Thursday, March 1, 2007

The End of Childhood (Part 1)

Lately I've been reading a book by Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood, and I found the theories in it amazing! It was the glue that fit everything together, from Lynn Truss' Talk to the Hand to Huxley's Brave New World . It explains the messes in the Children's section of Borders, my difficulties in teaching at Hell... I mean... CMS, and the puer additudes of some employees I know. Postman's overall theory states that TV, and most other electronic media, has changed the way that people think and live, and in his opinion, for the worse.

The interesting thing about Postman's theories is that it was written back in the 1980's. The book uses dated references and says little about Video Games, the Internet, Cell Phones, and all the other new Media that have infiltrated our lives. So it will be interesting to take his suppositions and apply them to today's world, which will explain so much. So first I need to briefly explain what Postman is talking about, and then apply his theories to what I witness on a daily basis.

To see where Postman was coming from, we have to think Metacognitively (or in other words, thinking about thinking.) In other words, we have to determine how people think. And what Postman suggests is that society forms thought based on how it communicates. And this makes since, because you form thoughts in preparation for communicating them somehow. Usually. people communicate through talk, or through writing, or, more recently, through TV programs, images, photographs, etc...

Lets go back and review how people have communicated over the ages, and compare that to the educational systems that existed during those times. After the Ice Age, when man lived in caves (such as those in France), they communicated orally, for sure, but also through images on the walls. Society then was Visual and Oral, but not Literal. There was no need for education, other than how to hunt and grow things, because there was no knowledge to be preserved through writing. Another example would be the Greek or Roman civilizations, where literacy was common, and authors wrote their ideas in scrolls that were housed in libraries such as those in Alexandria. Platos and Aristotle, as well as numerous playwrights, essayists, speeches, historians... all still survive today in their communications, written down in paragraphs, stories, and thoughts logically processed.

Think of how this differs, then, from the way stories were communicated during the later Medievial times. Bards and other story tellers told stories of bravery and adventure orally, usually in larger get togethers in inns or pubs. It was a social event. Compare this from the way books are normally read, when stories are told through writing. It is done alone, an anti-social event. Reading books takes longer than a story told orally. It must be taken in slowly, with self-discipline to keep you from skipping ahead. Processing languange and thoughts, arguments and the like takes a logical progression through information, reading left to right, top to bottom, sentences, paragraphs... etc.

What Postman does with this information is to parallel this with the treatment and values of children, as well as the value of education in each of the historical eras. He takes into consideration the writing of Pediatric and parenting books after the invention of the printing press in the 1400's. He explains how, with the expansion of the written word to the lowest socioeconomic levels of society, schools were founded for everyone, laws were passed protecting children from unsafe labor, and childhood was formed, unlike the Medevial times, when children worked aside their adult counterparts, listened to the same stories in the pubs, and took part in adult activities.

But instead of trying to relate the educational, literacy, and definitions of childhood to each time period and culture, I'll just take a look at a couple that relate to what I've said in previous blogs.

The 1700's in Great Britain were an interesting time in the development of the modern definition of childhood. The Industrial Revolution had made literacy unnecessary, since it takes very little reading to operate machinary, especially ones in a factory. It also takes very little education to work in the coal mines. One of the characteristics of childhood is that parents actually care about their children (something that happened not as often in older times, for the main reason that since not every child survived infanthood, parents didn't always become as attached to them as our society does now). Without the need for an education, and with children becoming acceptable as an expendable work force (such are the pulls of capitalism, which would eat its own young for a buck (see my blog on the balanced calendar.), children became just younger adults, able to do the same things as adults, much like in medevial times.

This time in history is exactly opposite as now, but for totally opposite reasons (let me explain.). In 1700 Great Britian, childhood was almost non-existant, and children were handled as young adults. But the reason for this was that they were actually needed in the work force more than ever. With such an expanding economy such as they had then, with so many factories opening up, children had to be drafted into working because there was no one else to do that work. In today's society, childhood is disappearing, but the work force now is increasingly not needing them to have jobs, such as ones that children have when they turn 16. The reason for this is that there are no expaning job markets here, but rather, there is such a potential work force having graduated from college, that high school workers are not needed. Of course, one might also argue that the spots that high school students would use are now taken up by immigrant workers, but since I have no proof of that, I won't go into it.

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