Changing Meaning of Childhood

This change is directly reflected in the social and political movements of the early modern period. Religious leaders in Europe and England had advocated religious reform in the sixteenth century, leading to the creation of the Protestant church. By the seventeenth century, their reform interests incorporated politics and society, as well as religion. Among the best-known examples of this movement are the Puritans. Other examples include the smaller, splinter Protestant groups: the Quakers, Moravians, and Anabaptists. In contrast, the eighteenth century saw a different type of reform. Advocates for change became philosophers and scientists, arguing for scientific reason rather than religious justification. Regardless, both religious and scientific thinkers were interested in how children were defined and taught. The medieval period had also seen drastic change and upheaval with very little thought given as to how children lived. The most likely reasons that reformers were now choosing to address the issue of children were social and economic. Crop rotations that led to greater yields, increased trade and prosperity, and more information about medicine had led to a higher rate of survival for both parents and children. Parents able to contemplate seeing children through to adulthood could more readily contemplate those children as children. These issues can be traced in the books written about and for children during the colonial period. The rise of the printing press had made printed material more readily available. Books about children could be printed and sold to the middle and upper classes. Broadsheets and small chapbooks for children were available for a penny or less. Many of these were imported to the colonies; some were printed and bound in North America. While the Puritans hoped that changing church and state would improve society, they also believed that reform had to take place within the family. As a means of advocating these reforms, they wrote numerous how-to manuals on raising children, including Robert Cleaver’s A Godly Form of Household Government in 1598 and William Gouge’s 1622 Of Domestical Duties. While these books demonstrate the strictness that the Puritans were known for, they also demonstrate a move toward fairness in raising children. Parents, suggested Gouge, should not beat their children when enraged, and children should be given the opportunity to defend themselves. Direct examples of the application of these beliefs can be found in diaries from the period. Books written for children by Puritans also took an instructive form. In the 1640s, a Moravian schoolmaster named Jan Amos Comenius moved to London from Czechoslovakia, eager to put his educational theories to work. In 1658, he published a primer to be used in schools, titling it Orbus Sensualism Pictus. Each page had a picture showing some aspect of everyday life with captions in both a vernacular language and Latin. Comenius argued that children would be eager to sound out the words as they described their own, familiar world. Following the Restoration of Charles II, Comenius’s book and ideas fell into obscurity. Another example of a book written for children in the seventeenth century is James Janeway’s A Token for Children in 1671. While its almost saintly boys and girls, none of whom reach adulthood, seem impossible to a modern reader, it was one of the first books to portray children as children, distinct from adults. Janeway even went so far as to suggest that these children served as examples of good behavior to their parents rather than the other way around. The eighteenth century saw the creation of very different books about and for children. While the Puritans had advocated reform for children, the belief that all humans, adult or child, were inherently evil was still a tenet of their faith. In contrast, Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke and JeanJacques Rousseau argued that children were born as blank slates, neither good nor bad, and that corruption could come only with experience. In 1693, Locke published his Some Thoughts Concerning Education. In some respects, Locke’s work resembled the books published by the Puritans, as it argued for strict, consistent parenting. In contrast, however, he said that children should be encouraged to play more and be cozen’d into learning in this context. In 1762, Rousseau’s Emile was published, suggesting that children be allowed to develop naturally. The ideas put forth by Locke, Rousseau, and others were fully established by the outbreak of the American Revolution. In turn, their philosophies also contributed to some of the rhetoric of the Revolution. Throughout the medieval period, fairy tales and romances were popular among adults and children alike. By the late seventeenth century, sophisticated writers such as Charles Perrault were retelling traditional stories for the French court. Beautifully illustrated editions of Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella were highly popular. It is likely they were also read to aristocrats’ children. The Enlightenment, in contrast, saw these stories as bad for both adults and children, though for different reasons. Adult attention to fairy tales and magic demonstrated a lack of interest in the sciences. And if fairy tales were written for adults, and children were different from adults, then children needed writing created for children. The early eighteenth century saw the rise of the nursery rhyme as a genre. Perrault published Tales of Mother Goose in 1697 and also attached morals to many of his earlier stories. Isaac Watts, an English dissenter, published Divine and Moral Songs for Children in 1715, one of the most popular books of the age. Before 1800, it went through seventy-five different editions in the colonies. Another collection of children’s songs, titled Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Songs, was published in 1744 under the pseudonym of Nurse Lovechild. These works continued to be published well into the nineteenth century. Childhood’s End: The Planetary Meaning Of Climate Change : 13.7 … holidaymapq

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