This essay attempts to discuss the area of childhood through the ages. The concept of childhood was firstly found by a French historian called Aries. Aries studied childhood through the ages but it was argued that “his thesis under-estimated the nature of childhood within changing household structures of family forms”(Gelis,1986: Stone1974). Aries believed that during medieval society children were no more than little adults. There was no realisation of childhood. They were treat as little adults as soon as they could walk and talk.
Between the 15th and 18th Century children became more a sense of amusement for adults, there was no regard for childhood and no understanding of the development of children. The only educational dimension of childhood at this stage was by ‘churchmen or gentlemen of the robe. ‘ This secured control over children’s ‘depravity’ with emphasis on discipline and knowledge of theology, humanities and sciences. This was initially only accessed by the upper classes. During the first decades of the 19th Century Children were used as cheap labour, the period of time was called the industrial revolution.
The state at this time could not offer any form of state education, as the huge amount of finance for such a venture was not available. Vain attempts were made to set up parish schools but they came to nothing. Education was not at this point seen as important. Children were forced to worked in poor conditions and work very long hours. They were widely employed in textiles, mining, agriculture and domestic service. The work was traditional, universal and inescapable. The nation needed children to work to keep up with the demands of industry.
To have spent public money or enforced children to attend school would have at this time been regarded as an infringements of liberty. It would have been impossible during the early decades of the industrial revolution to keep the economy going and release children for schooling. As industry grew so did the fact that children were not needed as much and adults that could read and write were indispensable. Quote from Robert Lowe ‘it will be absolutely necessary to compel our future masters to learn their letters. ‘ The 1833 Factories Act limited the conditions under which children could be employed.
Unfortunately restrictions on employment led to high child vagrancy and unemployment. Many children had nowhere to go and no means of income. Children from the poorer families were often abandoned by their parents, as they were bringing in no income and parents were unable to support them. Children were forced into petty crime or to begging. Effectively the factory children were replaced by delinquent children. (Hendrick,1990,1994) So many children were roaming the streets with no protection and no kind of welfare. They would sleep rough and steal to survive. They led the life of an adult with no authority or guidelines.
The number of delinquent children with no home and no care caused an increase to crime and caused panic for authorities. Due to this panic The CHILD RESCUE MOVEMENT was formed, by a lady called Mary Carpenter. Acts were passed by parliament in 1854/1857 to set up reformatories and industrial schools. The need to help the child vagrants was seen as urgent. Reformatories were introduced to provide a type of education for these children. They would have been sixteen years of age or under. These children would have been convicted of a punishable offence and would have been imprisoned had it not been for the emergence of reformatories.
The reformatories tried to teach the children of their wrongdoing and educate them to be law-abiding citizens. Industrial schools were provided for the poor children who had taken to begging on the streets and had no home. Many of these children would have been forced to leave home. Their parents could not support them any more because household income was reduced without children’s wages. Reformatories taught of moral correctness. These schools reconstructed the role of childhood and slowly put an end to child labour.
Through these two types of schools children were cared for and deprived children were separated from depraved. This would have prevented deprived children from mixing with young criminals and learning new skills from them. Hill, in 1855 wrote that the delinquent ‘is a little stunted man already – he knows much and a great deal too much of what is called life – he can take care of his own immediate interests. He is self-reliant, he has so long directed or mis-directed his own actions and has so little trust in those about him, that he submits to no control and asks for no protection.
He has consequently much to unlearn – he has to be turned again into a child’ (in Hendrick, 1990) Both these schools emerge as a response to delinquency and destitution. The re-educating of children helped to re-socialise and teach moral correctness. Schooling has always involved more than just gaining knowledge. A child is socially constructed through school. As the economy grew more money was available and the need to educate more readily acceptable to keep up the growing Empire. The Education Act in 1870 was a major step forward in education as the state took responsibility for educating all able-bodied children from the age of 4 until 11.
The school leaving age increased three times between 1870 and 1940. Many rural area’s ignored this age because children were needed in the home or out at work to bring in a wage. Further to the 1870 Education Act and the 1833 Factory Act many more acts were introduced limiting ages for working and making provision for schooling, each Factory Act was an Education Act and vice versa. Schools in this era tended to copy the layout of factories, they would have a vast hall with tiered seating and galleries for the classes.
The 1918 Childrens Act increased the leaving age to 14. Again this was ignored and authorities were forced to employ school attendance officers. Parents would be sent warnings and if the children repeatedly were absent from school after the warnings summons were sent and fines issued. In London in the year ending March 1900 28,836 summons were sent out. This dramatically dropped in following years. Many children wanted to work as they were accepted as adults when they earned a wage and their opinions counted.
Some children would be made fun of by older working children for going to school. Ref Children, childhood and English Society 1880-1999 – Harry Hendrick. The concept of ‘national childhood emerged’. Children were given back their childhood, child labour was stopped and all were children were entitled to an education. Hendrick noted: ‘There is no doubt that in the last quarter of the nineteenth century the school played a pivotal role in the construction of a new kind of childhood – this construction directly involved all children – and was intended to be inescapable.
(Hendrick 1990) During the later 19th century Britain had widening markets, industry was increasing. The state was growing and the importance of the Empire was realised. Children were seen as vital to keep up with the running of the Empire. Children were the ‘Bricks for Empire Building’ (Bean and Melville, 1989) By 1900 ordinary people were given some political power by being given the right to vote.