Enlightenment Thinking

By the middle of the eighteenth century, parents were being told they need not try so hard to control and shape their young children. John Locke published Some Thoughts Concerning Education in 1693, and his work became increasingly influential in America after about 1750. Locke assured parents that much natural development could be trusted rather than combated. For example, children could be allowed to crawl and would progress to walking without being harmed by having crawled on all fours. Locke disapproved of swaddling and advised simple, nonrestrictive clothing for babies and older children. He introduced the idea of learning through play the idea of educational play helped make play itself more acceptable and described educational toys. Memoirists born near the end of the colonial period remembered alphabet blocks, a toy that fostered learning, as did some children’s books of this era. Locke, with other Enlightenment writers like William Buchan, still continued to advise parents to break the child’s will. Discipline was to start in infancy. Parents were told to deny requests and to refuse to indulge a child’s appetites in order to promote the virtues of self-control and self-denial. This discipline was to be enforced not with physical force but with emotional control, through giving or withholding affection. In addition, Locke recommended a simple diet, fresh air, cold water baths, and cold feet. He believed this regimen would harden the child, resulting in robust physical health. Diaries and memoirs show that many parents implemented Locke’s advice, occasionally creating lasting resentment in their children. Both the religious tradition and the Enlightenment authors considered education an important part of child rearing. The religious view emphasized literacy, since believers needed to be able to read the Bible themselves. The Enlightenment celebrated human reason and the reading of the classics. Many children learned to read at home, being taught by a parent or older sibling. Formal schooling, however, became increasingly available to both boys and girls over time. Of course, children born into slavery had a very different experience. To start with, they could be separated from their parents at any time if either the parent or child was sold or moved to a different location. Even when they lived together, slave parents were denied the authority to make decisions regarding their children’s lives. Slave children were almost never taught to read; in fact, teaching a slave to read was later made illegal in many Southern states. Slave children were taught to work, typically starting with lighter versions of the tasks they might spend their adult lives doing. Religious training emphasized obedience over all else, and physical punishments were frequent and sometimes severe. American Revolution The American Revolution brought change, creating, perhaps, a more egalitarian family structure. Before the Revolution, families had begun moving away from the patriarchal model; the revolutionary era saw the development of what was called Republican Motherhood. The mother’s role was considered important, because she was the one to educate and train her sons to be virtuous citizens of the republic. In practice, this meant that mothers gained more authority within the home and girls received a more thorough education than in earlier generations, so that they would be able to be good teachers of their sons. The use of corporal punishment also declined. Parents began to replace the idea of original sin with a view of children as innately good, a view that would underlie many child-rearing ideas and practices in the coming century. Elizabeth McKee Williams See also: Children; Education; Family; Reading and Literacy; Document: Raising Colonial Children (1699). Bibliography Calvert, Karin. Children in the House: The Material Culture of Early Childhood, 1600 1900. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992. Greven, Philip J., Jr. Child-Rearing Concepts, 1628 1861: Historical Sources. Itasca, IL: F. E. Peacock Publishers, 1973. Marten, James, ed. Children in Colonial America. New York: New York University Press, 2007. Reinier, Jacqueline S. From Virtue to Character: American Childhood, 1775 1850. New York: Twayne, 1996. Children Prior to the colonial period, children occupied a poorly defined place in society. While it was recognized that they were not adults, their social and moral position was unclear. They could be married at the age of 3 or 4 with plans to consummate the marriage later. They could be bound out for indentured servitude as a means of providing their own support or support for their families. They also were customarily seen as possessing the same inherited sins and inherent evil as their parents. While these characteristics remained part of childhood for many children, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw a move toward defining children as beings distinct from adults. The Chinese Dream: Senses concerning the revival of the Chinese … holidaymapq

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