Module 1: The History of Childhood reading – Children: Rights and Childhood by David Archard (part 1)


So I flicked through my UMA library and chose Children: Rights and Childhood by David Archard to work through. I noticed on Amazon that a third edition was published in 2014 with a bunch of updates, so depending on how I find the edition I have (1993) I might follow up with that.

OK, so as per usual, bold indicates direct quotes, the rest are my real time notes with first reading.

Firstly, Archard dedicated this work to his mum, which occurred to me as being significant considering the subject matter. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how work in this field, and the potential/opportunity/nature of activism related to concepts of childhood and adult/child dynamics passing down from one generation to another, and it seemed meaningful that at the start of the book he says:

“In fond memory of my own childhood this book is dedicated with much love to my mother.” (p ix)

It’s an interesting area and to consider. I’ve wondered a lot about what conditions cause tipping points for people to become ‘cycle breakers’ in regards to adult/child dynamics – how much their own relationships with their parents and childhood experiences may or may not factor in. And how a person’s experience of childhood makes a difference in terms of their awareness of the social justice issues relating to the experiences of children. How their relationship with their own parents (if they have one) can make progress in their own relationships with their children easier, or more difficult.


The first chapter is entitled ‘John Locke’s Children’ and I’m starting there.

John Locke (1632-1704) is arguably the the most important and influential figure in the history of English-speaking philosophy… He did not write a philosophical treatise on childhood although he did write Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) with recommends the appropriate education for a young gentleman. These recommendations are surprisingly modern and liberal, permitting Some Thoughts to be viewed, along with Rousseau’s Emile (1762) as the earliest manifesto for a ‘child-centred’ education.” (p1)


“typical of most philosophers…his account of childhood has to be extracted fro scattered remarks, and is not to be found explicitly and systematically expressed in a single work. Moreover, what Locke has to say about children in one context does not always sit easily with what he has to say about them in another. These tensions are due to writing about children from different perspectives. In this respect Locke’s is fairly typical of much contemporary philosophical writing on childhood. Locke writes of children as the recipients of an ideal upbringing, citizen’s in the making, fledgling but imperfect reasoners and blank sheets filled by experiences… Similarly, model writers seem often to demand of their ‘children’ that they be different things, according to the aspect under with they are being regarded.” (p1)

So many interesting points raised so early into the chapter! I’m not going to comment here too much on the citizen’s in the making/blank slate business, because I have a feeling more of that is going to come as this chapter goes on. But this part:

“what Locke has to say about children in one context does not always sit easily with what he has to say about them in another. These tensions are due to writing about children from different perspectives. In this respect Locke’s is fairly typical of much contemporary philosophical writing on childhood.” (p1)

strikes me so much. Over the last years of reading writing about children and childhood, this is probably one of the stand out issues for me – that at different times and for different reasons, children become what the author wants or needs them to become.

To me this signals an absence of awareness from the author of the personhood of children, and persists in relegating them to the status of property, even when the author otherwise claims to be child-centred/respectful etc. It is so frustrating to read what appears to be progressive writing on childhood/parenting/children’s experience, for it just to again, seem evident that the underlying notion remains that children are still the property of the adult or institution – there to fit with the particular perspective at the time rather than to participate with their own agency, or be consistently recognised as a full person in their own right. The dynamic of the belief that on the basis of their age they are a thing to be done to, rather than a person that you might work in partnerhsip with, resurfaces time and time again.

“…let me sketch the various circumstances in which Locke wrote about children, how these different accounts roughly hang together and where difficulties begin to arise for a consistent overall theory of childhood.” (p2) 

An Essay concerning Human Understanding (1689) (p2):

  • all human knowledge comes from single source: experience.
  • Locke denies that any knowledge is inborn.
  • Young children show no awareness of things that other philosophers had claimed to be innate.
  • Knowledge acquired from experience, therefore acquired gradually.
  • “Human’s become knowledgeable reasoners; and childhood being a stage in the developmental process whose end is adulthood, children would seem to be imperfect, incomplete versions of their adult selves.” (p2)

The above ideas, especially that children as a group are ‘imperfect, incomplete versions of their adult selves’, are interesting to me in unpicking origins of the marginalisation and diminishing of children’s experiences in current social norms and values.

In the first of his Two Treatises of Government (1698) (p2):

  • criticises Robert Felmer’s “patriarchal account of political authority as bequeathed by God to Adam, and thence to his descendants, the kings.

In the second Treatise (p2)

  • defends his own view that civil government be founded upon and limited to the freely given consent of rational individuals.

“Yet, if political power should not be thought of as parental, Locke readily conceded that parents should have power over their children, who did not yet possess the rights of adult citizens.” (p2)

Archard goes on to make the point:

“If the extent of legitimate political power is limited by the rights of the governed and the power ends of government then should not parental authority be constrained by the rights of children and the due purposes of parenting?” (p3)

This is mega and is explored more in the chapter. I have so many thoughts on this but it’s past my bed time so they are going to have to wait.


Module 1: The History Of Childhood reading continued – Penelope Hetherington’s ‘The Sound of One Hand Smacking: History, Feminism and Childhood’ part 2

bed-1293442_960_720Second part of my notes on Penelope Hetherington‘s piece ‘The Sound of One Hand Smacking: History, Feminism and Childhood. You can find part 1 here. As usual, bold indicates direct quotes, the rest of the notes are mine taken at first reading.

“It is during the period of childhood that individuals construct their understanding of the world in terms of their gender identity, their class position and their ethnicity… It is in this period that personality is formed out of the complex interaction between powerless children and powerful adults. Deeply held convictions and strongly felt emotions, some of which maintain patriarchal structures, are passed on from one generation to the next through the funnel of childhood.” – p2

This is of course true. What is interesting socially I think is how marginalised this experience actually is. The lived experience and status of children, especially really in really early childhood where the pattern for these experiences are first founded, seems to be extraordinarily overlooked, considering the immediate and long term impact.

