The Nature Assumption – Ready or Not: Why Treating Children as Small Adults Endangers – Kay S. Hymowitz.
Great divide: il bambino impara da solo o un maestro deve trasmettergli i valori della sua cultura? Tesi: chi crede nell’apprendimento naturale soffre di un bias anti-culturale che lo porta a smantellare la distinzione adulto/bambino, ovvero le due sfere fondamentali dell’educazione.
When my children were toddlers, I, like many parents, used to show them a book with pictures of a mother pig and her piglet, a mother cow and her calf. Understandably obsessed with “big” and “little,” they seemed to love these pictures. But the illustrations also served to reassure them that childhood and the tie between mother and child are immutable facts of nature.
Note:CUCCIOLI… UN FATTO NATURALE
Compare a tribal or premodern culture whose children need only learn ancestral methods of hunting, weaving, marrying, and worshipping with a modern democratic society whose children must learn to find work that conforms to their own inclinations, to choose their own spouses and leaders, and simultaneously to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. The former is fairly straightforward: children can learn a great deal of what they need to know through simple imitation and unembellished verbal commands. The latter is an enormous project requiring years and years of technical training and psychological preparation. “Give me other mothers and I will give you another world,” St. Augustine wrote,
Note:CON MADRI DIVERSE CIVILTÀ DIVERSE
In the earliest days of the republic Americans intuited that families—especially, but by no means only, mothers—provided the essential breeding ground for the democratic, adaptable, creative, energetic, entrepreneurial, self-regulating individual the new country needed.
Note:IL TURBO DELLA FAMIGLIA
Americans continue to have rather distinct ideas about how to treat children. Consider our approach to the infant. While almost universally babies sleep with their mothers throughout infancy and sometimes well into childhood, Americans insist upon putting their babies in their own crib
Note:L’ECCEZIONE OCCIDENTALE: LE CULLE
American parents put their babies in infant seats and high chairs and chatter, laugh, and frown with them as they would with their best friend at lunch. They frequently use their baby’s name: “How big is Megan?” “Where is Megan’s mouth?” In many cultures, it is common to tease an older infant by holding food or a pacifier just out of reach,
Note:DA NOI BIMBO AL CENTRO
American parents “childproof” their homes so that their young can move around and explore.
In general, American babies—and their older siblings—are held and touched less
In all of these instances, parents send their babies an unspoken message: You are an independent and autonomous individual.
Compare this outlook to that of the Gusii tribe of central Africa: In order to discourage independent emotional expression in their children, Gusii mothers deliberately turn away from their infant’s excited laughter.
Note:IL RISO PRESSO I GUSII
Unlike American parents, who defer to the rhythms of their babies, Italians think little of waking a sleeping child if someone wants to play with him or of making him wait to eat until the family dinnertime or of holding him on their lap when he wants to move around. Sociality more than individuality is their goal.
Note:BIMBI ITALIANI E FAMIGLIA
American parents are teaching their children to be self-directed and private individuals. We are not born that way.
Note:AUTONOMIA MITO NORDICO
If the dauphin showed pleasure in a certain food, he would be denied it. If he disliked a food, it was served to him repeatedly. In order to impress upon him his powerlessness, he, the future king, was taught to serve his father at meals. At age two, he began to be subjected to a regime of whippings, first by his nurse and then, as he grew older, by the soldiers of the guard.
Note:EDUCAZIONE DEL DELFINO… 1610
Children, whether they were kings or servants, were to obey parents with the same unquestioning fear with which parents were to obey God.
Note:DIO PATRIA FAMIGLIA
Americans today might view these methods as ruinous to children’s self-esteem, but that misses the point. Individuals were not supposed to have a self, esteemed or not… They were being prepared to become drones in the family economy. …
inspired by the philosophy of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.8 A free country, they believed, called for a new kind of childhood. The most noticeable change came with the common school movement, starting in the 182Os. Under the leadership of a Massachussetts reformer named Horace Mann, Americans gradually moved children out of the fields, craftsmen’s shops, and kitchens and into the classroom.
“Affectionate persuasion addressed to the understanding, the conscience, and the heart is the grand instrument to be employed in family government,” wrote Herman Humphrey in his Domestic Education.9 In the schools, too, corporal punishment was to be thought of as “a relic of barbarism,” in Mann’s words.
In her 1831 Mother’s Book, Lydia Child exhorted parents to encourage their children to explore and to be active, observant thinkers.
Note:STIMOLARE LA CURIOSITÀ
Her contemporary Bronson Alcott, father of the author Louisa May Alcott, went further: “The child must be treated as a free, self-guiding, self-controlling being,” he announced.
Note:IL BIMBO AUTONOMO
The old world barely noticed infants. People forgot their ages and their names; they casually transferred the names of recently dead babies to newborns. Many European infants were sent away to wet nurses and were often bound inside tight, dirty swaddling clothes for hours on end.
