles are by Adrian Wilson and Carla Pascoe titled “The Infancy of the History of Childhood: An Appraisal of Philippe Aries” and “The History of Children in Australia: An Interdisciplinary Historiography” respectively. While Wilson focuses on the critique of a specific author and Pascoe goes into detail about the entire historiography of Australian childhood, there are three overarching ideas that are essential. Both Wilson and Pascoe assert the importance of looking at childhood through a historical lens. In addition, they emphasize the problem of generalization when piecing together a historical narrative. Thirdly, they each (and Pascoe more explicitly) imply the need for new methods of research. With these three themes, it is clear that how historians approach the history of childhood is absolutely paramount. In one of the most interesting passages, Pascoe cautions historians from romanticizing childhood, stating, “Perhaps the greatest challenge for historians of childhood is to continually strive for reflexivity.” This, along with the previous three points, raise important questions. Is it best to view the history of childhood through a distant and removed perspective, or is it best to view it in a more empathetic closer perspective? Also, are there broad generalities about childhood in history that can be made without ignoring other important factors? These questions are just a few that face childhood historians today, and remain to be answered as this new field continues to grow and expand.

Davin, Rhodes, and Researching Childhood Experiences

Maxine Rhodes and Anna Davin are two historians that have written about the wide variety of approaches to childhood study. In her article, “Approaching the History of Childhood: Frameworks for Local Research”, Maxine Rhodes expresses the changing direction that recent scholarly work has taken. She states, “the history of childhood is not now confined to issues surrounding the transformation of the child from worker to scholar or the nature of child-parent relations but seeks to examine the multiplicity of experiences for children in the past.” This insightful point builds on several key elements expressed in both Rhodes and Davin’s articles. The first idea is the importance and need for more local research on the subject. Also, as Davin points out, historians must be creative when looking for meaningful sources in regards to childhood experiences. Finally, they each also emphasize the need for historians to be more aware of the complexity of childhood experiences. As a result, we must ask ourselves a few key questions. What sources can be used to tell more accurately the lived experiences of children throughout history? Also, can local research reveal any larger themes among children from a particular era and location?