There is a normalised attitude that what happens to babies and young children really doesn’t matter, because of the perception of them as less than people at that age. Observing a baby closely from birth, you can notice their hypersensitivity and awareness to the world around them. Yet, this does not seem to inform our culture, and seems fundamentally lacking in group childcare institutions for example. Much of our culture and behaviour around babies seems to frame them as the property of the parents, this is noticeable in how their bodies are treated, products produced for them, how they are dressed even, and the parent child dynamic.

“This is the site which needs examination in order to imagine the construction of a different world.” – p2 

As a result of the marginalisation of children, the stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination that they experience on the basis of their age and life stage, it is no wonder that this site, childhood, is invisible/overlooked – What could possibly be interesting and important about childhood in regards to social progress? The belief that important, meaningful and influential things only happen in the ‘adult world’ grossly inhibits our ability to grasp both the importance of the lived experience of children, and children’s rights.

“The introduction and spread of education is a second important area for consideration by researchers and writers whose primary interest is in the social structures and dominant discourses of society.” -p4

I plan to dig deep on the history of education in the third module of this UMA. The history and influence of the family and of schools are my two main areas of interest for this work. Unpicking the origins of schooling, the nature and experience of schooling, and the impact this has on the bodies and minds of the people within schools, plus the very beliefs that underpin and perpetuate our institutions of education are of paramount importance to understanding our current conditions. What is also exciting is to juxtapose this with alternative education, and emerging educational models that are manifesting entirely separately from traditional education settings.

“The history of child health has been left largely to the medical profession in the past and there is important historical material to be found in medical sources, including medical and psychiatric journals. However, feminist historians are generally familiar with the idea that the conventional barriers in academia between various disciplines need to be disregarded in many instances, and, in this case, there are important questions in this field which relate to childbirth” – p6

I studied the history of midwifery as part of my undergraduate degree and through that became aware of shifts in birth practices, particularly medicalisation and the move to hospital managed births. Going through the process of pregnancy and birth twice and engaging in the current discourse on birth culture and politics made me far more aware of the significance and influence of childbirth. Articles like this highlight why Hetherington is so right to highlight the importance of the ‘childbirth experience’ and it’s impact on the women, children and families, and the “Deeply held convictions and strongly felt emotions, some of which maintain patriarchal structures…passed on from one generation to the next” as mentioned above. I will be exploring this subject area more in module 2, Patriarchy, Feminism and the Culture of Parenthood. The beauty of my unschooling and self directed approach is that the conventional discipline barriers mentioned above do not exist.

“Finally, there are, as yet, very few historical accounts of the institutions which have worked to provide special services for children with all kinds of disabilities. While this is not necessarily a special interest of feminist historians, it is an important part of the overall history of the experiences of children, and one which would offer opportunities to examine the interrelationships between charitable bodies and state institutions.” -p6

This is a really interesting and important point, especially when considered alongside education, as particularly the climate in schools seems increasingly problematic for children that deviate in any way from a very narrow ‘approved’ personal and behavioural identity. Unlawful exclusions are a widespread and largely ignored issue in the English school system, and the issues and impact around ‘children and neurodiversity’ comes to mind as being especially relevant.

When it comes to charitable bodies and state institutions, I am always thinking in terms of adultism/childism (term yet to be agreed), the impact of patriarchy and paternalism in their design, and children’s rights perspective. Through the course of these studies I hope to develop historical context to better understand these influences.

In conclusion, Hetherington states:

“These are subjects which reveal the fundamental values of any society and the nature of the inescapable connections between changes in the material world and the gradual cultural shifts that accompany them. These studies are fundamental to an understanding of the construction of the gender order and, therefore, crucial for those feminist activists who want to work in the political arena.” – p6 

Module 1: The History Of Childhood reading continued – Penelope Hetherington’s ‘The Sound of One Hand Smacking: History, Feminism and Childhood’ part 1


So after quiet a long break, the UMA is back on. A benefit of being your own master is that you can work in the way that best suits you and that you need to, which includes taking time away if necessary. I’m excited to be back, and I don’t mind if it takes me a 100 years to do this work.

I’m continuing my reading and research for the first module, The History of Childhood and Emergence of Children’s Rights. I’ve put Hugh Cunningham down for a bit and picked up The Sound of One Hand Smacking: History, Feminism and Childhood by Penelope Hetherington, which is one of the resources in my UMA library. Direct quotes are in bold, accompanied by my spontaneous notes, I’m writing as I’m reading.

So lets start.

“The history of childhood provides us with insights into the ways in which individuals construct their understanding of the world and into the ways in which generational changes occur in cultural practices.” (p2).

What a brilliant summary. I have been thinking a lot about this, this experience of function of childhood, and it’s power. I am inclined to think that it explains why women and children experience such diminishment,  because of the actual power of the interaction and process between parent and child. As Hetherington points out, childhood itself is the opportunity in which our beliefs and behaviours are perpetuated, passed on. If you want to identify the absolute power point for effecting social/cultural change, you find it hiding in plain sight, right there in that window of interaction that starts at birth and continues through the coming years.

And then you think about how that period of time, and how the people with closest proximately to influencing that change are undermined and diminished. Its brilliant really, in it’s simplicity, and yet astonishing in it’s implication when you consider the current environment in which parenthood and childhood exists.

Hetherington goes on to point out that the history of childhood should consider changes in family size and the situation of families re: the economy, children before the law, in education and health services, class, gender, ethnicity (p2), and then:

“The apparent purposes and actual practices of institutions set up by charitable bodies, or by the state, need careful analysis, as do child-rearing practices over time. These subjects which reveal the fundamental values of any society and the nature of the inescapable connections between the changes in the material world and the gradual cultural shifts which accompany them.” (p2)

Childcare provision and schooling, and parenting norms, all require critical analysis, because indeed, the influence of these things are immense.

