Manipal Center for Philosophy and Humanities, India
The thesis of this paper explores two notions of childhood, one that pervades school pedagogy and curriculum, and the other which we encounter in the larger popular media. In the contemporary context, a certain notion of childhood is central to school education. In other words, pedagogical practices and curriculum in school education carry within them a pervasive notion of childhood. This perception of childhood gets transmitted and manifested both at the classroom level and other tacit contexts through ideas such as discipline, hierarchy, punishments, and moral values among others. A notion of childhood is also communicated to children through family relationships and practices. However, a dominant and conscious sense of childhood is communicated to children through popular media like literature, television and films. The representation of childhood in these mediums also carries within it a sense of gender and moral values. This paper discusses implications of this phenomenon of learning in the context of curriculum reforms in school education.
Keywords: Construction of Childhood, School Pedagogy, Visual Media, Children’s Film
Notion of Childhood in School Pedagogy and Curriculum
While defining the nature of power in modern societies, Foucault (1979) highlights how the establishment of modern day institutes such as mental asylum and prisons play a central role in shaping experience and defining identities in line with dominant discourses. The school as one among those fundamental modern institutes can also be looked at in this light, as that which operates within an implicit power dynamics. According to Foucault, the features of discipline are of primary importance in the establishment of schooling as a part of ‘moral orthopedics’ of society at large (Foucault 1980). In his analysis, Foucault illustrates the manner in which mandatory schooling is instrumental in controlling children both at a physical level and mental level. Thus, in lieu of Foucault’s analysis of the implicit power dynamics in schools, the convention of defining what it is to be a child is of particular relevance within the field of education which moderates relationships between teachers and students.
The school as an institution is both formed on, and as well as indicates, structures of significance, legitimacy and domination (Giddens 1984), which provides children with a way of looking at themselves and the world. Popularly established the fundamental site of learning, the school provides a sequence of learning and experience to children that shape their world-views. In other words, it teaches children literacy as well as life skills. A child at school is taught how to read and write and attain knowledge of subjects like mathematics, science, history, geography, and English among others through the designed curriculum and pedagogy. The curriculum in a broader sense comprises manifold activities within the classroom such as reading and writing, as well as tacit learning manifesting outside the classroom room beyond the margins in spaces like playgrounds, assemblies and so on. Overall, the school links the quest for knowledge and development through a mode of instruction provided by teachers to students (Devine 2000, Gudmundsdottir 1996).
This discourse of pedagogy, that teaches children these knowledge skills, also carries within it, a certain notion about childhood itself. There is a very explicit division of child and adult in the architectural space of the school, which is further compartmentalized according to age, gender and ability. There is a strict concept of surveillance present in the school environment that is implemented through a structured timetable, examinations, timings and so on. Along with this formal structure, the space of the school carries a specific notion of childhood itself that then gets facilitated through various rules and their regulation. This formal structure of school pedagogy allows the pervasive notions of childhood to become part of the child’s understanding of the world. Thus one can see that there is a certain sense of childhood that is projected onto schools that seem to mold the child for the better or in terms of what is thought to be desirable. Studies done by scholars (Pollard 1985, Darmanin 1995) indicate similar notions that are present in teachers’ relationship with children, based on the discourses of productivity and positive social behavior.
A notion of childhood is implicitly and explicitly transmitted through various ways such as rules, discipline, gender, hierarchy, respect to elders, and seriousness and so on. For example, children at school are asked to put finger on their lips to maintain silence. This gesture of keeping silence carries an implicit understanding of discipline. Breaking the rule of maintaining silence leads to punishment. Thus, this idea of punishment in school itself carries a notion about how children and childhood is perceived and molded. A mischievous child is often seen as someone who is different from the rest of the class and needs to be disciplined. Thus the concept of discipline carries within it a concept of punishment (Foucault 1980). A child is made to stand outside class if he/she is found misbehaving in class. Here the space outside the classroom becomes a marker of punishment that teaches the child what is the right thing to do and what is not.
Some schools also have a detention hour that signifies spending time alone as a form of punishment for breaking the rule. Here isolation from one’s peers has an implicit message that tells a child to not to act differently from the rest if one does not want to be alone. Nonconforming to the rules and methods of the school leads to punishment and isolation. Another manner in which children who break the rules are punished is by being told to stand on the bench. This image of a child standing with his hands up on inanimate object like a bench, to some extent reduces the child to that inanimate thing itself. This again implies that if a child does not behave according the rules, he will be nothing more than a bench.
In a large number of schools children are told to make separate lines for girls and boys while assembling for any form of activity. This bifurcation of girls and boys creates gendered spaces through which children learn of notions such as gender and sexuality. Children are also taught to be moral beings who do not hurt others, respect their elders and to not indulge in habits like stealing, bullying and so on. Language in which children are spoken to is based on moral values such as love thy neighbor, sharing is caring, speak the truth, a friend in need is a friend in deed and many more. All these moral values are not only a part of the pedagogical lessons taught to children, but also are a part of daily discourse of interaction between children and teachers. The signs of showing respect for the teacher are to stand up and wish her when she enters the class, not to engage in conversation while the teacher is speaking etc. Through such gestures a child is taught to be respectful towards elders. The crucial point to note from all the above examples is that, these are the ways in which the notion of childhood and perception of a child is constructed in school education.
Most of the attitude towards a child in school is based on the ‘needs’ discourse (Foucault 1980), aimed to develop certain attributes and values in a child. Indeed, age, class and gender mediate this construction of childhood and its acceptance and resistance. All the above examples indicate a notion of childhood that pervades the school space and its pedagogical practices. Thus, the values that children learn at school, suggest a particular kind of image of what it is to be a child, both implicitly and explicitly. This notion of childhood at school is based on value added component of education and how it contributes to the overall cognitive and psychological development of children.
While Rousseau (1969) believed education of children could improve and conserve ‘natural goodness’ of human beings, education of children spread through publishing of books especially made for children with an aim to teach the values and norms of the society. Some researchers have indicated that the children’s cultural products like books, along with the other forms of print and electronic media (television, magazine images), play an important role in offering visual images to children, which provides them with cultural information about themselves, others and their relationship with society (Spitz 1999, Yeoman 1999). Hurley argues “self-image in children is shaped in some degree by exposure to images found in written texts, illustrations, and films” (2005, 221)…Full Text PDF