Children: Rights and Childhood by David Archard

By David Archard

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37) – seem to celebrate a naturally good asocial humanity. In the orthodox interpretation of Rousseau, education should be the undirected, free and spontaneous development of a naturally good child. Interpreted in this fashion, Rousseau stands in marked contrast to Locke’s teacher or guardian, the deliberate cultivator into reason and social virtue of the apprentice adult. Yet things are slightly more complicated. It is true that Rousseau does honour the special nature of childhood and insists that education should be directed to the ‘child in the child’.

It was published at a singularly apposite moment when there were both political and intellectual pressures to appreciate and defend the particular character of childhood. Its claim to be the first text in the field may be seen as illuminating its own general thesis, namely that only in modern times could an adequate understanding of childhood be achieved. Its being first has also given it an apparently authoritative stature, so that it has not always been easy for subsequent commentators to separate an acknowledgement of its pioneering status from a critical evaluation of its content.

It is thus likely to be informed, at some level, by theory. A society could have an ‘awareness’ of the ‘particular nature’ of children without possessing a ‘concept’ of childhood. Ariès’s thesis derives some plausibility at least from the fact that there did develop, from about the sixteenth century onwards, a more elaborate, explicitly stated and abstract appreciation of what is involved in being a child. This involved, centrally, the progressive articulation of theories of human development, which I will consider in the next chapter.

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