“…too little attention has been paid to the ways in which cultural practices are passed on from one generation to the next, or why particular practices commander attack or are abandoned. The history of childhood, still largely neglected by historians, offers the best way for us to enlarge our understanding of these processes and, therefore, the greatest insights into the ways in which feminists might usefully intervene politically” (p2)

Indeed. This comes back to what I have been considering regarding acquisition of belief systems and their consequence on all aspects of our human construct. Our beliefs, brains and understanding of self is building and connecting as a result of our experiences and interactions with our external environment from the day we emerge from our mothers. Prevention rather than cure requires that we critically analyse the history of childhood and the current environment and challenge and address the issues that arise. Much is observable in the current experience of childhood – the gendering and limiting of children from birth, the homophobic and transphobic attitudes that affect children’s lived experience, the general marginalisation of people on the basis of their perceived capabilities, age, and even perceptions of their humanity. The subjugation of children to adult domination is so culturally normalised it is generally invisible – this is a normalised and hidden experience of oppression that is internalised through childhood as a bedrock for our belief systems, embedded in our unconscious mind.

I have to go to bed now, but it’s great to be back.

Notes on Chapter 2: Children and Childhood in ancient medieval Europe by Hugh Cunningham


So on we go to Chapter 2. I’ve found this week that my original plan of writing for two hours first thing in the morning might, and might not work. I’m hoping it will, a problem I have had is going to bed to late and night, and waking up too tired to think and read, plus other commitments I have, to my children and other work. So, I carried the UMA around with me in my heart, dipped in and out of Chapter 2 as and when I had the opportunity, and now that we reach the weekend I’ve had the chance to sit down properly and give it my full attention. My intention for the coming week is earlier nights, and persevering with morning reading and writing. It’s a tricky balancing act this, especially considering the needs of my son and daughter.

Anyway, lets get on! As per usual, direct quotes and in bold, the rest is my own thoughts.

Cunningham’s Children and Childhood makes part of the ‘Introduction to the history of children and childhood’, part of the first module of the UMA – The history of childhood and the emergence of children’s rights.

Cunningham starts with the thought that the “early modern and modern centuries ideas about childhood and child-rearing were likely to have their origin in two sources: the classical inheritance and Christianity. The actual practice of child-rearing was likely to be influenced by the way children had been reared in medieval society”(p18). This is a big part of why I am including the history of children and childhood in the UMA. In order to understand why things happen as they do now, you need to track back to see the patterns and origins of learnt behaviour. Behaviour and belief systems I believe result from inherited learnt experiences, consciously and subconsciously, but if you want to understand them, and even attempt to hypothesise on breaking cycles, you first have to get back to the origins to truly understand them and their functions.

Chapter 2 seeks to “set out classical and Christian inheritance, and to make an assessment of medieval thought and practice with regard to children” p18.

Greek and Roman thought and practice:

Cunningham looks at four aspects of this (p18):

  1. Practices of infanticide, sale of children, abandonment and wet nursing.
  2. Inherited language about children and childhood originating in Greek or Latin and any baggage that comes with that.
  3. Legal structures that carried over into mediaeval/early modern worlds from Rome – particularly patria potestas, the overriding power of the father. 
  4. Ways of thinking about childhood and advice given on child-rearing and education in the classical world that continued to be influential up to the period at least 1900.

So already some really interesting things to be thinking about. Before I keep reading I really want to dig in a bit more into the concept of patria potestas.

“Patria potestas, (Latin: “power of a father”), in Roman family law, power that the male head of a family exercised over his children and his more remote descendants in the male line, whatever their age, as well as over those brought into the family by adoption. This power meant originally not only that he had control over the persons of his children, amounting even to a right to inflict capital punishment, but that he alone had any rights in private law. Thus, acquisitions of a child became the property of the father. The father might allow a child (as he might a slave) certain property to treat as his own, but in the eye of the law it continued to belong to the father.

Patria potestas ceased normally only with the death of the father; but the father might voluntarily free the child by emancipation, and a daughter ceased to be under the father’s potestas if upon her marriage she came under her husband’s manus, a corresponding power of husband over wife.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

A quick search on Google brought me to a fascinating archive by Max Dashu called Suppressed Histories, and this particular article.

Having had a look through Max’s site, I can see there is loads worth exploring. So, before I carry on with Cunningham, I am going to take some time looking through Suppressed Histories, and the concept of patria potestas and other roots to the subjugation and concepts of power over women and children. Considering how this is still so visible today, it makes sense to me to dedicate real time to getting to the historical bottom of it.

I started this post on the weekend, and I am finishing it now, Tuesday morning – this just goes to show how much flexibility I need to do this study, and why doing it as a UMA is essential. I know there is no way I could complete it within the constraints of external demands. By doing it as a UMA I can take as long as I want, I can fit it in to the actual space I have, without feeling that I am not doing enough or at the right time, I can adapt to what else is going on around me. This work couldn’t happen otherwise.

Thanks for following.

UMA reflections: the work.

I wanted to put something down to day in a way of reflections on ‘doing the work’.

On Saturday night, some of the parents in our local home education community came together for a party. It was awesome:

Parents that play together, stay together.

And during the night, I was chatting about this UMA and how it was going, how much I was enjoying the process etc, and we talked also about this book called The Artists Way for Parents. I think I first read my copy about three years ago when my son was a baby and my daughter was about 3 years old. It’s been three years of waiting before I have been able to implement some of the practice I admired in the book.

We talked about how it is really difficult to ‘work’ whilst also living as a family in a children’s rights conscious way. Especially when the children in your family are really young. I reflected on how until literally now, it wasn’t possible for me to do this ‘work’ – of creating the UMA – because it would have been too much in conflict with meeting my families and my own basic needs.

