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In society today we believe that there is a life stage called 'Childhood' - this is usually the time between birth and the teenage years or in the eyes of the law until they attain the age of 18 years.
Today the idea, that childhood is not a natural phenomenon but rather a creation of the society we live in. (Cunningham, 2006)
Pre- Middle Ages:
In pre-historic and Christian times, some people believed that children were a commodity that were evil and must be punished. Whilst others believed that they were unnecessary and children were disposed of in brutal ways. Children were used as human sacrifices to the gods in Greece and Carthage, while in Asia sex selection was predominate with over 50% of girls being killed.
In the middle ages children were not viewed as members of society but remained on the periphery. (Cunningham 2006) The images of children were shown in religous paintings and churches as cherubs and the Christ child It seems inconceivable that, in a period when the most popular image was that of, the Madonna and child, there was little or no understanding of, or affection for children in everyday life. It is argued that medieval adults failed to understand or to recognise the nature of childhood and thus the medieval child was portrayed and treated as a mini-adult. (Sorin & Galloway, 2006)
During the industrial revolution children became an important part of the workforce in both mines and factories. Children did hard labour just like the adults and were used in the mines where adults were too large. To survive in even the lowest level of poverty, families had to have every able member of the family go to work. This led to the high rise in child labour in factories. Children were not treated well, overworked, and underpaid for a long time before anyone tried to change things for them.
18th - 19th Century:
Childhood for the first time became the most privileged phase of life. The man usually credited with creating the modern notion of childhood is Jean Jacques Rousseau using the ideas of other 17th century liberal thinkers, Rousseau formulated "childhood as a brief sanctuary before we encounter the perils and hardships of adulthood". Victorian reformers, such as Lord Ashley and Dr Bernardo set themselves the task of restoring childhood to children. They believed that children should be dependent on adults and that their time should be divided between home and school.
20th - 21st Century:
The 20th Century was the century of the child, it was recognised that the future of any nation was dependant on its children. From the 1970’s onwards children acquired new rights, relating to state and family. Laws were developed to protect the health, and the right for children to have an education. Corporal punishment was abolished and children were required to complete year 12.
Today adults are too busy and distracted and so, to ease their guilt or just keep them quiet, give these children more of their power. Referred to as "Snowballing children", they see power as a birth right, based on the parent giving into their demands. (Sorin, 2005) I believe social media and advertising contribute to their power. Each generation remakes the meaning of being young. The further back in history that we go, the lower the level of childcare. (deMause, 1979)
Biological-Anthropologists regard childhood as a developmental stage through which the child is prepared for adulthood. However, as sociologists argue, chronological age is of little use when comparing childhood across different cultures, locations and time. (James & James 2008) As educators in a multicultural country such as Australia, we have to consider that children come from different educational backgrounds, as shown by these two videos, where one child has to travel for 6 days over treacherous terrain to get to school. Whilst children in China live and study in a cave. We have to be aware and sensitive to the fact, that children do not necessarily come from the same educational background as ourselves.
To watch Human Planet Explorer Cave School in China go to -
The effect of war on education:
It is important to be aware that children from other cultures can live in extreme environments. I have worked with Sudanese children who have lived in a war zone, had the fear of being kidnapped to be used as soldiers or who have escaped to camps, where they have had no access to education at all. As a teacher, you have to be aware that children of war don't necessarily have any formal education and you have to be sensative to the trauma and atrocities that they may have witnessed. When I was at school I knew a Vietnamese boy, who witnessed the murder of both his parents before being blinded by a napalm bomb. He had to not only deal with that trauma, but also the difficulty of living in a new country alone and dealing with a lack of understanding by the children in his environment. So as educators we have to be a bridge between these children and the other members of our class.
Social Responsibilities: Dependence vs. Independence
In the Western World children are protected and guided through their physical, cognitive and language skills. Expectations are different in other cultures, for example, among the Kwara’ae of Oceania, 3 year olds are skilled workers in their gardens and households, excellent caregivers of young siblings and accomplished at social interaction. (Watson-Gegeo, 1990, p.87) Efe babies in the Congo use knives at 8-10 months to cut fruit. Training for autonomy begins in infancy, 3-4year olds can cook their dinner using fire. Babara Rogoff illuminates how individuals worldwide build on cultural heritage from prior generations and at some time create new ways of doing things and this is evident in the video “Developing Destinies – A Mayan Midwife and town”. In Western culture the law protects children from being left home alone until they are 12 years of age. It relates back to the Western World regarding children as innocent and the belief that they have to be protected by adults. In each community human development is guided by local goals.
Developing Destinies - a Mayan midwife and town video
It is important to consider that in many third world countries, it is not compulsory to go to school. In some cultures education is available to children up to 12 years of age (like Peru, Cambodia and Laos). Compared to the Western World the parents believe that education as not important as children helping the family grow rice to feed themselves and survive. Whilst in western countries we have the access to education, some children are limited by coming from poorer backgrounds. They don’t have access to the same amenities as middle class and upper class children. This can impact on how well their physical, cognitive, communication and social skills develop.
Religon and Family:
As teachers we have to be aware that in many cultures their religion is their way of life and of primary importance. The wearing of burkas by Muslim girls or turbans being worn by Sikh boys is not a fashion statement, but a part of their culture. Within modern times the idea of family has changed, the traditional family of mum and dad and two children is no longer the norm. We have to be aware that children come from single parent homes, single sex structures and homes where there are generational families. This impacts on children, how they learn and how they respond to the information you give them. In the Western World people are more open with their emotions towards their children whereas some other cultures are more reserved and demonstrate their affection only in the home. We have to be careful not to be judgemental of other people when we don't understand their culture.
Rogoff (2003) describes human development as a cutural process, occuring during the everyday participation in experiences and the use of language and other cultural tools. Different cultures have different expectations of children.
"Development changes learning; learning changes development" (Overall, 2007)
Understanding children, their culture and their development is central in the attitudes, skills and knowledge possessed by teachers.
Cunningham H, 2006, ‘The Invention of Childhood’ Published: London BBC Books
deMause, l. (Ed). (1974) ‘The History of Childhood’ Published: Broadway, New York The Psychohistory Press
Rogoff, B. (2011) ‘Developing Destinies – a Mayan midwife and town’
James, A. and James, A.L. (2004) ‘Constructing Childhood: Theory, Policy and Social Practice’. London: Palgrave
Website: YouTube: Human Planet, Mountains: ‘The most dangerous school run in the world’. Uploaded: 7th April, 2011.
Website: BBC. Human Planet Explorer. Wild China: ‘Heart of the Dragon, Cave School’. http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/humanplanetexplorer/life_events/childhood#p009j8qz Broadcast: Sunday 11th May, 2008
Watson-Gregeo. (1990, p.87) ‘The Cultural Nature of Human Development’