Beginning with the Puritans, however, Americans had shown more solicitude toward their babies by avoiding swaddling and endorsing maternal breastfeeding.17 By the nineteenth century, 95 percent of infants were breastfed by their mothers until they were between two and four years old.
The republican experts also sought to bring some air to the individual feelings so darkly confined by the Puritans. They were setting out to evoke what the philosopher Charles Taylor called “a new form of inwardness in which we come to think of ourselves as beings with inner depths.”21 Never in all of history could children hope for so much attention
Note:ANIMA DEL BAMBINO
Thus, romantic and republican notions had a tremendous practical impact. They taught children that independent imagination and self-directed activity were highly valued in the world to which they had to adapt.
Detached from his roots and far from the watchful eyes of kin and neighbors, the wanderer had always been an ambiguous figure. Now everyone was a potential wanderer. Under such fragmented conditions, how could you ensure that children would grow up to adhere to a common set of values, a coherent culture?
Note:COME CONIUGARE LIBERTÀ E VALORI?
Children were subjected to frequent stern lectures, overheated exhortations, and tiresome maxims about duty, morals, and integrity. Experts recognized the need to counterbalance the potential for egotism contained in many of their own precepts.
Note:TANTO MORALISMO COME CONTRAPPESO
Farm children and impoverished city children also benefited little from the new dispensation. Forced to work brutally long hours, they had no time for the romps in the woods remembered by some memoirists.
Note:NON PER TUTTI
And there are other cautions. In many fundamentalist families, austere self-denial remained a cornerstone virtue. Play and material pleasures were not available to children in these families.
Even among those parents who had relaxed their guard against pleasures and “delight,” one arena of selfhood continued to come under strict discipline: the body. Masturbation, or “self-abuse” as it was called at the time, epitomized the fear of lack of self-restraint and became an anxious preoccupation among parents for well over a century.
Note:IL CONTROLLO SUL CORPO
Even taking into account all these cautions, there can be no question that Americans were succeeding in inventing a new childhood,
Note:LA NUOVA INFANZIA ERA NATA
the independence and fearlessness of children were a perpetual charm in my eyes. To go no deeper, it is a constant amusement to see how the speculations of young minds issue, when they take their own way of thinking, and naturally say all they think.
Note:TESTIMONIANZA SUI BIMBI AMERICANI
This history may surprise readers who have been assured that it was only recently that we have been liberated from the long, oppressive reign of seen-but-not-heard childhood.
there were some early signs of strain. The most significant came in the early decades of the twentieth century as scientific experts overthrew the theologians, moralists, and philosophers who had been the bearers of republican childrearing wisdom. In their writings these experts betrayed a deep suspicion about parents’ influence over children, an approach far different from the morally uplifting exhortations that permeated the republican tracts. Progressive reformers ruminated over “the unchecked tyranny or unchecked indulgence of the private home.”
Note:ANNI 20 ARRIVA L’ESPERTO
“We are saying to the father and the mother,” wrote Justice Julian Mack, one of the founders of the first juvenile court, “that they have not the wisdom, or the ability, or the willingness, properly to train the child. The State is going to step into the home.”
Note:LO STATO SOSTITUISCE I GENITORI
As mistrustful of parents as they were, scientific experts of the first decades of the century never questioned childhood’s purpose or adults’ role in shaping the young. But around the middle of the century, both of these came under attack. Americans lost sight entirely of the two central understandings of nineteenth-century childrearing: first, that children’s individuality must be shaped and “constructed” and, second, that the egotism inherent in American individualism must be countered by grounding in a common culture. What emerged in their place was anticulturalism.
Note:TERZA FASE: ANTICULTURALISMO
Whereas sixteen-year-old Samoans might be running a household (probably including children of their own), foraging for food, and helping govern a village, sixteen-year-old Americans were told to clean up their rooms, do their homework, and shun sex.
Note:SOCIOLOGIA ANNI 50
The entire idea that childhood represents a time of freedom seemed increasingly suspect to many critics. For them, young people shared some of the qualities of oppressed minorities who were becoming the center of social concern. Tracts with titles like “The Student as Nigger”
Note:ANNI SESSANTA: L’ADOLESCENTE COME OPPRESSO
The juvenile court, which had been founded in part to give troubled youth a chance for more lenient treatment than they would otherwise receive in adult court, was a special source of outrage. ..The architects of the court “implicitly assumed the ‘natural’ dependence of adolescents and created a court to impose sanctions on premature independence.” …
The bible for this doctrine, published in English in 1962, was Centuries of Childhood by the French historian Philippe Ariès.
Ariès’ book highlights the notion long grasped by philosophers: rather than a mere biological fact, childhood varies from culture to culture.
Note:INFANZIA FATTO CULTURALE
Much of Ariès’ book chronicles the very early signs of the shift towards the modern, protective childrearing described earlier in this chapter. However, while many historians have seen in this shift a victory for the young, Ariès was an iconoclast. He demonstrated a clear preference for the distant past.
