Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How do you view Childhood?

I'm doing a subject at the moment called "Constructions of Childhood", that investigates the ways that people and society view and position children. It is based around the work of Reesa Sorrin, who presented ten possible constructs that people might adhere to.
This post briefly outlines 5 of those constructs, but I shall follow up with the other 5 in another post.

The Child as Innocent
Fairly self-explanatory, this construct sees children as naive, carefree and good. However, also includes naturalistic ideals of children as vulnerable seedlings to be nutured and cared for.
Can look like:
  • Shielding children from something adults believe is too mature,  too scary or otherwise 'damaging' in some way.
  • Gentle, or instructive discipline techniques. 
  • Helicopter or cotton-wool parenting, where children are monitored and protected from every potential harm.

The Child as Evil
This basically means that children are viewed as inherently naughty/bad and in need of strict guidance. Historically it came from the idea that children are 'born of sin', and need severe discipline (in the form of physical violence, strict rules and routines, and minimal frivolity) in order to become 'good' adults. .
Can look like:
  • Harsh infant sleep training methods.
  • Corporal punishments such as spanking and mouth-washing, and belief that undesirable behaviours would be solved if "parents would just stop being so soft and smack the kids"
  • Labels such as "brat", "obnoxious", "entitled".

The Child as an Adult-in-Training
Childhood is seen as a stage on the way to becoming an adult, with children moving up a "ladder of competence" until they reach the pinnacle of adulthood. This view sees children as deficit, and the emphasis is on becoming, rather than being. Much research on child development is through the lense of this construct, see for example Piaget, Eriksson and Freud.
Can look like:
  • Dreaming about the future careers that children might pursue, or the families they may start.
  • Formal education, academic or music tutoring, sports training.
  • Programs such as "Your Baby Can Read", and  "Junior Kumon"

The Child as a Commodity
Children are objectified and consumed by adults for entertainment or gratification. Children's best interests are subsumed by adult self-interest, and any child agency or power is often closely controlled and created by the adults involved. Also usually plays upon other constructs and positions children as certain stereotypes.
Can look like:
  • Child beauty pageants.
  • Sexualised advertising using children as models.
  • End of year school/class performances.
  • Publication of student test scores by schools.

The Child as Agentic
This construct positions children as their own valid human beings, with their own legitimate wants, needs and interests. Childhood is seen as an important time of being in it's own right, and children are recognised as social actors who actively participate in the environment, in their learning and in their own lives.
Can look like:
  • Reggio Emilia inspired education philosophies.
  • Adult-child collaboration and negotiation. Power is shared evenly.
  • When children's opinions are genuinely listened to and considered, with respect. 

Of course, most people don't subscribe to just one construct, but a combination of several. How you see children is very much dependent on your own life, upbringing, culture and experiences. A good way to work out how you view children is to draw a mind-map of all the words you can think of when you think of children, and then categorising which construct those words are aligned with.

When I did this, I realised that I strongly see children as Agentic, but also (I was surprised to discover) as Innocent and Adults-in-Training, and am now acutely aware of how my parenting and teaching philosophies reflect this. I believe that becoming aware of my underlying value systems and beliefs helps me to become a more mindful and reflective parent and future educator.

So how do you view children and childhood? I'd love to hear your responses, and how they affect your own attitudes and lives.
The other constructs Sorrin talks about are the Child as: Victim, Saviour, Snowballing, Out-of-Control, and Minature Adult. If you don't relate to any of the above, maybe you'll see it in the next post.

Can't wait to add the rest of Sorrin's constructs, will do as soon as I get time!

Sorin, R. (2005). Changing images of childhood: Reconceptualising early childhood practice. International Journal of Transitions in Childhood. (1), 12–21.

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