Breaking the Walled Garden of Childhood
It is an attitude that is all too common in the modern world. The Internet is a wonderful educational tool—but a lot of parents assume that their children must be protected, by monitoring or filtering, from seeing too much of it. What psychological damage would be done to a six year old from seeing a picture of two humans engaged in sexual intercourse that was not done, over the centuries, to six year old farm children observing cattle engaged in the same activity for real has never been explained to me.
It goes along with the hostility to children working. The image of the boy with a newspaper route has been largely supplanted by Dickensian fantasies of juvenile slave labor in dark satanic mills. The prejudice is not even limited to paid employment. Libraries, at least the one my daughter briefly volunteered at, take it for granted that any teenager who volunteers is doing so to fulfill a requirement or get a box checked in a college application, and should be let go as soon as that objective is fulfilled. The idea that someone younger than eighteen might want to actually do something useful is ruled out ab initio.
Discussing this with my daughter, she mentioned how surprised she was as a young teenager to discover that something she did—playing harp—could actually be of use to people as an accompaniment to dancing. Later, as a college student, one of her complaints was that she was writing papers that nobody, aside from the professor who graded them, would ever read. Given the opportunity to do a winter term project of her own design, she chose to translate a renaissance Italian cookbook, a translation that is now up on my web page to be used by people interested in historical cooking. The walled garden is for playing in—what she wanted was to do things.
One exception used to be the Society for Creative Anachronism, a historical recreation organization that I have been involved with for a very long time. I was taught to use a sewing machine by a twelve year old girl; a few years later she was the moving spirit behind a puppet theater. But that has gradually changed. More and more over the years, children who come to SCA events are expected, not to help set up the hall or cook the dinner or run the event, but to attend "children's activities."
What set off this post was the discovery that at the Pennsic War, the SCA's largest gathering, a two week long camping event with something over ten thousand people and a Pennsic University with about a thousand classes (some of which I teach), there is now a new rule. Nobody under eighteen can attend a class unless accompanied by parent or legal guardian. When I complained to one of the people responsible, I was assured that they had made special provision to allow children to attend children's classes.
I have long held that there are two fundamental views of children: That they are pets who can talk, or that they are small people who do not yet know very much. The wrong one is winning.