Note:L’ADDOLCIMENTO COME TRAPPOLA DA DENUNCIARE
Ariès’ widely accepted notion that casual socialization translates into more freedom for children is a highly important, though subtle, example of anti-cultural thinking. Resting on the presumption that the free individual is a fact of nature, it ignores that childhood is the time when individuals are given the specific materials with which to “construct” their identity, including their identity as free individuals.
Note:CIÒ CHE TRASCURA AIRES
The casual treatment of medieval children could not possibly do that. It reflected not a respect for children’s autonomy but an utter indifference toward individual experience.
Note:LA NATURALEZZA MEDIEVALE
Most important, medieval parents had no notion of bodily privacy. People of the time thought nothing of fondling and kissing young children’s genitals. The ladies-in-waiting of Louis XIII, for instance, masturbated him, kissed his genitals and urged him to touch theirs, threatened to cut off his penis and nipples, showed him pornographic books, had sexual intercourse in front of him—all before he was seven years old.57 Parents of the Middle Ages could not imagine, nor could they communicate to children, that the body was ground zero of the private self.
Note:MEDIOEVO E CORPO
That Ariès did not grasp this was due in part to his disdain for the bourgeois family and in part to an anti-cultural misunderstanding.
Note:LA FAMIGLIA BORGHESE
The most extreme version of these anti-cultural views came from liberationist thinkers of the late sixties and seventies, particularly the feminist Shulamith Firestone and child liberationists Richard Parson and John Holt.
They believed children to be naturally capable, fully conscious, and intentional, so much so that they should be able to choose with whom they want to live, how to spend their money, how they want to be educated, who should be their political leaders, and what their religious and ethical belief system should be.
Note:AUTONOMIA COMPLETA DEL BIMBO
Social critics of the time understood very clearly that they were rebelling against the tradition I’ve been calling republican childhood. For them, mothers’ “affectionate persuasion” and “the gentle revolution” were not a moral triumph but a nefarious scheme to disguise the absolute power of adults;
Note:RIVOLUZIONE NON RIFORME
Parental love was a “force of violence” bent on “destroying most of [children’s] potentialities,” in the words of the psychiatrist R. D. Laing.
Note:L’AMORE DEI GENITORI UCCIDE SOFFOCANDO
As feminists added men to the list of authorities under suspicion, some began to look at children as comrades in suffering at the hands of an oppressive patriarchy.
Note:LA SACRA ALLEANZA DEGLI OPPRESSI: BAMBINI E DONNE
For these more radical thinkers, the belief that childhood was nothing but a prison, that women were similarly confined victims, and that men were tyrannical or even brutal sentinels was enough to end the discussion. A similar attack on schools reflected the same impatience with republican ideals. It wasn’t just that Horace Mann’s dream of a democratic institution that would inspire children to, in Lasch’s words, “the fullest use of their powers” hadn’t been achieved.
Note:ATTACCO ALLA SCUOLA
Using terms like social control, indoctrinating obedience and enforcing conformity, some critics failed to distinguish necessary socialization from soul-killing authoritarianism.
“The only people in our society who are incarcerated against their will,” wrote Parson, “are criminals, the mentally ill, and children in school.”
A quarter century later, few Americans consciously believe that childhood is “suspect” or that children should vote or that the government should force parents, as Rodham would have it, to let children who so desire hold after-school jobs or get nose jobs. And yet these ideas continue to have considerable relevance today.
Note:TUTTO FINITO O ANCORA PRESENTE?
Several have condemned adolescence as just so much coddling. Newt Gingrich has called high school “subsidized dating,” and Thomas Sowell has announced it is time to “abolish adolescence.”79 Conservatives have also joined liberals in attacking the juvenile court, the separate justice system for those under seventeen… In 1996 Governor Gary E. Johnson of New Mexico proposed allowing executions for thirteen-year-olds, …
Note:I CONSERVATORI SI UNISCONO INVOLONTARIAMENTE NELLO SMANTELLAMENTO DELLE DUE SFERE (ADULTO-BAMBINO)
But anti-culturalism is far more prevalent and insidious than these extreme examples suggest. Even as American parents continue to place their babies’ cribs in separate rooms from their own, to talk with them, to eschew playpens, and to childproof their homes in order to give their babies maximum freedom to explore,83 the fact remains that Americans have accepted the idea that children already own the materials out of which to build their individuality and autonomy and that adults, or “society,” must beware of disturbing them. This anti-cultural fallacy undermines adult commitment to preparing children for life in a democracy. It argues against teaching the next generation the just claims of the community and the need to limit their own egotism.
Note:LA FALLACIA ANTICULTURALE OGGI
By reducing culture to indifferent, arbitrary information to which the individual may or may not feel committed, it depletes the sources of a full-bodied individuality.