In the article, Children Never Were What They Were: Perspectives on Childhood, Paul Duncum compares the facts of historical and contemporary notions of childhood innocence and development, to the reality of childhood states and conditions. This is evident within his account of children’s lives throughout history and his idea that perceived innocence is a nostalgic reference we adhere to as adults in order to preserve and even protect our own inner child and children in general (Duncum, 2002). He posits we subsequently exaggerate the true state of child innocence.
Factually, history has afforded us a glimpse into the lives and treatment of children. The reality is more centered on systems adults have built and in some cases used to exploit and integrate children into society. Specifically, as in the American Industrial Revolution, children worked along side adults and in their stead, only to have the artist and photographer Lewis Hine spearhead efforts to eliminate unfair child labor practices.
The real issue for me is the systems adults in humankind often develop that force children into an earlier maturation that is unhealthy or hinders optimum growth and thriving development. Oftentimes, children are conditioned through elements, insensitivity and/or corruption fostered in the adult arena. I also see that through exposure and experience, kids just seem to lose the ideologies of innocence. The sense of wonder and awe were there, however, they dissipate, sometimes perhaps because of corruption through experiential means. They experience the life that adults produce, through products geared at kids and general products they have access to. In the worst of scenarios children suffer indignities at the hands of adults and other children.
As an educator, I believe it is paramount that I approach children in a realistic way. Acknowledging that they have experiences that are painful, real and substantial, just like adults. In some cases living around contemporary pop culture that is heavily saturated with media and entertainment sources can be harmful. Sources like these can speed up a child’s awareness and maturation beyond their developmental years. They may not be equipped to navigate clearly with reason and rationale those experiences and impressions. The inability of understanding and in dealing with these issues for children are not driven by “falsetto” innocence, these inadequacies are fueled by their innocence lost.
To me, my job is to meet the child’s educational, developmental, emotional and social needs through professional practice. I don’t concretely mandate that they should achieve a certain level of maturation or even artistic skill by a certain age or grade level. They are organic individuals developing uniquely. To note, even Einstein was not well respected by teachers and peers early on in his college and professional life.
For me, I am an encourager, a protector, a cheerleader, a mentor and someone who invests their time into the child, teaching them to invest time into themselves. The discoveries in art and the integration of the curriculum are really superseded by the need of the child to develop in a healthy way. My goal is to help this by being personable, professional and as Dr. Martin Luther King said, valued on the content of my character. I say that living in the classroom is essential, teaching art is peripheral.
When we look at children as valuable people, then the bridge to learning can begin. I offer a sympathetic ear to students and their life experiences. I try to be positive, letting them make their own decisions and I encourage them to see life as an opportunity, though with realistic challenges. I also point them to look at existence through the artistic lens educationally and relatively. If dealing with a, behavioral, moral or integral life issue, I try and help them make positive decisions that demonstrate respect for themselves and others, while keeping their freedom of choice. I use comedy as a means for living and teaching and even point out the purpose of doing so. Doing this may offer strategies to cope and enjoy moments in this life. I try to be realistic, they know I make mistakes, and they know as a human being I can understand the commonalities of frustration, failure, pain, joy, success and life. This helps them to know I am a real person and we share similar experiences and emotions. I practice empathy and hope that they will develop ways to do so too. To do this goes well beyond art instruction and really defines me as a teacher and a member of our campus community and a human being.
Duncum, P. (2002). Children never were what they were: Perspectives on childhood. In Contemporary issues in art education (pp. 97-107). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Art Educator, Professional Photographer, Journalist. Alumni - B.F.A. Savannah College of Art and Design