The Secret Lives of Children

(Photo: Mary O'Connell/CBC)

(Photo: Mary O'Connell/CBC)


Childhood has traditionally been seen as a magical country none of us can ever return to. But that ideal is now under siege:  children have disappeared from the natural world and have increasingly been displaced into the confines of technology and achievement. IDEAS producer Mary O'Connell explores the idea that a child's imagination may be the strongest shield against such cultural confinement.

For centuries, children were seen as having no inner life at all.  Their artwork was scribbles, their complaints were dismissed.  In Ancient Rome, children under the age of five were not even named because of high infant morality rates. 

How the child was viewed began to change when the Romantic Poets came along.  William Blake and Wordsworth introduced us to the idea of the child's imagination.  However, children remained victims of categorization and polarity.  Angels or demons, they remained under the "control" of adults. 

American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne often sparred with his wife, Sophia over their own children.  She held a more rhapsodic, idealized view while his approach as a parent, carried a more Calvinistic tone.  But Liz Goodenough, who teaches childhood studies at the University of Michigan, tells us all of these polarities are projections from the adult world.  "I know that Munro Leaf, author of The Story of Ferdinand once said that he treated children one at a time, and I think we need to treat each child that way, as we do with adults." 

Today, children are viewed as citizens, customers and products.  Billions of dollars are spent worldwide to equip children with technological gadgets from brain-enrichment toys for babies to math games for young students.  So, whither the imagination?  In this program, Mary O'Connell sets out to explore the inner lives of modern children.    

Participants in the program:

Children: Sam, Joe, Vivi Chichakian, Jonathan and Imogen Clase, Nuala O'Connell, Maya Lee, Audrey Bieling, Robin Chichakian, Grades 1 - 5, Earl Kitchener School, Hamilton, Ontario.

Liz Goodenough, Professor of Childhood Studies, Residential College, University of Michigan.  Editor of six books, Infant Tongues, Voice of the Child in Literature; "Under Fire: Childhood in the Shadow of War; Children's Literature and ViolenceSecret Spaces of Childhood; Where do the Children Play? and a companion film.
Ellen Handler Spitz, Honors College Professorship of Visual Arts, University of Maryland,  Baltimore.  Author of Art and Psyche; Image and Insight; Museums of the Mind; Inside Picture Books; The Brightening Glance; Illuminating Childhood; Portraits in Fiction, Film, and Drama.   

Don Gillmor
, author of several books including Mount Pleasant; Canada:  A People's History, author of eight books for children, including, The Fabulous Song; Yuck, A Love Story, Toronto.

Reading List:

The Prelude, William Wordsworth, originally, 1850, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2009.

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettleheim, Random House, New York, 1976. 

The Magic Years: Understanding and Handling the Problems of Early Childhood, Selma H. Fraiberg, T. Berry Brazelton, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1996.

The Kindness of Children, Vivian Gussin Payley, Harvard University Press, Massachusetts, 2000.

Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation, Stuart Shanker, Pearson Education Canada, 2012.

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