Before now I was just too tired. I know lots of parents who are currently too tired. I still get too tried, by evening my brain is no good, which is why I am working first thing.

Which brings me back to the idea of ‘work’. Parents that I know, who are activated in the social justice movement of attachment parenting/children’s rights based family living, are doing extremely important ‘work’, the nature of which means their ability to share or even fully explore their own wider potential can be constrained. This is especially true for unschoolers. ‘Showing up’ as an unschooled is highly significant and important work in itself, before you get down to the parents other individual interests and passions.

I know so many parents who have very insightful and meaningful experiences to share on this journey, but their voices are not widely available due to the very nature of the journey. I know many parents who through this journey have deschooled their self beliefs to a point where their human potential has expanded, but their opportunity to explore that expansion is limited because of the very nature of the work.

Even at this point, with my carved out 2 hours each weekday morning, I know that my tiredness levels due to the wider picture of my work inhibit my ability regarding progress on this UMA. And that is a very interesting balancing act, because frankly in terms of my immediate priorities, it is the work away from this UMA that is most important, that is my relationship with my family and community, creative work within the our home education community to make it as stable, sustainable and attractive as possible an opportunity for families to take.

The reason why I am doing this UMA is to find the algorithm as it were for transitioning from authoritarian beliefs to children’s rights based beliefs and most importantly to children’s rights based behaviours. I’m looking for the key(s) and I do believe that it(they) exists and that via grassroots action there is a lot we can do to implement them and accelerate this social progress. The reason for this UMA running alongside my other work, is to combine exploring these methods in the real whilst working out how to project them beyond my immediate life and community to the wider world, so that these strategies and understandings can be shared, adapted and replicated.

Over the weekend, a teacher,author and trainer on teaching practice called Sue Cowley picked up on Twitter about my blog post attachment parenting as a social justice movement, commenting:


I fully agree with Sue on this. The discourse in parenting and the discourse in education is running on the same lines, and the keys to unlocking our human potential in terms of transitioning from the authoritarian model to a socially just model are intrinsically related. Whatever the environment, what we are talking about here is the dynamic between adults and children. That Sue picked up on this really gives me hope that it is possible for there to be an alignment of consciousness on this. That the dots are joining up.

I also know that there are teachers within the system who have increasing awareness of the problematic nature of schooling and children’s rights/social justice, and that many are themselves too tired, occupied, stressed, vulnerable to the pressures of their daily work to engage fully with manifesting action on this. The very nature of the issue is a significant barrier to progress on it, especially when an essential part of it is personal work – the unpicking our own conscious and unconscious beleifs/bias, which in and of itself can be a painful and draining practice.

This post really is to highlight the context to what is happening here and the work in this movement, and to acknowledge all of the people who are doing their part, however visible or seemingly invisible it is. I see you and your work is contributing the the whole, even if that whole is something that feels intangible and out of reach.

Tomorrow I will be cracking on with my notes, and some new reading material.

Notes and thoughts: Children and Childhood in Western Society Since 1500, by Hugh Cunningham (Introduction) part 6

Yesterday I didn’t do my morning work because I was busy preparing for the first morning back of World Explorers, which is our weekly creative play/community event for home educating families. We visiting Poland, it was so nice to see everyone after a 6 week summer break.

Back to the critiques of Ariès, de Mause, Shorter and Stone.

Linda Pollock’s ‘Forgotten Children: Parent-child relations from 1500-1900 (1983)(p11). A female historian shows up for the first time in Cunningham’s intro. Cunningham describes “a head of steam was building up which was to critics the key writings of the 1970s as methodologically unsound, technically incompetent, and in their conclusions, whole mistaken.”(p12) – this is interesting seeing as I liked some of these ideas. Lets see what the criticisms are…

So Pollock’s work, Cunningham says, established a new paradigm for history of childhood in the 1980s, focusing on the actual experience of parent-child relationships, rather than the ‘ideas about childhood’, her key argument being that historically, continuity rather than change was more important in understanding this (p12). So I guess she’s considering the ‘history of children’ rather than the ‘history of childhood’ as highlighted as being distinct at the start of the introduction?

Where Stone argued that high infant mortality meant that parents made less emotional investment in their babies/children, Pollock argues that “‘no change in the extent of parental grief over the centuries and no support at all for the argument that parents before the eighteenth century were indifferent to the death of their young offspring, whereas after the eighteenth century they grieved deeply.'” (p12) On discipline, Pollock again is in disagreement with the ideas of earlier writers saying “‘the evidence does not agree with the arguments of writers such as Ariès, de Mause, or Stone that children were harshly, even cruelly, disciplined, but reveals that brutality was the exception rather than the rule'” (p12). 

This is really interesting to me as it goes agains my own hunches and experience, which is more aligned with the early writers. Lets find out more…

Pollock argues that ‘there is little, if any, connection between attitudes and behaviour’ (P12). She studied autobiographies and diaries in Britain and North America re: childrearing in the period 1500-1900. She argued that Historians who spend time reading advice books/sermons/general treatises on childhood won’t learn about the actualities of childrearing or child life (p12-13).

This is really super interesting and something I have been considering recently. The difference between ideas and beliefs and behaviour. Also, the documents that Pollock mentions –  advice books/sermons/general treatises – are likely to be aspirational, ‘this is what you *should* do’, rather than a documentation of the challenges and opportunities that families/parents faced and a documentation of what actually happened. What is the point of a parenting advice book unless it gives new ideas/suggestions about what parents could or ‘should’ do other than what they are currently doing.

Different forces influence peoples thoughts and their behaviour. Socialised habits are difficult to break, environments can be prohibitive in people behaving as they believe is ‘right’. I’ve been considering recently, for example, the phenomena of people voicing anti-authoritarian beliefs, but then behaving in authoritarian ways, and the reasons for that. It’s complex.

