Research with Children: A Rich Glimpse into the World of Childhood

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the past, children and childhood have been viewed from three dominant perspectives: that of the child as the `embodiment of evil', as `innocent' and as `miniature adult' (Woodrow, 1999). In recent times, two other images of the child have emerged: the child as adult commodity and the child as agentic. These images will be discussed below. I began my research into children's emotions, with the common early childhood belief that children are innocent and must be protected by more capable others (teachers and parents) who take responsibility for them (Fasoli, 2001; Gibson, 1998). While induding children through a focal group interview, I considered teachers and parents to be the better informants. During the course of my research, I found that the voices of children often resonated more clearly and fully than those of their adult counterparts when sharing their experiences of emotions. In the section, `Findings', I share some of my glimpses into the world of childhood that were contributed by the children themselves. Through my research, my conception of the child as innocent was replaced by that of the child as agentic and capable of participating as a reliable informant in the research process.

Images of childhood

The image of the child as evil stemmed from prehistoric and early Christian beliefs that children were evidence of their parents' intimacy, and so the embodiment of original sin. With this belief, infanticide and abuse were common and justified practice (De Manse, 1982, in Branscombe, Castle, Dorsey, Surbeck & Taylor, 2000). From the 4th century through to the Middle Ages, a second image emerged, that of the child as innocent, or `child-saint'. Based on Christian beliefs that children possessed souls, this new image produced the binary concepts of the child as innocent alongside the child as evil, a duality that persisted over the centuries (Branscombe et al., 2000). As a consequence, forms of abandonment gradually replaced infanticide (Branscombe et al., 2000). A third image of childhood, that of the child as miniature adult, emerged some time after the late Middle Ages. Distinctions between childhood and adulthood became blurred as adults and children lived and worked side by side. As Aries notes, `In medieval society, the idea of childhood did not exist ... [childhood] corresponds to an awareness of the particular nature of childhood, that particular nature which distinguishes the child from the adult, even the young adult' (1962, in Cleverly & Phillips, 1988, p. 6). Despite this seeming parity, adults still searched for ways of controlling children and making them obedient.

These three dominant images: the child as evil, the child as innocent and the child as miniature adult have persisted through the centuries and can be seen in recent and current practices. The child as evil is reinforced by rules and disciplinary practices meant to keep children `in line', such as mandated behaviour and dress codes and forms of classroom grouping based on behaviour management issues (Woodrow, 1999). Research from this perspective positions children as objects to be studied for the purpose of finding methods to achieve conformity and ease of teaching practice.

The view of the child as innocent has dominated early childhood pedagogy for more than a century, beginning with Froebel's late 19th century notion of the Kindergarten or garden of children, where children were seen as seeds to be planted and cultivated (Branscombe et al., 2000; Morrison, 2001). The behaviourist movement of the early 20th century also assumed the view of the child as innocent and a blank slate, able to be moulded to adult standards through forms of reinforcement (Morrison, 2001). In research, this image of the child once again denies children a voice, allowing adults to speak and give consent on their behalf (Fasoli, 2001). While the Industrial Revolution promoted the image of the child as miniature adult, with children made to work long hours in mines and factories in harsh and unrelenting conditions (Branscombe et al. …

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