It was Rousseau who began to shape our understanding of the child and the emotions of the heart. For Rousseau, human kind was naturally good and it was only the constraints in many social situations that had a negative effect that led to children being considered ‘bad’. According to Rousseau, children were the bearers of goodness and if ‘properly’ educated and socialised according to ‘natural’ principles then all would be when. Even at this early stage ‘bad’ children were the parents fault!!!
NB: Note the highlighting of particular words here. This indicates the use of irony.
The effect of Rousseau’s thinking on our understanding of children was profound as from this we see the inauguration of a powerful commitment in western society to childhood as a form of promise and an extension of our own plans and beliefs – a heavy burden indeed for such young shoulders.
What this essentially means is that since the enlightenment, children have become our prime concern and we are their protectors and nurturers. Of course you might say – and is that not how it should be?? Perhaps – but read on to see how such a notion can prove highly problematic.
The Erosion of the Family
I am sure you have all heard this term. We often hear in the news about the moral decay of society, of how family life is no longer appreciated and that parents are not caring appropriately for their children. We hear about children roaming the streets unsupervised, how parents are not protecting them appropriately and how young offenders who destroy property should end up behind bars. We hear that children in this day and age are not ‘properly’ disciplined.
However, it is important to consider that while things might appear to be changing for the worse it might not be that this is the case. It may be that things are not worse just different and that life as we know it today merely has its own set of problems, in the same way as life did in the ‘good old days’.
The postmodern condition
Life in postmodern times is not worse but different. Life is now discontinuous, uncertain, insecure and nostalgic. In previous times life was certain – you were born, grew up, went to school, graduated, got a job, got married, had children who went through the same processes then you had grandchildren became old and died (well perhaps not quite that ordered). In postmodern times we may not access things in the same way. For example, we may go to school and graduate, then we could go on to further study or to work, we could get married or we might have children and then get married, we may return to study in later life. Suffice to say – life is no longer certain or continuous – we are losing familiar points of attachment (families may be continents apart) and we are experiencing discontinuity. Such conditions make us long for the security of times past – we are nostalgic about the past.
When we think about it though were times past really so great? To begin with, women did not have the choices they have today, we were almost annihilated by two world wars, children were kidnapped even then and we certainly did not have the capacity to see the world in reality or virtually as we do today. In short, the good old days were not really great – they were just different.