Cunningham mentions Keith Wrightson: ‘there seems no reason to believe that parental attitudes towards or aspirations for their children underwent fundamental change in the course of the seventeenth century’ and Ralph Houlbrooke: there ‘is much direct evidence of the reality of loving care in some families and of parental grief in face of the loss of children’ p13. For me this raises questions again about parental love and the experience of love by a child. I again want to bring this back to gender history, and consider the idea that a husband can ‘love’ his wife, and believe that she doesn’t deserve the vote, believe other false trust about the status and identity of women.

Cunningham moves on to talk about demographic approaches to the history of childhood and children. “The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure had been arguing since the 1960s that certainly in England and probably elsewhere – at least in northern Europe – household size had typically been small, with a nuclear family as the dominant norm. This work undermined the old sociological assumption that there had been a transition, generally associated with industrialisation, from extended families to nuclear families; the nuclear family now came the norm. It thus became possible to argue that loving relationships within nuclear families had a perdurance in history and a power to withstand the onslaughts and intrusions of church, of state, and of economic change.” (p13)

This is something really interesting to me. My experience is that the nuclear family is detrimental to families, and especially to mothers (but as a result to all family members and particularly children). Since becoming a parent I’ve become aware of the need of mothers to find community, tribe, village, to build their support structure. Perhaps in some cases this is provided today by extended family – even if that family doesn’t live under one roof. But I have often asked myself the question: when did it become the norm for families to live in this dysfunctional model of nuclear? It doesn’t make practical or emotional sense to try to parent in a nuclear environment. So I want to know when that became the dominant model of family, what caused that, because I really don’t believe that given the opportunity, mothers would design that model themselves. I don’t believe that mothers would choose to bear all of the burden of family life themselves when it makes so much more sense to work collectively and collaboratively.

A few years ago when I was pregnant and my daughter was 2 1/2, I went to the visit with two of my closest girlfriends in the US. Between us there were three mums, with our three children, and let me tell you, that week was one of the easiest and most enjoyable weeks I have had as a parents. It worked – we provided comfort and camaraderie to each other, we could share the cooking and caring, it was just much more fun, for us and the children.

So what was the force behind the social norm of the nuclear family? I just sniff patriarchy in the air and I want to get to the bottom of it. Divide and conquer is what comes to mind, rather than the idea that nuclear families best “withstand the onslaughts and intrusions of church, of state, and of economic change”. Reading The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson was really useful to me in thinking about how Western family structure exists and functions vs. norms and values in other places. It raises some interesting points.

Cunningham mentions Anderson’s work, that via the demographic approach you can examine ‘family strategy’, “the underlining assumption is that families make rational responses to the situations in which they find themselves….The family strategy or household economics approach places the emphasis on the economic more than on the sentimental value of children” (P14). This ties back in for me to the idea of beliefs vs behaviour, and how important environment and social norms are in terms of influencing the behaviour of parents and the lived experience of children.

“… it is timely to consider in more depth the role of philanthropy and the state in relation to children. The emphasis on studying the experience of childhood within the family – an emphasis common to the demographic, sentiments and household economics  approaches – has led to neglect of the wider political and social structures which had an impact on childhood.” (p14-15) – I agree with Cunningham here.

“…there is also little doubt that the introduction of compulsory schooling, normally in the late nineteenth century, did more than any other factor in these five centuries to transform the experience and the meanings attached to childhood by removing them, in principle if not immediately in fact, from the labour market, now reserved for those who were no longer ‘children’. It was this which eventually brought about in the twentieth century an emotional valuation of children much greater than anything accorded to them in previous centuries.” (p15)

Schooling and the experience of children and childhood. I will be fully exploring this in module 2. The evolution of education and it’s social consequence, I am fascinated.

My 2 hours are up, my children have been incredibly patient. And Cunningham’s Introduction is finally finished. Onwards.



Notes and thoughts: Children and Childhood in Western Society Since 1500, by Hugh Cunningham (Introduction) part 5

Another beautiful morning for reading and writing. I have this on the headphones if you want to share the groove.

Ok so where were we…. a bit more about Edward Shorter’s views…

Cunningham goes on to make some statements about how Shorter sees the role of capitalism in all of this, which I am going to come back to at a future time because what is available in the intro here isn’t enough for me to fully grasp what his thoughts were, and the issue of capitalism  and the experience of childhood and parenthood is too important to just skim over. (p9)

Now Cunningham moves on to Lawrence Stone, who wrote The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (1977). Stone’s work focused on “the middle and upper sections of society” (p9), and he identified three types of family: “the ‘open lineage family’ in the period 1450-1630, the ‘restricted patriarchal nuclear family’ in the period 1550-1700, and finally the ‘closed domesticated nuclear family’ in the period 1640-1800” (p10). He thought that the “‘intensified affective bonding of the nuclear core at the expense of neighbours and kin’ was well established in the ‘key middle and upper sectors of English society’ by the middle of the C18th” (p10).

Within the ‘open lineage family’ Stone argued the parent/child relationship was remote, with upper classes sending babies to wet-nurses, and upper bourgeois and professional classes sending them to boarding school at 10. Under “‘restricted patriarchal nuclear family’ there was ‘a fierce determination to break the will of the child, and to enforce his utter subjugation to the authority of his elders and superiors, and most especially his parents.'” (p10) with brutal corporal punishment the norm, the 16th and 17th centuries being “‘the great flogging age'” (p10).

Stone identifies change from 1660, with a move over one and a half centuries to a “‘child oriented family type'” p10. He identified 6 different modes of childrearing, “only one of which, the ‘child-oriented, affectional and permissive mode’ within ‘the upper bourgeoisie and squirearchy’ was fully modern. And even within that social strata there was an alternative ‘child-oriented but repressive mode.'” (p10)

Cunningham quotes Stone: “‘The only steady linear change over the last four hundred years seems to have been a growing concern for children, although their actual treatment has oscillated cyclically between the permissive and the repressive.'” (p11).

