The dreary reign of the childhood snatchers

Janet Downs's picture

Once upon a time - no, not once upon a time because that time is now – sadults seek to rob children of their childhood. They are the childhood snatchers. They want tots to begin formal education too soon. They want to confine these inquisitive, lively bundles of energy to tiny chairs. They want to seat them around tables or in rows. They want them to learn to read too early. They want them to learn numerical algorithms too early. They want them to wear neat uniforms instead of messy dungarees. And they want them tested and measured and judged throughout their school careers. For what can’t be assessed is ‘play’. And play has no place in the world of the childhood snatchers. It is ephemeral, valueless, childish. And the sooner children put away childish things the better. Because the purpose of schooling for the childhood snatchers is to produce conformity. Children must be clones of the childhood snatchers. Reading the books they like and throwing aside any others (and the sooner the better). Following the same path through adult life (and the sooner they set out on this path the better). Writing ‘correctly’ but not necessarily with wit, verve and style (and the sooner they can spot conjunctions and adverbial clauses the better). Education for children in England is dominated by the childhood snatchers. And sadly some parents collude with this – their children must be tutored, coached, organised. Childhood is not for exploration but inculcation. Childhood is not a distinct and valuable life stage – it is nothing more than preparation for adulthood. And the sooner children become mini-adults, the better. The time has come to reclaim childhood – to allow children time to explore, have fun, play. We start formal education earlier than other countries and we expect teenagers to make option choices at 14 which is, again, earlier than in most other countries. We test our children far, far more than in other countries as if only that which can be assessed externally is of value. It’s time to end the reign of the childhood snatchers. You have until 25 January 2016 to respond to the Education Select Committee inquiry into the purpose and quality of education in England. UPDATE 2 January 2016 09.18: Petition to reclaim childhood will be brought to the attention of the Government by Nick Herbert MP. The petition was started by James Glasse, author of 'Requiem for Childhood'. He runs the Save Childhood Network website.

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Peter H Reeve's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 17:10

Well said, Janet. I very much agree with you. The prevailing system does want tots to start school too early, sitting them down and trying to teach them stuff instead of letting them play, socialise, be active with paint, crayon, making things, joining in with songs, hearing stories and being outside in the natural light and fresh air. Pre-school kids these days commonly look pale and jaded - they are being short-changed by the system that does not understand or believe in childhood as an important stage in life in itself. As you say, they are moved into school too young - before they are actually ready - in the mistaken assumption that this will give them a better chance of a start in life which may compensate for poverty or handicaps in their family background, In my view this is a mistaken belief as such children may well have missed out on child-centred learning. We need to rediscover that earlier generations of parents knew and so often snuffed out by educationalists and in another sense by those who push screen technology - ipads and the like. Children are being disconnected to the natural world. Primary school continues this trend, its programme being short on children's innate wish to move energetically, skip, run, jump and clamber, sing, draw, paint, model and a score of practical activities. Schools limit this by having children in a real sense conditioned into sitting still and learning in an academic manner which does not really suit them, for they gain in confidence by imitating and repeating what they are leaning so that it sinks in. Too much school work is not really digested as the children are moved on, their teachers and even their group too frequently being changed. And children need the opportunity to show to others what they can do - they learn a lot from this. And of course it is right that youngsters are called upon to make their choices too early at age 14. It is a mistaken conception that young teenagers have to start off on GCSE courses when a much broader and more holistic programme, with more time given to arts, drama and working on practical creations would so benefit their development, the performing arts being especially helpful individually and in the corporate, social life of the school community. You might wonder how I come to say the above, but it comes from having been a teacher of school children for almost forty years as well as the father of four grown children. The present generation of school children is being damaged by conventional thinking on schooling - I should say in a very real way handicapped. Other European countries have more sense. The idea that our kids are being prepared for a successful economy is mistaken. Children need time and space to grow, the chance to have their own ideas, a close feeling for others and a range of practical skills for life.

Peter H Reeve's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 17:12

Yes. Go ahead.

Leah K Stewart's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 20:15

Hi Janet and the LSN - was totally talking about PLAY in my end of 2015 video post:

Also really happy you've brought up the Education Select Committee enquiry - I'm talking about that too and will be sending out emails the week before the deadline in the hope everyone following my blog, who wants to contribute, has a chance.

Happy 2016 LSN folks! I've learnt so much in this community - thank you all.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 02/01/2016 - 09:15

UPDATE: Petition to reclaim childhood will be brought to the attention of the Government by Nick Herbert MP. The petition was started by James Glasse, author of 'Requiem for Childhood'. He runs the Save Childhood Network website.

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