Emma Marie Forde is unschooling mom to two girls, Lily and Rosa. She’s also the founder of the website, rethinkingparenting.co.uk. Before having children, Emma was a clinical psychologist, a career that informed her choice to stay home with her own children and to choose unschooling.
In this episode, Emma and I have a great chat about the book, Escape from Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children.
Quote of the Week
“They [children] need love, stability, consistent and unequivocal care and lasting relationships with people who are profoundly enough interested in them to look after them with warmth, gaiety, and patience.” ~ John Holt
Escape from Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children, by John Holt
Emma and I wanted to discuss the concept of childism and how it weaves into our unschooling lives. And though it was written more than 40 years ago, and though he doesn’t use the term “childism” itself, in discussing the needs and rights of children he points out many of the prejudices against—or destructive attitudes toward—children and discusses ways we can instead welcome them into our adult lives. It’s a great book around which to frame our dive into childism.
Here’s the basic premise, taken from the book description: “Under the guise of care and protection, children are kept in the walled garden of childhood, outside the world of human experience, for longer periods than ever before in human history. But for many children and parents, the walled garden of childhood is more like a prison, where authorities compel and limit personal actions.”
The first half of the book looks at the bigger picture, where Holt talks about the problem and institution of childhood, the family and its purpose, the competence of children etc. In the second half of the book, he dives into ten rights he would like to see children gain and clearly explains his perspective and reasoning: the right to vote, to work, to own property, to travel, to choose one’s guardian, to a guaranteed income, legal and financial responsibility, to control one’s learning, to use drugs, and to drive.
I think this quote does a great job of summarizing his perspective:
“Children tend to be, among other things, healthy, energetic, quick, vital, vivacious, enthusiastic, resourceful, intelligent, intense, passionate, hopeful, trustful, and forgiving-they get very angry but do not, like us, bear grudges for long. Above all, they have a great capacity for delight, joy, and sorrow. But we should not think of these qualities or virtues as “childish,” the exclusive property of children. They are human qualities. We are wise to value them in people of all ages. When we think of these qualities as childish, belonging only to children, we invalidate them, make them seem things we should “outgrow” as we grow older. Thus we excuse ourselves for carelessly losing what we should have done our best to keep. Worse yet, we teach the children this lesson: most of the bright and successful ten-year-olds I have known, though they still kept the curiosity of their younger years, had learned to be ashamed of it and hide it. Only “little kids” went around all the time asking silly questions. To be grown-up was to be cool, impassive, unconcerned, untouched, invulnerable.”
When I talk about our unschooling journeys, I often mention how our children can be our very helpful guides—and it’s for exactly this reason: these are wonderful human qualities that we have lost, that we have learned to keep hidden, that we see in our children. So much of our unschooling journey is about excavating these traits so we can once again fully engage with our lives.
Throughout the book, John Holt reminds us to focus on our common ground as human beings; that the institutionalized distinction between children and adults adds an artificial layer that makes it harder for adults to connect with children, to truly see things from their perspective.
And that’s our loss.
Links to Things Mentioned in the Show
The book: Escape from Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children by John Holt
Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s book, Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children
Pam mentioned our book chat about Attachment across the Lifecourse
Emma mentioned the book, Sanity, Madness and the Family, by R.D. Laing and Aaron Esterson
John Holt’s chapter, On Seeing Children as “Cute”, excerpted on The Natural Child Project
And another excerpt from the book, from the Steps to Take chapter
Emma mentioned the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child