Something that I think is interesting about the authors that I have been considering so far in Cunningham’s introduction – Ariès, de Mause, Shorter and Stone, is that they are all writing in the 1970s, in the window between the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). It’s this ‘era’ that the formal study of the ‘history of childhood’ emerges. ‘Gender history’ also emerges in this same time period.

I would like to see the history of childhood framed within a context of social justice movement and the history of human rights. Where stone says:

“‘The only steady linear change over the last four hundred years seems to have been a growing concern for children, although their actual treatment has oscillated cyclically between the permissive and the repressive.'” (p11).

What happens when we change the word ‘children’ for ‘people’?

We can not separate the history of childhood from the history of the the progress of social justice movement, because the treatment of children and their lived experience is the nexus of the construction and perpetuation of inequality and injustice. Within that we need to consider the impact of theory vs. practice – ideas vs lived experience -as referred to in my last post about parental ‘love’.

Tomorrow I’ll be looking at the criticisms of Ariès, de Mause, Shorter and Stone that emerged from the 1980s onwards.

Notes and thoughts: Children and Childhood in Western Society Since 1500, by Hugh Cunningham (Introduction) part 4

Hi folks, I’m back! I’ve been away from here for a week or so because I went to Norfolk with my family:


I’ve also got a little challenge on the horizon. When I started this UMA, my husband was on his 6 week break from school (he’s a secondary school teacher), which means I had much more available time in the day to focus on reading and writing. However, as of today, he goes back . So I’m attempting a mega disciplined approach in order to get time for this beautiful work, which is to get up at 7am and work for two hours first thing in the morning, so that I can make progress whilst still having the day clear for home ed life with the children. So here’s to day one of that plan!

I’m going to carry on from where I left off in the last post, which is the end of the Introduction chapter of Hugh Cunningham’s ‘Children and Childhood in Western Society since 1500’. Bold text marks direct quotations, all the rest is my is my own thoughts.

So no we are considering Edward Shorter (The Making of the Modern Family, 1976), who claimed that ‘Good mothering is an invention of modernisation. In traditional society, mothers viewed the development of and happiness of infants younger than two with indifference. In modern society, they place the welfare of their small children above all else.’ (p9). 

Sheesh, this is a problematic sentence isn’t it. Firstly, I’m no expert, but I from what I do know I would really challenge the idea that this is true of ‘traditional society’ unless you are taking a particularly white/European/’Western’ view of what ‘traditional society’ is.

For example, if we consider the history of re-European traditional Maori parenting culture and philosophy, we find this:

“The fundamental principle for raising children was the underlying belief that children were favoured as gifts from the atua (spiritual beings), from the tipuna (ancestors) and preceded those unborn, which meant that they were tapu (under special rules and restrictions). Any negativity expressed to them was breaking the tapu by offending the atua and the tipuna gone before. Because of their intrinsic relationship to these spiritual worlds, the children inherited their mana (power, prestige). They were treated with loving care (aroha) and indulgence. Punitive discipline in whatever degree, as a method of socialising children, was an anathema to the tipuna.”

Again, apologies for generalised statements, but lets consider as well the traditional parenting culture and practice of indigenous American peoples, quote from here:

European observers, hardened to INFANT MORTALITY, were impressed by the fondness shown toward and good care taken of Indian children by their mothers. This quality was nowhere better demonstrated than in the feeding of the infant. Unlike European upper-class parents, Indians did not put their children out to be nursed. If the mother happened to die before the child was weaned the father might fill his mouth with water in which corn had been boiled and pass the liquid on to the infant. Nursing went on for several years. During this time the child stayed close to its mother, usually transported on a cradleboard tied to the mother’s back. As the child grew and was allowed to crawl it was carried without a board, again on the back of the mother, who grasped it by one leg and the opposite arm. Weaned at approximately three years, the young Indian who had been so carefully attended was suddenly left to his or her own devices, unconfined and now learning from the example of elders. Still, young children must have remained under the watchful eyes of their parents and, probably, the entire village community.

Children were considered to be specially linked to the spiritual world, and in general were indulged rather than punished. Nothing shocked the Europeans more than the absence of physical punishment as a means to DISCIPLINE Indian children

I know I have a lot to learn about the impact of colonialism on this, and I am looking forward to exploring the work of indigenous scholars on this subject. What I have read so far gives me the feeling that learning more is very important, in order to understand our history, and also to help identify what European/colonial behaviours and practices that still act to damage the parent child relationship in contemporary culture. I’m thinking here of early forced separation, attitudes towards respectful parenting, and more.

Another issue I am going to take with Shorter’s statement is in regards to the idea that ‘in modern society, they (mothers) place the welfare of their children above all else.’ So firstly, I need to find out what he means by ‘modern’, but lets say what me means is current. His book was published in 1976, so his modern is I guess the 60s and 70s. Granted, at this time, the majority of children were still being cared for by a parent – it is most accurate to say mother here because it was the mother – at the age of one year. I know that in 1981 76% of 1 year olds were still being cared for by a parent. However, if we talk about the ‘newl’ modern, by 2010 that figure had dropped to 24%. I imagine in the USA it is even lower, seeing as there is no entitlement to paid maternity leave there.

Does this tell us anything in regards to Shorter’s statement? Surely this is the most sticky of subjects. I don’t believe for a second, that intellectually parents don’t care about, don’t love their children. To suggest such would be traumatic and rejected by probably every parent. However, what I think needs thinking about here is not whether a parent loves a child, but the experience of the child of that love. What does the behaviour of love look like to a child. How is it learned, how is it internalised. How does the theory of parental love translate in practice.

