The Evolution of Childhood in Europe and America

analytical Essay
2081 words
2081 words

The Evolution of Childhood in Europe and America

Somewhere around the beginning of the seventeenth century, the perception of the nature of childhood -- its duration, its perceived purpose, its requirements, its quality -- changed rather significantly in the Eurocentric world, a period Valerie Suransky identifies as a watershed for the modern notion of childhood (1982, p. 6). Actually, two things seemed to have happened: first, the idea of childhood as a separate developmental stage began to arise; second, the idea of who was deserving of childhood also began to broaden. The pattern was similar in Europe and America, with some minor variations which resulted from geography, religion, etc., but the differences are inconsequential. Generally speaking, the factors which influenced this change are the view of the nature of humankind, the development of industry, urbanization, parents themselves, and the women's movement.

According to Sharar (1990), childhood in Europe during the Middle Ages was a concept pretty much limited to members of the upper-class. Children of the lower-classes generally had a rather extended infancy period -- to about age seven -- but were then, essentially, tossed into the adult world. With the advent of Calvinism, and protestantism in general, in the late 1500s, the focus shifted, perhaps because of the rise of a middle class, perhaps because of the new religion's focus on the individual.

In the Protestant view, in which humans were viewed as innately evil, soiled by original sin, children were also considered moral agents, and therefore in need of shaping. Given this idea, it was reasonable to stifle children's natural impulses by physically punishing those impulses, to set them in...

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...973). Tools for conviviality. NY: Harper and Row.

Platt, Anthony. (1982). The rise of the child-saving movement. In Chris Jenks (Ed.) The sociology of childhood: Essential readings (pp. 151-169). London: Batsfords Academic and Educational Ltd.

Rose, Lionel. (1991). The Erosion of childhood. NY: Routledge.

Sharar, Shulamith. (1990). Childhood in the middle ages. London: Routledge.

Strickland, Charles. (1984). The Rise and fall of modern American childhood: Reflections on the history of childhood in the twentieth century. Atlanta, GA: Emory University, Department of History. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED248977)

Suransky, Valerie. (1982). The erosion of childhood. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Welter, Barbara. (1966). The cult of true womanhood: 1820-1860. The American Quarterly, 18. 151-174.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how the evolution of childhood in europe and america was influenced by the nature of humankind, industry, urbanization, parents, and the women's movement.
  • Explains that childhood in europe during the middle ages was a concept pretty much limited to members of the upper-class. with the advent of calvinism and protestantism in the late 1500s, the focus shifted.
  • Explains that in the protestant view, humans were viewed as innately evil, soiled by original sin, and children were moral agents, in need of shaping.
  • Explains the calvinist, or puritan, "work ethic," which valued hard work as a weapon in the battle against evil. industry easily accomodated this view.
  • Explains that the development of industry had a profound influence on the history of childhood in the lower-classes.
  • Argues that the factories brought urbanization, which contributed significantly to the shape of childhood.
  • Explains that as industrial technology advanced, productivity went up, labor requirements went down, and children became a social problem in the new urban areas, which generated an effort to contain them.
  • Explains that as the idea of universal schooling took hold, the minimum legal working age for children was rising and the maximum number of hours a child could legally work was declining.
  • Explains that the third factor involved in the changing nature of childhood is the parents' attitudes toward children.
  • Argues that the idea of the nurturant family is a mask for something quite different. parents in private homes have not only routinely neglected and neglected their children, but also sexually abused them.
  • Argues that there was a countervailing, historical tendency opposed to the extension of childhood, though it is important to distinguish between classes.
  • Analyzes the impact of the women's movement on the idea of childhood. shulamit firestone contends that childhood dependency was imposed on women in order to subjugate and confine them.
  • Explains that the child-saving movement was a crusade that elevated the nuclear family and women as stalwarts of the family.
  • Explains the "cult of childhood" which arose after the revolution, arguing that women organized during the war years and turned that then-unfocused energy inward toward the family.
  • Analyzes how platt argues that the child-saving movement had both symbolic and status functions for middle-class, american feminists.
  • Explains how the calvinist view of humankind characterized children as innately evil and therefore in need of shaping, and the women's movement, which resulted in a steadily increasing dependency period for children.
  • Describes the works of arthur w. calhoun, marjorie cruickshank, and harriet fraad.
  • Analyzes haralovich, mary beth, ivan, and anthony platt's work on the rise of the child-saving movement.
  • Explains rose, lionel, shulamith, and charles strickland's the rise and fall of modern american childhood.
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