When we start thinking about it in these terms, I would argue that we are far from a place where the welfare of children is put above all else, as proposed by Shorter.

I am yet to understand how institutionalised settings and ‘care’ is in the best interests of babies or young children. All of the evidence as far as I can tell points to the contrary. So the social norm of almost all children in British society living within these settings directly contradicts Shorter’s opinion. When he wrote his book, this wasn’t the social norm, but it is now. How did parental love manifest in the 60s and 70s? Hopefully in these studies I will get to learn more about that.

There are also still many parenting practices, which again, I would say contradict what Shorter proposes. These are informed I believe by internalised childism/adultism, that informs and influences most thinking and behaviour by parents/adults that effects the environment and experience of love by children, and normalises authoritarianism to varying degrees.

That domestic violence against children within the home is still legal in this country, and strongly defended by people in positions of power, is of course a big issue. However, I am encouraged to have come across this research by IPSOS MORI that indicates a shift in parental attitudes towards hitting children. It seems that regardless of the law, parental attitudes are shifting away from believing that hitting a child is acceptable – this follows the complex trend I believe that exists between women’s rights and children’s rights. It is grassroots change that is really interesting to me, and I’m going to do some follow up work on this in my blog.

The question of mothers putting the ‘welfare of their children above all else’ is so a fraught one, which draws us to consider I think the social, economic, and political experience of motherhood. I would argue what we even mean when we say ‘above all else’? Children’s status in society is so subjugated, that treating a child as an actual person, as equally important to people considered adult, gives the illusion of placing them ‘above all else’. Our social structures are built on a foundation that depends on children not being placed ‘above all else’ – in fact it transforms them into a burden and problem to be put somewhere ‘else’. Despite this, there is still parental will I believe to address this social injustice, and I anticipate a tipping point in this regard, evidenced by the seeming generational diminishment of authoritarian views.

So back to Shorter. Perhaps there is some meaning in Shorter’s view, given his framework and the historical context that he is considering. I am looking forward to exploring historical parenting guides, to look more into his statement regarding mothers viewing the development of and happiness of infants younger than two with indifference. There is still legacy of this visible in current parenting and educational practices, perhaps mainly in terms of a sense of personhood and agency being deprived of babies and young children, and the negation of the voice and emotional communication of young children.

Interesting to note that in Cunningham’s references about Shorter, he highlights that Shorter used “maternal breastfeeding and an end to the system of sending children off to a wet-nurse…the abdonement of swaddling, allowing a freer interaction between other and baby” as indicators of a “surge of sentiment amongst the middle classes in the mid-eighteenth century” (p9). Perhaps this can be summarised as the idea of the importance of parents being close to and responsive to their children’s needs? How does that compare to the experience of babies and young children today? To be continued…

Notes and thoughts: Children and Childhood in Western Society Since 1500, by Hugh Cunningham (Introduction) part 3

So here we go with Part 3 of the introduction notes (you can find part 1 here, and part 2 here). Just a little comment on unschooling and intrinsic motivation, no joke – I woke up and was so excited to get back to this – Alfie Kohn knows what he’s talking about.

Here’s my intrinsically motivated little face this morning, PJs and all, ready to hang out with Hugh Cunningham again (I’m listening to Sia if you are interested):


OK so where were we…

“The key to success in parenting for de Mause is to have the ability to regress to the psychic age of your child, and he believed that each generation of parents was likely to be better than its predecessors in this respect, though the mechanism which drives this evolution is not clear.” p8

Firstly ‘regress to the psychic age of your child’ I think means empathise. The ability to consider a situation and experience from the point of view of another. I agree with de Mause here – empathy is the antidote to authoritarian parenting. The ability of a parent to empathise with their child demonstrates respect for their child, and a belief in their personhood – they are no less a person than the adult, worthy of empathy, understanding, respect, being listened to.

I think the mechanism that drives this is the deterioration of authoritarianism, increase in democratic thinking, social emancipation. As people begin to experience greater agency, autonomy, voice, sense of dignity and respect themselves, their expectation of relationships and personhood shifts, and they become able to extend this to children. Each generation is likely to be better than it’s predecessor, on the basis that we are experiencing social progress. As we question more and more the validity of the limiting of freedom of one group by another, we come to question the ‘naturalness’ and validity of the control and oppression of young people by those older than them. And if you can reach a point where the oppression and marginalisation of children is not socially justified, hypothetically you will then see the undermining of all oppressions and prejudices that are based on a feature (age, sex or gender identity, skin colour, sexuality, ability etc). Our experience of childhood will be one of empowerment rather than oppression, and may result in the internalisation of universal empathy and personhood.

This is why I also think that women’s history is really essential in understanding childhood experience, and tracking women’s emancipation and social experience is a strong indicator of childhood experience. If we look to Finland, which has arguably the most learner centred and children’s rights incorporated system of education in the world, you also find a country with significant gender parity. Its interesting to consider the Scandinavian countries, where attitudes towards children are far more progressed that in the UK – Sweden being the first country in the world to ban smacking, compared to here in England where it is still legal for parents to hit their children (and advice I have received from children’s rights organisations here is that due to the ‘culture’ of our politics, England may be one of the last countries in the world to give children equal protection under the law).

“‘But most importantly, the continuous growth of a democratic, egalitarian ideal meant that more and more Swedes felt that all people – children too – should enjoy equal protection from violence’, he (Staffan Janson) says.”

Cunningham continues: “The psychogenic theory of history has never won much of a hearing amongst historians, to a degree doubtless because of an instinctive hostility on the part of the historians to concepts with which most of them are unfamiliar, but also because of the inherent implausibility of a theory which attempted to schematise and explain the course of human history by exploring parent-child interactions” (p8)

This is really interesting, and something I am looking forward to exploring more. My experience is that internalised authoritarianism can prevent people from being able to access the argument that de Mause is making. Mistreatment can be invisible if a person believes it to be necessary or natural. Our own experiences of childhood can prevent us from being able to see what needs to be seen. I also think it is interesting, the idea that the course of history being explored through parent-child interactions is considered by some to be implausible. That to me flags up the misogyny and adultism that often undermines the importance and relevance of childhood experience, and the significance of what can happen between a mother and child in terms of wider social impact.

Cunningham moves on to consider Edward Shorter’s work, offering this quote of Shorter: “Good mothering is an invention of modernisation. In traditional society, mothers viewed the the development and happiness of infants younger than two with indifference. In modern society, they place the the welfare of their small children above all else.” (p9)

An interesting theory. I would like to know more about how the history of medicine intersects with this. There are still those today who see babies and young children as being less than human, in terms of their emotional and physical experience – we only need to look to attitudes regarding infant circumcision, and sleep training for examples of that (although these attitudes a increasingly criticised). Perhaps before children were able to verbally articulate themselves, they have historically been considered with indifference – frankly that still exists in some areas of parenting culture today.

I would expect a shift in that to be in keeping with increasingly democratic ideals, and also increasing status for the voice of personhood of women. I’m interested to see if that ties in with Shorter’s timeline and ideas.

“Shorter found signs of a surge of sentiment amongst the middle classes in the mid-eighteenth century, marked by maternal breastfeeding and an end to the system of sending children off to a wet-nurse.” (p9)

This is another interesting point, especially considering that in current feminist and children’s rights type advocacy, the opportunity and value of breastfeeding is very present.

Right, I need to take a break. Looks like we are heading for a part 4!

Notes and thoughts: Children and Childhood in Western Society Since 1500, by Hugh Cunningham (Introduction) part 2

This is the second section of my notes and thoughts regarding the Introduction. The first can be found here, bold denotes direct quotes, the rest is my thoughts.

“Ariès did not disguise the fact that he was seeking to understand the particularity of the present by comparing and contrasting it with the past” (p5) – this has always been my reason for studying history, how can you understand the now without not having an understanding of what has come before?

On Ariès’ observations: “The key change was the development of the idea that schooling was for children only than for people of all ages; childhood and adulthood were being separated out. Once schooling became something confined to children, it became possible to impose on it an order and discipline, including corporal punishment, this discipline separating ‘the child who suffered from it from the liberty enjoyed by the adult’.” (p6)

This is making me wonder if André Stern‘s parents were influenced by reading Ariès. I agree with Ariès in this view cited by Cunningham. Schooling as we know it is only possible because it exists in a period of age during which our social constructs deprive children of agency, consent, full personhood. ‘Adults’ simply would not tolerate the conditions of schooling. In fact – many decide that they can’t or won’t – teacher recruitment and turnover is described as being in crisis in the UK.

More on Ariès: “His overall conclusion was that by the seventeenth century there had developed in France two concepts of childhood. The first was to be found within families; parents began ‘to recognise the pleasure they got from watching children’s antics and “coddling” them.’ The second its origins outside the family in moralists who stressed how children were fragile creatures of God who needed to be safeguarded and reformed. It was these moralists who were increasingly to argue that school must work with the family in carrying out this task.” (p6) – A tension of sorts, similar to this, exists today I think – the parent’s view of their child’s best interests vs the view of the ‘expert’ – which rarely centres the child’s actual needs or voice. The reference to the ‘safeguarding’ and reformative perceived function of schooling reminds me of a piece that I wrote a few months ago ‘Fear of women, attachment to schooling’.

Cunningham goes on to mention the “trio of books now often grouped together as marking a peculiarly 1970s approach to the history of children and childhood: Lloyd de Mause, The History of Childhood (1974); Edward Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family (1976); and Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (1977).”(p7)

He comments on de Mause: “The evolution of of the relationship between parent and child was.. central to what de Mause called the ‘psychogenic’ interpretation of history. This interpretation had ramifications far outside the history of childhood, for the quality of parent-child relations was seen as the motor force of history; as de Mause put it, ‘the central force for change in history is neither technology nor economics, but the “psychogenic” changes in personality occurring because of successive generations of parent-child interactions’.” (p7)

This is an extremely interesting perspective to me. It resonates with what I have come to deduce myself, via observation and the research I have been doing over the past years. Children form their belief systems via their interaction with their environment, the family and parent child relationship being absolutely key in this. I have come to see authoritarianism being the common thread that runs through this – and the parent child dynamic (as well as schooling) is precisely where authoritarianism is practiced and internalised over many years, during the period of childhood in which a person is at their most highly vulnerable state – literally dependent for life on others.

My hypothesis is that when authoritarianism is experienced in childhood as the basis of what relationship looks like, it becomes internalised as a ‘natural state’ and normalises and perpetuates authoritarianism in all other spheres – social, political, economic etc. A big part of this project for me is to explore the history of authoritarianism in adult/child relationships and in the history of childhood. What is interesting I think is also remembering that authoritarianism can also look ‘nice’. You can have ‘romantic’ authoritarianism – all you need is one person misusing their power over another, perpetuating a notion of ownership and control i.e. depriving agency/voice/personhood – how that manifests can be varied and may appear as ‘kindness’. The notion of a ‘benevolent patriarch’ – interesting to consider the ‘benevolent master’ in this piece by Jenny Wapner –  she comments: “Paternalism transformed the relationship of slave and master into one of child and parent.”

This also I think ties into what was being discussed in the first part of these notes about the experience of ‘love’. What is our collective experience of love when we believe that it could be a ‘loving act’, in the best interest of people, to be bombed? And yet that is the justification that is often given and accepted for violent foreign policies. ‘Love’ learnt via authoritarianism is highly problematic.

OK, this is going to have to go to a part 3 because it’s my bed time. This studying process is going to be interesting if it is going to take me so long to get through even the introduction of a book – I’m only on page 8!